Shakespeare’s tragic tale of young love rarely fails to capture the imagination, but how can you help learners approach it with a fresh perspective – interrogating, comparing, contextualising and analysing in depth? Charlotte Bourne, Deputy Head of Learning at Shakespeare’s Globe, shares four free resources to breathe new life into your English literature lessons…
Every March, Shakespeare’s Globe becomes a cauldron of excitement as our high-octane, flagship education project, “Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank” begins. We provide 18,000 free tickets to a full-scale Shakespeare production tailored for 11-18 year olds. Alongside this, each year we create a dedicated website that complements and tracks the production. Although our free tickets target London and Birmingham state schools, the website is open to all, completely free, and doesn't require any sign-up; it forms part of the Globe's commitment to making Shakespeare accessible for all.
This article highlights four resources from our 2019 website on Romeo and Juliet and explains how these could be used to address the needs of more able learners, within a context of challenge for all. Whilst these explanations focus on GCSE English literature, the resources can all be adapted to provide any learner with the opportunity to “[read], understand and respond to texts... and develop an informed personal response.”

1. Language: director's edit  

Our “script machines” display the script of five key scenes from the play, but with a twist: you have the option of showing the director's edit. This enables you to unpick AO2 more organically with learners, because the interplay between language (Shakespeare's text) and form (a script to be edited for the stage) becomes apparent. For example:
Juliet:    O, sweet my mother, cast me not away!
Delay this marriage for a month, a week;              
Or, if you do not, make the bridal bed
In that dim monument where Tybalt lies.
  • What do the cut lines convey in terms of meaning?
  • What does removing them achieve?
  • What meaning is the director drawing our attention towards, or away from, through this edit?
 This serves as a reminder that, in any performance text, there is more than one conscious construct at work. Although learners will need to know the whole text, the “meanings and effects” (AO2) has a greater plurality when considered in this light.
Indeed, this can also lead to discussions around the context: the origins of Shakespeare's writing, shaped by the theatre practices of his day, mean that even modern editions of the same, full play-text may differ. What an audience receives, therefore, is already layered with interpretation.

2. Language: literary terms  

This part of the resource gives learners the opportunity to identify where certain literary techniques are being used by Shakespeare, across five key scenes. This can be used as a revision tool, but why not use it to model the thought processes in understanding how these techniques work to create meanings and effects? This moves learners away from the fallacy of technique-spotting, and can be adapted for KS3 and KS4.
With this in mind, several techniques in each scene are broken down into a series of questions, on our Teachers’ Notes page. For example:
  • Tybalt describes the servants as “heartless hinds”. How does this metaphor show that Tybalt has a low opinion of the servants? Use the questions below to support your thinking.
  • What possible meanings does the word “hind” have?
  • How about the word “heartless”? Hint: remember that Shakespeare’s audience would have heard the play; “heartless” could also therefore be heard as “hart-less”. How could this link to “hind”?
  • Consider the effect of the alliteration in making this link.
  • How does this contribute to the servants’ definition of masculinity set up in the opening exchange between Sampson and Gregory?
To extend the challenge, learners could then create their own questions to deconstruct other techniques. Creating these questions demands higher-order thinking, as learners need to be at Bloom's level of “analysis” before attempting this. To scaffold them up to this level of challenge, they could look at how the same technique is deconstructed in a different scene. This has the added benefit of highlighting the nuanced effects of the same technique used in different parts of the text.

3. Research articles: Brooke versus Shakespeare  

Brooke's 1562 poem, “The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet”, served as a key source for Shakespeare. So far, so bolt-on AO3. However, this resource allows learners to compare the differences between Shakespeare's prologue and Brooke's “argument”. It highlights how Shakespeare’s drama occurs over just five days, whereas Brooke’s poem unfolds over nine months, and that Juliet’s age is lowered from 16 to 13.
Drawing out these differences allows for rich exploration of writer's craft that cannot be separated from context, required for the top bands at GCSE.
  • Have learners compare the time reference in Brooke's “argument” with Shakespeare's prologue, and discuss what effect this might have.
  • Next, ask learners to find all the references to time within Shakespeare's version; what patterns do they spot? Why is it that time seems to pass so quickly in the play? Consider this also in light of Shakespeare's younger Juliet.
  • What meaning is being created through these marked changes to the original source material? If time is compacted and Juliet is younger, what might this suggest about the speed of young love?
  • How does the adaptation of form – from poem to play – affect how it is received?

4. Character interviews

Providing learners with the opportunity to engage with text in performance is a cornerstone of the work we do, and part of this involves providing access to actors taking part in the production.
Although learners wouldn't need to analyse actors' interpretations in their exam, the character interviews provide a window into hearing how someone else arrived at an informed, personal response (AO1). Questions cover: What are your initial impressions of your character(s)? What have you noticed about your character’s language, i.e. the way they speak to others/about themselves?
Characters are interviewed several times across the production, providing learners with opportunities to reflect on the complex nature of interpretation: how this can be revised with each more detailed exploration of the text.
To access these resources, plus a wealth of additional resources to support a challenging curriculum, visit Remember: the website tracks the production so please keep coming back to see what else we have added!
Charlotte Bourne is Deputy Head of Learning at Shakespeare’s Globe, with a focus on learners aged 3-18, plus the educators who support them. The Globe’s on-site Lively Action programme welcomes close to 80,000 learners per year, while its international outreach work sends practitioners to China, the US and Europe. A qualified English teacher and AQA examiner for GCSE Literature, Charlotte has worked closely with ITTs and NQTs across multiple subjects.
Tuesday, February 12, 2019