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Soliloquies Buster

I was an old war-horse of a teacher who had taught English and dramatics for sixteen years before coming to the Folger in 1995. While I complained about the paper load, the kids, the parents, and administrators with the best of them, I adored working with students in the classroom. After I started at the Folger, time spent with students in their own classrooms was unfortunately limited. I longed to get back into the classroom to try out some of the Shakespeare techniques and exercises that I had been peddling around the country in teacher workshops. So when a local teacher offered to let me into her classroom for a few days to work with her students, I jumped at the opportunity.

The class was a group of sophomores studying "Julius Caesar." The teacher who invited me into her classroom wanted me to work with her students on the dreaded soliloquy-one of those Shakespearean devices that strikes terror into the hearts of students. They're cruising along in the play text, reading dialogue between characters, and then -bam!-they come across a character talking to himself or herself for a whole page. That wall of words and poetic devices inspires panic-cue to the sound of sobbing and of mental light bulbs clicking off in the back of the classroom.

I had prepared for the class by doing what most self-respecting teachers do-stealing stuff from other teachers. I had put together a plan for teaching the "Dogs of War" soliloquy (3.1) that was based on my own ideas and techniques I had picked up from experts like Chris Renino and Rex Gibson or had gleaned at workshops from teachers who offered their own success stories. "Soliloquy Buster" was born. The step-by-step process is outlined in the handout.

I tried it, and they liked it. Physicalizing the movement and rhythm of the soliloquy by moving about the room was a revelation to the kinesthetic learners in the class. The simple technique of increasing volume while reading the soliloquy back and forth helped students feel the powerful emotions behind the language and informed their later performances. Students liked the cutting part best, as they took on Mr. William Shakespeare and cut him down to size. The process they went through together in small groups and as a class in cutting and then performing their cut scene turned out to be a model exercise on close reading, analysis, and performance possibilities.

One memorable group almost came to blows over the cutting part of the exercise. They started out announcing that they were going to cut it down to two or three lines and then found out it wasn't as easy at it looked. Another group starred a very shy child as the corpse of Julius Caesar who rose majestically from the ground and intoned "Revenge!" at a crucial point in the performance.

The response from the students was enthusiastic and gratifying. I had helped them get a handle on dealing with Shakespeare's soliloquies, and they had given me the pleasure of their company in the classroom. It was a great trade.

About the Author

Janet Field-Pickering is the Head of Education at the Folger Shakespeare
Library. She taught English at dramatics at Chambersburg Senior High
School, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, for sixteen years.


Handout

Soliloquies Buster
Shakespeare's Language

Professional Development

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