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Quick Tips

Teaching Shakespeare with Primary Sources

Keep it simple.

Students may be daunted by dense, Gothic text. Transcribe difficult segments, but allow students to see the original, too.

Start small.

Don't give students 10 pages of text to wade through, especially if they've never seen an early modern text before. Start with a few short passages. Once they're comfortable with the typeface and writing style, students may want to tackle longer segments.

Remember: 'Primary source' doesn't just mean text.

Use images as well as text. Maps, drawings, and musical scores can tell students as much about the early modern period as the printed word.

Pay attention to the illustrations.

The pictures accompanying the text in primary sources often give clues for understanding, and make the task of interpretation less daunting for students. Look, particularly, at the frontispiece, and search for charts and diagrams.

Model skills for students.

Show students how to paraphrase the lines in modern-day English. Remind the students that they may need to re-read the original lines several times to figure out the meaning.

Don't be fooled by the typeface.

Point out the differences in letters from primary source texts - in Shakespeare's time the printed "s" looks like today's "f" and the "v" and "u" often look similar.

Encourage creativity.

Have the students do something active with the source. They could model a letter after one from the Elizabethan period, or act out a dialogue about the rights of women. If students are performing or, even, just reading the text aloud, tell them to use their creativity when delivering the lines: "Make it interesting!"

Make it relevant to the play.

Connect primary sources to the play. The sources should enhance the students' understanding of scenes and characters.

Open a window to the past.

Remember that using primary sources is truly multi-disciplinary. Students will get more out of Shakespeare's plays if they also know a little bit about the politics, beliefs, and culture of his time.
Teaching Shakespeare with Primary Sources

Professional Development

Quick Tips

Shakespeare "for all time": Using Primary Sources in the Present-Day Classroom
A case study by Julie Kachniasz

"O, Wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?": The Art of Wooing in "Romeo and Juliet"
A case study by Rebecca Rufo

Primary Sources: The Window Into Shakespeare's Plays
A case study by Robert Hiles

Shakespeare and Primary Sources in the Classroom
An in-depth article by Stephen Dickey

Lesson Plans

Advice From 400 Years Ago
A lesson plan by Judith Elstein

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