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  • The Great Shakespeare Experiment
    By Ellen Moore and Christopher Moore

    Grade Level: 10-12

    Students will interpret and perform a scene from William Shakespeare's HAMLET.


    This engaging lesson provides students with a fun and simple introduction to exploring Shakespeare through the use of text from HAMLET. It allows students to play with Shakespeare in a direct and enjoyable way. At the end of this lesson, students will have a greater ease and understanding of performing and studying Shakespeare. Students will also gain an appreciation for the role of the actor in interpreting a text by making choices.

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    Estimated Time

    40 minutes

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    Necessary Materials

    • Pen/Pencil

    • One Sheet Print out of the first 11 lines of HAMLET by William Shakespeare (Text Provided Below)

    • Index Cards (to create the "Secret Style Cards")

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    Teaching Procedure

    Step 1: Give students a copy of the first 11 lines of HAMLET and have them get out pencils and pens. You may not even want to tell them that it is Shakespeare right away. Either way, it is best to have the text on an individual sheet so students can write on the paper.
    Barnardo: Who's there?

    Francisco: Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself.

    Barnardo: Long live the King!

    Francisco: Barnardo?

    Barnardo: He.

    Francisco: You come most carefully upon your hour.

    Barnardo: 'Tis now struck twelve. Get thee to bed, Francisco.

    Francisco: For this relief much thanks. 'Tis bitter cold, And I am sick at heart.

    Barnardo: Have you had quiet guard?

    Francisco: Not a mouse stirring.

    Barnardo: Well, good night.

    Step 2: Read the entire scene together out loud as a class in a group reading. Ask students to mark the words that they find unfamiliar and strange. Discuss their observations. What might "unfold yourself" mean? What is meant by "Get thee to bed"?

    Step 3: Divide the room in half and read the scene again out loud. The left half of the room will be Barnardo and the right half will be Francisco. Read scene. Ask students to identify what is going on in the scene? Who might these people be? Where are they? What are they doing? What is the time of day? What is the temperature? Are they outside or inside? Remember to use only information gathered from these 11 lines. What can we tell from these 11 lines?

    Step 4: Have the left half of the room read Francisco and right half of the room read Barnardo. Read scene again out loud. Ask students to identify the aspects of the scene they don't know and can't gather from the text. How old are these people? How tall? Are there any physical gestures that might go with the lines? Why a "quiet guard"? Does Barnardo leave at the end of the scene? Are the characters happy or sad? Are they hungry or thirsty? Where do they live? End this section by asking, "What kind of scene is this? Funny? Sad? Suspenseful? Dramatic?" Solicit as many different responses as possible.

    Step 5: Inform students that today they are going to take part in an experiment using these lines. The aim of this experiment is to determine what type of scene this is.

    Step 6: Divide the room into teams consisting of two students each.

    Step 7: Give each team a SECRET STYLE CARD. The "Secret Style Card" has the teams number on one side (#1, #2, and so one), and on the other side it lists a theatrical/film style or genre. Examples of the types of styles that are fun include: Science Fiction, Opera, Mystery, Circus, Sit Com, Soap Opera, Silent Movie or Mime, Western, Action Movie, Musical, or Horror Film. Remind students not to share the card with other teams!

    Step 8: Inform the students that they are going to present the scene in the style written on their card. Give the students a specific amount of time to rehearse (5 minutes is usually plenty of time). Allow them to rehearse in different parts of the room. Encourage them to use their imaginations for props or setting and characters. Circulate and answer questions.

    Step 9: Have students flip their scene over and write "Guess Sheet" on top and number 1 to 10 on the back of the paper (or however many groups there are). Have the students cross out the number that corresponds with their team number. For example, if your card has #3 then you cross out #3 on your list.

    Step 10: Present the scenes in order #1 to #10. Ask the students not to tell what their style card is, but rather to just present the scene in that style. Ask the students when they are not presenting to guess the style of the group that is presenting and to write down their guess on the GUESS SHEET.

    Step 11: After all the groups have presented the scene, go through and discuss the guesses and what the card actually said for each group. Were there styles that were similar? Could the scene work in all these different styles? Ask students to identify what choices they made to communicate the style they were in? Vocally? Physically? Attitude?

    Step 12: Conclude by congratulating the students on performing a scene from Shakespeare! Introduce to the students the idea that the plays of Shakespeare include elements of many different styles, comedy and tragedy live side by side. Encourage them as they read other parts of the play to read it aloud and explore what Shakespeare is trying to communicate. Encourage them to continue to experiment and explore with the text.

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    Extension/Adaptation Standards

    After the students have presented, mix up the styles. Have the "Mime" Barnardo perform with the "Horror Movie" Francisco, or a "Musical" Barnardo with a "Western" Francisco and so on. What are the resulting changes? Does the scene still make sense?

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    PBS Materials: This lesson is strengthened by the use of the PBS video and print resource kit DISCOVERING SHAKESPEARES SCHOOL KIT and DISCOVERING HAMLET featuring performances by actors such as Derek Jacobi, Kenneth Branagh, and Patrick Stewart.

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    About the Authors

    Ellen Moore taught drama and literature to grades 9-12 at Lawrence Woodmere Academy in Woodmere, New York and served as the Artistic Director of the Theatre Department for grades 5-12. She continues to work as a private tutor and teacher. Ellen holds a Masters of Fine Arts degree from Columbia University in theater, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). Christopher Moore is a graduate of the Julliard School, Drama Division and the University of St. Thomas. He is an actor with the acclaimed Pearl Theatre company in New York, and has served as a teaching-artist at several New York City high schools. He is the founder of and recently was awarded a grant from the Belle Foundation for Cultural Development.

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