In this discussion-based lesson, students will:
- Begin to explore the complicated issues behind the challenge to Shakespeare's authorship.
- Consider what qualities a writer has, both stereotypically and in fact.
- Discuss the notion of genius.
Time needed: 20-50 minutes
Depending on time, choose between these sets of questions, or do both. You could also assign half the class to do each set of questions, and then have them share their results. If all students do both sets and you allow time for students to start on their writing, the assignment will take approximately 45-50 minutes.
As you and students brainstorm ideas together, write students' responses on the board. If you prefer, students can begin by discussing the questions in small groups for 3-5 minutes before you begin a whole-class discussion.
- Why do we care who wrote the plays?
- What are the qualifications to be a writer? What kind of education does a writer need?
- What role does social or economic status play? Who wrote in Shakespeare's time? Who writes today?
- What is a genius? Take into account all types, e.g. physical, mental, emotional, athletic, musical, etc.
- Name some people you think are geniuses. Does Shakespeare fit? How?
- Could someone who has never been to New York write convincingly about New York?
- Can someone who has never been in love write a convincing love story? Could someone who had never been in love have written Romeo and Juliet?
- Where do scholars think that Shakespeare got the ideas for his plots? (Note: This link will show you what many scholars believe are the sources for each of his plays.)
- If, as the documentary Much Ado About Something hypothesizes, Shakespeare could not read well, speculate about how he might have learned the stories in the sources?
- Create a genius, give him or her a name, and describe all his or her attributes. Include in your description the attitude of others towards the genius you have created.
- Imagine that you are a psychiatrist. Write a case study of a patient you believe to be a genius. In addition to describing her or his attributes, making clear what you mean by genius, discuss the problems and triumphs the genius faces in the larger world.
Time needed: approximately 15 minutes
If you assign students to do the optional homework, start class the next day by asking for a few volunteers to read their pieces aloud. See if different accounts agree on at least some of the qualities a genius might have. Write the characteristics on the board.
Participation in classroom discussion
Completion of homework writing assignment