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11 July 2014
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Teachers' Notes - plays, themes and characters

Teachers' area

To accompany the website, ICT Advanced Skills Teacher Paul Sibson has written a set of Teacher's Notes.

This section suggests ways to explore the themes and characters of Shakespeare's plays through 60 Second Shakespeare in the classroom.

Session one: Universal themes
Time taken: one session of approximately one hour.

Shakespeare's themes are many and varied but all can be transposed into different times and locations. They are universal themes which can be seen through many other plays, books, stories and movies.

(See a list of themes related to some of Shakespeare's main works.)

A session exploring the themes of various plays is a good way to spark the children's ideas. Present the students with a list of themes and ask them to identify books or movies that they have read/ seen which explore similar themes.

For example the movie Gladiator deals with revenge, lust for power, redemption and jealousy amongst others.

Ask the students
  • how authors and movie directors have explored similar themes and how successful they felt they were,
  • to take one or two of the themes discussed and write a short scene for a movie which explores that theme.

  • Session two: Can Shakespeare's characters escape their fate?
    Time taken: one session of approximately one hour.

    One of the repeating themes in Shakespeare's works is fate and human actions. In Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar, amongst others, the characters all suffer through their actions.

    Is this fate, or did they cause their own downfall? Did fate force Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to follow the path they took or did they have the power to change fate by making better choices along the way? Were Romeo and Juliet star crossed lovers who had no control once events were put in motion?

    It is interesting to put these questions of fate and decision making to students and ask them to develop these thoughts in their own work.

    Ask the students to work in groups to look at the question of fate in Shakespeare plays, and to identify the points within the plays at which characters made decisions which took them.

    What might have happened to the characters if they had made different decisions at this point? E.g. If Macbeth had chosen not to kill Duncan would the Witches prophesy still have come true?

    The outcome of these discussions will help feed the development of the students 60 Second Shakespeare works.
    Session three: pick out key plot points
    Time taken: one session of approximately one hour.

    Use the 60 Second Shakespeare newspaper articles as a starting point to develop ideas and condense the play into more manageable chucks.

    These articles will help to bring the stories into focus for the students and help them relate to the play in a more modern light. They can be used to start discussions about how to condense the play down or identify scenes of interest to the group of students.

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