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Teaching Shakespeare to a 10th Grader


by Stephen Becker 14 Oct 2009

Guest blogger Kristin Nowak is a Development & Membership Associate with Shakespeare Dallas. She sends this post about her early experiences with Shakespeare. Shakespeare Dallas’s current production, Julius Caesar, runs through Sunday. I remember reading Julius Caesar in high school. My 10th grade English teacher sat us all in a circle and assigned parts to […]

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Guest blogger Kristin Nowak is a Development & Membership Associate with Shakespeare Dallas. She sends this post about her early experiences with Shakespeare. Shakespeare Dallas’s current production, Julius Caesar, runs through Sunday.

I remember reading Julius Caesar in high school. My 10th grade English teacher sat us all in a circle and assigned parts to the people in the class whose eyes weren’t already glazed over at the mere thought of reading a play written centuries ago. As someone who would eventually become an English major in college, I was excited to add one more classic to my mental library of literature. However, I was not aware that the language was going to make it quite as difficult as it did to understand the plot of the play. My class struggled through the play for a week, attempting to understand not only the complexity of Elizabethan English, but also the heavy themes dominant throughout. How does a 10th grader, who has only recently been given license to drive, understand that a man could kill his best friend for the good of his country?

As an adult, our life experience makes it easier to understand Shakespeare’s work, but we also have the opportunity to see live productions. Shakespeare’s works were not intended to simply be read aloud in a classroom, but to be experienced. Seeing live people act out the power struggles that dictated Caesar’s (as well as Brutus’, Cassius’ and many others’) death changes the way we perceive the story being told. While my 10th-grade self saw Brutus as the bad guy in writing; now hearing his despair at the decision he must make and seeing his emotional anguish has made me more sympathetic to Brutus. While all of the senators may not have had honorable intentions, it does allow us to garner a different perspective and begin to understand the complexities within.

This fall we have invited students and adults out to the park to experience for themselves a live performance of Julius Caesar in order to break down that barrier between merely reading a 400-year-old work and seeing how this play transcends time and becomes relevant today.

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