Christian Talbot teaches at Regis High School, an all-boys Jesuit prep school in Manhattan. He teaches sophomore, junior, and senior English literature, as well as freshman research writing.
A Midsummer Night's Dream 3.2.270-365 or King Lear 4.6.246-316
What's On for Today and Why
One of the obstacles students face when reading Shakespeare is not being able to imagine the action that accompanies the text. This lesson--based on an exercise introduced by Michael Tolaydo at the 2000 Teaching Shakespeare Institute--has students perform a "silent scene" based on a short passage from either A Midsummer Night's Dream or King Lear. This technique of creating a play without words allows students to understand the action taking place on stage and the variety of different ways that action can be performed.
This lesson will take two class periods.
What You Need
Folger editions of A Midsummer Night's Dream or King Lear
Available in print and Folger Digital Texts
A Midsummer Night's Dream: Silent Scene
King Lear: Silent Scene
What To Do
1. Select either the silent scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream or from King Lear on the handouts listed below. Ask the students to silently read through the corresponding passage in the Shakespeare play and compare it to the directions in the silent scene. Have the students create a comparison chart that lists the "silent scene directions" in the first column and the corresponding "phrases from the text" in the second column.
2. Discuss as a class how the silent scene tries to capture, without using dialogue, what is happening in the scene. How does the action support or illustrate the text? Specifically, how does it demonstrate the relationship between the characters? Ask the students to share what they've written in their charts to support their arguments.
3. Assign students to groups of 4 or 5, and give each group the same silent scene. (If you have elected to have the class work on different silent scenes, be sure that at least two groups are working on the same one. This allows the students to see the different ways the same scene can be performed.)
4. Have students rehearse their silent scene. Remind them that the scene can be performed in a variety of ways—as a comedy or a tragedy, for example. To get the entire class involved, require that every student have a role in the performing of the silent scene.
5. Have the students perform their silent scenes in front of the class. Ask the audience to write down one or two aspects of each performance that highlight the actors' interpretation of this scene. Again, the students are noting how the performance illustrates the unspoken dialogue and highlights the meaning of the text.
6. Have the students return to their groups, and ask each group to write their own silent scene for a different passage in the play using what they have learned from the previous exercise. Exchange the silent scenes among the different groups, and repeat Steps 4 and 5 with the student-written silent scenes. The students won't be comparing the same scene this time, but they'll be able to admire each other's work.
How Did It Go?
Did students offer insights into Shakespeare's text through their critique of the silent scene? Did students demonstrate an understanding of the action of the play by performing the scene? Did students propose a variety of ways to approach the same scene?
If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.