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Mars vs. Venus in Renaissance England: Women and Men in The Winter's Tale

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Ester Sowernam. Ester hath hang'd Haman. London, 1617

June 2004
Rebecca Rufo teaches 8th grade language arts at East Side Middle School in Manhattan and has taught grades 9-12 in the NYC public school system.

Plays/Scenes Covered
The Winter's Tale 3.2
What's On for Today and Why
The interactions between Hermione and Leontes in Act 3, scene 2 reflect the attitudes of men and women during the English Renaissance. Students may have trouble understanding Leontes's anger, or the fact that Hermione doesn't protest more than she does. In this lesson, students will examine primary sources written about women from the early 17th century to develop a greater understanding of the conflict between Leontes and Hermione. Moreover, they will understand how their conflict reflects the attitudes and opinions of women during the English Renaissance.

This assignment can be completed in two 50-minute periods.
What You Need

New Folger edition of The Winter's Tale

Ester hath hang'd Haman by Ester Sowernam. pp. 34-35
Ester hath hang'd Haman by Ester Sowernam. pp. 36-37
Ester hath hang'd Haman by Ester Sowernam. pp. 46-47
The araignment of lewde, idle, froward, and unconstant women by Joseph Swetnam. pp. 14-19
Group Recorder handout
What To Do
1. When students finish reading Act 3, scene 1, ask them to respond in writing to the following question: Will Hermione get "a just and open trial" as Leontes claims (2.3.245)? Explain why or why not.

2. Divide the class into groups of three. One student should be the recorder, one student should be the timekeeper/taskmaster, and the other student should be the presenter.

3. Hand some groups copies of the excerpts from Joseph Swetnam's The araignment of lewde, idle, froward, and unconstant women (handout below) and give other groups the copies of Ester Sowernam's Ester hath hang'd Haman (handouts below). Have each group read their piece together and make a list of the 5 main points each author makes, which the recorder writes in column A of Group Recorder handout (below).

4. When the groups have completed column A, pair two groups together so that each Swetnam group is paired with a Sowernam group. The group reporter for each should share the information they found while the recorders summarize the new information and write it in column B of the Group Recorder handout.

5. Conduct a class discussion on the information students discovered when reading Swetnam and Sowernam's pieces. Ask them: What were the main ideas in each piece of writing? What did you find that surprised you? What did you find that you expected? What did you notice about the two authors? What was different? Was there anything similar? What can you tell about the English Renaissance based on the readings? How do you think the characters in The Winter's Tale would respond to each author? How do you feel about each piece?

6. Ask students to return to their groups of six. Together, the students should read to the end of Act 3, scene 2.

7. When the students have finished reading the scene, they should break back into their original groups of three. In these small groups the students should decide which author Hermione, Leontes, and Paulina would most agree with and why. They should record their responses on the handout (in column C) and make note of specific line numbers that they think support their claims.

8. When all groups have finished the assignment, conduct a whole class discussion on their findings, asking the students to use textual evidence to support their opinions. What new insights do the students have into the characters? Refer them back to the opening writing assignment: Did Hermione get a "just and open trial?" Have the students explain why or why not based on what they learned from the primary source pieces.
How Did It Go?
Did the students use primary sources to better understand the attitudes of women and men during the English Renaissance? Did they observe differences between the two primary sources? Did the students relate the primary sources to the play to gain a better understanding of the characters? Did the reactions and motivations of the characters make more sense when they were put in a historical context?

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.

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1 Comment

Thank you very much for the post festa
Sheila August 5, 2014 6:03 PM
  Common Core State Standards

There are no standards associated with this Lesson Plan.
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