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A Close Reading of Shakespeare On Your Feet

Teachers' Rating:
  15 ratings

Dan Sayre Groesbeck. Edna May Oliver as the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet. Watercolor, ca. 1936.

October 2008
Robert Hankes teaches English at Big Spring High School in Newville, Pennsylvania

Plays/Scenes Covered
Romeo and Juliet, 1.3.17-49, The Taming of the Shrew, 2.1.185-189 
What's On for Today and Why

What happens when students read with their entire bodies working as hard as their minds? 


American University professor and Teaching Shakespeare Institute instructor Caleen Jennings shows us what happens as she works through the opening of The Nurse’s Speech from Romeo and Juliet.  She “physicalizes” each word, memorizing as she is synthesizing, and creates in herself a deep understanding of Shakespeare’s play. Once she connects with each word of the text, she looks for clues about the characters and their motivation by going back to Shakespeare’s words.


Once students watch the video, they’re not done — they’re just beginning. It’s their turn to closely read Shakespeare on their feet and to make a few discoveries about Shakespeare and themselves.


This lesson plan will take one class period, plus fifteen minutes from the class period the next day.

What You Need

Folger Editions of The Taming of the Shrew or Romeo and Juliet
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts

Click on the "Reading On Your Feet" link below to watch Caleen Jennings work through a monologue from Romeo and Juliet and demonstrate techniques that your students will be using.

Petruchio speech
Reading On Your Feet
What To Do

Day One

  • Ask students to explain how one reads (i.e for understanding,silently, aloud, questioning as they go etc) Discuss.  Then ask students to pose as if they are reading.  Discuss what is good about this and what may be bad about this style of reading.
  • Watch Caleen Jennings physicalize the Nurse’s Speech.  Ask the students what they noticed. 
  • Tell the students that they are going to try this.
  • Move the chairs away, or take the class down to the stage or to the cafeteria or outside — someplace where students will have room to move.   Bring a poster of Petruchio’s greeting to Kate from The Taming of the Shrew.  You may display this on a Smart board, on an easel, or on a sheet or two of poster paper.  The main thing is that the students can see the words easily.
  • Stretch a bit to relax.
  • Don’t explain the context of the posted words: that is for the students to discover.
  • Ask everyone to physicalize “You” — that is, find in themselves a physical response to the word.  There is no right way to do this.  Ask the students to physicalize with their entire body. The teacher does this,  too.
  • Move on to “lie,” and then the comma (physicalize punctuation, please); physicalize“in,” and then “faith,” and then the second comma.   Then ask the students to “read” the entire phrase, “You lie, in faith,”.
  • Physicalize “for,” and then “you” is next – do what you did for the first “you”. Ask the students if they remember. They will.
  • Once they physicalize the first line, ask them to recite, physicalizing, the whole first line. Then tell them to close their eyes and do this.
  • Work on the second line, but leave enough time in the period to do an exit slip. On this slip, ask them how it felt to do this.
  • Homework: recite the line at home, in front of someone.Then write a one-page reaction to doing this (don’t go over one side).

Day Two

  • Ask students to take out their homework (don’t hand it in yet) and to tell you how one reads. Discuss. What was it like to recite your line? Did you remember the line?
  • If students wish to recite their line, this would be the time to permit them to do so.
  • Ask them what they can tell you about Petruchio, the person saying these lines, and about Kate. Specifically, what do the words “bonny” and “super-dainty” suggest to the students? Why does Petruchio continue to repeat her name? Also, when might these words be said to someone?  Finally, what else did students notice about what these words mean to them?
  • On the back of their homework, ask them to write down what they learned about reading from doing this exercise. Discuss. Collect papers.

How Did It Go?

What did the students write on those papers and say in class?  How many students felt this way of reading useful, either for easy memorization or understanding difficult reading material?  How many students surprised everyone with deep insights into the words?  How many students redefined their ideas about what it means to read?


Hopefully this exercise will spring the students into the depths of literature, their swimming technique a word-by-word close reading of key textual passages, just as Caleen Jennings demonstrates.


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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33 CommentsOldest | Newest

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