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Folger Story

What the Folger Method offers students today

A time-tested approach makes Shakespeare’s timeless stories accessible to all students

Donna Denizé is the chair of English department at St. Albans School here in Washington, DC, and a longtime teacher working with Folger Education. She shares how the Folger Method — a transformative teaching tool that focuses on language and amplifies student voices — helps all students connect with Shakespeare’s plays and poems, as well as grow in emotional intelligence.


What I have discovered in years of teaching is that Shakespeare provides students with words for the troubling and violent emotions they feel and often cannot express. These words also lead them to self-understanding. In addition, Shakespeare’s language provides them with a way to see complexity and understand the larger world.

Performance of the Bard’s words is the way to this deeper knowledge and enjoyment of the works. Having students perform Shakespeare’s words is the Folger Method, and it has transformed the teaching of innumerable teachers nationwide, including mine.

By performing a line, scene, or several scenes, students bring their own imagination and creativity to the words, find the humor in the language, and discover that Shakespeare  is, indeed, accessible. The Folger Method has been repeatedly affirmed for me by what students in my Shakespeare class have written in their final essays. Below are a few excerpts.

What Shakespeare offers students today

Acting and studying Shakespeare’s tragedies has impressed upon me that life is not a series of safe choices and comfortable endings.

Macbeth loses his humanity when he loses his ability to question the moral condition of his actions. Macbeth’s tragedy reminds us not to lose sight of this, the essence of our humanity.

Othello’s struggle for truth and love in a society blinded by a reliance on appearances allows us to address an issue which our society would choose to ignore. The subject of race is so telling… Man’s inability to see beyond appearances leads him to lose sight of his own spiritual existence. This is the great lesson learned from Othello’s suffering, and it is why I view this play [as] the most relevant to the needs of our world today.

By the time we are in high school we begin to answer questions: What will happen to a friendship if I betray a friend’s trust? Does infatuation last? What is the difference between lust and love? Shakespeare’s plays mirror life… they reflect these questions.

When I began spending thought on Shakespeare’s plays, I began my compassionate education… These plays…can be disturbing…and frightening.  It is frightening when we realize that we do not always control our lives.  But at the end of this fear, there is regeneration, change.  If I leave high school with an understanding that goes beyond letters and labs, grades and achievement, I will have done something constructive in these years.

Teaching Shakespeare is essential

So, I know Peggy O’Brien, the Folger’s director of education, is right: “Shakespeare is for all students: of all ability levels and reading levels, of every ethnic origin, in every kind of school… Teaching Shakespeare is not only possible; it’s essential.”