Shakespeare Speaks

Whenever I say, "We're starting our Shakespeare unit," I typically hear this:

I LOVE Shakespeare, even though I didn't when I was in high school, and I think everyone should read him. That includes you.

My theater class just read Othello. Of all of Shakespeare's plays, this one seems most relevant to the time and place in which I, personally, live.

As a Southerner, I realize that people who do not live in the South have certain expectations of me, specifically that I am 1) racist, and 2) stupid, and possibly 3) inbred. Well, suck it, Yankees, because I am none of those!

However, I fully admit that there are some people who DO fit that stereotype, although THEY DON'T ALL LIVE IN THE SOUTH. A great many of them live in Missouri, especially in the small(-minded) town where I used to teach. Bygones.

Othello, the Moor of Venice, was a great warrior who came from a royal family. He was black, and obviously, that was a problem for the people of Venice. Even though they respected his ability as a soldier, they still viewed him as inferior because of his skin color.

My increasingly brilliant and always impressive students have made comparisons between Othello and Emmett Till, Othello and O.J. Simpson, Othello and themselves. I LOVE when I don't have to spell everything out for them!

I've taught this play before, but this is the first class I've had with vocal black students. In the past, I've either taught an all-white class or a class that had two black kids who never said ANYTHING. It's really taught me a lot to have their perspective. Culturally and contextually, we see things differently. It's nice to have their perspectives, and they are not afraid of telling me what they think, either. (This is probably because I have had these kids in previous classes; we have an established relationship. Also, I LOVE them).

The whole class agrees that the villain of the piece is Iago, who is, by the way, white. Also, he is 28, which means that he is younger than I am, and still the very incarnation of evil. And, he doesn't just hate black people, he hates EVERYONE. Black, white, male, female, rich, poor, you name it. He's pretty much a jerk with no redeeming qualities. I think I dated him.

The students were given a variety of projects to choose from to complete the unit. (I got them from a website, but I don't know which one. Sorry, anonymous author of these projects! I would give you credit if I could!)

They could have chosen one of the following:

- Chart Othello's changes from the beginning to the end of the play. Create a chart to display on a poster board. Develop a time line of these changes, or create a sketched or computer generated story board. However you display these changes, you must document the scenes that reveal them.
- Create the first page of a Venetian newspaper in tabloid size and "tabloid" style. Cover some of the major newsworthy events in the play.
- Create a TV News Program that is 17th century-ish and covers the news breaking tragedies in Othello. It may be on videotape or performed live in the classroom.
- Create a bulletin board size board game for Othello. In a legend, give game objective, picture of tokens, etc.
- Choose a key scene from the play. Rewrite the scene updating the setting, situation, and characters. Perform the scene on tape player. Where necessary, add sound effects and music.

I got two games, one that was similar to Trivial Pursuit, and one that I think is sort of like Dungeons and Dragons. I have a variety of students in my class.

I got a news program--which interrupted the Maury show. Hee!

I got three tabloid covers, all of which dealt with the story in different ways.

I got one rewritten scene.

I got one timeline.

I got one cartoon, which was very much like The Boondocks.

And I had three who didn't do anything. That sounds about right.

Also, I got an assistant principal who did a walk-through evaluation during the presentations. He liked them, though, so that was good. And he called the play "a literature classic," which I liked. Especially since it's not officially in the curriculum.

Tomorrow's the test, and I am feeling optimistic.

And I think they love Shakespeare now, too.

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