Welcome winter! A favorite season of Shakespeare’s — from “winter and rough weather” to “a sad tale’s best for winter” to Adam’s “lusty winter”… We hope this winter is treating you well thus far. Since much of the Shakespeare-in-education world is on a holiday break, we’re going to use this week’s posting to highlight some of our favorite books that touch on Shakespeare-in-education. Think of it as a last-minute gift guide for that Shakespeare-in-education person in your life!
Note: I include the links to Amazon’s page for most of these books since that is often a quick way to get information on the edition — not as a particular endorsement of that company; where possible I link to other booksellers as well.
Creative Shakespeare, by Fiona Banks of the Shakespeare’s Globe education team, is a thoughtful, idea-packed introduction to the Globe’s “practical” approach for bringing Shakespeare to life for young people. It’s wonderful to sense the passion Banks and her fellow Globe teachers have for this work and play.
Fifth grade teacher Rafe Esquith’s books are really about great teaching, not specifically Shakespeare-through-performance, and in them he dips only occasionally into his amazing work with the troupe of Hobart Elementary students he calls the Hobart Shakespeareans. But even a few moments of Rafe discussing his work with students on an annual Shakespeare production — which has grown in complexity over the years to include live music and dance performed by the students — is golden and inspiring. Some teachers feel discouraged when they learn about Rafe, because of his long hours and a level of dedication he himself jokingly calls “madness” (while adding that there is “method in’t”!). But you can certainly gain much from learning about what he and his Hobart Shakespeareans aim for and accomplish each year. A documentary of the same name is a great one-hour introduction to Rafe and his approach; then there are his books on teaching: There Are No Shortcuts, Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire, and Lighting Their Fires.
For me, one of the most fun parts about going to England and seeing the RSC back in the day (we’re talking mid-’80s here) was hitting the theater bookshop. There were all these amazing editions that had never made it over to the U.S.. The RSC’s publication output has continued to be impressive and its education unit has expanded, and if you can’t flip through the books eagerly in London or Stratford, you can find the editions online on the company’s website. Look in the “Academic” section for titles such as RSC Shakespeare Toolkit for Primary Teachers.
Keith Johnstone’s Impro (1987) remains one of my favorite books about teaching, though it is primarily interested in the art of improvisation. What’s amazing is the way Johnstone approaches improvisation as a freeing of the creative spirit in all its playfulness — and then demonstrates through vivid storytelling about workshop experiences just how this approach can spark the imagination in individual students.
This page at Drama Resource has a list of five notable editions on teaching Shakespeare to young people (one is already featured above).One of the first influential books on bringing Shakespeare into the K-12 classroom!
And then while we’re on the topic of teacher resources, here is a link to a wonderful set of free guidebooks created by the education department at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass. to supplement the work of their schools touring troupe. From the intro on the site: “Each guidebook includes notes on the play, each scene, literary sources, historical and mythological references, words coined by Shakespeare and more, plus cut scenes for further exploration of the play in the classroom.” You can find another wonderful set of links at the Cambridge School Shakespeare Online site.
Well, we have just scratched the surface here, no doubt — and we didn’t even get to dive into the university-level books. If you have any favorite Shakespeare-in-education editions, please give us a shout. And happy holidays, wherever you are, whether it’s winter there or not!