Shakespeare in Action: Twelfth Night


This is our first official week of homeschooling. Olivia is in tenth grade, bless her heart, and she’s already hard at work. Since we returned from Norway last week, Olivia has taken advantage of the time change to rise early and GET STUFF DONE. She only wishes this trend could last. Alas, I fear that our late-rising habits will return all too soon.

I wanted to give some detail about the Shakespeare work we’re doing this year because I’ve heard from many parents who want to do Shakespeare with their teens but aren’t sure how to approach it. Indeed, the Bard can be overwhelming. On the one hand, Shakespeare plots are familiar, so there’s no benefit of surprising plot twists to engage young readers’ interest. On the other hand, the language is sometimes difficult, so trying to follow the action requires some mental effort.

We’re beginning our Shakespeare trek with Twelfth Night and are using ideas set forth in the Shakespeare Set Free series by Folger Shakespeare Library. Today was DAY 1. Instead of opening the book and reading Act 1, Scene 1 (the part that explains about the shipwreck to which I allude in the picture above), we jumped ahead to Act 2, Scene 2, where Viola and Malvolio have an exchange about a ring.  Here’s what we did:

  • We read the scene aloud several times, switching roles, guessing at unfamiliar words (the only one in this passage was “fadge”), and trying to figure out what was going on. [Note: My daughter knows this play, so it was quick to figure out what was going on. You see, Viola is disguised as a man, so Malvolio addresses her as “sir.” I’d love to try a play that she knows nothing about next to see what she can figure out just from the words in the text!]
  • We got the play “on its feet,” standing and designating an area of the kitchen as the stage. We took turns being Malvolio and Viola, entering and exiting the stage and using our best physical acting to get across the emotion of the scene. At one point, Malvolio throws a ring on the ground, and so I improvised this handy ring to use: 😉img_1278We ran the scene in several ways. In “The Chase,” Malvolio chases Viola all around the room as he reads his lines. In “Hot Potato,” Malvolio and Viola toss the ring back and forth like a hot potato as they say their lines. In “Take It,” Malvolio keeps trying to give the ring to Viola, sometimes depositing it in strange places on her person, but she keeps giving it back.

As you can see, a lot of repetition of this scene occurred. The main idea: Shakespeare is best appreciated by being heard and lived. We got to hear and express that language over and over, and our understanding of the passage evolved with each twist we enacted.

We finished with a more scholarly moment by emphasizing the iambic rhythms in Viola’s soliloquy and discussing the lines: “How easy is it for the proper false / In women’s waxen hearts to set their forms!” We thought about Viola’s conflicted roles as a man and a women and how men are just as susceptible to fall prey to a deceiver as women are.

Today, we lived some Shakespeare and Olivia got to dream about playing Viola one day. Good Day 1!

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