I’ve been getting a pretty good response to some Shakespeare writing assignments I posted last week. Those of you looking for more assignments may enjoy the following.
About five years ago, I taught a graduate course on teaching Shakespeare. As part of their course requirements, students had to choose three out of nine assignments to complete during the semester. If more than one assignment involved choosing one of the plays were were studying, they had to choose a different play for each assignment.
Please choose three of the following assignments:
1) Choose a dramatic scene written in the twentieth century. It could be from a play, movie, television show, cartoon, etc. Rewrite the scene as though it were written by Shakespeare. Try to stay as faithful to the original as possible while remaining consistent with Shakespeare’s poetic style and period.
2) Identify ten references to Shakespeare in contemporary American non-theatrical popular culture. Each reference can be a play title, quote, or character, but not simply a word coined by Shakespeare. The references must be made during this semester (periodicals published, movies in the theatre, first-run television shows, political speeches, etc.) Describe the original context of each reference and evaluate its appropriateness.
3) Imagine that you are a screenwriter, and have been asked to write a modern-day movie based on a Shakespeare play. Choose one of the plays we’re studying this semester and select a modern-day setting and characters for the play. Describe the updated story scene-by-scene. What modifications are necessary? What essential elements remain?
4) Imagine instead that the movie studio has chosen to do a Shakespeare play in the original, but with big-name celebrity actors. Choose your ideal cast and edit three key scenes for production. Explain the rationale for your choices.
5) Choose one of the plays we’re studying this semester. Approach the play as a dramaturg and compile a comprehensive research file that might assist a production company in performance.
6) Choose one of the plays we’re studying this semester. Approach the scene as an education specialist and develop a resource guide for teachers who want to teach the play.
7) Choose one of the plays we’re studying this semester. Compare and contrast two published versions of the play (e.g. the Folger and the Arden). Be sure to discuss their treatment of the primary source materials (such as Quartos and Folios). Choose two versions with differences sufficient to make the assignment meaningful.
8) See a live production of one of the one of the plays we’re studying this semester. Write a 3-5 page essay describing the choices made by the production in interpreting the text.
9) With at least one other person, prepare and present a scene from one of the plays we’re reading this semester. (minimum 15 lines each). Memorization is required. In a one-page essay, describe your reasoning for choosing this scene and the approach you intend to take in interpreting it.
Nobody chose Assignment 2 because they thought it would be too difficult, but as the semester wore on, they were kicking themselves because they started to realize how ubiquitous Shakespeare references are. And the course was at NYU, so Assignment 8 was not a problem logistically.
Needless to say, I got some really great stuff back. Giving creative assignments like these makes learning more fun for both the student and the teacher. Plus, it helps discourage plagiarism.
Which assignments would you have chosen? What assignments could I have added to the list of choices? How could these assignments be adapted to make them more appropriate for high school students?