Archive for the 'Augusto Boal' Category

I Talk About Politics

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

I wanted to address a question that isn’t Frequently Asked, but one that is often raised in more subtle ways: Why would a blog dedicated to the teaching of Shakespeare talk so much about politics? Why risk alienating Shakespeare fans that may not agree with my viewpoints? Wouldn’t it be better to build a community of Shakespeare teachers without venturing into the socially impolite topic of partisan politics?

First of all, allow me to clarify that this blog isn’t entirely dedicated to teaching Shakespeare, as you may have noticed. “Shakespeare Teacher” is simply meant to be my blogger handle. The blog has always been about whatever I happen to find interesting at the moment, which often includes education and Shakespeare, but it also will include politics from time to time. But the question does lead to a more interesting question about how contemporary politics and Shakespeare are related in the roles they play in our lives.

In The Theatre of the Oppressed, Augusto Boal tells us that “all theater is necessarily political, because all the activities of man are political and theater is one of them.” What’s the point of studying Shakespeare if we’re not going to learn from him? And what’s the point of learning from him if we’re not going to apply what we’ve learned to build a better world? People who study that other great work of literature never hesitate to cite passages from it to imply an endorsement of their political views. We should not be timid to bring Shakespeare into the discussion when his insights would add a vital perspective.

I sometimes try to do this with the anagram, and this example from King Lear is perhaps illustrative. Lear is looking at the helpless victims of a storm and recognizing that he is partly responsible for their plight. “O! I have ta’en/ Too little care of this.” And if we can be moved by his words, it’s only fair to ask: moved to what? If we can be moved to tears, we can be moved to action. Because what moves us in that line is our recognition of the things in the world that we ourselves have ta’en too little care of. Like, for example, the helpless victims of a storm, and our responsibility to them.

We venerate Shakespeare for his wisdom about the human condition. Some go so far as to say that he teaches us what it means to be human. But how does this understanding manifest itself in our society if not in the decisions we make as public policy? How do we define ourselves? How do we treat each other? How can we meet our most fundamental human needs? How do we deal with the unexpected? What are our priorities? What is our responsibility to one another? How we answer these questions for ourselves determines how we make the big decisions about the kind of society we want to be and the kind of world we want to live in. These decisions are swayed by policy, policy is swayed by elections, and elections are swayed by public opinion. Can Shakespeare be a voice in that discussion?

I talk about Shakespeare. I talk about politics. I welcome you to the conversation.

Googleplex – 1/31/10

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

It’s time once again to check in on what searches people have done to find themselves at Shakespeare Teacher, and to respond in the name of fun and public service. All of the following searches brought people to this site in the past week.

arrested development shakespeare play

In the episode “Bringing Up Buster,” George-Michael, Maeby, and Steve Holt get involved with a Shakespeare play, which Tobias ends up directing. The cast list is posted below a sign that says Much Ado About Nothing, and the character names are Beatrice and Benedick, so that would seem to be that. But the lines in the play are from As You Like It. And is that kid on stage behind Maeby dressed like a donkey?

does the letter x mean king?

Rex means king in Latin. The letter X following the name of a king, as in King Louis X, is the Roman numeral for 10. So, for example, King Louis X of France is the tenth King of France named Louis. It should be pronounced “the Tenth.”

In the case of Malcolm X, it would be a major faux pas to say “Malcolm the Tenth.” Malcolm Little chose to replace his last name with the letter X to represent the lost names of African families taken to America in slavery.

which theatrical word has 4 consecutive letters in alphabetical order?

Great question! I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader. The four letters are “RSTU” and they appear consecutively in a word that relates to live theatre. Does anyone know what it is?

UPDATE: The answer can be found in the comments for this post.

religeon during shakespeare’s time in scotland

Shakespeare was born in the latter half of the 16th century, a century largely shaped by the Protestant Reformation, which affected each country differently. Scotland broke with the Pope in 1560. (For reference, Shakespeare was born in 1564, and King James in 1566.) The movement was led by John Knox, who studied with John Calvin in Geneva, and then returned to Scotland. The Scottish Reformation led to the foundation of the Presbyterian Church.

James was raised in the Church of Scotland, but came to feel that Presbyterianism was incompatible with monarchy. His reforms took hold during, and beyond the life of Shakespeare. For more information about the Church of Scotland, see this list of resources.

did the tudors speak similar to shakespeare

Yes, at least the later Tudors. Shakespeare lived in Tudor England for the first part of his life, and would have spoken roughly the same version of English as the royal family, setting aside allowances for class. But Shakespeare did not always write the way he spoke. Much of the language in his plays and poems is heightened, not trying to capture the way that people would have sounded, but rather to use language to express internal thoughts and emotions. It’s something he was very good at doing, needless to say.

It’s worth noting that the King James Bible was also published in Shakespeare’s lifetime (1611), which is why the language is so similar: “Thou shalt not…” and so on. The Bible was also translated into heightened language, though, and should not be considered an authentic representation of how people would have spoken at the time.

boal to do in class

I like to do Forum Theatre. Have students devise a scene illustrating a problem that is prevalent among them. There should be a clear protagonist who wants something but is prevented from getting it because of the problem. They perform the scene. Then they perform it again, but any member of the audience may interrupt the scene by yelling out “Stop!” at any time. At this point, the intervening audience member (spect-actor) replaces the protagonist and tries a new strategy. The other actors improvise around the new protagonist. This is a great way to workshop constructive solutions to pressing problems, to begin a process of rehearsing to make change, and to learn a lot about your students!

I leave the task of responding to the remaining search terms to my readers:

who did shakespeare admire

how shakespeare affected the english language

why francis bacon couldn’t have written shakespeare

king james badmouthed shakespeare

shakespeare games for five year olds ideas

how to make king lear fun

Double Googleplex – 1/10/10

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

I subscribe to a service called “SiteMeter” which allows me to see a limited amount of information about my visitors. One thing that I can see is if someone finds my site via a Google search, and what they were searching for.

Every now and then I check in on what searches people have done to find themselves at Shakespeare Teacher, and to respond to those search terms in the name of fun and public service. All of the following searches brought readers to this site in the past week.


catherine of aragon monologue

Queen Katherine in Shakespeare’s Henry VIII is Catherine of Aragon. You can find good monologue material here and here.

agusto boal’s influences

You really have to consider Paulo Friere as Augusto Boal’s number one influence. Boal’s works also contain significant references to Marx, Hegel, Aristotle, Brecht, and Shakespeare. He was, of course, also greatly influenced by all of the many people with whom he interacted during his lifetime.

teacher help for shakespeare hamlet obituaries

I love the idea of having students write obituaries for Shakespeare’s characters. They could also write classified ads, advice column requests, and news stories. I’ve recently read blog posts where characters from Shakespeare have written Letters to Santa and New Year’s Resolutions, and these seem like good writing assignments for students as well.

why is macbeth so successful

Because he kills everyone who might possibly get in his way. But is he ultimately successful? See below.

what does macbeth have to look forward to in his old age?

Nothing. He’s dead.

Even if he weren’t, life would be bleak. His wife would be gone, and he’d be out of power. And as a former tyrant, he’d be made a laughing stock among the people. His decision to attack Macduff after all of the prophecies have come true may seem reckless to us, but he may not feel that he has a choice.

hidden messages in shakespeare “i … wrote this”

People looking for hidden “I wrote this” messages in Shakespeare are generally looking to prove that the plays were written by someone else. Shakespeare would have had little reason to hide such a message. But take a look at this page from a late Hamlet quarto, and see if you can find Shakespeare’s authorship message (hint: look at the writing below “Hamlet, Prince of Denmark”).

slings and arrows the tempest

None of the three seasons of Slings & Arrows centered around The Tempest, but the very first scene of the series does. Geoffrey is directing this very play before the events that will bring him back to the New Burbage. I often tell people who may be interested in the show to watch this scene and the opening credits, and if they’re not hooked by then, there is no need to go on.

ideas for teaching macbeth to 10 year olds

With this age group, I recommend doing activities to introduce the plot, characters, and themes of the play before they read the actual text. Start here, and if you like what you read, check out my doctoral dissertation, which was on this exact topic. You should also check out the Cambridge School Shakespeare Macbeth, which has a lot of great activities that can be adapted to this age group, and the Shakespeare Set Free book that includes Macbeth for even more great ideas.

which war occured during shakespeare’s life

Probably the most significant war Shakespeare lived through was the undeclared Anglo-Spanish War. In the late 16th century, Spanish King Phillip II was gathering an international coalition of Catholic forces to launch an invasion of England and overthrow Queen Elizabeth I. The Spanish Armada was famously defeated by the English navy in 1588. This victory launched a new wave of patriotic fervor among the English, and a popular trend of writing plays about English kings just as Shakespeare was beginning his career as a playwright.

was shakespeare a tudor

No. Tudor was the surname of the English royal family from 1485 to 1603. The man we refer to as King Henry VIII was born Henry Tudor, Queen Elizabeth I was Elizabeth Tudor, etc. Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII, married James Stuart (King James IV of Scotland) and their offspring continued the Stuart line in Scotland. Eventually, the Stuarts (in the person of James VI of Scotland) ascended to the English throne as well. When we speak of the Tudors and the Stuarts, then, we are not referring to titles, but to actual family names.

So, Shakespeare wasn’t a Tudor; he was a Shakespeare. But he was born and raised under Tudor rule. He lived the rest of his life under Stuart rule.

oikos polis anthony and cleopatra

I was taken aback by this one.

In this post, I discussed how ancient Greek playwrights would often show characters torn between their solemn duties to their oikos (family) and their polis (state), and how this is also a recurring theme in the television series 24. I also discussed how both 24 and ancient Greek tragedy share a unity of place, and used Antony and Cleopatra as a counter-example to demonstrate that Shakespeare did not have to conform to this unity.

What, then, was this search looking for? I don’t really think that oikos vs. polis is a theme in Antony and Cleopatra. It seems to me that the interests of family and state are aligned, and what the title characters are really balancing are those interests vs. their own passions.

king of england who did not have y chromosomes

The technical term for a king with no Y chromosomes is a “queen.” Notable queens of England have included a couple of Elizabeths, a couple of Marys, an Anne, and a Victoria (plus others, depending on what you want to count).

Almost by definition, a man has an X chromosome and a Y chromosome, and a woman has two X chromosomes. I say almost, because it is possible for there to be variations, but I am not familiar with any kings of England with such a condition.

I leave the task of responding to the remaining search terms to my readers:

prisoner’s dilemma lear

list of tv influenced by shakespeare

how to write a tudor invitation

robert duvall shakespeare

what does evil teach king lear?

shakespeare visual art

vienna`s english theatre macbeth zusammenfassung

genghis the teacher

social justice theatre

teaching the tempest using utube

humor in othello

comment of fifth act of macbeth from line 10 to 25

Augusto Boal (1931 – 2009)

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

I learned this morning that Brazilian theatre activist Augusto Boal passed away yesterday at the age of 78. His death has received little attention in the news, which shouldn’t be too surprising, but I thought there was a chance that his Nobel Peace Prize nomination last year might at least get him on Stephanopoulos this morning. It did not.

There are many places on the Internet to learn about Boal, so there’s no need for an obituary from me, but I did want to say a few words about how Boal has impacted my life and my work. I can easily say that Boal’s writings have had a greater influence on me than any other author’s. (Shakespeare doesn’t really count as an influence.) I apologize in advance if this post seems indulgent, but I could think of no better place to record my thoughts about the man whose work has meant so much to me over the years.

In 1993, as a young graduate student, I read Theatre of the Oppressed for a class, and it blew my mind. Boal examines the conception of theatre from Aristotelian, Hegelian, and Brechtian standpoints, and redefines the theatrical event as a political act. Aristotle’s concept of a catharsis, explains Boal, purges the audience of the impulse to act and to make a change in society. The spectator gives away the right to act to another person, who is even referred to as the actor. Just as Paolo Freire before him had demonstrated the need for teachers to learn from their students, breaking down the artificial barrier between them, Boal calls for a new theatre, one where the barrier between actor and spectator is broken down, and the theatrical event increases the impulse to act instead of purging it.

My interest stimulated, I sought out Boal’s other key work, Games for Actors and Non-Actors, which contained a wealth of activities I’ve been able to draw from for the past 15 years. In 1996, I had the opportunity to take a class with Boal himself at the Brecht Forum here in New York City. The class was on the then-new techniques he had developed for using Theatre of the Oppressed techniques for therapeutic purposes. It was an incredible experience. I had read Boal’s book on the subject, The Rainbow of Desire, but wasn’t able to make any sense of it. Actually getting a chance to use the techniques under Boal’s guidance was an invaluable experience I’ll never forget.

Boal was not like I thought he would be. I was expecting him to be a serious revolutionary type, but he had a jovial, even avuncular, demeanor. Even when telling a story about how he was tortured in Brazil, he had such a positive energy and good humour that you’d think he was talking about riding his bicycle in the park. (The punchline was that he was being tortured for going to other countries and saying that Brazil used torture.) He also told us about his recent experiment in what he called legislative theatre. He returned to Brazil (many years after his torture experience) and successfully ran for public office. As an elected official, he had his theatre group conduct Theatre of the Oppressed workshops with the people to learn what they needed, and then he would introduce the ideas into legislation. The experience is chronicled in an entertaining and enlightening way in Boal’s book Legislative Theatre.

In 1997, I started using Boal’s Forum Theatre technique as a staff development activity within the organization where I work. I have since used it in a variety of settings and it remains the sharpest tool in my kit. For a while, it looked like I might do my doctoral dissertation on Boal, though I ended up returning to Shakespeare in the end. But while I was doing my coursework, I was planning to write about Boal, so a great deal of my graduate studies focused on his work.

For the past twelve years, I’ve been teaching a graduate class at NYU on using drama as a teaching tool in the English classroom, and Boal’s influence is ubiquitous. Not only do I devote an entire class session to using Theatre of the Oppressed techniques in the classroom, but a major theme of the course is taken directly from a speech that Boal gave when Paulo Freire died, which I read during the second session of class each year. (The speech can be found in Legislative Theatre.) Boal describes how power relationships too often create a monologue, where only one party has the right to speak. Freire’s insight, according to Boal, is that education is much more effective when it becomes a dialogue between teacher and student. This forms one of the core philosophical principles of my course. The theatrical metaphor is significant, as dramatic activities can empower students to find their voice, drawing upon their prior experience and cultural values. This makes the learning experience more relevant to them.

You may have noticed this blog is more interactive than most. I certainly share my own opinions about the matters at hand, but almost all of my regular features are interactive. This blog is nothing without you. That’s because I believe that the power of Web 2.0 tools is that they break down the barrier between writer and reader. This is a philosophy I may not have embraced if it weren’t for Boal and Freire.

We lost a giant this weekend. But his legacy lives on in me, and the many, many others who have been influenced by his work and his writings. And I invite here all of them who wish to say along with me what Boal said upon Freire’s passing:

I am very sad. I have lost my last father. Now all I have are brothers and sisters.