Teachers: Carolina Gallegos, drama teacher
Clara Gonzalez, Y6 assistant teacher
Karen Roberts, Y6 English Language teacher
Mentor: Valerie Browne
Shakespeare is powerful in a number of ways, his language can evoke and arouse intense emotions: his stories can exercise a powerful grip on our imaginations and his themes deal with all kinds of problems that are still relevant today. “Romeo and Juliet” may well be set in a time and place remote from children’s experience yet it deals with realities of life many of which children know at first hand. Characters find themselves in situations where they need to make choices that are difficult and where they need to face the consequences of their actions.
The best classroom experience we could offer the students was one which allowed them to approach a Shakespearean play as actors did more than 400 years ago, and still do today – as an ensemble, using active exploratory methods to develop a greater understanding and enjoyment of the play. The ensemble approach to devising means that possible meanings are best explored through active and physical means, through the power and subtleties of the voice and working together with the gestures and actions of the body. Through this method, Shakespeare came to life in our classroom.
In our first session we set out to explore the plot, characters’ actions and the resulting conflict. Taking advantage of the students´ previous experience with drama conventions, we chose ten lines which gave an outline of the plot and wrote them in large pieces of paper making them look like signposts. These were kept hidden. As Caro narrated the story, she introduced and revealed each line along with the narration. Students mimed simultaneously, so they had to pay close attention to the narration, which focused on the actions and feelings of the characters. In this technique actions are of the essence as performing actions is easier than ideas about conflict. In addition, they were all performing the same character at the same time, this aimed to provide shy and self conscious students a safe environment in which they would not be under the spotlight. The first time a quotation was read, they would repeat the line focusing on the Iambic Pentameter and only then was the quote uttered a third time with accompanying actions, facial expressions and a suitable tone of voice. The result was a diverse range of emotions expressed at the same time. Students showed much enthusiasm with the challenge of the difficult language.
The quotes we selected were the following:
“Down with the Capulets! Down with the Montagues!”
“But, soft what light through yonder window breaks?”
“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”
“They have made worms meat of me. I have it.”
“And fire eyed fury be my conduct now!”
“Romeo, Romeo, Romeo here’s drink — I drink to thee!”
“Here to my love thus with a kiss I die.”
“O happy dagger, let me die.”
“For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”
Students were divided into six groups and we challenged them to synthesize the plot in only six quotes. Once they reached an agreement, we allocated a quote to each group and asked them to arrange the signposts in the correct order. Then with the sequence displayed on the floor each group stood behind their text. We gave them twenty seconds to make a still image (group statues where students can use their bodies to represent objects or ideas) of their quote. The idea was for students to use space and gestures rather than words to represent places, relationships and action. Images were then “read” and feedback was given by their fellow classmates.
Finally, we sat in a circle and students shared their response to the session. We established that deepening our understanding of characters and their motivations was our goal for the following session.
By the end of the session the students had a shared understanding of the story and were confident in the complex sequence of the narrative. The activities had required them to collaborate as they shared ideas about how to prepare the still images encapsulating key ideas and issued in a single representation.