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Lessons on the Bard: Shakespeare's Plays and Poems

By Linda M. Rhinehart Neas

William Shakespeare left the world a legacy of literature. Proven to have universal themes that work as well today as they did in the 16th-17th centuries, his plays and poems speak to people from all walks of life. Why is Shakespeare called "The Bard"? These lesson plans hold the answer.

Something For Everyone

The wonder of Shakespeare is that he wrote something for everyone - romance, treachery, action, history, fantasy, and, of course, Enjoying Literature comedy. What makes his work even richer is that the reader can find all of that in one play!

A master of language, Shakespeare was able to satisfy the demands for theater productions by the aristocracy of his time, while likewise giving the peasants something for their money. His twists of language were not lost on the audience, nor were his commentaries on the situations of the day, which he artfully masked within his characters, dialogue and settings.

The following are articles and lesson plans on Shakespeare, himself, as well as his works, in general.

Fun and Fantasy

While lesson plans on his most famous works cover a multitude of topics, students of all ages enjoy the fun of his plays based on romance and fantasy. A Midsummer Night's Dream is silly enough to share with elementary students, yet serious enough that high school students enjoy it also.

Romeo and Juliet

Few would argue that the most famous of Shakespeare's romances is the tragic story of the star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet. Within the lines of this play, educators can pluck the themes of family, rebellion, and teenage angst, which can then scaffold to topics of long-lasting disputes, blind loyalty to a cause, conflict negotiation, and prejudice.

History and Shakespeare

The plays Julius Caesar, Henry VIII, and Richard III by Shakespeare add an element of drama to history classes. Shakespeare wrote ten plays on British Kings and several on the Romans. While some of these plays are more famous than others, they each present bits of history that, through the characters in the plays, comes alive. For instance, here are some lesson plans on the play, Julius Caesar.

Other Plays

Shakespeare's plays are broken down into three categories - romance, comedy and history. As mentioned before, his writing often incorporated all the elements of romance, drama and comedy in one play. When teaching Shakespeare it is good to give students well-rounded exposure to his works in order for them to grasp the genius of the man.

Sonnets

A sonnet is a poem in which the writer tells the reader about the relationship between two things that appear the same but are different. The English or Shakespearean sonnet is written in a rhyme following the pattern abab, cdcd, efef, gg or in 3 quatrains and a couplet. Sonnets have a turn or volta, in which the second idea is introduced to the reader. Shakespeare would place the volta at Line 9, as the Italian sonnets do, or sometimes wait until the couplet to present the volta.

Life's a Stage

No study of Shakespeare would be complete without a lesson on the Globe Theatre. Plays and theater were fairly new to the Elizabethan world. Shakespeare and his colleagues literally built the Globe after the place where their dramas were acted out called simply, "The Theatre," was destroyed.

Like the plays presented on its stage, the Globe was a place where everyone from the groundlings (the people who stood directly in front of the stage, having paid for the cheapest tickets) to the aristocracy who sat on stage, not so much to see the play as to be seen by those attending the performance.

The following offer background on the Globe as well as ideas on involving students in the world of Shakespeare.

The End

Students need to learn not only about his writing, but also about the man and his world in order to answer the question, "Why is Shakespeare called 'The Bard'?" This guide provides articles and lesson plans to help in that endeavor.