One of the things I loved about teaching both French and English was the opportunities I had to delve into each subject and create imaginative bulletin boards for my students. Back in the day I collected many many bits and pieces sure to attract those amazing teenagers and help them develop the same love for my subjects as I had.

One of the bulletin boards centered around the bard in preparation for my grade eleven class beginning Shakespeare’s Macbeth, or the Scottish play as those superstitious actors always call it. I had large posters and personal pictures of my visit to Stratford-on-Avon with my husband. We had walked in Shakespeare’s actual house so that on my wall play covers and actors danced around the Globe Theatre recreating Shakespeare’s time.

Our classes were 75 minutes long. On the first day studying Macbeth I announced a witch contest. I got the usual groans and resigned looks but I acted out the whole scene for them complete with three different witch voices and the students got into the mood. Fun to laugh at your teacher! They divided into groups of 3 and began to plan their presentations of the opening scene. You remember it:

Macbeth

ACT I  SCENE I  A desert place.
[Thunder and lightning. Enter three Witches]
First Witch When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
Second Witch When the hurlyburly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.
Third Witch That will be ere the set of sun. 5
First Witch Where the place?
Second Witch Upon the heath.
Third Witch There to meet with Macbeth.
First Witch I come, graymalkin!
Second Witch Paddock calls. 10
Third Witch Anon!
ALL Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air.
[Exeunt]

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It was great fun and the kids had a ball. From there jumping into the rest of the play was easy. Already the kids had memorized their witch parts complete with their individual witch cackles and crackly voices which they loved to use out of the blue. Sometimes I’d even hear them in the hall.

In Grade 9 we studied Merchant of Venice with our classes. That was the first Shakespearean play I taught and I assigned my students Portia’s speech, “The quality of mercy is not strain’d”, to memorize. The hard task of memorizing that strange language helped them to understand it better and the more the students practised in groups the more I heard that understanding in their voices. And I could ask them more interesting test questions based on those few lines they knew.

That first year of teaching my dad asked me what play I was doing with the kids. Immediately my 55-year-old father, whose days in school had long since faded to distant memories, recited flawlessly Portia’s magnificent speech. What a gift! To me, certainly, but also to him that his schooling allowed him to do that and still know it all those years later.

King Lear was the play I studied in Grade 13 (back when we still had grade 13!) and I loved it. Those three daughters just came alive as did Lear’s ridiculous idea of equating empty words with actual love. Cordelia was such a strong character.

And then I took an extra English credit to increase my teaching qualifications. Fourteen Shakespearean plays. Not the way to study them. To this day I know all the titles and most of the plots but the rest is a blur. Hamlet, though, just shone. The thing that most surprised me was all the lines I already knew from that play without even realizing where they originated. I guess a few others thought it was fabulous, too! Here’s a list of famous quotations from Hamlet.

If you were vigilant you probably saw references to Shakespeare’s birthday and death day over the last few days. They are reported to be April 23 but only the death day is known for certain. His baptism was April 26, 1564 leaving scholars to assume he was born three days earlier but no one knows for sure. Of course he died April 23, 1616, having lived and written through the Elizabethan age with Elizabeth I and her defeat of the Spanish Armada.

What I most adore about Shakespeare’s story and those of countless other writers is their contributions to their world and to the worlds forever after. Here we are all these years later still learning from Shakespeare, Hemingway, Twain, Potter (Beatrix), Dickens, Austen, Christie, Angelou, Poe, Rand and thousands of others. As I do my daily writing I pledge to remember how important our writing is, not just for today but for all the days to come. Won’t you join me in that thought?

 The Loyalist’s Wife, The Loyalist’s Luck, The Loyalist Legacy

by Elaine Cougler

Available at Amazon.com and many other places.

 

 

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