As Shakespeare's 450th anniversary is already upon us, our Director of Studies has created a list of fun activities drawing on some of the Bard's greatest plays.

We are all well aware of the importance of the Bard, his plays and writings, and how he contributed to the creation of expressions that are still currently in use in modern English. However, not everyone is aware of how appealing Shakespeare can be even to 16 to 18-year-old learners. 

Here are a few suggestions that can help you out if you are planning on introducing this topic in your lessons to celebrate Shakespeare’s 450th anniversary.

Image: The British Library

Image: The British Library

Teenagers are notoriously attracted to aggressive behaviour, bad language or hilarious interpretations of the classics, so why not exploit these points to make your students enthusiastic about Shakespeare?

Surely the gory scenes and the violent acts in quite a few Shakespearean plays are just as powerful and distressing as the most convoluted plots in modern tragic films. Think of Titus Andronicus, where murders, rapes and gruesome tactics to confront and humiliate the enemy are at the core of the tragedy in which the characters attempt to gain power and seek revenge for the loss of their kin. 

A sequence of amputations and trading of limbs, along with throat slitting and the atrocity of cadavers being left to rot and be devoured by wild animals are some of the loathsome elements used by Shakespeare to reach the climax in many sickening and dismaying moments in his acts.
So, how can we use these elements to engage students?

Undoubtedly, we want to prevent our students from being traumatised by some of the scenes or encouraged to replicate bad behaviour, but pointing out some of the features in Shakespeare’s tragedies will definitely make learners aware of how contemporary such a playwright is.

Select some scenes and delete part of the dialogues, so that your students will be able to complete them creatively

Here are some tips on how to use tragedies to engage students:
•    Do not reveal the whole synopsis but rather ask your students to finish it off using their own creativity.
•    Spur students to create a modern version of the whole play, where special effects and unexpected plot twists are allowed to occur. Teens will enthuse over the new version of the play, imbuing it with intricacies and details that will enrich and personalise the story.
•    Select some scenes and delete part of the dialogues, so that your students will be able to complete them creatively. Alternatively, ask them to introduce puns or mocking expressions that convey a touch of satire and make the plot more of an observational account of the political or social situation of the time.
•    Get students to predict the ending of a scene or the reason for the characters’ reactions in particular circumstances. Compare students’ ideas with the original version of the plot and highlight any similarities. Let students decide on the most original prediction.
•    Ask students to act out one of the scenes, replacing the original dialogue with the equivalent in modern English and encouraging them to include expressions that would convey the same powerful meaning as in the original script, by using specific words or figures of speech such as alliteration, metaphors, assonance and consonance, similes, etc.

A pox o’ your throat, you bawling, blasphemous, incharitable dog – The Tempest

Shakespeare’s plays and tragedies are also scattered with bad language which is often no longer in use, although still powerful enough to make your students understand the degree of the offence.  Here are some examples of insults taken from his works:
“Go thou and fill another room in hell” – King Richard
“Scall, scurvy, cogging companion!”  - Merry Wives of Windsor
“By this hand I will supplant some of your teeth” – The Tempest
“A pox o’ your throat, you bawling, blasphemous, incharitable dog” – The Tempest
How can we make learners enthusiastic about this topic?
•    After analysing some of the new language and clarifying the meaning of such expressions, hand out slips of paper with a quote containing bad language to the students and ask them to mill about in the classroom: students try to insult their peers reading their quote with the correct intonation. Which one was the most memorable one? Who performed it best?
•    Hand out a list of adjectives and nouns that can be combined to form insults and ask students to create their personal ones according to the situation. You can organise the list in three columns, the first two of which contain a list of adjectives and the third one a noun.

column 1            column 2               column 3

artless               base-court             apple-john

Remind students that every insult should start with “Thou”.
For a list of insults taken from Shakespeare’s works, google “Shakespeare Insult Kit”. 
•    Learners can then create their own script inserting, their personalised insults. 
•    Through some autonomous research, it is possible to find out if the words are still in use and if the meaning is still the same. Do your students have a similar word in their language? Has it got the same meaning?

And if your students are passionate about comic strips, why not introduce the Horrible Histories book series on Shakespeare? This is an alternative way to approach literature and ensure learning is fun.

Follow-up activities can include the creation of comic strips for some of the scenes from the Bard’s works. Adding captions and speech bubbles with unusual and witty comments would enable learners to reuse the context and language analysed (e.g. if the word “hasty” had been previously encountered, a drawing of King Richard III with a rocking horse and thinking “Maybe I was a bit too hasty!” would be a funny representation of the moment the character exclaims “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”).

Are your students fascinated by idioms? Why not introduce them to Shakespeare’s song and let them guess the meaning of the idioms they are exposed to? 

Finally ask learners to create slogans for modern commercials to promote products, incorporating the idiom selected. They will then have to try to pitch their product to their peers, who need to reply by using as many other idioms as they can (e.g. “If your car has seen better days, why not buy a new one?” “Well, if truth were known…”).

Last but not least, some inspirational activities are suggested by stage actors such as Ben Crystal, David Crystal’s son, who delivered a whole seminar on acting out Shakespeare’s scripts and making them appealing to students.

During Titus Andronicus I felt as though I had been transported to an ancient Roman arena masquerading as a Quentin Tarantino splatter film.

Have you ever thought of attending one of Shakespeare’s plays at The Globe? Did you know that a single standing ticket is only £5? 

Here is what our colleague Tommaso thought of Titus Andronicus:

“During the performance I felt as though I had been transported to an ancient Roman arena masquerading as a Quentin Tarantino splatter film. I was catapulted into an intricate murder plot and  became part of the play. The Globe itself gives you the impression of travelling through space and time. The actors would interact with the spectators, walk amongst them and address them as if they were the people of ancient Rome.  If you enjoy the performance from the yard, – the standing area around the stage – you inevitably feel like you're on stage.  Although going to the theatre is not usually my cup of tea, I was enthralled by Titus Andronicus from beginning to end.”

Read more about Shakespeare’s 450th anniversary by following these links:

Giulia Revelli is our Director of Studies here at ADC College. If you would like to hear more from her, have a look at our popular Teacher Development courses (eligible for EU funding) or subscribe to our newsletter for more updates about the programme.