As a student I remember sitting through countless lectures in which the instructor waxed eloquently about dramatic literature, while the class listened patiently, taking notes every now and then. Today, as a teacher, I certainly love to lecture about Shakespeare, Shaw, and Ibsen; after all, I love to hear myself talk! However, I also love student involvement, the more creative the better.
Here are a few ways for students to exercise their imagination while analyzing dramatic literature.
Write (and Perform?) Additional Scenes:
Since plays are meant to be performed, it makes sense to encourage your students to act out some of the scenes in the play. If they are an energetic and outgoing group, this can work splendidly. However, it might be that your English class is filled with rather shy (or at least quiet) students who will be reluctant to read Tennessee Williams or Lillian Hellman out loud.
Instead, have students work in groups to write a brand new scene for the play. The scene could take place before, after, or in-between the playwright's storyline. Note: Tom Stoppard did an excellent job of writing scenes that take place "in between" Hamlet. It's a play called Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Another example some students will be more likely to appreciate would be Lion King 1 ½ .
Consider some of these possibilities:
- Write a scene set ten years before Death of a Salesman. What was the main character like before he had children? What was his career like in the "early days"?
- Write a scene that shows what happens between Hamlet's Act III and IV. Many don't realize that Hamlet hangs out with pirates for a while. I'd love to know what happens between the Danish prince and the band of buccaneers.
- Write a new ending to Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House. Reveal what Nora Helmer does the day after she leaves her family. Does her husband win her back? Does she find a new sense of purpose and identity?
Create a Comic Book:
Bring some art supplies to class and have students work in groups to illustrate a graphic novel version of the play, or a critique of the playwright's ideas. Recently in one of my classes, students were discussing Man and Superman, George Bernard Shaw's battle-of-the-sexes comedy that also contemplates Nietzsche's ideal of a human, the Superman or Übermensch.
While creating a literary response in comic book form, the students took the Clark Kent/Superman character and replaced him with a Nietzschean superhero who selfishly ignores the weak, hates Wagner operas, and is able to leap existential problems in a single bound. They had fun creating it, and it also displayed their knowledge of the play's themes.
Some students might feel insecure about their drawing abilities. Assure them that it is their ideas that matter, not the quality of the illustrations. Also let them know that stick figures are an acceptable form of creative analysis.
Drama Rap Battles:
This works especially well with the complex works of Shakespeare. This activity can produce something incredibly silly. Yet, if there are sincere urban poets in your classroom, they might compose something meaningful, even profound.
Take a soliloquy or a two person scene from any Shakespearean play. Discuss the meaning of the lines, clarifying the metaphors and mythical allusions. Once the class understands the basic meaning, have them work in groups to create a "modernized" version through the art of rap music.
Here's a brief albeit corny example of a "rapping" version of Hamlet:
Guard #1: What's that sound?
Guard #2: All around - I don't know.
Guard #1: Don't you hear it?
Guard #2: This Denmark place is haunted by an evil spirit!
Horatio: Here comes Prince Hamlet, he's a melancholy Dane.
Hamlet: My mother and my uncle are driving me insane!
Yo Horatio - why did we come out here?
There's nothing in the forest for me to fear.
Horatio: Hamlet, don't get upset and don't go mad.
And don't look now-
Hamlet: IT'S THE GHOST OF MY DAD!
What is this apparition with eyes that fright?
Ghost: I am thy father's spirit who does forever walk the night.
Your uncle killed your daddy, but that ain't the bomb-
That big jerk went and married your Mom!
After each group is finished, they can take turns delivering their lines. And if someone can get a good "beat-box" going, all the better. Warning: Shakespeare might be spinning in his grave during this assignment. For that matter, Tupac might start spinning as well. But at least the class will have a good time.
Set Up: This works best if students have room to stand up and move about freely. However, if that is not the case, divide the classroom into two sides. Each side should turn their desks so that the two large groups face each other - they should be ready to engage in some serious literary debate!