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Teaching Shakespeare with Purpose: A Student-Centred Approach

Ayanna Thompson and Laura Turchi

DOI: 10.5040/9781472599650

ISBN: 9781472599612

What does it mean to teach Shakespeare with purpose? It means freeing teachers from the notion that teaching Shakespeare means teaching everything, or teaching “Western Civilisation” and universal themes. Instead, this invigorating new book equips teachers to enable student-centred discovery of these complex texts.

Because Shakespeare's plays are excellent vehicles for many topics -history, socio-cultural norms and mores, vocabulary, rhetoric, literary tropes and terminology, performance history, performance strategies - it is tempting to teach his plays as though they are good for teaching everything. This lens-free approach, however, often centres the classroom on the teacher as the expert and renders Shakespeare's plays as fixed, determined, and dead. Teaching Shakespeare with Purpose shows teachers how to approach Shakespeare's works as vehicles for collaborative exploration, to develop intentional frames for discovery, and to release the texts from over-determined interpretations. In other words, this book presents how to teach Shakespeare's plays as living, breathing, and evolving texts.

‘Thompson and Turchi describe techniques for moving us away from teacher-centered historical expertise toward a collaborative and participatory model of learning that puts Shakespearean language and performance at the center of the classroom experience … It's innovative, practical, and generous; I hope it will be read widely and put to use.’ – Studies in English Literature 1500-1900

‘Teaching Shakespeare with Purpose is not just a practical guide but an argument for the continued relevance of Shakespeare survey courses … Each chapter grounds the teaching theory in practical examples from a model class. The chapters are full of helpful activities including model close readings, themes, and questions from the plays selected (each chapter relies on a different one to model the pedagogy discussed). This approach is advantageous since it provides value for readers who may only have time to read a chapter or two. As well, the pedagogical process described is adaptable to any set of plays. Thompson and Turchi discuss framing, guided questions, entry points, and close readings that allow any teacher the structure she needs to get started on designing her Introduction to Shakespeare course while preserving an individual's pedagogical strengths and the freedom to pick any of the plays … As someone working on an 'Introduction to Shakespeare' class for the first time, this book was a must read if only for the way that it helped put the task of design, teaching, and assessment, in perspective. However, the authors demystify and clarify the purpose of all of the aspects of an introductory course in a way that is not overbearing. Their argument is always student-centered and asks us to make choices about how we approach any aspect of the play (be it the history, the language, or the writing assignments we pick) in order to enhance the experience for the students. In this way, they have given readers a good model not just for the teaching of an 'Introduction to Shakespeare' course but other literature courses as well.’ – This Rough Magic