Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “Plays”

Bard Bits: Overcoming Shakespism

Up until teaching Shakespeare to my high school English students, my exposure and awareness of Stratford Upon Avon’s poet/playwright had been limited to the usual reference of Romeo and Juliet being a play about two teenagers who have a tragic romance. I saw it as a film in junior high. It was rated “M” for mature audiences (being a 13 year old counted as mature then). Certain scenes were embarrassing and I doubt we were mature enough to handle the morning after flesh flash of Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. Plus, I had a really difficult time understanding what they were saying—were they speaking English?

That was then and this is now. At present I’m the resident Bardinator at school, being the advisor of the Students for Shakespeare Club and being known for my Shakespeare zeal. We’ve brought Shakesperience to the high school several times, I’ve helped with our own drama club’s version of Romeo and Juliet, designing sets and watching my son contribute his thespian skills, and I do my best to engage and interest students to embrace Shakespeare, nudging past groans when studying his works. My appreciation for Shakespeare has nudged me to leave my usual homebody mode to travel cross country to Washington DC to attend Folger’s week long Hamlet academy. I’ve gone beyond the usual Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar school curriculum offerings and have introduced students to Othello, Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, and provided background Bard Bits.

How and why did I go from a Shakespeare illiterate to Shakespeare informed?

First of all, I had to overcome the language barrier. Reading Shakespeare wasn’t working so well. Watching well-produced film adaptations, such as Kenneth Branagh’s Henry IV helped tremendously. Shakespeare is meant to be performed, not read.

Secondly, the more I taught Shakespeare (teaching the same material year after year does have an upside), the more I understood what I was teaching. And if I understand what I’m teaching I can teach the material better to my students.

Beyond teaching the plays, I began reading about the man who wrote them. Since there is so little solid biographical information about Shakespeare, I began researching and became more and more intrigued. Who was this guy and did he really write all these plays and what was theatre like in Renaissance England led to other aspects such as learning more about Queen Elizabeth I and other aspects of that time period.

And I branched out to other plays, learning all about one play before committing to another. The benefit being that Shakespeare’s language was no longer puzzling to my ear, it had become a melody of written expression.

My dream curriculum is to teach a course that is all Shakespeare. We would of course study selected plays and sonnets, but also play Bard Bingo (it’s fun, really), create Flash Mob scenes for the community (field trip!), stage fight (sword fights and Hamlet are a natural), and put on a Shakespeare night for the school—best scenes talent show. I think I would call the course, “Shakespeare Then and Now” or maybe “Shakespeare—the Undiscovered Country.” At least a dozen students would need to sign up to make it a go, then again it could become so popular two sections (or more) would be required as Shakespism transforms into Shakesthusiasm.

I can hope.

Do you suffer from Shakespism or are you a Bardinator or maybe somewhere in between.

Rethinking Richard

My usual method of taking on a new Shakespeare play is through immersion by multitudinous pathway: reading it, watching it live and an adaptation, listening to an audio play, and for good measure, a simpler version such as a graphic nivel. For some reason Richard III has fallen on my path and I keep tripping over him on my way to brighter choices like Twelfth Night or Much Ado.

I suppose it began with hints of Richard. After all, I wasn’t particularly attracted to this rotter of a king whose “bunched back toad” appearance served as a metaphor for his morals. Family get togethers must have been terribly strained when he showed up at the table, having offed brothers, and nephews and not even showing a drop of remorse. 

I think the interest began with Terry Jones’ superb Medieval history series when he mentioned Richard’s deformities probably weren’t true. Well, that’s the Bard for you, isn’t it? Making metaphors out of molehills, or just moles. I got your back took on a different once penned and crowned.

I came stumbled upon Ian Holm’s teledrama years ago, but it was so horribly dreary I didn’t think about Richard until recently. All of a sudden there a Richard factor emerged: skeletons, a steamy Philippa adaptation, Benedict’s Hollow Crown, Mark Rylance’s stand up comic version, with Sir Ian’s despotic 1930’s cinematic splash tossed into the mix.

And then I came upon Joshephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time in which the history of Richard becomes  a whodunnit or in this case, didhedoit?

The hubs pointed out that the Shakespeare in the Park production this year will be–who guessed it, Richard III.

I’m still not a fan of Richard, in fact, I’m not sure I’m richer with my wealth of Richard. I do appreciate the Bard all the more because he convinced people for hundreds of years that Richard was a “bottled spider” and with imagery like that, why believe anything else? 

Richard is right up there with King Lear for body count and tragical consequences of bad kingmanship.  I’m not quite ready to take on Lear. One dysfunctional king at a time, thanks. Here are a few Richards of contemplation.

What plays are on your TGTK (to get to know) list?

Oh, for a muse of fire

As a senior English teacher I have the distinction of being the last of a long acquaintance with school literature for my students. Many, if not most students, come in with a surly attitude about English. My goal is to get that frown turned upside down. While I don’t resort to extremes, I have been known for some surprising antics to liven up class. I inject movie clips, silly voices, and theatre activities into the lesson plan.

I enjoy teaching English because I’m actually a librarian at heart (budget cuts). To infuse the love of books is a mission, not a vocation.

At the end of the month my students will have studied a handful of sonnets, examined three Shakespeare plays, watched one live performance of Hamlet, analyzed two of the Bard’s speeches, and have performed one of the speeches from a play. They will be so full of Shakespeare at the end of this unit they will leak iambic pentameter onto their desks. This might cause consternation with the custodians, yet it is all part of my mission to turn these Bardihators into Bardinators. I would be Bardilating even if it wasn’t Shakesyear.

My extra effort Barding might be paying off; I think I might be making headway. We began with Taming of the Shrew, a farce that they could relate to because of Ten Things I Hate About You, and then we went onto a tragedy. I surprised them with Othello, a complicated study of villains and heroes and racial issues that resonates with my students even after 400 years it was first performed.

We moved onto my personal favorite: Hamlet. We explored the first eleven lines together and they realized Shakespeare’s language does not present the barrier they thought they would encounter. We prepared for the climatic duel of act five by going outside and learning  stagecraft fighting with duct-taped yardsticks.

I teach the same lesson six times, slightly modified, due to being the only senior English teacher this year, so my Shakespearience becomes even more enriched over the years because the math computes to a lot of repetition of knowledge. I’ve always said the best education I’ve received is from teaching.

As for students and their absorption of English? I wonder how much impact I will have. Will students fondly or disdainfully remember my efforts to interject the muse of Shakespeare’s fire into their lives? Will there be Renaissance Man moment, when they will recite a few lines or carry the meaning of a studied play with them into their future life? I hope so.

For now, my librarian-teacher  heart will continue to thrill when students make comments like: “I really like this. I really like digging into this Shakespeare stuff.”

My fire is amused.

image: pintrest


This is a biggie for Shakespeare fans. This is the year we Bardinators celebrate the 400 years of the Bard’s influence since he left us in 1616. Usually I spotlight an author around this part of the month, but I plan I spotlighting Billy Bard every month this year as my personal salute to the guy who brought us plays like Hamlet, words like crocodile, and phrases such as “in a pickle.” So if you are not into Shakespeare plan on skipping my posties at the end of the month OR maybe I can convince you that Shakespeare is a big deal. You might want to skip down to the Shakespism video to see if you suffer from this malady.

I was fortunate enough to participate in the first Folger Summer Academy  in which thirty teachers from all over the USA came together and studied Hamlet for a week at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC. It was a WOW time–Wonderful, Oh Wonderful.

Being surrounded by Shakespeare scholars and being immersed in Shakespeare culture for an entire week fortified my appreciated for the legacy of the playwright/poet of Stratford.

An embarrassing confession: it’s only been a mere fifteen years since I discovered Shakespeare. There was no Shakespeare in my home, in my schools, nor did I encounter him during my college years. Sad and shocking, I know. It wasn’t until I became an English teacher and had to teach Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, and Hamlet that I realized I had much to learn and I determined I had best make up for lost time.

As a celebration of  the Bard’s 400 years of influence the Folger Library is providing a first ever tour of Shakespeare’s First Folio. This is the book Shakespeare’s friends and colleagues put together after the Bard’s death and contains the thirty plus plays we associate with Shakespeare. I saw AND touched the Folio. Big ooooh factor. I also handled his lease for his Stratford house. Somehow that had more meaning because I know he actually touched that document. The folio is a more or less a tribute of his greatness, but he knew nothing about it.

However, I realize not everyone is wowed by William. Here are some videos that might help you overcome your Shakesfear or ennui of Bard Hoopla.


A Trio of Shakespeare 

Considering I had no exposure or any real knowledge of Shakespeare until I began teaching his works in high school, I’ve certainly made up for lost time.

In the twelve years of morphing from a displaced school librarian to an AP teacher I’ve developed an appreciation for Wm. Sh. to the point of labeling myself a Bardinator. *

“Yo, thou intensely doeth Bard if thy be a Bardinator.” image:

Bardinator /n./ a person who goes beyond face value knowledge of Shakespearean works and dives in to study, appreciate, and revel in the works of William Shakespeare to the point of total commitment. Simply put–a dedication to the Bard’s works beyond what is considered sufficiently normal. 

This summer I have reveled in more Bard than usual. It began, appropriately enough on July 4th* when I landed in Washington DC to study Hamlet for a week at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Later that month I finally got around to Anonymous, which is actually anti-Bard, as it is a ridiculous conjecture that William Shakespeare was not a brilliant playwright but actually a drunken sot of an actor fronting for some earl who was a closet playwright. The only takeaway was how stunningly the time period and the theater was portrayed. I squirmed through this insulting and terrible premise to absorb the glory of the Elizabethean stage snippets. One star of note was Mark Rylance. This observation led me to–

Twelfth Night starring Mark Rylance in the role of Olivia. Yes, finally. A Shakespearen production as it might have been presented because of the all male cast. The play was filmed at The Globe with a live audience (groundlings included) in sharp, glorious HD. Mark Rylance and his troupe superceded expectations. It was unprecedented theater. I will have problems readjusting to women playing women now in Bard dramas because Shakespeare wrote the parts knowing men/boys would be playing women. Or in the case of Viola/Caesario-, a youth playing a woman disguised as a youth. The lines and meaning take on a whole new dimension with the knowledge it’s two men playing they are attracted to each other but the manly man doesn’t want to admit to it . But thr audience knows the fair youth is really supposed to be a woman since it’s a boy playing a woman dressed as a boy. The confusion is intentional, as is the jovial mistaken engendered double meanings.

“Yonder sun doth the moon, y’all.” Image:

To round out the summer I watched my first ever Shakespeare in the Park or more precisely, on the grass at the local fairgrounds.  A group of thespians out of Montana traversing five states presenting either Cyrano or Taming of the Shrew graced our fare (or fair) town. And what a turn out. Beginning at three o’clock people arrived to claim their patch of grass and browsed the various booths ranging from spun wool goods to sword play. A lively Renaissance trio added appropriate musical ambiance. At six o’clock the western-themed show begun and the audience whistled and hooted out their appreciation at all the puns and ribaldry. The best bit was unplanned when a wee little lass wandered onto the stage at just the moment when Petruchio instructs Kate to speak to the “maiden” (Vincentio).

“Speak to yonder maiden, Kate. Not that one–the other one.”

Not missing a beat, Vincentio grabs up the sweet interloper and announces: “This is my granddaughter” and managed to return her to an embarrassed audience mother.

A truly fun community event to commemorate the closing of summer. Soon I will be bringing Shakespeare to the classroom, but perhaps we’ll Bard out on the lawn. BOOC–bring our own chairs.

Did anyone else have a bit of Bard along with their beach and BBQ days this summer?


*yes, there is a connection of studying Shakespeare during America’s independence week–Wm. Sh. became our nation’s first playwright when his plays sailed over from England. In fact, the Folger has the first Elizabethean stage. A regular Tudor de force (upon which I played a hammy Horatio).

*I just spent an hour hopscotching about the Net trying to find that nifty definition I stumbled across years ago. No luck. I did find a new blog concerning Shakespeare. I have created my own definition. This will be a work in progress and I am quite open to other interpretations.

Author Snapshot: Edward Rostand

You might not be familiar with Rostand as an author, yet if I said “Cyrano de Bergerac” I imagine a glimmer of recognition would spark. Cyrano or “I nose a hero with a flare for the ridiculous when I see one.” The guy on the left is thought to be the real Cyrano (really, there was a real Cyrano de Bergerac) and the actor on the right is Jose Ferrer, who presented an entertaining version in the 1950’s adaptation:

Do you nose these men? image:


When I inherited the AP English Literature program I had a gamut of material to select from to build my own signature curriculum. Although most literature programs focus on Shakespeare’s plays, I veer towards presenting breadth, along with my depth, and toss in Cyrano de Bergerac as a study in the comedic hero. And what a hero! We romp and frolic through this play reading scenes, discussing deeper moments, celebrating epiphanies, and watching clips. We end the unit with a French feast of bread, cheese, fruit, Martinelli’s, and chocolate while we watch Megamind. You did know Megamind is thinly veiled Cyrano, didn’t you? There’s even a Roxanne!

  The classic (image:

And the retelling of the classic (image:


Wait–you aren’t quite familiar with Cyrano, beyond knowing he was the guy with the big nose? Okay, quick recap:

In old time France, think Musketeers, Cyrano is a dashing soldier known for his flair (flare is nostril, of course) with his wit and sword. A fighting poet, making him a bit of a paradox. He has a major crush on his high society cousin Roxane (that’s when marrying your cousin didn’t weird people out). She doesn’t know this and thinks fondly of Cyrano as the brother she never had, putting him in that awkward friend zone, or brother/cousin zone. She confides she is in love with the new guy, who has great hair, face, etc, but she doesn’t know his name. You know what’s coming, don’t you? It turns out the mysterious new guy in town, Christian, also has a crush on her.

Jumping right into the action: Roxane extracts a promise from Cyrano to watch out for Christian since he will now be in Cyrano’s regiment. Cyrano takes the watchful friend idea a little too far by helping Christian woo Roxane through some amazing letters he writes under the guise of Christian. Roxane ends up falling in love with the letters (which is really Cyrano) and begins to become bored with Christian’s feeble attempts to woo her on his own. “I love you. I want to kiss your neck” doesn’t work for her.

As the plot unfolds, there is a villain by the name of Le Guiche, a war, a quick marriage, a revelation, secrets, and an unhappy/happy ending–depends on your point of view.

This play is a favorite and is responsible for introducing the word panache, which originally meant the feather(decoration) on the person’s hat , but has come to mean a person’s style or manner of expression.

Steve Martin introduced his own version of Cyrano as Roxanne, which is an 80’s comedy worth checking out.

Steve Martin plays CJ Bales, who crushes on the new astronomer in town. image:


Rostand also wrote a play about Chanticleer, the rooster who believed the sun needed his crowing in order to rise everyday. This was made into a clever little animated film called Rock-a-Doodle.

No matter the version you encounter, you will not forget Cyrano, a comedic hero worth getting to nose, umm, know.




Shakespeare Goes to the Movies

David Garrick in Hamlet, I, 4

David Garrick in Hamlet, I, 4  Is he as surprised the Bard inspired moving and shaking found in film?(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shakespeare would no doubt be uber-wealthy from selling screen rights had he lived so long to see all his plays adapted to the screen.  In fact, I wonder how many students realize that all those adaptations have a primary source in the form of stage?  Shakespeare was indeed a playwright and not a screenwriter, yet it is difficult to realize that fact with so many adaptations running around in the cinemas. It’s fairly safe to say that a Shakespeare-driven plot comes out at least once during the year.

With that all out of the way, you can imagine my delight when I came across a website devoted to all the film versions of Shakespeare. It groups them by play and 176 pages you get the idea how much influence old Billy the Bard on Hollywood.  The Hamlet section only is nearly 20 pages!

Oh yeah–this is another Library of Congress find. Have I gushed enough about how the Library of Congress so absolutely rocks?

This treasury of Shakespeare is not just films.  It includes the serious to the silly. Having just finished our AP rundown of Hamlet and Co, I found some select entries for our favorite Prince of Denmark:

HAMLET (Icon Productions/Warner Bros., 1990). Dir Franco Zeffirelli. Wrt Christopher De Vore,
Zeffirelli. With Mel Gibson (Hamlet), Glenn Close (Gertrude), Alan Bates (Claudius), Paul Scofield (The Ghost), Ian Holm (Polonius), Helena Bonham-Carter (Ophelia).
1 videodisc of 1 (laser), ca. 135 min, sd, color, 12 in. LC Purchase Collection. DAA 3087.

HAMLET–CLAUDIUS (ACTOR, A Center for Theatre, Education, and Research, University of California, Santa Barbara/Barr Films, 1991). Series: Shakespeare Explorations with Patrick Stewart. Artistic Director: Patrick Stewart. Technical Director/Editor: Ray Tracy.
1 videocassette of 1 (VHS), 25 min, sd, color, 1/2 in. Copyright Collection. VAD 3701.
Produced for educational use (college level). Patrick Stewart discusses and acts selected parts of the play portraying the character of King Claudius. (VHS)

TALES FROM THE CRYPT. TOP BILLING (Tales From the Crypt Holdings/HBO, 6/26/1991). Dir Todd Holland. Wrt Myles Berkowitz. With Jon Lovitz, Bruce Boxleitner, John Astin, Louise Fletcher, Kimmy Robertson.
1 videocassette of 1, 28 min, sd, color, 3/4 in. Copyright Collection. VBI 9816.
Episode from the 3rd season of the horror anthology series based on the comic books published by
William Gaines in the 1950’s. A failed actor (Lovitz), who cannot get work because he doesn’t have “the look,” answers a casting call for Hamlet only to find himself chosen for the part of Yorick’s skull in a staging of the play by inmates of an insane asylum. (DVD – on Tales from the Crypt–The Complete Third Season)

GREEN EGGS AND HAMLET (Rock’s Eye Productions, 1995). Dir Mike O’Neal. Wrt O’Neal, Chris
Springfield. With Allen Corcorran (Hamlet), Ronald H. Cohen (The King), Richard “Humus” Doherty (The Queen), Josh “Coppertone” Powlesson (Laertes), Robert A. Knop, Jr. (Polonius), Siobhán F. Jess (Ophelia), David Seal (Rosencrantz & Guildenstern), Richard James Mason Horatio).
1 videocassette of 1 (VHS), ca. 77 min, sd, color, 1/2 in. Copyright Collection. VAE 6461.

Got a hankering for a Titus or a Midsummer Night’s Dream?  Check it out Shakespeare on Film

English: banner Shakespeare

Shakespeare (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Bit of Bard for the Kidlits

List of titles of works based on Shakespearean...

How well do your kids know this guy? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shakespeare. He probably isn’t on most parental to-do lists when it comes to childhood enrichment items. Then again–why not? We trot our kiddos to soccer practice, piano lessons, and the library to enrich their lives, why not foster the love of the Bard at an early age?
Acclaimed playwright Ken Ludwig believes infusing the Bard into our children’s lives is an essential, endearing adventure to undertake. His How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare is both inspirational and inventive in its approach. Although I no longer have kidlits at home since my progeny are now building their own nests, I can still adapt Ludwig’s methods by amending them to classroom instruction, especially since the ninth grade Common Core curriculum has a Romeo and Juliet section.

Teaching Shakespeare to our children is a notable endeavour. Ludwig states a few of his goals as to why he taught Shakespeare to his children on page 11:

  • giving them tools to read Shakespeare’s works with intelligence for the rest of their lives
  • enriching their lives
  • exposing them to literature to inspire them toward achieving great lives as they grow
  • providing meaningful shared experiences

Cool. Those are pretty much my intentions when I teach Shakespeare to my classroom kiddos.
Ludwig hits all the essential values of the “why” of Shakespeare:
1. The richness of imagery
2. The lilt of rhythm
3. The nuances and playfulness of language
4. The importance of memorizing and tucking away forever a few exceptional passages to pull out and nibble on throughout life
5. The joy of exploring character

Shakespeare’s plays showcase poetry at its best. Why wait until the kinder are all grownup before relishing the richness of English language? I am always amazed when I get a ninth grader who states, “Shakespeare? Who’s Shakespeare?” Admittedly that confession is rare. Unfortunately, the only Shakespeare most students know is Romeo and Juliet. On the other hand, by the time they leave high school they will become acquainted with at least three plays and a a handful of sonnets.  Sadly, I didn’t have any Shakesperience until I began teaching it.  That’s nearly thirty years of being Bardless.  Shocking, I know.  Now I’m a professed Bardinator and hope to put my acquired knowledge to page, one of these days.  We’ll see.  I have too many books in want of writing as it is.

For now, I am thrilled to introduce Shakespeare to my freshmen and strive to induce appreciation for his words and wit.

Mass-produced colour photolithography on paper...

Anyone out there have the Bard on their parent list? Is it squeezed in with ballet and soccer?

The many faces of Juliet


  •  I’m not quite in countdown mode, nonetheless, I am very much anticipating the new version of Romeo and Juliet which is FINALLY being released in the US.  I have been following its progress for the past two years, waiting, watching for news, photo releases, projected film dates. And finally, yes finally, the new Romeo and Juliet will be out in theaters in the fall. First they said February, then it was July, and then I heard September, and unless they’ve changed it again, it should be coming out about the time school is back in full swing.  Field trip, anyone?
  • image:


    • Another reason I’m so excited about a new version of Romeo and Juliet is because it’s overdue for a freshening up. The 1968 version with Olivia Hussey had its moments, and although it didn’t follow the play exactly, it does give students a fairly good idea of the tragedy of the star-crossed lovers.  West Side Story is the classic sixties adaptation, and once again, it is not the true play. The 1990s version with Leonardo D. and Claire strays too far from the actual play to count as a true teachable film version. Interestingly enough, my ninth graders either love it or despise it, due to its style. Of course, they all adore Gnomeo and Juliet, which is cute, yet again, strays so far from the play I only serve it up as an inducement,provided they get all their R&J assignments in by the end of the quarter.

      Other reasons I’m looking forward to the new version:

      1. Hailee Steinfeld as Juliet.  She owned the part of Mattie in True Grit, and held her own against Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon, who were also impressed with her. I can’t wait to see what she does with Juliet.
      2. Updated cinematography. 1968 to 2013 means improvements in the quality of production.
      3. I’m really tired of the 1968 Zeferelli movie. I have taught ninth grade for 10 plus years with three to four sections each year, which means I’ve watched the film, oh about 40 times. Yeah, I’m ready for a new version.
      4. Paul Giametti as Friar Lawrence. I’m a Paul G fan, for sure.
      5. Julian Fellowes adapted the play, (Downton Abbey), and that in itself is a huge reason my anticipation factor is revving up.
      Anyone else anticipating a new Juliet with her Romeo?

Playing Around with Words

The Script Frenzy logo

The Script Frenzy logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Writing is what I do.  I teach it. I read it. I aspire to it.  I’ve tried all forms of writing: picture books, poetry, novels (middle readers, YA, adult), non-fiction (essays, informational, reviews), oh yeah–blogs.  My latest foray into wordsmithing is plays.  I gave up on screenplays since the format and competition didn’t work for me.  Then I switched to stage plays.  Oooh, I do very much like them.  NaNoWriMo used to run Script Frenzy, a spring version of novel writing in a month that involved writing a play in 30 days.  I tried it and definitely find a new niche.

Even though Script Frenzy retired, I got inspired. So far I have created a contemporary version of Julius Caesar and the school’s drama teacher showed interest in it, as did one of my students who called the role of Anthony.  I’ll keep you posted of the world premiere. I also morphed Hamlet and Alice in Wonderland, mixing in a bit Wizard of Oz. It’s definitely a work in progress, as they say.

Since screenplays didn’t pan out for me, I am converting them into stageplays.  I hope to dive into my languishing pile of manuscripts and toss them around in my Celtx program and see if they Presto! into plays.

Gosh! I  love writing!  There is such a variety and formats to try out and play with.  It’s like dress up with words.

Any of you try out a new writing form with success?

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