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Ack. I'm having trouble teaching Twelfth Night


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I just can't get the story! Does anyone have any suggestions, other than handing the movie and the book at my son and telling him good luck (can you tell I'm ready for summer to be here so we can be done!)

 

Thanks for any input you can give - I've read some of the easier overviews on the web of the book, but I just can't seem to wrap my hands around this one. I love literature and doing this course with my ds however, Shakespeare has always stumped me.

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I just can't get the story! Does anyone have any suggestions, other than handing the movie and the book at my son and telling him good luck (can you tell I'm ready for summer to be here so we can be done!)

 

Thanks for any input you can give - I've read some of the easier overviews on the web of the book, but I just can't seem to wrap my hands around this one. I love literature and doing this course with my ds however, Shakespeare has always stumped me.

I mean literally ;) Think about who suffers in the story -- people who take themselves too seriously, people who take life to seriously, people who don't like others having fun... And think about who comes out ahead (everyone else! LOL) The "fool" (Feste) is wise and the lady (Olivia) is a fool. Only when she lets go of her seriousness and mourning does she start to find happiness. And Malvolio's undoing is his self-importance and disdain for silliness.

 

Everything is topsy-turvy... people aren't who they seem, everyone falls in love with impossible mates, silliness is rewarded and seriousness punished, tricks are played on various characters at one point or another... I really like the Trevor Nunn movie version because I think Ben Kingsley's Feste is perfect -- the fool, but also the only person who knows what's going on. And the Cesario-Olivia scenes are hysterical.

 

This isn't one to think too hard on -- it's a very silly play, and while it's by far my favorite I don't think I'd call it terribly "deep"... Twelfth Night the holiday is meant to be a time of silliness, and the play goes along with that. If you want to really delve in and wallow in it, though, there's plenty you can discuss about gender in there!

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I taught Comedy of Errors to a group of high schoolers a couple years ago. Like Twelfth Night, it is a complicated, slapstick comedy.

 

We found it extremely helpful to have little paper dolls of the characters and place them on a diagram. It really helped us keep track of what was going on.

 

With ANY Shakespeare play, the first step is learning the language. I have found that immersion is best. So, first thing, read the whole play through. You don't have to do it all in one sitting, but do try to read LARGE chunks at one sitting. Don't analyze at this reading--JUST READ.

 

I found this worked even with two teens who had learning disabilities. Both teens did have to have others read it with them (moms, sisters), and they were slower with it, but both guys were able to read it through.

 

Then, read it again for analysis. This will be slower. Just a couple easy ideas for analysis include:

 

--Write up character descriptions. Add to them as you learn more about the characters over the course of the play. Ask yourself who you would cast in this role, and why.

 

--Try to determine the main theme of the play. Since you have read it once, you might have a couple ideas. Write them all down on different sheets of paper, and make a list of evidence to support that theme as you read and come across it. By the time you are done with the play, you will have a solid idea of which is the main theme and which are minor points.

 

--Keep a list of vocabulary, and look up historical quirks at the library.

 

--It's been a while since I read SWB's Well-Educated Mind, but I think she offers wonderful guidelines for literature analysis.

 

You will find, on this second reading of the play, that you have "learned the language." It will be more readily understandable to you this time around. Even my two learning-disabled students found that they could understand it. (One in particular was really, wonderfully amazed that he could actually understand Shakespeare--it was very affirming.)

 

Then it's time to watch it and enjoy it. At this stage you understand the play well, and you will "get" all the jokes.

 

Finally, please remember that this is a comedy, and it's NOT THAT DEEP.

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