Shakespeare's comediesI'm considering teaching one of Shakespeare's comedies in my College-Preparatory 10th grade English class. Though I've read most of the comedies and am familiar with them,...
I'm considering teaching one of Shakespeare's comedies in my College-Preparatory 10th grade English class. Though I've read most of the comedies and am familiar with them, I've only taught tragedies at this level in the past. I'm interested to know what comedies others have taught (preferably to a similar grade/level) and what has worked well. (Which comedies do you find the kids enjoy the most? Which do you find are the most accessible?) Thanks in advance!
I teach a 10th grade honors course, and I always teach Macbeth in the fall, and Much Ado About Nothing in the spring.
I choose Much Ado About Nothing because of its distinct comedic characteristics, such as malapropism, rule-of-three, quibble, pun, etc.; these clear examples simplify the often daunting comedic structure.
Much Ado About Nothing also lends itself to debase innuendos that your Shakespearean student will catch and chuckle at without your direction, allowing you to avoid parent phone calls.
Kenneth Branagh's movie version is also, arguably, one of the best film-adaptions of a Shakespearean play. Students have a very easy time understanding his film version, and the star-laden cast of the director himself, Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington, Michael Keaton, and Keanu Reeves, create memorable characters that students enjoy.
I have had a lot of success with The Taming of the Shrewwith both 10th graders and 12th graders. The students have no trouble with keeping the characters straight, and they are intrigued by the conflict. We have had great debates about whether Katherine is truly tamed, or if she has learned how to better "play the game." It has really had the students reading and re-reading the last scenes of the play -- and playing around with staging and speaker's tone of voice.
There is the great film version with Elizabeth Taylor. Even though it a "classic" my students laughed in all the right places and enjoyed the movie. As an above post noted, there is also the modern adaptation 10 Things I Hate About You which opens the door to a discussion of adaptation and the timelessness of Shakespeare's themes.
In the past I've taught A Midsummer Night's Dream to both my drama class and English class simply because it's one of his more popular plays-I think students would recognize the name more than the others. I was like you in the past, though, and used to stick with the tragedies, but had to switch for a little change of pace.
Also, I think The Comedy of Errors might fit well because it's his shortest play if you're limited on time. I enjoy all of his plays as it sounds like you do and have read many of them as well-tough choice!
Another approach might be to give them some of the central themes of a few of them and let them choose: "would you like to read a story about...or one about...?"
I show the movie version of "Much Ado about Nothing" to my 10th graders. We study Macbeth thoroughly, so I feel they need a comedy to balance the tragedy. When I first started teaching the play, my students were very confused. So I started just showing the movie--Kennth Branaugh and Emma Thompson. They understood the movie perfectly--the acting is excellent, and the film is very funny. I stop the film at teachable moments. It has never failed me. In fact it's one that I don't ind watching again and again.
I have also had much luck teaching Taming of the Shrew (the play, not the film--although I show the film), Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night.
I, too, have taught A Midsummer Night's Dreamto 10th grade CP students, and it usually goes over well. If you wouldn't be stepping on anyone's toes in your department, you might try Taming of the Shrew (because most students are familiar with 10 Things I Hate about You) or Merchant of Venice because its mix of tragic elements with comedic format is appealing. I've taught Shrew to 10th graders and Merchant to 11th graders, and both went over better with the students than A Midsummer Night's Dream did.
I've taught Taming and Merchant, and I found Taming to be much more enjoyable, though perhaps that's because it was our school play several years ago. The same elements of identity mix-ups and kind of sassy women are present in both, and they're easily accessible. The Jewish component in Merchantis an opportunity to talk about stereotypes and caricatures, and Taming offers opportunities to delve into gender/women's lib kinds of issues. Good for you for trying comedy!
A Midsummer Night's Dream worked excellently for me with my Grade 10 as well! It just seems to contain everything that is needed to be a successful comedy. Also, in my school, they normally do Romeo and Juliet at Grade 9, so there are lots of interesting comparisons to make between the two and the nature of comedy/tragedy. However, getting them to act out bits of AMND is just great - everyone loves it.
I taught The Tempest this past year at the end of my grade 11 AP language course. Two years ago, the students did this as one of the school plays for the year, so we were able to get our hands on the video and I used it during our reading along with an audio book from Audible. We paired this reading with Aime Cesaire's postcolonial re-vision A Tempest. The unit worked well and the students enjoyed it.
A Midsummer Night's Dream has always worked best for me. I have taught it in grades 9-12, and students seem to understand it and enjoy the humor of the play better than others.
A non-teacher's thought: I'm thinking Much Ado, Dream, or Errors, just because the comedy is a little more accessible than some of the others.
But really, why not just teach the comedy you like the most? Maybe the one that you like the most you'll teach the best.