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Thursday, April 14, 2005

Taking a Class on Shakespeare on Your iPod Mini or Handheld -- A Few Ideas

Listen to the podcast (downloadable mp3 file).

New flexible technologies make teaching and learning Shakespeare a raw, exciting, and relevant event. Envision a course called Love, Madness, and Shakespeare.
It is possible using embedded journalist and video game-inspired collaborative strategies with the blend of portable devices, wireless laptops, desktop computers with high-speed or dial-up modem Internet access, and/or face-to-face instruction to accommodate your students' needs and situations.

Why would you want to do this? It sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it. Well, the rewards are most definitely worth it. Just check it out. Done well, studying Shakespeare can be a heart-pounding limit experience where you find out about yourself and the psychology of larger-than-life characters. It’s emotionally intimate. The thrill is so intense it almost feels "wrong" - toying with the taboo, exposure, violence, longing, death.

Why doesn’t someone make a video game of this stuff??

Why not, indeed?

Imagine in Romeo and Juliet, being able to role-play the various characters. After watching clips from Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo+Juliet to get an idea about how one director envisioned updating the classic play, one can get an idea of how to make the experience intense, immediate, and personal for the student.

You can ask students to design a video game – or, at least break up the components of the video-gaming experience and create activities for web-based course instruction.

Music. Before Romeo+Juliet, Baz Luhrmann was well-known for directing music videos. The soundtrack for the film takes emotional orchestration to a new level. It is, in many ways, like the various forms of electronic music – trance, chill-out music, etc. – which is purposefully designed to manage moods. Ask a student to create a soundtrack for a scene that they will rewrite, inserting themselves. They can select music clips they’ve downloaded and create a list, or mix a CD. Then they can write themselves into a scene, modifying it to fit their own lives, and the current world. These can be posted and shared.

Personal Mask-Making and Identity Shifting. Part of the intensity of Romeo and Juliet involves exploring the hidden knowledge you encounter when you wear a mask. In a video game, you would need to be able to disguise yourself. Actually, you can disguise not only yourself, but death itself. Think of the sleeping potion that made one mimic death. Think of the scene in the crypt – being the only one alive – life masked as death, and under a house of death, one finds life. Ask students to design masks for the costume party. How would they design them?
Ask them to use symbols, visual metaphors, etc. in their masks, then post them on the Internet (or in a folder / blog) for others to see & comment on. – Embedded Journalism in Walled Cities, Plague, Death, and Death’s Antidotes. We enter the madness of civilization in all of Shakespeare’s plays. The dynamics we find in Shakespeare reinvent themselves – ethnic clashes, mafias and rival gangs, plague, quarantine, and the contemplation of death’s antidotes. The sense of danger, creeping paranoia, and a repressive social system are elevated to an intense degree in Romeo and Juliet.

Students can become "embedded reporters" in Shakespeare’s world – and in their role as investigative journalists and news editors, they can create their own newspaper based on the play. Ask students to view,, and

Then ask students to create their own news website. Ask them to describe how and why they chose their headlines, the graphics, the captions, and the arrangement on the page. You may wish to provide a template, either in Word or in a web-editing program such as Dreamweaver or a free one downloadable from the Internet. They can also do a "Verona Radio" as podcasts. Ask them to explain how and why they chose the stories, the background sounds, and the music.

Romeo's Reality Television: A twist on reality television can be made here. Can students imagine "Survivor" reconfigured to incorporate the elements of Romeo and Juliet? Could they for "Idol" or any other kind of reality television show? Ask them to think about it, explain it, explore it.

This "Romeo" Life: A popular public radio show, "This American Life," could be recasted to be "This Romeo and Juliet Life," or, simply, "This Romeo Life," with the structure of autobiographical experience, cultural commentary, and psychological insight found in "This American Life."

These are just a few ideas to get started. The idea is to make Shakespeare an immersion experience that emphasizes the human emotions that animate the dramas.
Love, madness, and Shakespeare. First the course, now the experience!!

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