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Jan Fagan

The Tempest

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I am tutoring a group of boys studying for their HSC English and we need to study The Tempest as an example of an Imaginary Journey. They are having a great deal of trouble coming to terms with the text, let alone any interpretation. Any wonderful teaching ideas?

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Guest Andrew Moore   
Guest Andrew Moore

There is a wonderful puppet animation which was one of the BBC's first series of Animated Shakespeare. It lasts some twenty-five minutes, and shows the narrative very clearly.

Strictly speaking the long sea voyages take place before the start, and after the end, of the events in the play.

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Guest ChristineS   
Guest ChristineS

There is the journey around the island, which is also a journey of the mind and imagination and in the sense that the people on it change and are then returned to their former life, the island is a stage in a journey. There is also a lot of imagination!

What age and ability are the students? I am not familiar with the HSC but I am assuming it is Secondary level or older, but perhaps not familiar with Shakespeare.

The BBC cartoon is excellent. I do strongly recommend it.

I know that before reading a Shakespeare text I do a lot of work on the plot elements so that students have a very good pictures of plot and the sequence of events and some idea of the passions and motives etc. before we even begin. I use cartoon pictures from texts (I think that the BBC do a text to go with the video) or SEN packs which have pictures which I copy and use for sequencing or matching to quotations, as well as plot summaries which they can sequence.

When I read the play we take it stage by stage. At each section (not necessarily each scene or Act) we make sure we understand what events are unfolding and how the characters feel about them before we actually read it, then we read for over-all effect. I then concentrate only on those aspects of the actual text for close study - key speeches and events - they really need to know about.

It seems an awkward play. I really enjoy it but tend to concentrate on the aspects I consider accessible/interesting to my students and use prose and plot work to fill in the gaps (i.e I skip bits!), but several of my colleagues loathe the text as a teaching text because they say many pupils dislike it and cannot relate to it at all.

Even if you can only afford a single copy, I do recommend this edition of the play. These Cambridge Student editions of The Tempest are very good as a teaching tool as they have througout, discussion and mini-drama activities (which can often be done by the pupils whilst seated so even shy bairns do not count it as drama) for Secondary pupils to do to help them get to grips with the play and its ideas. This one is edited by the former Durham University lecturer - a superb teacher - Rex Gibbons.

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I am teaching the Tempest to a group of year 7 at the moment. I, like Christine, like to give the students a good idea of the text before reading any part of it.

I use hot-seating for the first two lessons. I take on a character-Caliban and Miranda work well- and the class ask me questions. It got a bit tricky when they sensed the attempted rape of Miranda by Caliban but otherwise the class is now begging to READ the play!!

My knees were hurting when I emerged from my cave!

Good luck.

Ps I have used this technique with A level students too!

Alison

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Guest Andrew Moore   
Guest Andrew Moore

I have done this play with Year 7 pupils. (With my usual economy I did so at the same time that I was teaching it to a 6th form class for A level).

I have somewhere (not sure why I've not adapted it for the Web site) a guide to the play that I did for these pupils. I will try and dig it out.

I assumed from the start that it was not necessary for every child to know the meaning of every part of the text - even the original Jacobean audience did not have do that.

The important things are - story, action and characters. And you can work on selected bits of the text.

You cannot go wrong with Caliban and Ariel. My pupils who were supposed not to be good at English revelled in gurning, grimacing and generally being disgusting as the former. The drunks are good, too.

Like Alison, we did a lot of physical stuff. (Like breaking all sorts of health and safety rules in piling up desks to make a ship.)

Some highlights and ideas:

The first scene - making a storm with voice FX, then making the sailors shout over it is terrific. (A problem for the person in the next room, perhaps.) This has to be seriously loud or does not work.

The bit where Caliban and Trinculo hide under the cloak, and Stephano thinks he has found an eight-legged monster - great for the physical action.

Singing or chanting the silly and rude songs - like Stephano's ditty about Kate (you may have to be careful with the line about scratching her where'er she did itch).

Caliban's astonishingly beautiful speech about the isle's being full of noises.

The attempted murder.

Ariel's confrontation of the three men of sin.

Ariel's chasing of the three drunkards.

The reconciliations and people being amazed all over the place in the final scene.

For a younger group, not constrained by GCE stuff, you can explore things that are fun, and clearly in the play - the sea voyage (make a plan), mapping the island (adding things like the bay where the ship is hidden, where Caliban finds scamels from the rocks and so on), and drawing Caliban, Ariel, Sycorax.

You could also these days, relate the play to other depictions of magicians (Merlin, Gandalf, Potter and so on). That will get them interested in Prospero.

And you can look at the play in performance - the original actors, wearing clothes with vegetable dyes (that they cannot afford to replace) have to explain why they still hold their colour. We know that Ariel did it - hence the washing powder name.

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My favorite Shakespeare quote comes from the Tempest. I can still (para-quote) it after 25 years:

Miranda (or Prospero): " I pitied thee, took pains to make thee speak. And when thou, savaged, did not even know thy own meaning, and would babble like a thing most brutish, I taught thee words which made thy purposes known to thee"

Caliban: " arrrgh! And now I am all the better for it, for now I can Curse!"

This passage struck me as funny and brilliant. The takeaway, for me, was the nature vs. nurture dichotomy with regard to language. The question: can you have thoughts, emotions and feelings without having a name for them, or having some definition for them? Surely, simple emotions are out of box, factory options (pain=ouch!), but it seems to me that higher, and much higher concepts and even emotions have no meaning without a definition within a community.

 

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