Saturday, January 24, 2009

Teaching King Lear

The last week was exhausting - I've been sick, I went down to the Inauguration and stood up for hours on end, grades were due, and I started a new unit. Thankfully it's the weekend, and I've enjoyed a day of rest and exercise and The Sopranos, which I am blazing through via Netflix. It's funny that I get into the water cooler shows several years after they're on; I'm finding myself really longing to talk about them with someone, and keep wanting to start a "Can you believe what Ralphie did to his pregnant stripper girlfriend last night? OMG!"

Anyhow, I started King Lear with my Juniors yesterday, and boy was I ever excited. I wore my long-ago-purchased King Lear t-shirt for the occasion, and antipated the class' arrival in the hallway, which I don't do often enough. Turns out three kids walked in tardy, about eight forgot their book, and about five cut class, presumably because an essay was due. I think I got them, though, and that kids felt guilty; one girl looked at me and said, "Wow, you're really passionate about this, aren't you?" and she was right.

One thing about the Folger TSI this year was that we learned a lot of great activities, but I still kind of struggle with putting it all together. What does an entire unit look like? We went into the Folger having read King Lear and the other three plays already, and then spent a month analyzing them. I briefly thought about assigning Lear as at-home reading, so that the students got the plot, and then spent four weeks analyzing the play with different activities. But I eventually thought my students couldn't really handle that, so we're starting off by reading it in class.

As I wrote the first two weeks of my unit this past week, I really struggled with pacing and deciding how much can be accomplished in one class period and in one night's reading. I'm used to giving this class weekly due dates on the reading, but I don't think I can do that with Shakespeare. For example, my goal for yesterday was to introduce the text (I found a bunch of images of Lear from throughout the ages and asked them to make some predictions), and get through line 120 of the first scene. This gets us through Lear's casting off of Cordelia, so the major conflict of the story has been set up.

On Monday, I'm going to play for them two different staged readings of those 120 lines, and have students analyze how the two different readings (one plays Lear as if he thinks Cordelia is joking, one plays Lear as angry right away) are choices and how these choices create meaning. Then, I want to shoulder on through the reading.

On Tuesday, however, we have to take a break; a representative from Everyman Theater is visiting my class to talk about the field trip my students are attending on Wednesday. Then, of course, on Wednesday, they are going on the aforementioned field trip.

Therefore, I have assigned 1.2 for at-home reading, and am assigning three reading questions about the scene. I've planned out my days for the first two acts. Looking it over, there is not much performance there, although there is two different activities that ask students to analyze choices in performance. Act III and IV have a lot of the action - I'm thinking Gloucester's big blinding scene - and think I will be getting the kids up and on their feet to complete performance activities with them. I have to look over my TSI notes and try to remember some of the things we did (I remember an activity where we used that blinding scene for performance, but don't remember exactly what we did). I'm also using the Center for Learning King Lear unit plan for some activities and resources.

Here is my unit plan so far. I'm going to see how it goes; at the very least, I'm very excited.

Friday, Jan. 23: Introduction to Text
Begin reading (at least through Line 120)
HW: 1-page reaction to following quotation in journal
“Literary character before Shakespeare is relatively unchanging; women and men represent aging and dying, but not as changing because their relationship to themselves, rather than to the gods or god, has changed. In Shakespeare, characters develop rather than unfold, and they develop because they reconceive themselves . . . The plays remain the outward limit of human achievement; aesthetically, cognitively, in certain ways morally, even spiritually. They abide beyond the end of the mind’s reach; we cannot catch up to them. Shakespeare will go on explaining us, in part because he invented us . . . he went beyond all precedents (even Chaucer) and invented the human as we continue to know it . . . He has become the first universal author, replacing the Bible in the secularized consciousness . . . Nietzsche, like Montaigne a psychologist almost of Shakespeare’s power, taught that pain is the authentic origin of human memory” (Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. Riverhead Books. 1998)

Monday, Jan. 26: Choices in Performance
Discussion reactions to quotation
Audio Analysis of Lines 52-120 in Journal
Complete 1.1
HW: Review/finish 1.1; Complete character chart handout in journal

Jan. 27-Feb. 2 Independent Reading
Read and mark 1.2-1.3 on your own.
Answer the following three questions in paragraph form in your journal:
1. A soliloquy is a long uninterrupted speech given by a character that no other character hears. It is especially important in drama, because it reveals the private thoughts of the character. What does the initial soliloquy at the beginning of the scene reveal about Edmund? What diction is repeated, with variations, at least half a dozen times and what does this tell us about his feelings? Lastly, what is the tone of the speech – sad, or angry? Support your response with evidence.
2. What do Gloucester’s and Edmund’s comments about the constellations of the stars reveal about their individual beliefs in the power of the stars or fate?
3. How has Goneril changed since the first scene? How much time do you think has passed, and why?

Monday, Feb. 2 Review 1.2-1.3: Listen to two variations on Edmund’s soliloquy.
In class: Reading first half of 1.4, through entrance of Goneril.
Homework: Mark all of Act I for motif of sight/insight and its variations, including Kent’s disguise in this scene. Now, imagine you were writing an essay, with the topic sentence, “Shakespeare uses the motif of sight and insight to reveal King Lear’s metaphoric blindness.” Write, in your journal, a paragraph with two XYZ constructions using the evidence you marked for throughout Act I.

Tuesday, Feb. 3 Finish 1.4 – 1.5
In pairs: “Riddle Me This” Handout, in pairs, completed in journal
Homework: “I have writ my sister,” Goneril says. Write the letter that you think Goneril might have sent to Regan. Include a Statement of Intent with this creative piece to explain the techniques you are using to capture Goneril’s voice and the play’s themes and motifs. You may be creative and make it a parody. This is due on Thursday, Feb. 5.

Wednesday, Feb. 4 Read 2.1-2.2 in class. Listen to two interpretations of 2.1 and discuss the differences between the choices in the two scenes.
HW: Finish reading and marking anything not completed in class.

Thursday, Feb. 5 Share Goneril letters
Read 2.3-2.4
HW: Review Act II for all important motifs (sight, animal imagery, storms/weather, violence in nature). Have them clearly marked and a key in the front of the text.

Friday, Feb. 6 Quiz, Acts I-II.


smoneil said...

I'm also working through my Shakespeare unit (we are halfway through Act 3), and I've used a TON of stuff from the Folger (my curriculum project was a unit plan, so I've already put a lot of it together. One of the plays I'm using is King Lear, so I have a bunch of stuff that I could send along if you want).

Sarah Eriksen said...

It's too bad your King Lear section didn't get off to a great start. Did you say you're teaching juniors? Maybe they'd be interested in King Lear by Shmoop. It has a pretty modern, entertaining approach to lit analysis but doesn't dumb anything down. Anyway, hope you're feeling better!