Teaching Humanities, History of Elizabethan Theater (II)

See Days 1 and 2, if you’re interested.

Day 3 Part I: Elizabethan Theater Who’s Who
Students, grouped roughly by ability and content knowledge, were given different readings about key figures in the era. After reading, taking notes, and discussing, they created posters about their subject(s). The lesson ended with a “gallery walk” in which the students take notes about the key figures who weren’t part of their reading.

Yes, posters. Given my druthers, I’d have given them all four readings and 25 minutes to peruse, followed by a class discussion. But there you go. Well over half of all students I’ve worked with love making posters, and I always commiserate with the ones who don’t.

This lesson uses a form of “jigsawing”; as I’ve mentioned before, while most trendy math teaching techniques are hooey, I’ve become fond of more than a few used in history and English. Jigsawing is a terrific way to provide content by ability group. In this case, it allowed me to make sure that the students focused in on the content area most appropriate to their abilities.

So my weakest kids got the Shakespeare reading, because I wanted them to get a solid grasp on who he was, what he’d written, and some important quotes. If that was all they got from the exercise, that was a good get. Next group of kids up, I figured would be able to get the key ideas about Shakespeare from the poster, so I had them focus on the other Elizabethan playwrights. That way, they’d get some solid new information on Marlowe, Kidd, and Webster, whilst still picking up the key facts about Shakespeare. Again, if that was all they got, terrific.

Next group up, I knew, would be interested in learning about the new playwrights and would pick up the content from the poster–so they got the actors. The strongest group got Henslowe and Tilney, and the responsibility of figuring out what it was they did.

I know I’ve said this before, but I really wish I’d had an android back then, since the posters were stunningly good—not just in terms of artistic value, but in terms of how the students incorporated the readings into their posters.

In the gallery walk, each group took turns explaining their subject to the others, so they could take notes. I quizzed everyone it later, but I can’t find that document. They all knew enough to laugh at John Webster as the young boy with a violence fetish, and several were sad knowing that Marlowe must die, so the content definitely filtered in.

Day 3, Part II: Theater and its Impact on the Economy
Students reviewed pages of Philip Henslowe’s diary. What evidence did this primary document provide to support the claim that Henslowe was a producer who worked with some of the key playwrights of the day?

Using diary entries, write an essay supporting or contradicting this assertion: “The rise of the theatrical industry probably had a positive impact on London’s economy.”

I’m not sure if the pages in the attachment the pages I actually used. I spent several hours looking for three or four pages that would give them a wealth of evidence for both parts.

This was definitely an activity I designed primarily for the stronger students, and their essays showed they appreciated the challenge. However, all the students were interested. Much chortling when they discovered how much time Henslowe spent with his lawyers and on “copywrighte”.

Day 4: History In Motion
Reading and lecture on the constantly changing nature of “history”. Not only does it keep on building up, but we keep discovering more about our past. Students learn of the Swan drawing, by Johanes de Witt, which wasn’t discovered until 300 years later. Then, 30 years ago, a routine building excavation led to the discovery of Philip Henslowe’s Rose Theatre–and then the Globe was quickly located as well. But is there a cost to these discoveries? Students discuss the impact of living in a historical site.

This is the third really cool “primary” document (well, a copy of one) that I found for this unit, and I spent much of my own time researching it because it’s exactly the sort of tidbit I find fascinating.

What we know of the London theatres of Shakespeare’s age is, to a disproportionately large extent, due to the records such as diary entries left by tourists….Two of these tourists are Johannes de Witt and Aernout van Buchell, friends from the city of Utrecht, the Netherlands….To them we owe the best piece of visual evidence of what an Elizabethan theatre looked like on the inside: the sketch of the Swan theatre on Bankside, along with a brief Latin text describing the London theatre scene….First of all, it is unclear precisely what each of the two friends contributed. We do know that de Witt travelled to London, probably at some time between 1596 and 1598, and visited some theatres there, including the Swan; at some later point, he apparently gave (or sent) his sketch and written ‘Observations’ to his friend van Buchell, who copied the drawing as well as the text–or part of it. It is van Buchell’s notebook that now survives in the Utrecht University Library……There is no evidence that de Witt’s information had an immediate impact on his own culture. Sure enough, van Buchell made a copy of (some of) the information, but he never published it. Not that he was merely a collector of information for his own amusement; the documents he gathered, the facts and impressions he noted down, were made available to fellow scholars on demand for future generations. But for practical purposes, van Buchell’s main function as a go-between lies in transmitting de Witt’s sketch and observations to posterity. For some 300 years, the notebook gathered dust in libraries, until it was discovered by the German scholar Karl Theodore Gaedertz in 1888.

(Source: Renaissance go-betweens:
cultural exchange in early modern Europe
(page 79-81)

So. For centuries, we had no actual image of an Elizabethan theater. Then, for a few generations, the de Witt drawing was all we had, until The Rose was discovered, and once they had that location pinpointed, finding the Globe was pretty easy (hell, my kids found them using a 400 year old map). The past just won’t have the decency to sit still.

And yet, what of the developers? Lucky them! Their business plans had to be postponed; they had to incur additional expense to protect the Rose “until a future date”. Their building had to be suspended over the excavation. and what, exactly, will that do to the retail value of their property? Good, if the rich movie stars propose to buy it out. Bad, if the efforts never get far enough to the purchase level but stay at the annoyance level.

I told the kids about a hospital in my area moving from its old space to an empty lot that held the last orchard in an area that once was devoted to farming. I mean, couldn’t they have moved it anywhere? This orchard had somehow lasted that long, couldn’t we preserve it as the last little piece of heritage in the area?

On the other hand, the hospital can’t move there, it moves to another town, and bye bye jobs and property taxes. Discuss the degree to which we should interfere with business development in order to protect our past.

The essays were great. Heartless guttersnipes all. “Hey, it’s only trees!” “They lasted for 400 years without the theaters. What’s the big deal?”

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12 responses to “Teaching Humanities, History of Elizabethan Theater (II)

  • 2012 in review « educationrealist

    […] thought this post on induction and its crappiness was good. My History of Elizabethan Theater I, II, and III are worth a read, too. I only wrote 4 posts in May, because I was focusing on a piece I […]

  • Advanced Placement Test Preferences: Asians and Whites | educationrealist

    […] add I think I bring to history. (If you’re curious, in public school I taught history of Elizabethan theater and a truly awesome 50s science fiction film course, in which students were to analyze the […]

  • malcolmthecynic

    Ooooh, I need to come up with a lesson plan for my observation class next week, and you just gave me a fantastic idea. Thank you!

    • educationrealist

      I had so much fun with this. I have the lessons if you need any material.

      • malcolmthecynic

        The class is reading “Julius Caesar”. My plan (evolving) is to jigsaw – one group researches ancient Rome, another Shakespeare’s life, and the third…something cool and relevant.

        And then I…do stuff after that.

        Look, I said “idea” not “fully formed plan”, okay?

      • educationrealist

        Good idea. Maybe make two categories: the actual history and then Shakespeare’s version of history. So you could do one on Ancient Rome, one on Julius Caesar, one on the assassination. Then one on Shakespeare, one on the timeline–the difference in time between us and Shakespeare, Shakespeare and Julius Caesar. One on Elizabethan plays.

      • malcolmthecynic

        Right now I am still only observing, not student teaching, so this is only supposed to take up one class. How much of that do you think I can fit in?

      • educationrealist

        If the class is 60 minutes, you’d need two classes. If one block of 90, it’s fine.

      • malcolmthecynic

        Actually, if you still have your lessons for this unit, it would be great if you could e-mail them to me. I’m now at the point of the semester where they’re having me do all sorts of fun stuff with unit plans and lesson plans.

        (The lesson itself went…well, not great, but it could have been worse. In my defense I am observing, and so, teaching, in one of the worst schools in the entire country, testing wise. I get one more shot to do better.)

        Thanks in advance.

      • educationrealist

        email me at this blogname gmail, to remind me–I’m moving this weekend.

      • malcolmthecynic

        Will do, thank you. And good luck with the move.

  • surfer

    Very enriched lesson, I’m impressed. Sounds more enriched than what we would have done in a G/T class (read it, watch it, write essays, lectures on the history/lit crit features).

    It is interesting how much the Internet allows to bring things in (docs) and how it is a bit more of an expectation to do so, even in other fields, business, etc. People just do that much more readily now.

    I think the variety of different exercises and just coming up with them appeals to your right brain, didn’t know COBOL side.

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