The way that we have prepared to study this play is a combination of:
- watching a film production of the play;
- reading a simplified version of it;
- listening to the audio recording of the entire play, and reading the full script.
It is difficult to find good Shakespearean classes for children so when one of the homeschooling groups that we belong to offer a 4-day course on The Tempest, led by an experienced actor who is also a literature teacher, we jumped at the chance to participate in it.
In Workshop 1, the children started with drama games to help them relax, get acquainted with one another, and to get used to the different drama terms such as 'neutral position' which means to be ready for instruction or action.
This was followed by a brief introduction to the history of drama, in which the drama coach told us that Shakespeare was inspired by the commedia dell'arte characters. The children were also introduced to the different "levels" in acting, which they learned to convey using different body positions. Another technique that the children learned was using their facial expressions. For example, they were challenged to express 'innocence' through their eyes, face, cheeks, mouth, movement, then finally in the ways in which they interacted with the space around them.
The next half of the workshop concentrated on analysing Act 1 Scene 1, which involved a few rounds of discussions about the shipwreck scene. After that, the children worked in several groups to turn themselves into the ship, and they had to convey the shipwreck using movements.
Workshop 2 again started with drama games that helped to enforce the ideas of relaxation, cooperation and teamwork. This was followed by a review of Act 1 Scene 1. This time, the children were led into an analysis of the characters and the scene. For example, the children were asked to discuss the significance of the play as Shakespeare's final work, the possibility of it being used as an autobiography via the character of Prospero, the use of symbolism, and what Shakespeare's message to the world (through this play) might be.
The focus of Workshop 2 was on Act 1 Scene 2. Analysis of the scene included discussions about:
- the element of suspense in the order of which the characters spoke
- the effects on the audience to have another character (Miranda) introduce the main character (Prospero)
- how rhythms and patterns in the speech conveyed the status of each character
- the emotions in Miranda's speech - the children were then trained to identify and create the different emotions in speech
- the motive behind having Miranda fall asleep when Ariel was summoned
- the relationship between Ariel and Prospero
- some background/historical inspiration for the character of Caliban - it stemed from Tudor records of "strange-looking" natives near the Falkland Islands
The children worked on Act 2 Scene 2 in Workshop 3, focusing on the characters of Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano. In groups of five, the children were given the task of creating Caliban with multiple heads and legs under a piece of cloth. To do this, they had to consider the characteristics of the character -- earthy, heavy movement, type of voice, it being half-animal and half-human, etc. When they have developed their character, each child was given a line (Caliban's curse of Propsero) to add a voice to the Caliban that they have created.
The scene analysis in workshop 3 included:
- thinking about the mouth movements required for Shakespeare's speech, i.e. the emphasis of vowels
- considering how consonants and vowels work together to affect the sounds of what was spoken
- readings of lines and explaining unfamiliar words
- discussing the interactions between Caliban and the two human characters
- considering the comic potential of the scene - and think about why Shakespeare created the comic element to the story
- understanding Caliban's speech at the end of this scene - what he was trying to do and what it conveyed about him
The final workshop focused on analysing Act 3 and on understanding why Shakespeare has set the play on an island. Specifically in Act 3 Scene 2, much time was spent on dicussing and analysing Caliban's speech:
- what is his plan?
- what emotions are portrayed in this speech?
- what does he want Stephano and Trinculo to do, and how?
- do the spirits like Caliban?
- what does Caliban need to do before killing Propsero?
- are his words believeable?
- how the use of certain words convey Caliban's state of mind
- what do we learn about Caliban here?
- Caliban's relationships to Prospero and Miranda
Working in pairs, the children were then given the tasks of:
1) finding an image from the speech to be used to represent a statue of Caliban, and
2) finding a phrase from the speech to represent, as a statue, of either Stephano or Trinculo.
In doing so, the children had to analyse the body language of the statue that they were to represent with their bodies, while also analysing why the two humans may want to help Caliban. It was interesting to see the many different, creative interpretations of the same speech.
It is all very timely because the new 2013 season has opened at The Globe and we went to watch The Tempest there. You can catch the final moments of this year's production here.
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