April 23, 1616, roughly 400 years ago, the legendary William Shakespeare passed away. To honor his life and works, the Folger Shakespeare Library of Washington D.C. is touring the First Folio. The First Folio, a collection of 36 Shakespearean plays, was published in 1623 by two of Shakespeare’s closest friends. The First Folio is on display in Elizabethtown College’s High Library until Dec. 4.
The First Folio is currently encased in glass on a podium in the High Library. There will be a number of events during its stay here at the College, including family workshops, theatrical performances and a musical recital.
As part of the exhibit, Etown is hosting several educational events related to Shakespeare. On Nov. 11, the College presented a workshop for high school English teachers. The event was sponsored by the Folger Shakespeare Library and the English Speaking Union of Pennsylvania and was led by Sue Biondo-Hench. Biondo-Hench is a teacher and has studied Shakespeare pedagogy at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
The high school teachers learned new approaches to teaching Shakespeare in their classrooms. They were also introduced to exciting opportunities for high school students, including a monologue competition at Lockhaven University.
For this competition, high school students perform a monologue of their choice to a panel of judges, who choose the top three performances. The competition includes over 20,000 participants annually. Zoe Oliver, a second place winner, said that she “really appreciated Shakespeare on a more personal level” after the competition.
Only a handful of the teachers present had sent students to this competition before, but many seemed excited at the prospect of doing so in the future.
“You shouldn’t try to get beyond the language,” Dr. Russ McDonald, an English professor at Goldsmith College, said in a video presented to the teachers. He went on to praise Shakespearean language, claiming that it has “a rich variety of expression that other languages don’t have.”
As an example, he cited the distinction between the terms “thou” and “you.” In the 16th and 17th centuries, “thou” was used in personal, intimate relationships, while “you” was used more formally. In “Romeo and Juliet,” Romeo refers to Juliet as “thou” from the moment they meet, but Juliet uses “you” until the scene on the balcony, when she finally asks Romeo, “Where for art thou?” signifying her love for him.
Biondo-Hench then outlined the complicated and impure process of creating the First Folio. The system of writing, inking, drying and organizing the pages presented many challenges. For this reason, each written version of Shakespeare’s work is unique. Scribes, printers and compositors often took liberties in interpreting the text, resulting in countless versions of the famous plays.
The teachers compared an excerpt of “Romeo and Juliet” written in a quarto to the same section in a folio. The texts were divergent, incorporating differences in dialogue, metaphors, structure and overall tone.
“The Quarto uses rhymed couplets, giving it a more cutesy tone,” Caitlyn Hunt of Middletown Area High School stated.
Then, they worked together to act out the scenes with personal interpretations. They flocked to a table of accessories where they claimed black capes, floppy hats and Rapunzel-esque blond wigs. Each group’s performance was met with laughter and applause from the other teachers.
Dr. Gannon-Rittenhouse, an English teacher at Middletown Area High School, said that the event gave her “a lot of good ideas about how to interact with the text,” and that the day was “reenergizing.”
“Some of these exercises I already do, but some things I could do better,” Hunt said. “I learned things I can do to get everyone involved.” She appreciated that this interactive workshop was “not a normal conference of getting presented at.”