“Midsummer” & Me

How many of you remember the part you played in a summer camp play?

I was “The Wall” in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and can still recite the lines.

In this same interlude it doth befall

That I, one Snout by name, present a wall;

And such a wall, as I would have you think,

That had in it a crannied hole or chink,

Through which the lovers, Pyramus and Thisbe,

Did whisper often very secretly.

This loam, this rough-cast and this stone doth show

That I am that same wall; the truth is so:

And this the cranny is, right and sinister,

Through which the fearful lovers are to whisper.  ( 5,1, 154-163)

That experience, along with my mother taking us to see his plays in Stratford, CT, and then living in London and seeing everything produced by Royal Shakespeare Company for four years cemented in me a love of Shakespeare.

When I taught 8th grade Language Arts, a supervisor dropped off a carton of battered “Midsummers”; the high school decided they weren’t going to teach it.

These decrepit copies were replaced the next year with the Oxford School editions, complete text with annotations and history.

I attended workshops and learned techniques on how to make this difficult text user-friendly  and hands-on for 13 year olds.  Students loved hurling insults and showering compliments, learning about subtext and the many words (nearly 2,000) and phrases coined by Shakespeare. (clothes make the man, green- eyed monster, the course of true love never did run smooth… ) They loved marching around the room, learning iambic pentameter by stomping their feet to the beat of  “I do not like green eggs and ham; I will not eat them Sam-I-am.”

And they loved performing.  Students created their own acting companies and selected a small scene which we’d edit- cutting lines and changing a few words that self-conscious 8th graders didn’t want to say: breast to chest, for example. 

Before introducing the play, I’d ask students to write about a conflict with their parents. Responses ranged  from use of cell phones, texting bills, going out, shopping, to “when I begged and argued with my father not to leave but he did anyway. “ It helped them understand the opening scene when Egeus wants his daughter Hermia to marry Demetrius instead of Lysander who she loves.

Telling them that every actor they’ve ever seen in movies or television had studied and performed Shakespeare at some point also helped them accept that this 400-year-old dead white guy might have something to offer them.

I attended as many performances of  “Midsummer” as I could find, bringing staging ideas back to the classroom.  I saw an all –male production, one set to music of the 1950’s, and one at the restored Globe in London, which played upon the “dream” theme- costumes were pajamas, robes, and slippers; props were toothbrushes, teddy bears and pillows.  

And this week, I attended the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s Outdoor Stage production of  “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”  Sitting in the Greek amphitheater, wondering if the sky would fall open any second,  I enjoyed hearing the familiar lines I’ve come to memorize.  (Lord what fools these mortals be!)  I remembered many of the student and professional performances.  It’s still my favorite.

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About cyclingrandma

I was a journalist (Danbury News-Times, Ct), before becoming a teacher, and continue to write for professional journals. I have written several study guides for Penguin Books and write for Education Update, a newspaper based in New York City. (www.educationupdate.com). I’ve interviewed many authors, college presidents, and scientists. I wrote “The Kentucky Derby’s Forgotten Jockeys” for Smithsonian Magazine's website, www.smithsonian.com. (April, 2009). Two essays have been published in book anthologies; one for Wisdom of Our Mothers, (Familia Books) and the other in “College Search and Parent Rescue: Essay for Parents by Parents of College-Going Students.” (St. Martin’s Press). I was a middle school Language Arts teacher for more than 10 years and have just completed a five year grant position under No Child Left Behind in Newark, NJ public schools. I have three children, two daughters-in law, and six grandchildren. I'm an avid cyclist, knitter, cook, and reader. I love theater, museums, and yoga.
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3 Responses to “Midsummer” & Me

  1. Naomi says:

    I agree that it is critical to have an inspiring teacher in order to instill an appreciation for Shakespeare. Despite all those trips to the Stratford theater, I mostly remember being bored as I sat through the plays while looking forward to the ice cream at intermission. Unfortunately, my children haven’t develop much of an interest in Shakespeare either. I remember them complaining about how their English tests would consist of quotes from the play they were reading, asking them to identify who said the quote and in what act and scene. Now what is the value of that? I think having acted in a play early on is what triggered a life long interest in the subject. Keep it going! Maybe you could write a guidebook for teachers on the subject.

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  2. I’m becoming more convinced that as much as possible, teaching/learning should involve dramatic activities. Look how Gabe enjoys the videos he does for history. He’ll never forget those experiences.

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  3. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is my favorite Shakespeare to teach. I think students become better learners when they can interpret and act out Shakespeare (plus, MSND is so much fun!) 🙂

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