I am a second year teacher, and during my first year, I taught Julius Caesar at the sophomore level. I did not have a very good experience with it, as most of the students had a hard time getting into the play. For this year, my fellow sophomore teachers and I decided (back in the summer) to teach Taming of the Shrew. I am very excited about the change, and I think 10th graders will enjoy this particular comedy. However, now that we are closer to actually teaching the play, my fellow sophomore teachers have expressed the opinion that they want to go back to Julius Caesar. They believe that Taming of the Shrew is too difficult for a sophomore.

Does anyone have any experience with these two plays, or more particularly Taming of the Shrew? I know some of the characters and their motivations may be difficult to keep straight, but the way I see it, it is our job as teachers to help organize these characters. I don't really think the reading level/comprehension is above the sophomore level, but I could be wrong.

Help, please!

Tags: english, secondary

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If you want your kids to get into "The Taming of the Shrew" try to relate it to the movie "10 Things I Hate About You." If you are a second year teacher, and I assume you are younger, you may know of the movie. Your students, however, may be a little young to have seen it. (1999 it came out). See if this helps. And...if you haven't seen the movie...see it so you know what it's about and how to relate it to the students. It's awesome! (Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles). It's funny! Hope this helps!
Have you seen this guide from Penguin? I didn't see an age level in scanning it, but maybe it will help:
http://www.penguinclassics.co.uk/nf/shared/WebDisplay/0,,82544_1_10...
I think that if you have the kids make a movie of themselves acting out a variation of the play (such as re-doing it in modern-day language) or they have to do SOMETHING where they're creating the play as they go, they're getting a different view -- a simulation if you will -- of the interesting plot line and details. You could even have them broadcast it on your local cable station or even better, on an embedded UStream on the school's website. Invite administrators and parents to watch it!

And I'd hold off talking about other modern-day movies until after they've made that "discovery" themselves. THEN tell them how Shakespear is being used ALL the time to make fun modern art! And if they don't make that discovery, ask them point blank if this plot would make for a good modern movie, then tell them about the 10 Things movie.

Let them discover and don't "teach" it so much. Believe me, the kids will find it more interesting... but that's just my opinion...
I haven’t taught Taming of the Shrew, but have spent a lot of time with the play as an actor, in my life before teaching. In terms of reading level, you are spot on regarding little difference between the two. If anything, a case could be made that Julius Caesar is a stronger example of high rhetorical style, if you wanted to address any of those concepts in a pre-AP fashion. The challenge with Taming of the Shrew is a more structural one, because of the play within a play quality. Although, I would submit that the teaching of structure is where any teacher’s services are most needed with Shakespeare. I suspect that your students are likely to find the characters of Petruchio and Kate so much more compelling that the two worlds of the play can be mitigated. So it all comes down to what are the essential objectives of teaching either text?

I would submit that teaching Shakespeare be guided by questions like, “Why is Shakespeare still relevant more than 400 years later?” or “What is it that makes Shakespeare called the greatest writer of the English language?” or “How does Shakespeare reveal his deep understanding about human nature within a given play?” If you are hunting this kind of game then, again, the play you choose is less of an issue.

Even if you are only concerned with the students understanding the plot and characters, the differences are not so great, beyond the play within a play issue, that one would be more difficult than the other. Both plays are filled with sophisticated manipulation and intrigue. Since Julius Caesar is more of a public play, with all its oratory and politics, it might seem simpler and is probably less believable or deeply revealing of character. While Taming of the Shrew is filled with far more intimate scenes, it is almost a bedroom play; the character’s motivations are far more basic, and their interactions are considerably more active and potentially revealing.

I could probably comment on this endlessly and make a strong case for either one. Like I mentioned earlier, it all depends on what you want them to know and be able to do when all of you are finished. If you mention that, I could perhaps offer some more thoughts.
We are having the same discussion for the 10th grade course at our high school. Fred Haas brings up an excellent point. What is it we really want our students to be able to do in addition to understanding the plot and character development in a Shakespearean play? Clearly, the speeches in Julius Caesar are stronger than those in Taming of the Shrew and lend themselves better to a discussion of rhetorical devices such as ethos, logos and pathos. The historical setting and action in Julius Caesar are a better match for a Euro history-honors English block study, and most boys would prefer the action of Julius Caesar to the drama of Taming of the Shrew. Most girls, however, would probably favor the relationship issues in Taming of the Shrew over the political issues we find in Julius Caesar. On the other hand, expecting sophomores to understand the double entendre found in Taming of the Shrew is akin to expecting children to understand the humor in Ice Age or even Madagascar. The adult is probably going to enjoyTaming of the Shrew much more than the teen. Taming of the Shrew is better suited to a more mature audience. As far as teaching to California's state standards, Julius Caesar seems to offer a wider range of targets than Taming of the Shrew.

By the way, I have taught both, and my sophomores have struggled equally with both. The key to teaching any difficult play lies in the ability to employ analogies to which sophomores might relate. Most sophomores can handle quite well a guided "struggle" to comprehend a difficult work. If they sense ambivilance in the instructor, however, they will take advantage of it. Before teaching either work, decide on standards-based targets and discuss within your professional learning community what you want your students to be able to do, which work will best address this, and how you will know that they have achieved what you want them to achieve.
We actually do BOTH at my school and I can assure that 1)sophomores can definitely handle the text level and 2) they enjoy "Shrew" SO much more than Julius! We teach both because oftentimes colleges assume that students have some knowledge of "Julius Caesar" but this year I am considering really compressing my study of that one (more to a viewing experience) and then spending more time on the language of "Shrew". Shrew is the total Shakespearean package, with the double identities, the word play, the physicality, and the relationships that can be so current! Your students will enjoy it immensely! (I also concur with Ginger below and wouldn't show "10 Things I hate" till AFTER - in fact, I 've used it as an extra credit viewing assignment...) I use the Richard Burton/Liz Taylor version in my classroom... kids adore it! Burton is a total hoot as Petruchio!!!
I've taught both plays to underclassmen and it really doesn't matter. I agree that you need to know beforehand what it is you want them to get out of the plays. I also have to say that any of the plays will be difficult if all you do is read them aloud or silently and then just discuss or answer questions. They need to get up, move around, play the parts themselves, pound out the rhythm, move and groove to the LANGUAGE! Shakespeare's plays were never intended to be a reading experience, they were meant to be seen LIVE and in person where the actors and audience SHARE an experience. This is what you need to strive to recreate in the classroom-- that interactive experience between the author, actors and the audience. I recommend Peter Reynolds' book Practical approaches to Teaching Shakespeare to all of the new teachers in my department because he gives lots of examples and activities that can be used immediately in the classroom with just a few adjustments.
Sounds like you are a wonderful teacher! Years ago my 5th and 6th grade students did full main stage productions of Romeo and Juliet and MacBeth. It was definately a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney moment--"Let's put on a play"! I only see my kids one day a week so it was a huge undertaking, After months of rehearsals, 40 kids did a wonderful job of presenting those two plays in the original language. We 'hired' high schoolers to do makeup, lights, sound, etc. Years later students remember those plays...all those actors are now out of college.

None of the pictures are digital--one of these days I'll scan some of them at put them online.
I am also a second year teacher trying to find a way to navigate through Shakespeare with my Sophomores. I am thinking of combing Julius Caesar and Taming of the Shrew for my Honors course. I really want to look at the use of rhetoric and manipulation in Shakespeare's plays. Does anyone have any advice? Have I chosen two plays that will complement each other?
On the quick, Julius Caesar lends itself more to the rhetorical study, with all the public and even private monologues and soliloquys. While Cassius is a manipulator, Taming of the Shrew seems the better text for all the intrigues, manipulations, and verbal cleverness. On some level, you could probably look at both works with an eye on the rhetoric used for different kinds of verbal combat. Each has some very different styles and use of devices. That idea may have some potential. All that being said, using two Shakespeare plays in a grade 10 class also seems pretty ambitious, although I am not absolutely sure that was your plan.
for just a ton of stuff, both technical and otherwise you should go to the Folger Shakespeare site. Look under their lesson plans for both plays. ..good tech tools as well.... also try and find the very old you tube clip of tel toro and streep doing kate and petr. buzzzzzzzz scene on stage live....best ever!
Royal Shakespeare Company site is also good for educational clips, ideas etc.
You've really hit on something here. What is the reason you are teaching Shakespeare? What skills are being addressed? Are you just reading it for a great story? Each piece has it's own merit, as we know, but you need to identify what you want to get out of it. I've taught Caesar to my sophomores for years and have always had success. When reading it though, make sure you continue to address 1) the background history and 2) the relevance to today's society. I also rarely have kids read out loud. It is difficult to get the intended meaning, humor, and emotion when they are stumbling through pronunciations, etc.

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