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"Et tu, Brute?

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                Betrayal, the individual versus the greater good, the power of speech, fate versus free will, the connection between love and violence, and the power or true love…these are just a few of the themes that the 9th and 10th graders are exploring this quarter through the words and poetry of William Shakespeare. 

                The 9th grade English class is investigating the power of love with Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.  Through discussion of dramatic devices such as monologues, soliloquies, and asides, foil characters and tragic heroes with tragic flaws, dramatic irony, and literary devices such as metaphor, simile, and personification, the students explore the world of drama in a new way.  Romeo and Juliet ask their audiences to consider the ways in which good and evil, love and hatred, “grace and rude-will,” exist together in our human nature.  Romeo’s tragic flaw, his impulsive nature, reminds us to make our decisions, “wisely and slow,” for “they stumble that run fast.”  The wise and practical friar tells the lovers that they must get a handle on their passion for one another, for "These violent delights have violent ends... like fire and powder which as they kiss consume."  Instead he suggests they "love moderately.  Long love doth so."  With romance, action, family drama, loyalty among friends, death, and comic relief, this play has something for everyone, and the students are finding the excitement exhilarating.

              The 10th grade is in a whole different world, exploring ancient Rome in The Tragedy of Julius Caesar.  After defeating his rivals, Caesar prepares to take complete power of Rome.  Little does he know, a group of conspirators is planning his demise in order to prevent him from turning the Roman Republic into a Roman Empire.  In shock that even his friend Brutus would betray him, Caesar is stabbed 23 times on the floor of the senate, unknowingly starting a war that threatens to tear Rome in two.  Shakespeare uses this historical story to explore humanity in a different way, portraying the internal conflict and complex relationships of the characters.  The students are furthering their knowledge of Shakespeare's language, and seeing another side of his plays with this political drama featuring murder, betrayal, war, and loyalty.

              Scientists and psychologists have conducted studies in which they find elevated levels of brain activity in students while reading Shakespeare.  His manipulation of the English language leads us to think deeply about the meaning of his words, which have clearly made an influential impact on even our modern language.

 

It is estimated that Shakespeare added around 1500 new words to the English language. Whenever we use our mind’s eye, to find method in someone’s madness, as they eat us out of house and home, because we thought they had a heart of gold and a spotless reputation but we were actually living in a fool's paradise; whenever we decide that discretion is the better part of valour or detect something in the wind; whenever we remark that brevity is the soul of wit, that  love is blind or caution someone that all that glistens is not gold or advise someone to be neither a lender nor a borrower;  from the salad days of youth, through the  pomp and circumstance of marriage to the sea change of retirement,  until we exclaim what the dickens!, accept the unkindest cut of all, and  shuffle off this mortal coil, we  are speaking Shakespeare’s language.

              --Ross Farrelly, "Why Study Shakespeare," Sydney's Child, 2003

 

              Shakespeare does more than make us examine our language.  He also makes us explore themes and characters that require us to search the depths of our souls to answer. His stories give our students a means through which to gain life lessons and a deeper understanding of human nature.  His characters, though centuries old, are universal, and the students connect to them in the most enlightening ways.  It may be difficult for the students, especially at first, but the benefits outweigh the challenges in the end.  So even if the students see reading Shakespeare as madness, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in't.” ― William ShakespeareHamlet