Shakespeare in 8th grade? Yes!

| 23 May 2019 | 08:52

Shakespeare in 8th grade? Yes! Students at Byram Intermediate School read one of William Shakespeare’s most comedic plays: A Midsummer Night's Dream. This comedy is believed to have been written between 1590 and 1597 and portrays the events surrounding the marriage of the Duke of Athens, Theseus, and Hippolyta. The play includes the adventures of four young Athenian lovers and a group of six amateur actors (the mechanicals), who are controlled and manipulated by the fairies who inhabit the forest in which most of the play is set. This play is one of Shakespeare's most popular works for the stage and is widely performed around the world.
As stated on the Shakespeare Live!’s website, “The genius of Shakespeare has been enjoyed for centuries through the medium of live theatre, and there is no better tool for teaching Shakespeare than providing an opportunity for students to see his stories and words brought to life in dynamic and accessible performances. When originally produced, Shakespeare's plays were done on a simple, bare stage. The audience was captivated, not by special effects, but by riveting stories and rich characters. As members of this unique event, audience reactions help shape the drama; their laughter, gasps or rapt silence all contribute to the communal experience that only live theatre can offer.” (
To that end, therefore, as a culminating lesson to their Shakespeare unit, Byram 8th graders had opportunity to view a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed by Shakespeare Live! This program was sponsored through a grant funded by the Byram Township Education Foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to support excellence in learning and to enhance the educational experience for elementary and middle school students in the Byram public schools. “Shakespeare LIVE! is the largest Shakespeare touring program for young people in the region. The mission of Shakespeare LIVE! is to present dynamic and visually imaginative productions of Shakespeare's plays to elementary, middle, and high school students. Although these productions are abridged for presentation in schools, the beauty and integrity of Shakespeare's language is preserved.”
Following the performance, students participated in a post-show discussion with the artists, giving them a unique opportunity to express their own ideas about the play. The students then examined Shakespeare’s craft more deeply by participating in workshops run by the Shakespeare Live! performers. The students were transformed into actors and actresses themselves as they performed Shakespeare’s text. While the performance was certainly entertaining, the workshops made the experience more personal for the students as they transformed the Shakespeare experience from merely words in a book to a fun and easily understood play. As one students stated, “I was glad I had the chance to interact with the actors afterwards and learn their techniques”.
Both of the 8th grade language arts teachers, Lori Loredo and Amy Stevens, said it was such a joy to watch the students read Shakespeare and revel in its plot, and to hear their laughter.