Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Kindling Classroom Conversations with Primary Documents from the Folger Shakespeare Library

Teaching William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew presents some challenges for feminist teachers such as myself. With the help of the Folger Shakespeare Library's online primary documents, the job gets much easier.


The Good and the Badde or Descriptions of the Worthies and Unworthies of the Age (1616) addresses stereotypes of women in the 17th century. On the Folger website, teachers will find a lesson plan with scans from several of the book's pages, including descriptions of "Virgins," "An Unwanton Woman," "A Quiet Woman," "An Unquiet Woman," and "A Good Wife."


I chose to introduce students to The Taming of the Shrew by first having them read these passages. They handled the archaic spellings beautifully and generated a dynamic discussion with little prompting from me in one class and no prompting in the other. My students eagerly offered their assessment of the 1616 stereotypes of women's roles:

  • "It's like women are property of men," offered one young man.
  • "Reminds me of my mom, except for the patience. She's not patient," said a young girl.
These comments, and others, lead to additional opinions by others, as well. My students have strong opinions about whether or not a woman's role in relation to her husband.

We followed up the discussion about stereotypes with a line-tossing activity, two-person skits, and an interactive summary, all designed to engage students with Shakespeare's language and introduce students to the play.

If today offers an indication of how the unit will unfold, my students will have plenty to laugh about and talk about as we discover The Taming of the Shrew and seventeenth century notions about gender roles.

As teachers prepare to implement CCSS into the English language arts curriculum, primary documents from the Folger Shakespeare Library offer fantastic informational documents for igniting classroom conversations and for meeting critical reading standards in the twenty-first century. 

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