With the downfall of marriage in our society, more and more of us are getting divorced, have been divorced, or are children of divorce. Divorce very often creates step families, and this has changed the very core of the modern family.

It's useful to remember, though, that step families are nothing new. In fact, Shakespeare created the play, "Hamlet" around this very theme. Hamlet's father had died and he now had a new step dad -- his uncle, Claudius. And he was not happy with the new "addition to his family" at all!  He questioned the validity of Claudius' role in the family and berated  his mother for her disloyalty.

We see the same issues today with step families, most now created by divorce instead of death. The drama is still there --- conflicted loyalties, loss of trust and intense questioning by the children involved.

Although the play Hamlet exaggerates the drama in order to make a good play, we can see elements of what he is going through that are common to many children in re-marriage situations. They feel loyal to their biological parent but are being forced to deal with a new reality that is beyond their choice. They are often told to "suck it up" and feel isolated in the situation.

Many of your students in your classrooms will come from step family situations. Take the opportunity to talk about these real life issues with your class. They will relate more than you know!

I haven't posted for quite some time here, and I am sorry for neglecting the site. I had a comment from a reader about the latest Shakespeare flick, "Anonymous." I have not seen this film yet but it looks like a film that would be great to use in the classroom.

Just remember that when you are using film in the classroom, you don't have to show the whole thing. *Clips* are the word of the day. Take five minutes of a film. Show it to the class. Discuss. Show another fifteen relevant minutes. Discuss. Give an assignment based on your lesson objectives.

Teachers have got in trouble for using movies as babysitters. And we all know, once in a while, that can be a handy tool! But movies and media are our new reality, and using them intelligently just makes sense. Stop trying to fight your students' interests. Get smart about them!

Romeo and Juliet is probably the most popular and well-known of Shakespeare's plays; with the title character's name having reached into popular vernacular, as being synonymous with a young passionate lover: "He's such a Romeo!"

The play reached  a new level of accessibility when a movie called William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet became a box office hit, starring the movie powerhouse, Leonardo DiCaprio. Purists may have argued that the directors took too many liberties with the script, but this movie did for Shakespeare what Elvis did for rock and roll. He made it cool. And something to which teenagers could relate. After all, Romeo and Juliet is nothing but a play about teenagers, and has probably always been more suitable for adolescent viewing. 

Let's face it. This is the story about raging hormones, puppy love, and silly gang rivalries. The parents play only a peripheral role in the script, and melodramatic poetry give narrative to bad choices and irrational thinking. The perfect teen drama! And how appropriate that this play about immaturity and total recklessness would be packaged in a movie that appeals to today's teens.

The 1996 movie, William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet
, may have offended the purists, for its re-arranging of the script and its change of city, but these liberties are merely to draw a viewer in. When you travel more deeply into the movie, you realize that this movie is greatly more Shakespearean than the greatest production on London's stage.

I believe that this movie would be closer the Bard's intentions than any other production of the play that has been made.  Why? Because it communicates to today's teenagers. It's hip, poetic and relevant.

I highly recommend this film to any teacher doing Romeo and Juliet in their class. And I recommend getting modern resources into your lessons. Youtube songs, graphic novels, seeing a live play. Do something to make it fresh, make it today. In my opinion, this does not take away from the purity of Shakespeare: rather, it makes Shakespeare more pure than before, because it makes Shakespeare entertainment, not school work. Which is what he was in 1594.

In the last few weeks, there has been much publicity about a well-known actor who has said some pretty bizarre things to the media. As well, his behaviour has been quite outrageous. Of course, everyone in the entertainment media is talking about it (it makes great copy!) and theorizing about why he is acting the way he is.

The performer was even asked directly is he was bi-polar, something he adamantly denied.  Nevertheless, he gives the appearance of being somewhat out of control, and of being "off," because of some of his outlandish statements.

Well, his recent behaviour brought to my mind the play, Hamlet, where Hamlet pretends to be mad, in order to catch some ne're-do-wells who are plotting on his life. He pretends to be out of his mind, then, for a purpose. And everyone around him is speculating: is he truly out-of-it, or merely pretending. This is where we get the common axiom: "method to his madness."

It is common to the human experience to speculate about other people's motivations, and cause of actions. Sometimes we can call it just plain gossip, other times we elevate it to the name of clinical psychology, and spend thousands of research dollars on it. The point is, we all want to know why other people tick the way they do.

When someone acts a bit strange, this gives us fodder to chew on, and something to talk about. I think we enjoy it, as a public, this speculation. It is the basis of story: understanding character and motivation.  Collectively, we can go "ooh" and "ahh"  at the appropriate times.

And the actor in the spotlight now fills a need for us. Does he know what he is doing? Is he pulling a Hamlet? Only he, in his heart, knows for sure. Can "pulling a Hamlet" go too far, and start to seem real? We see at the end of Hamlet that he performs actions that he never would have at the beginning of the play. It seems it is easy to pretend to be something long enough, that you actually become it.

So, when you are teaching Hamlet to your class, or whatever other play you are working on, bring in the news of the day .... the stuff the kids will  know about. And relate to this stuff they don't know about ... Make them make the connection.

During my university days, there was a lot of talk about "dead white men," and why we, perhaps, should not be reading them: This talk took place both within the classroom, and in the texts we were "discoursing" with.

This is one of the objections given to studying Shakespeare: he is a dead, white man, and therefore somewhat irrelevant to those of us in the 21st century, who, obviously are not dead, are not necessarily men, and who may not be white.

This argument, though, is spurious, because it implies that being white and male automatically makes you somehow against, or opposed, to those who are not. It creates a sense of division where none is needed. It's a form of reverse discrimination: if you are white, or you are male, you are somehow less, because you have always been part of the majority.

I really haven't heard this term lately, although I don't know if it's still floating around in university circles. I do know, however, that a writer's relevance or ability to empathize is in no way related to his or her skin colour, status, or gender. A writer is relevant because of what her heart, led by her mind, can create. Writing is from the inside, and it is a mistake to ever judge a writer by his outward characteristics.

Teaching Shakespeare is a parallel to this. The books we hand out to the students might appear to be old and irrelevant, but it is up to us to "unpeel" them and reveal the beauty within the pages, by helping them to engage with the text.



    An educator with a passion for making connections between literature and the real lives of students.