The English Teacher

Teaching Language in King Lear

A fellow teacher was asking about the problems of teaching King Lear to 11th graders, and getting them to begin to understand Shakespeare's language. A technique that I have used occasionally when introducing them to King Lear is to play the video for 15-20 minutes without the sound being on. Shakespearean actors convey so much of the meaning of the plays with body language and facial expressions that it is possible for the students to understand the basic meaning or basic plot without hearing the language. In fact, when they first hear the language, their reaction may be 'who can understand this?' .... 'I can't understand this' and feel defeated at the start of the unit.

When showing the video without sound, I stop it at times and ask the class to tell me what is going on. Mostly they are accurate in their perceptions. Then when they watch it again, with the sound, they are curious about what is being said. And then when they begin reading it in the class, they are not so intimidated by the different language. I have only used this technique at the beginning of the unit, and perhaps it would help to do it at strategic parts throughout the play. I have even considered showing the entire video without sound to see what effect it would have on the class learning the play. However, the time constraints of having to teach many other things in a semester has always prevented trying that experiment.

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