3 Resources to Build Prior Knowledge and Background
Last week, I published a post about the 1998 movie Shakespeare in Love, one of my very favorite movies. That post recognized the fact that while the movie is indeed R-rated, it’s still one you can watch IF you know the parts to skip. In that post, I provided a free PDF of the five extremely brief scenes you should avoid in your classes. The PDF includes timestamps and dialogue being spoken so you’ll know exactly when to stop the movie.
And yes, I wish I didn’t have to skip over so many parts of this movie. After all, it’s a good resource for British Literature curricula, which as many teachers know, lack quality films (like The Dig on Netflix) to complement difficult texts.
Plus, students enjoy Shakespeare in Love. My poetry class was captivated just a month or so ago at the end of school and watched it intently.
While the film contains so much good information about Elizabethan society, the beginnings of modern theater, and Shakespeare and his colleagues, it’s a film that you may wish to load on the front-end with some other resources to prep students for the movie so they’ll get more out of it. Students may fail to discern the significance of certain scenes without the details they’ll learn from the three resources below.
3 Resources for Shakespeare in Love
1. Shakespeare In Love and On Film
Absent of spoilers, this twenty-minute film will be the perfect way to build excitement for the movie. Play it a week ahead to get kids ready to watch the full film.
All the major players of the movie — from director John Madden, to co-screenwriters Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman, to costume designer Sandy Powell, to actor Ben Affleck — are featured documentary-style discussing various aspects of the movie: its production (115 crew members built two full-size theaters to make the movie!), its reception (the 1998 Oscars were awash in the glow of the all-star cast and crew), and its appeal down through the ages. As director John Madden says in the video, “Shakespeare in Love has one foot in the sixteenth century and one foot in the twentieth.”
The video also includes appearances by Glenn Whipp, LA Daily News film critic, and Richard Horwich, Ph.D., adjunct faculty at New York University, commenting on the movie’s staying power and Shakespeare’s works’ adaptability.
2. Film Education Study Guide
A day or two before you watch the movie, use this Film Education Study Guide from Film Education, an organization based in London that promotes using films in curriculum. To use this resource, I did the following:
- made photocopies of each section (London Theater, Shakespeare’s London, Playhouses and Elizabethan Theatre, and Love & Marriage in the Sixteenth Century are three),
- had students work with partners to summarize and note the major points of their section
- invited students to add their findings (plus details from the bonus feature discussed next) to a shared Google Slides presentation
- watched students present their findings to the class the day before we started watching the movie
This is a really good free resource with tons of solid information on Elizabethan society and the beginnings of modern theater.
3. Shakespeare in Love Bonus Feature
Use this bonus feature alongside the Film Education Study Guide above. I asked students to find two to three additional ideas or points from this video and add their information to their shared Google Slide.
This 45-minute bonus feature is very educational and well-done. I speculate that this feature is included with the DVD just so the film would find its way into classrooms. It’s very well-done and thorough. All the major actors of the movie narrate and discuss the award-winning details of the film that can be inadvertently overlooked by Shakespeare novices.
Honestly, however, note that this video does get a little long. I’ve shown only about twenty minutes of it to students and then we moved on to the movie. Those twenty minutes, though, are PACKED with information (i.e. students still found new details to add to their Google Slides) that helped students notice specific highlights of the movie such as the elaborate and award-winning costumes used to recreate Elizabethan period drama. For example, colorful clothing for aristocratic characters in plays was procured or borrowed from the wealthy since only they could afford specially dyed fabrics and trims. The feature also explains the finer points of seating in the round theaters. (The standing-room-only seats on the center floor were the cheapest, the balconies were the most expensive.)
In addition, leading lady Gwyneth Paltrow and her co-stars even note how very little is known about Shakespeare and then they discuss the real lives of some of the historical characters and events of the period to paint a clearer picture of the legendary playwright.
Really, there is SO MUCH MORE that this video teaches and my explanation here doesn’t do it justice. Watch all 45 minutes yourself and then choose which portions will be most useful to your class.
There you have it. Three solid resources to consider prior to watching Shakespeare in Love with your students. This movie is one not to miss. Sure, avoid those inappropriate scenes (see my previous post), but after that use this movie to help your students learn more about Elizabethan society, the beginnings of modern theater, and of course, William Shakespeare.
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