Shakespeare Birthplace Trust – an unexpected pleasure


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Being in Stratford-upon-Avon for All the World’s a Classroom, the National Association for the Teaching of English Annual Conference, you’d choose at least one workshop or seminar on teaching Shakespeare, right? Well, I know some who didn’t, but I was very pleased with my choice of ‘Creative Approaches to teaching Shakespeare’s life, times and legacy’ as the 2 1/2 hour workshop on Saturday, June 25 had a wonderful surprise: we were escorted to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust on Henley Street and had the pleasure of viewing the exhibition, as well as examining several items from the collections in the listed Conference Room.

A rich experience well worth the rain sodden walk.

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After our walk through the exhibition, we were asked to consider

  1. What are the most useful aspects of the exhibition when it comes to building upon your students’ understanding of the social and historical contexts behind Shakespeare’s works?
  2. What sort of classroom activities would you develop to follow a visit to this exhibition?
  3. What are the most effective ways of putting Shakespeare’s life and works into context?

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The discussion that followed could easily have spilled over much longer than the time allotted. Actually, though it was good to be on site, it meant that a reasonable chunk of time was lost in the walking. So instead of the planned half hour, we had 15 minutes in the exhibition and 10-15 minutes to discuss teaching strategies.

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Personally, I found the space small and crowded, with a constant sense of movement as people tried to inspect a range of items. Initially, I was wowed by the white walls, words and book spines, but then noticed a number of framed posters and artefacts overlain upon the clever textual references.

For this space, I would ask students to choose a phrase or words both horizontally and vertically to copy (or photograph) and these would be used in a writing exercise. The writing would have to take place elsewhere, and could possibly completed in one of the upstairs rooms if part of a planned school visit.

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The next room was a darkened asymmetrical space with several different sized screens operating at alternate times. Small and unwelcoming, I walked straight through and into the next space which had several static representations of items in an attempt to contextualise Shakespeare’s lifetime. I was drawn to a large portrait and quote

Witty above her sexe, but that’s not all

Wise to salvation was good Mistris Hall

These are the opening lines of a verse written on the gravestone of Susanna Hall, daughter of William Shakespeare. This moment of humanity was quite impressive, and I couldn’t really connect with the market cross base stone or other items. This left me standing in the corridor where I notice another small room with a bench seat opposite a screen playing an introduction to Shakespeare, his works and life. Obviously, this was part of a different paying tour.

My main comment about considering these exhibits and spaces as potential learning opportunities for students is that the space needs to be opened up, rather than separated to allow for different fee paying tourists to be quickly funnelled through to the gift shop.

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Later, we spent time in the listed Conference Room where we saw a powerpoint presentation which outlined the items displayed on the large table before us and were enthusiastically entertained by a commentary of who, what and when. I could immediately see the potential in using this space with students to actually read and inspect original copies of relevant documents, many of which can also be viewed via the trust’s online collections.

This site is structured for easy navigation under the headings of

  • Favourites
  • Explore the collection- museum, archive, library, RSC performances
  • From the blog
  • see also

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The staff were very knowledgable and helpful, even down to a useful tip for the upstairs room being an excellent vantage point for photography the garden. This proved to be even more interesting with the thunder and rain that afternoon.

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