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Double Double, Toil and Trouble:
Engaging Urban High School Students in the Study of Shakespeare

Marsha R. Pincus
J.R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Whose English? Getting Students into the Language of Shakespeare Shakespeare's Blues: Making Personal Connections to Macbeth Interrogating Macbeth: Crafting a Literary Analysis

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Whose English? Getting Students into the Language of Shakespeare

Inquiry into Language
This inquiry gave my students a sense of context and history for the language that they encounter in Macbeth.
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I engage my students in a course inquiry theme on the History of the English Language. In this theme, we focus on questions about language and power, how language changes, about whose language is considered standard, whose is substandard and why.  We look at varieties of written and spoken English and trace the history of it.  We don't just take it for granted; I don't just teach them the rules of grammar and usage so that they can identify something that’s incorrect on the SAT of standard written English. I prepare them so they’re able to identify errors in usage and grammar on the SATs, but I also engage them in deeper conversations about language and history and culture and power, and their own lives. 

It is important to start with the language inquiry, because this inquiry leads to the Shakespeare. This gives students a sense of context and history for the language that they encounter in the play. While they are familiar with it, having read at least one Shakespeare play a year since fifth grade, they have never analyzed the structure of the language.

I try to show them what they already know about English and language by having them describe the features of the Lord’s Prayer in Old English, then in Middle English and then to compare the differences. Finally, when we see how different the two languages are, I ask them to consider what may have happened to cause such drastic changes in the language. When they understand that the changes were caused by the Norman Invasion and French rule of England, they see that English is a creole language that combines features of Old English and French or even German and Latin.  They also understand why there are so many contradictions and exceptions to rules in this language. There are also implications for social class as well with the upper classes speaking French and the lower classes speaking English. These distinctions exist in the language today with pairs of words such as house and mansion or room and salon.






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