photo of teacher

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

Where do I teach?

What are my students learning?

Teaching Practice
What's my approach?

Student Work





Teaching Practice

About My Teaching
The practice documented on this website happened over a 5-6 week period. During that time, I employed a range of classroom configurations:

  • teacher up front,
  • students doing all the work together,
  • individual, pair, small-group and whole group instruction.

Part of what a teacher does is constantly answer the question: What kind of social structure is most effective and appropriate for this kind of task with group of students at this time?

About Teaching Shakespeare
Most of all, I want students to enjoy Shakespeare. I want them to have fun. I don't want it to be a deadly chore, and I want it to be memorable and engaging. I don't want the students to feel the need to read Cliffs Notes or Spark Notes. I really want them to read the text itself. To that extent, I think this unit was incredibly successful. My students had a good time! I wanted them to understand it, to comprehend the language as well as the literary devices, and themes, and characters. I didn’t want them to revere it. I wanted them to approach it in a way where they felt that they could mess with it, transform it, engage it, as well as understand it. But it wasn’t like we were reading “Shake-spEAH!” Though I will say for some of my students there was a sense of accomplishment in having engaged in something that’s kind of “elite.” In a way, it's cultural capital that they will bring with them to college.

Although I've taught Macbeth many times, my problem with Macbeth is that it’s a really dark play. One day my students and I had a reflective conversation about, "Why study this play?" They brought up that issues of power, and what people will do to gain power, are kind of relevant to conversations that come up with their conceptions of the American dream. When we recorded this, it also was a time when we were at war in Iraq. When I taught Macbeth in the 90s in the African American community, the whole hip hop culture was putting an emphasis on “the money, the power, the money, the power.” In fact, that was one reason I stopped teaching it, was because they were identifying with Macbeth, like Makaveli/ Tupac-- so much violence. The play I have the most fun with, that I’ll go back to, is Taming of the Shrew. Focusing on feminists, and women, and women’s roles. For me, it ties in better to the American Dream, which is one of my central inquiries framing the course.

Site last updated December 12, 2005