Shakespeare: Not just for the 17th century

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Instead of using an Old English Dictionary to study Shakespeare, one class is putting its own spin on the bard’s complex work to create students’ final projects.

English 232 teaches about the works and life of William Shakespeare. Because Shakespeare’s work can be difficult to read, Professor Gideon Burton decided to teach his Shakespeare class with a different approach.

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Anthony Bastian and Averill Corkin rehearse for an upcoming Shakespeare adaptation, written, directed and acted by students in BYU's ENGL 232 class. The class has found ways to share a love of Shakespeare through the Internet and social media.
“A lot of different classes are taught on Shakespeare,” Burton said. “I teach with the approach that gets students involved in new media.”

Burton uses the Internet to engage students in Shakespeare and create an environment of personalized learning. Students keep a blog and tell about their experiences and use new media to apply the literature to post ideas for other students to use when learning Shakespeare in the future. The students combine their own creativity and interests and come up with unique ideas for their final projects at the end of each semester.

This fall, five different group projects are being created: a modernized Shakespeare play, a documentary on the making of the play, a music video, audiobook and art projects.

“They are projects that require students to be creative and bring in other arts,” Burton said. “They end up becoming better students in Shakespeare because they have to examine text closely.”

The group doing a modern adaptation of a play has combined several plays and created its own script. The play is called “Lovers of Shakespeare” and explores the theme of love within Shakespeare’s work. The evolution of three couples, one each from “Hamlet,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” create basis for the play’s plot.

“It’s slightly exaggerated and thus quite funny,” said Averill Corkin, the director and member of the cast. “It is a small look into a few ways love can go wrong and how we can avoid such fates.”

This one-act play is 85 percent of Shakespeare’s writing, and 15 percent students’ writing.

“I could not be more excited for the show,” Corkin said. “Hopefully it will be a way to bring Shakespeare’s sometimes difficult words to life in this modern context.”

For the behind-the-scenes documentary film, interviews and sneak peaks have been captured through the whole process of creating the play. Interviews of each cast member have revealed apprehensions, progress and involvement in the play.

“Professor Burton has new ways of learning through new media,” said Kelsie Moore, a junior working on the documentary. “I have really enjoyed the class because I am doing the things I love and learning Shakespeare in a whole different way.”

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Averill Corkin, Brittni Foskey and Eric Beckstead run through "Lovers of Shakespeare," a mix of "Hamlet," "Romeo and Juliet" and "Love's Labours Lost" put together by students.
The class will watch the documentary before the play performance, but it has been filmed in such a way that it will not spoil the following performance. The play, documentary and all the other end of semester projects will be posted online so others can gather ideas about how to creatively learn the work of Shakespeare.

“The class is about engaging the text but also engaging the fun of Shakespeare,” Burton said. “Its not just reading a textbook in a classroom or watching a performance, it’s about engaging, understanding and enjoying Shakespeare on a broader level.”

The class will showcase its projects this Friday at 7 p.m. in room B192 of the JFSB.

For a sneak-preview of the performance visit vimeo.com/user9290803.

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