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New York City: Passionate About Shakespeare

Overview Procedures for Teachers Organizers for Students

print version Throughout the history of New York, New Yorkers have been passionate about Shakespeare. New Yorkers have wept and fainted, gone to jail, even fought and died over the Bard's works. This lesson incorporates video clips from the program NY VOICES: "The Public" at 50, which explores the genesis and influence of Joseph Papp's Public Theater on the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary. In this lesson, you will learn about four events concerning the history of Shakespeare's plays as they have been experienced and performed in New York City. What is it about the Bard and his writing that causes people to have such love for his works? Do we still have the same passion for them today? The lesson emphasizes reading primary and secondary source materials, interpreting the emotions of the people involved in the historical events, and reading passages from Shakespeare that relate both historically and emotionally to the events. The culminating activity is a simulated Town Hall meeting in which students defend Shakespeare as part of American culture.

Grade Level:
High School (Grades 9 to 12)

Time Allotment:
5 fifty-minute class periods

Subject Matter:
English, History, Theater and Performing Arts

Learning Objectives

Students will learn about:
  • The facts surrounding the Astor Place Riot and events surrounding performances of Shakespeare in American history.
  • The centrality of Shakespearean performance in American society in the 1750s, 1820s, 1840s, and late 1950s.
  • The universality of the themes of Shakespeare's works.
Students will be able to:
  • Find connections between historical events and the arts that were popular at those times.
  • Interpret primary and secondary source documents.
  • Find arts information in online newspapers.
  • Analyze Shakespearean texts.


National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE):

  • Standard 1:
    Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.

  • Standard 2:
    Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.

  • Standard 3:
    Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).

  • Standard 4:
    Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

  • Standard 5:
    Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

  • Standard 11:
    Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

This lesson was prepared by: Paul Michael Fontana