Previously I've started long Shakespeare residencies with a crash course in historical context - this all stemmed from one summer when a very young student raised her hand and asked me "Did people really talk like this?"
What a great question. And a complicated one to answer, after you've taken a college course in the evolution of the English language and watched all eight installments of this incredibly dry BBC doc. There's no way to communicate the bulk of this information without boring my students into catatonic states - I've tried. One method that worked quite well for students who were already geeky enough to willingly sign up for a Shakespeare class was to play for them samples of English from Proto-Celtic to Beowulf to Chaucer ... but what if my students didn't ask me to show up and I just wind up in their classroom telling them all about this old dead white guy? Do I pull up a timeline on a power point and make it as exciting as possible? (Tried that, too. Other teachers were thoroughly impressed. 80% of my classroom was not.)
So here it goes... putting Shakespeare into historical context in the least boring way possible.... I hope...
1) Create a list of events including Shakespeare's life and plays, and put each event on an index card and copy all these events onto a string of yarn with accurate relative distance from each other, as shown in the video. (Beginning of the world not necessary.... maybe I'd start with the earliest printed book, or Cleopatra.)
2) Pass out the index cards to students and have them arrange themselves where they best guess the events take place on a linear timeline.
3) Stretch out the actual timeline (on the string of yarn) and have them re-arrange to find their spot. It'd take a lot of investigating and talking to each other to figure out how the whole puzzle fits together.
4) Go down the timeline and have the students read out loud to the class who's where.
Boom! A moving, grooving lesson on historical context that doesn't necessitate a lecture or a power point slide.