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Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Tempest Annotated


One of the challenges of tackling Shakespeare in the English classroom is finding the time to have your students read it. Assigning the text as a reading will work for some students but, owing to the nature of drama itself as a narrative genre best experienced live, this isn't going to work for the majority of the class. 

Ideally, you would have your students watch the play but this also isn't always practical. And, when we get to Year 11 and 12, the idea of setting aside entire periods to read through Shakespeare inspires a special kind of anxiety related to covering course content, outcomes, unpacking metalanguage, etc., ad nauseum, whatevs. 

There's also that kid in each class who also tells you that they've read the text, honest guv'nor, and then will write a paragraph about the way Prospero takes revenge by tricking Othello into feeling jealous towards his mother Gertrude. You want to snap, "You aint read nuthin'!" but the calm veneer of professionalism instead has it emerge as a polite "Hmmm, not quite."

The structuring of the new Advanced English syllabus now means, for better or worse, that a lot of us will be teaching Shakespeare through The Tempest as part of Module A: Textual Conversations. This means that there is also a novel to read alongside it, Margaret Atwood's vibrantly metatextual Hag-Seed, which adds an extra dimension to the logistics of fitting the module into the space of approximately 10 weeks. 

Something that seems to have worked with my current class was squeezing the reading of The Tempest into the end of the previous term. The best approach I've found for doing Shakespeare with Year 12 is to have the play read in one big go. In the past I've run this on a Saturday or on a day in the school holidays but, as my students had schedules that didn't fit with this at the end of last year, I organised it as an incursion on the next-to-last day of the term instead. With one of the less-used rooms in the school booked, we met as a class first thing in the morning with some breakfast, assigned roles, and read the text all the way through with a 20 minute intermission break. This approximately took us about 3 or 3.5 hours and now the entire class can say that they've read the entire text. And, most importantly, I believe them!

Even Advanced English students will have a varied response to the idea of reading Shakespeare - not all of them are fans. Some level of support therefore needs to be supplied in helping to translate the language while they read. I don't think we should have them initially read the No Fear version (as helpful as this can be as a supplementary study text) as it's important that Advanced students engage with Shakespeare's language to gain a complete understanding of how the text is constructed. 

Luckily Shakespeare is well beyond the constraints of copyright law, so there was nothing stopping me from creating a new edition of the text that would include annotations in support of our context. The link below includes an unabridged presentation of The Tempest with a series of annotations alongside the original text. 

Hopefully this helps get the students through the play, which is imperative as a base level of engagement before they read Atwood's novel. Students can come back to this version throughout the module to analyse examples and tie them to Hag-Seed.


  1. Thank you so much! What a gift this is. I love your idea of setting a day to do the reading in the holidays, I will definitely do this next time. I 'trusted' mine to do their own reading in the holidays. Umm , lesson learnt.

  2. This is beyond brilliant. Thank you for such a generous gift :)

  3. This is fantastic- may I ask what your thoughts are now from teaching it this year and how you may or may not tackle it again next year?

    1. I'd teach it again and I think I'd do it pretty much exactly the same way. Seemed to work fairly well and the HSC question wasn't too bad.