Swords clank as two students battle on the courtyard’s pebbled pavement.

“Our son shall win,” a crowned onlooker proclaims.

The duel ends with several students lying on the damp ground, but it’s just a normal day in the Poetry and Shakespearean Drama class as they read Hamlet on a Tuesday afternoon.

English teacher Gretchen Boyle has her students act out the plays they are reading in their class at St. Joseph High School to better understand them.

“This is a chance for them to explore (William) Shakespeare, poetry and those kinds of things that are a little bit mysterious or maybe intimidating,” Boyle said. “Explore them in a different way.”

This is the first year the elective has been offered to juniors and seniors at St. Joseph High School. Boyle intends to keep it light and interactive.

Boyle said the class is offered because it acts as a complement to the regular English classes that focus more on reading, writing and analysis.

In class, the students read the play, watch movie versions and act out the scenes as a way to better understand the Shakespearean drama.

“I think it shows them how on one hand it’s difficult to say these beautiful lines and understand what is happening, but on the other hand, it can become easy once you understand what’s happening in the scene,” Boyle explained. “Then you can enjoy it and play off of it in many different ways.”

Boyle said she wanted the students to experience Hamlet without worrying about structure such as iambic pentameter and free verse. She said that will come later after they get familiar with the feel of Shakespeare.

“I say let’s enjoy and experience what this stuff is and then we’ll take it apart,” Boyle said. “I’ll throw it into them like vitamins.”

The Shakespearean language can be complex and hard to understand, but Boyle is making it easier to comprehend by having the students read aloud and act it out.

“Then you might actually start enjoying it for the beauty of it,” she said. “I’ve heard kids repeat lines that stuck with them, that were fun to say or just entertaining.”

Nena Chandna, a junior, said she is taking an Advanced Placement English course this year, but Boyle’s elective course makes her feel better prepared.

The 16-year-old said she takes concepts learned in one of the classes and applies them to the other. The classes have similar ideas, but the elective is more interactive and in-depth.

“Taking the different classes really broadens your perspective,” Chandna said.

Another junior Matthew Janak, one of about 20 students in the class, thinks the things he learns now will help him in college.

Janak, 17, plans to go into communications and possibly attend law school, and the Poetry and Shakespearean Drama class is helping expand his writing and speaking skills.

“It’s given me more confidence as a speaker,” he said.

Boyle said they are learning about dramatic and comedic Shakespearean plays for the rest of the year with poetry sprinkled throughout.

The class isn’t just about plays and poems but it is teaching her students about the human experience through the pieces of work.

“Studying humanities is so important because it helps as human beings,” she said. “It exposes you to different types of ways of thinking.”

Samantha Douty is the education reporter at the Victoria Advocate. She grew up in Corpus Christi and graduated from UT-Arlington with a bachelor's in journalism.

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