Othello and Me: A Shakespeare Appreciation Project for Juvenile Offenders

Article excerpt

Can a class of 10 male juveniles incarcerated for serious, violent or chronic crimes possibly enjoy reading scenes from the bard? Can they be encouraged to learn iambic pentameter by moving to the beat of a drum? Can they be motivated to write to their girlfriends in Early Modern English? William Shakespeare's writings have been revered for more than 400 years, and his mastery of writing drama has made countless audiences laugh, cry, think, ask questions and dream. Can his genius be appreciated by juvenile offenders as a new recreation experience? If given the opportunity, the project leader at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Red Wing believed these individuals could benefit from the Shakespeare Appreciation Project.

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Although Shakespeare has remained popular over the centuries, some have not had the opportunity to enjoy his works. The Shakespeare Appreciation Project was introduced to juvenile offenders at Red Wing with the hope that after experiencing this program, they would grow to appreciate Shakespeare's plays as a recreational opportunity. It was hoped that the juvenile offenders would desire to learn more about Shakespeare's writings and to see performances of his plays. It was also thought that a Shakespeare appreciation program might benefit juvenile offenders by offering them an opportunity to learn something new, exhibit nonviolent behavior in a positive, risk-taking activity, develop abstract reasoning skills and gain affirmation.

The scope of the Shakespeare Appreciation Project was to offer juvenile offenders a chance to participate in activities that involved reading scenes and performing skits, learning various facts about Shakespearean theater such as where and when it was originally performed, studying Shakespearean sonnets and watching a video of actors performing Shakespearean verse. It was not the intention of the program to be a course in acting, theater history or theater education, and although the program may have had therapeutic benefits, it did not incorporate techniques of drama therapy.

Program Details

The Shakespeare Appreciation Project for incarcerated juveniles was proposed, designed, implemented and evaluated by the project leader, who is an actor active in the local theater community, as part of a master's degree assignment with the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, Department of Recreation Management and Therapeutic Recreation. The project was supervised by the second author, who is an assistant professor at the university, which along with the warden of TJCF, approved the program. TJCF is a fenced facility for 164 male juvenile offenders who have been committed by the juvenile courts. It is the facility's mission to provide services to serious and chronic juvenile offenders from Minnesota. An active therapeutic recreation department provides activities that promote leadership and teamwork.

A type of purposive sampling called reputational-case sampling was used to identify participants for this project. Reputational-case sampling is based on the recommendations of professionals who have expert knowledge of juvenile offenders, as evidenced by their advanced education and lengthy experiences in the field. (1) Ten male juveniles from one specific residential unit were recommended as project participants by the recreation director and his recreation staff, and the unit's case manager. This particular unit was chosen because of its record of cooperation, appropriate behavior and willingness to learn new skills. All 10 juveniles agreed to participate. They were between the ages of 15 and 19, were considered to be serious, violent or chronic criminal offenders, and voluntarily attended classes.

A total of four sessions was presented over a two-month period. The time commitment for each visit was three hours for the project director: 1.5 hours were spent with the juveniles in class and 1.5 hours were spent in preparation and consulting with facility staff. …