Was Shakespeare a Feminist?

Ages: 15-18
Suggested length: 1-3 class periods (45-55 minutes each)
Device accessibility: 1 device per 1-3 students

Lesson Information

At a glance

In this lesson, students will expand a partly developed Kialo discussion on the question, “was Shakespeare a feminist?” Working in small groups or independently, students will first review the Kialo discussion. Then, they will conduct research to explore the portrayal of female characters in Shakespeare’s plays. 

Based on their research, students will then form an educated opinion on whether Shakespeare and his works can be considered “feminist.” Finally, students will use their newly acquired knowledge to further develop the Kialo discussion with their own arguments.

Students will be assessed on the number and quality of their contributions to the discussion. You can choose to have students work in groups, or to have each student work on their own individual copy of the discussion.

Learning objective(s)

In this lesson, students will:

  • Apply a feminist critical lens to evaluate various works of Shakespearean literature.
  • Practice research skills across a variety of sources.
  • Present fact-based opinions within a logically structured discussion.
  • [Optional] Provide proper citations for research findings.

Prior knowledge

Students should be familiar with at least one of Shakespeare’s plays.

Teacher preparation

  • Make 1 clone of the Kialo discussion for either (a) each individual student OR (b) for each student group.
    • For option (b) above, we recommend about 6 students per group.
    • There is a guided research version of the lesson, which gives suggested readings. There is also an independent research version of the lesson, which does not include suggested readings. You can use clones of both versions simultaneously, and assign different versions based on students’ capabilities.
  • When inviting students to the discussion, you should give them either Writer or Editor permissions.

Provided materials

  • The Kialo discussion, “Was Shakespeare a Feminist?” This consists of:
    • Instructions for students.
    • A brief background on the topic, with a list of suggested readings for student research.
      • NOTE: For an independent research activity, a version of the Kialo discussion without suggested readings in the discussion background can be found here.
    • A partly developed Kialo discussion for students to engage with. This discussion presents various perspectives and examples of whether Shakespeare was a feminist or not, to which students will add their own thoughts.
  • Lesson plan for educators (.docx / .pdf).
  • Suggested rubric for assessing students’ contributions to the discussion (.docx / .pdf).
  • Click here to view individual file download links.

Lesson Plan

Suggested length: 1-3 class periods (45-55 minutes each)

Lesson components:
– Opener (7-15 minutes)
– Activity (focus of 1-3 class periods)
– Optional closer/follow-up (10-30 minutes)

Assessment
Students will be assessed on their contributions to the Kialo discussion. (see suggested rubric in provided materials.) The arrangement of the assessment methodology is up to the teacher. Students can:
– work independently, with one discussion per student.
– work in groups, but students are graded individually.
– work in groups, and students are graded as a group.

Tip(s)
– To maximize the critical-thinking component of this lesson, you can either encourage or require students to balance the discussion as much as possible (on the suggested rubrics, see the optional criterion “Balance of claims”).

Opener (7-15 minutes)

  1. Ask the class, “What makes someone a feminist?” Conduct a brief discussion based on students’ answers.
  2. Ask the follow-up question, “Can the defining qualities of a feminist be relative to a person’s culture or time period?” Conduct another brief discussion based on students’ answers, and relate this to academic debates about Shakespeare’s portrayal of women.

Activity (focus of 1-3 class periods)

  1. Inform students that they will work in groups or alone to expand on a partly developed Kialo discussion on the topic “Was Shakespeare a Feminist?”
  2. Display the topology diagram of the Kialo discussion (i.e. the “sunburst” representation—this can be found by clicking the sunburst_icon.png button in the top-left corner of the discussion) to give students a feel for what has already been written in the discussion. Hover over various claims and explain them.
  3. Go over instructions for the lesson, which are contained in the discussion background (this can also be found by clicking the sunburst_icon.png button in the top-left corner of the discussion). When you get to step 3, you can choose how many claims students should add to the discussion: we recommend 8-15 if students are working alone or 20-30 if students are working in groups of around 6.

Tip: State that it is important to keep to the Oxford English Dictionary definition of feminism (provided in the Kialo discussion background) in order to avoid tangential discussions about other possible definitions. Students should focus their analysis on Shakespeare.

Optional differentiation: You can require students to not only link sources in their claims, but to provide properly formatted academic citations in the Quote/Note box.

  1. Show the list of suggested readings, which are also located in the discussion background.

Optional differentiation:
Option 1: Share suggested readings with only some students, while directing higher-performing students to locate their own sources, OR 
Option 2: Direct the whole class to locate their own sources.

For either option, a version of the Kialo discussion without suggested readings in the discussion background can be found here.

  1. If you decide that students will work in groups, direct students to form them (we recommend around 6 members per group).
  2. Direct students to log into the Kialo discussion and begin working.
  3. You can direct students to complete the activity for homework, or take up to three class periods for students to complete the activity in class.

Optional closer/follow-up (10-30 minutes)

  1. Ask students, “What conclusions did you come to during your research? Can Shakespeare be considered a feminist or not? Why?” Facilitate a whole-class discussion or small-group discussions in which students can share their answers.

Related Kialo Discussion

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