Upper School Students Read, Draw, and Live Shakespeare

Students lunge and parry during a fencing exercise reminiscent of the climactic fight in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Students lunge and parry during a fencing exercise reminiscent of the climactic fight in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

When Hamlet exclaims, “The play’s the thing,” he is eager to unveil evidence of a murder. At Paul Cuffee Upper School, the play is the thing through which students encounter Elizabethan literature through the works of Shakespeare.

Freshmen enjoy the poetry and plot complications of feuding families in Romeo and Juliet. Sophomores watch Macbeth’s vaulting ambition become his undoing. Juniors revel in the antics of the lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, while seniors relate to Hamlet’s tragic inertia as he struggles over whether and how to avenge his father’s death.

Senior Advisor and Humanities teacher Megan Thoma has taught seniors Hamlet for four years. “More and more we work with the text in class, in small groups, so that the language becomes understandable and the themes relevant and compelling,” says Ms. Thoma.

Students agree. Senior Kiara Perez states, “Although I don’t 100% understand all the little jokes and wordplay Shakespeare uses, in general I can understand the play. Before, Shakespeare used to scare me a lot. It was super hard, and I wasn’t familiar with the language. Now I’m not scared anymore. It’s been quite entertaining.”

Fellow senior U’nyece Hazard concurs. “My comfort with Shakespeare has grown a lot over the course of four years. When I first started Shakespeare, I had no clue how to read, understand, or even act out the plays. Working with my classmates and teachers, really breaking it down together, helped me understand it way more and feel a lot more comfortable reading Shakespeare.”

Learning Shakespeare is a multidisciplinary endeavor at Cuffee. Students create visual art to reinforce their understanding of each act in the play and engage in outside activities such as fencing lessons to live some of the action in the plays.

Art depicting Shakespeare

Student art reflects the importance of the king’s crown, whose theft by the murderous Claudius spurs Hamlet’s actions.


Average Class Size: 20
Current Enrollment: 820
Students of Color: 96%
Female Students: 51%
Male Students: 49%
Free/Reduced Price Lunch Eligibility: 82%
Multi-Language Learners: 19%
Students Receiving Special Education Services: 13%
Total Employees: 168
BIPOC: 45%
Female Employees: 75%
Male Employees: 25%