Charges, Motivations, and Discovery

My sophomores are doing a mock trial as their assessment for our Shakespeare unit.  During the unit, the class explored various portions of the Othello (focusing on Iago) and The Tempest (focusing on Prospero).  Our driving question was “Is Iago/Prospero a villain or a victim?”  At the end, each class chose to prosecute one of the characters in a mock trial.

First, they had to come up with the charges.  So, as a class we brainstormed different possible crimes.  Some of these included murder/manslaughter, defamation of character, hate crimes/racism, embezzlement, terrorism (for destroying the ship full of men), destruction of property, disturbing the peace, and… witchcraft (Prospero).  They were very creative!

Next we looked at possible motivations for committing these crimes, to see if perhaps there was good reason (perhaps they were victims of their circumstances?).  Again, this was interesting and revolved mostly around power and revenge, although control and jealousy made a strong running.  Looking back, this is probably a universal motivation for crime in general.

After this the class decided who would play the roles of lawyers, witnesses, jury members, trial clerks, and the judge (a very coveted position).

Students researched laws and planned their questions for the initial questioning and for cross-examination.

I Learned? When?

We haven’t even gotten to the trial, but already I’ve enjoyed watching my students learn.  The cool part is, I don’t think they’re even aware that they’re learning.  Here are some fun examples:

One group of lawyers realized as they examined the charges and tried to decide upon witnesses that the only witnesses to the crime were dead.  They went back to the text to check and ultimately decided that they would have to change the charges since there was no way to prove the original crime.  (They couldn’t call a ghost or the defendant unless all the lawyers agreed.)  So, while deciding whether the charges were legitimate, they learned more about the text because they had to go back to it to prove their points.

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Students collaborate on trial details. Judge Allen, standing, presides. (On one of the few “cold” days in Florida.)
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Another group of lawyers wanted to bring claim insanity as the defense of one character and try to prove that his actions were the result of a medical condition.  I told them that they had to prove this was a viable based on the text. So, back to the text they went.  It became a very heated debate, and in the end, the judge had to intervene (in a Southern drawl, no less), ultimately deciding that the medical condition/insanity claims were unfounded based on textual evidence.

Even if the trial turns out to be a complete mess, it’s encouraging to see that they’re learning and thinking in the process of preparing.  And, maybe, maybe, accidental learning is more important in the long run, anyway.  Maybe that’s the learning that sticks.

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