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Sunday, 16 February 2014

William Shakespeare and His Works


William Shakespeare died nearly 400 years ago, and today he is more famous than ever.
He lived in a very different world, but the characters he created and the stories he told have held people’s attention for the last four centuries.
We know very little about Shakespeare’s life.
He was the third of the eight children of John and Mary Shakespeare.   He was born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon. His father was a glove maker who held many local public positions and was quite rich. We can’t be sure, but we think that he attended the local grammar school.

We know that at the age of eighteen he married a twenty-six years old farmer's daughter, Anne Hathaway. They had three children, Susanna and twins, Judith and Hamnet. The boy did not survive, but Anne and the two girls outlived Shakespeare.
Shakespeare left Stratford in 1585. Seven years later he was in London. Nobody knows what happened in this period of time, but in 1592 he was already famous as an actor and playwright. He earned good money doing that, because he bought New Place, one of the biggest houses in Stratford. He returned to live permanently in Stratford in 1610 and he continued to write plays until his retirement in 1614. During his last years he lived as a rich country gentleman.
The most fascinating fact of Shakespeare's life is that during his working years he wrote a lot: 2 plays a year! During that time he also worked as an actor, lived partly in Stratford and partly in London, he was a theatre director, he was co-owner of the Globe Theatre, wrote several important poems and a large number of sonnets, conducted a family life and a social life, and read widely. He was extremely active!

Shakespeare died on his fifty-second birthday, in 1616. We do not know the cause of his death but we know that in his last days he suffered from a fever. Shakespeare was buried on 25th April, 1616, in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford.

Shakespeare's life: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOHM7DhqTpE
and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pw-J7GbwNV4

The Globe Theatre: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0SBg-KG4C4,
and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYfM0RFZ5cs

The Plays

We know of 39 plays by William Shakespeare, including a few collaborations with other playwrights. Shakespeare’s plays are traditionally divided into the three categories: comedies, histories and tragedies.
Some of the most famous historical plays are: Antony and CleopatraJulius Caesar, Richard III and Henry V


Written in 1601, it is set in Denmark, at Elsinore Castle. It is the tragedy of revenge. The ghost of Hamlet’s father appeared and told Hamlet that he was murdered by his brother, Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle. Hamlet was shocked to know this and vowed revenge. Claudius took the throne and married Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, on the same day of his father’s funeral. Hamlet started to behave as if he was mad, and rejected his fiancée, Ophelia.
A group of travelling actors came to Elsinore, and Hamlet wanted to test his uncle’s guilt. He asked the players to perform a scene like the murder of his father, to see Claudius’s reaction. When the moment arrived, Claudius, upset, jumped up and left the theatre. Hamlet was sure that Claudius was guilty.
 Hamlet went to talk to his mother in her bedroom. Polonius, Ophelia’s father, was hidden there to spy on Hamlet. Hearing a noise, Hamlet believed that it was the king. He took his sword and stabbed through a curtain, killing Polonius. 

For this crime, he was immediately sent to England. In a letter, Claudius asked the King of England to kill Hamlet because he was afraid of him.
After her father’s death, and after Hamlet left her, Ophelia went mad with desperation and drowned in a river. 

Her brother Laertes was in a rage. Claudius convinced him that Hamlet was responsible for his father’s and sister’s deaths. Hamlet didn’t arrive to England: he survived to a pirate’s attack to his ship and returned to Denmark. Claudius used Laertes’ desire for revenge to kill Hamlet. Laertes had to fence with Hamlet in an innocent sport, but Claudius decided to poison Laertes’s blade so that Hamlet would die, when wounded. As a second plan, the king also decided to poison a goblet of wine, which Hamlet had to drink in case of victory.
Hamlet returned to Elsinore during Ophelia’s funeral. He was desperate, and he attacked Laertes, who was there. At the castle, the fencing match between Hamlet and Laertes took place. Hamlet was winning: the king offered him wine, but he didn’t want to drink. Instead, Gertrude took a drink from the goblet and was killed by the poison. 

Laertes wounded Hamlet, but Hamlet didn’t die immediately. Laertes was cut by his own sword; he revealed to Hamlet that Claudius was responsible for the queen’s death, then he died from the poison. 

So Hamlet stabbed Claudius with the poisoned sword and forced him to drink down the rest of the wine. 

Claudius died, and Hamlet died too. At this moment, a Norwegian prince named Fortinbras entered with ambassadors from England. He was astonished by the sight of the entire royal family  dead on the floor. 

He took power of the kingdom and ordered that Hamlet should have a funeral as a hero.

Hamlet cartoon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVqJNudczhs
and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0CqUTmwKiM
Hamlet monologue (in Italian): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwLY2rdoXcQ


Written in 1604, it is set in Venice. It is a play of love and jealousy.
Othello was an African general in the Venetian army. Othello and his young, beautiful and white wife Desdemona were very different — there were differences of race, of age, of cultural background — but they loved each other very much.
Othello upset his friend Iago by passing him over for promotion. Iago sweared revenge: he planted the idea in Othello’s mind that his wife was having a love affair with another man. She was innocent, but Othello trusted Jago, and he became so jealous that he killed Desdemona. 

Only after this terrible fact, Othello came to know that Jago didn’t tell the truth, so he killed Jago and then committed suicide.

Othello cartoon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bp6LqSgukOU
and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tX2u5ZTyLWA


This is a play full of supernatural apparitions and bloody battles. It is the play of ambition and downfall. It is set in Scotland in the 11th Century.
  Three witches met the great Scottish general Macbeth on his victorious return from a war.  They predicted that one day he would become king.   He decided to murder King Duncan to speed things up. Macbeth's wife, a very ambitious woman too, agreed to his plan. So he murdered Duncan, assisted by his wife, who smeared the blood of the king on the daggers of the sleeping guards. A nobleman called Macduff discovered Duncan’s body. Macbeth killed the guards insisting that their daggers smeared with the king's blood were proof that they committed the murder. The crown passed to Macbeth, but he had to commit other murders to cover up his crime. After killing also his friend Banquo, the bloodied ghost of this nobleman appeared to him. 

Macbeth started to become mad. Lady Macbeth's conscience now began to torture her and she became mad too. She always tried to wash her hands of blood that wasn’t there. The killing of Duncan haunted her until she committed suicide.
At the end, Macduff killed Macbeth and became king.


In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare creates a world of violence and conflict in which two young people fall in love and die because of that love. This play is set in Verona.
Two families, the Montagues and the Capulets, hated each other. A Montague boy, Romeo, fell in love with a Capulet girl, Juliet. The families disapproved this love, so they got married in secret. Romeo killed one of the Capulets in a duel, so he had to go away from Verona. Juliet’s father promised her to another man. The only way in which Juliet could avoid this marriage was to take a potion that apparently killed her. The priest who married them helped her. The plan was to send a message to Romeo and inform him to come and take her away two days later, when she would wake up from the effect of the potion. But Romeo didn’t get the letter. He came to know that Juliet was dead instead. He returned to Verona with a very strong potion and drank it when he saw her in her tomb, killing himself. And when Juliet woke up, she took Romeo’s dagger and committed suicide as well. 

Romeo and Juliet cartoon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRrvQ1vZxcg


Some pictures:

Shakespeare's birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon

probable aspect of New Place, Shakespeare's house in Stratford

Shakespeare's grave, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford

The Globe Theatre

the wonderful film about Hamlet by Kenneth Branagh

The film about Othello by Tim Blake Nelson

The film about Macbeth by Geoffery Wright

a modern version of Romeo and Juliet by Baz Luhrmann

Al Pacino is King Lear

William Shakespeare quotes:

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Guggenheim Project 2014

Important artists and their paintings


Pablo Picasso was born in Málaga, Spain in 1881. His father was an artist and art professor who gave Pablo art lessons. Picasso was not a good student. He often had to go to detention. He began painting when he was 9 years old. When he was 13, he moved from Malaga to Barcelona and was admitted to the School of Fine Arts there. Three years later, his father decided to send him to Madrid’s Royal Academy of San Fernando, Spain’s top art school. Picasso didn’t like formal instruction and soon stopped going to classes. He loved going to The Prado museum to see paintings by famous Spanish painters.
In 1900 Picasso went to Paris. He met many of the famous artists who lived in Paris.
He and Georges Braque invented Cubism. They painted figures that were made up of cubes, spheres, cylinders, cones, and other geometric shapes. Cubists wanted to show the most important parts of the things they painted. They wanted to show all the sides of an object in the same picture. Some cubist paintings were extremely abstract. At first, cubists used mostly brown, grey, and blue colours. Then colour entered the picture and some artists, like Picasso, began using more than just paint and canvas in their art. In fact, Picasso is also famous for his collages.
His style developed from the Blue Period to the Rose Period to the work Les Demoiselles d’Avignon  (1907), and the evolution of Cubism


Then his work was characterized by neoclassicism and by an interest in drawing. He created oil paintings, sculpture, drawings, stage designs, collage, and architecture. Picasso produced at least 50,000 works of art. He also wrote plays and poetry. He was very famous and he became very rich.
In 1936 the Spanish Civil War profoundly affected Picasso, and he expressed himself in the painting Guernica. He entered the Communist Party in 1944.

Picasso was married twice and had four children: one of them, Paloma, is famous for her jewelry designs. He died in 1973 in Mougins, France.

On the Beach (La Baignade), 1937 - Oil, conté crayon, and chalk on canvas, 129.1 x 194 cm

During the early months of 1937, Picasso was responding to the Spanish Civil War with the preparatory drawings for Guernica and other paintings on political subjects. However, in this period he also executed a group of works that don’t show his preoccupation with political events. The painting On the Beach, also known as Girls with a Toy Boat, was painted near Versailles, Paris. Here he uses steady, volumetric forms in a natural environment. This painting has got a simplified, planar style in the poses of the figures. Maybe the theme of playing on the beach was an alternative to the violent images of war he was working on in that period.
There are two preparatory drawings for this work. In one of them, the male figure that you see on the horizon has a sinister appearance. In the other drawing, as in this final version, his face is softened and neutralized to correspond with the two female figures.



Max Ernst was born in Germany in 1891.
His father liked painting (as a hobby) but Ernst’s interest in art began only when he went to Bonn University in 1909. He studied psychology and philosophy. He began painting in 1910. In Cologne he saw the work of Paul Cézanne, Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso, and Vincent van Gogh. During the First World War, Ernst had to serve in the army. He didn’t like it. He was able to continue painting, and had an exhibition in 1916 in Berlin. After the war, he moved to Paris and there he turned to Surrealism.  Surrealism began as a philosophical movement. It said that the way to find truth in the world was through the subconscious mind and dreams, rather than through logical thought.
During World War II, Ernst was twice sent to a concentration camp. The first time he was freed. The second time he had to escape. Peggy Guggenheim helped Ernst to safely reach the U.S.A.
He and Peggy got married but their relationship didn’t last long.
In New York, Ernst helped to bring about Abstract Expressionism – the art movement that included Jackson Pollock. This movement had an emotional intensity and was against figurative painting. It was art about the process of making art. Painters experimented with new techniques like dripping, spraying, staining, pouring and working on the floor.

After a period in the U.S.A., Ernst returned to France where he lived until his death in 1976.

The Forest (La Forêt), 1927–28, Oil on canvas

Under the influence of Surrealism, Ernst developed his “frottage” or rubbing technique. 

In making his first frottages, he dropped pieces of paper at random on floor boards and rubbed them with pencil or chalk, thus transferring the design of the wood grain to the paper. He next adapted this technique to oil painting, scraping paint from prepared canvases laid over materials such as wire mesh, leaves, buttons, or twine. Using his “grattage (scraping) technique, Ernst covered his canvases completely with pattern and then interpreted the images that emerged. The texture suggested him the composition in a spontaneous way. In The Forest the artist probably placed the canvas over a rough surface (perhaps wood), put oil paint over the canvas, and then rubbed, scraped, and overpainted the area of the trees. The subject of a dense forest appears often in Ernst’s work. These paintings generally contain a lot of trees, a solar disk, and an apparition of a bird in the leaves.



Alexander Calder was born in Pennsylvania, U.S.A., in 1898. His parents were both artists. His father was a sculptor and his mother painted portraits. They weren’t rich and they didn’t want Alexander to be an artist, but he started making sculptures when he was four years old. Then he became interested in sculpture that moved. He followed his parents’ advice and studied engineering at the college, but he wasn’t happy in any of the jobs he had after college. So he decided to become an artist.
Calder’s first exhibition of paintings took place in 1926 in New York. Then he moved to Paris where he attended an Art Academy and began to build toys that moved. These toys became his own miniature circus. He packed his circus into suitcases and performed in the U.S.A. and in Europe. In 1927 he began giving performances of his miniature circus. 


In 1928 he met Joan Miró, who became his lifelong friend.
Calder’s interest in movable art led him to create mobiles. Air currents caused the mobiles to move. Calder also created sculptures that didn’t move. He called them “stabiles.” Most of them were made out of painted wood or metal, and some of them were very big. 

Calder became famous and spent his last years in France with his wife. He died in 1976. If babies all over the world have a mobile with small, coloured toys suspended over their bed, it’s thanks to Alexander Calder.

Arc of Petals, 1941, Painted aluminum, approximately 214 cm high

During the early 1930s, he created sculptures in which the balanced components move. They are sometimes moved by motor or sometimes by the action of air currents. They can be suspended or freestanding. They generally consist of flat pieces of painted metal connected by wire and stems. Their shapes recall the natural forms of the Surrealist painting and sculpture. Calder cut, bent, punctured, and twisted his materials entirely by hand. Shape, size, color, space, and movement combine and recombine in relationships that are inspired by the harmonious activity of nature. The present mobile is organized as an antigravitational cascade, in which large and heavy shapes sway serenely at the top, while small and agitated shapes move below.



René Magritte was born in Belgium in 1898.
Magritte did not enjoy school, but he knew he wanted to paint, so he went to the Academie dex Beaux-Arts in Brussels to study art. He tried cubism and futurism but they didn’t become his style. Instead, he painted in the Surrealist style.
After military service, he worked as a designer in a wallpaper factory. In 1927 he went to live near Paris, where he frequented the Surrealist circle, which included Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró. Magritte didn’t have an immediate success. Critics did not like his artwork.  After three years in Paris he disliked the other Surrealists so much that he went back to Belgium and burned everything that reminded him the Surrealists. He continued to paint in the Surrealist style and became more popular. He had exhibitions in New York and in England. He wanted people to look at ordinary things in different ways. He sometimes painted objects in places where they didn’t usually belong.



From 1953 he exhibited frequently in the U.S.A. and in Europe. In 1965 Magritte travelled to the United States for the first time, and the following year he visited Israel. Magritte died in 1967, in Brussels.

Empire of Light (L'Empire des lumières), 1953–54. Oil on canvas.

In Empire of Light, a dark, nocturnal street scene is set against a clear, blue sky spotted with some clouds. With this fantastic element, the paradoxical combination of day and night, René Magritte upsets normal life.  Sunlight, usually the source of light, here causes the confusion and unease traditionally associated with darkness. The luminosity of the sky makes the darkness below even more impenetrable than in a normal context. The bizarre subject is treated in an impersonal, precise style, typical of veristic Surrealist painting and preferred by Magritte since the mid-1920s.



Jackson Pollock was born in 1912 in Wyoming, USA. In 1928 he began to study painting in Los Angeles, then he moved to New York and studied at the Art Students League. He had many jobs but never had enough money, so in 1943 Peggy Guggenheim gave him a contract that lasted four years, so he could spend all his time painting. In this period, Pollock’s work reflected the influence of Pablo Picasso and Surrealism. By the mid-40s, Pollock painted in a completely abstract and different way. He painted in a shed where he could lay his canvas on the floor, and drip and splatter paint across it.
He didn’t want to paint a landscape or a portrait: Pollock wanted to paint action. When you look at one of his drip paintings, your eyes wander across the entire canvas in constant motion.
In this way, Pollock achieved his goal; the creation of the painting was active and so is the viewing of the painting.
To do his drip paintings, Pollock didn’t buy his oil paint in tubes: he used big cans of house paint to cover the canvas. He used sticks, trowels, or knives to drip and splatter paint, or poured paint directly from the can. He put into action the Surrealist notions of the subconscious and automatic painting. Pollock’s drips were called “action paintings,” and contributed to the development of Abstract Expressionism.


Peggy Guggenheim organized his first European solo exhibition at the Museo Correr, Venice, in 1950. Then he had shows in Paris and in the USA.  His work was known and exhibited internationally, but the artist never travelled outside the United States. He was killed in a car accident in 1956.

Enchanted Forest, 1947. Oil on canvas.

Enchanted Forest is an example of Jackson Pollock’s abstract compositions created by the pouring, dripping, and splattering of paint on large, unstretched canvases. In this painting, Pollock leaves large areas of white in the network of moving, expanding lines. He also decides to use only gold, black, red, and white. He creates a delicate balance of form and colour through rhythms of lines that move into continuous, lyrical motion. One’s eye follows the lines of colour without being arrested by any dominant focus. Rather than describing a form, Pollock’s line becomes continuous form. In Pollock’s drip paintings, his lines shows the freedom from describing contours and bounding shapes.


1.    When and where was Pablo Picasso born and when did he die?
2.    How was Picasso as a child and a young student?
3.    What did Picasso do when he lived in Paris?
4.    How can you describe the artistic current of Cubism?
5.    How did Picasso’s style evolve?
6.    What was his production as an artist?
7.    How did he react to the Spanish Civil War?
8.    What is the painting On the Beach about?
9.    What element of Cubism can you see in this painting?
10.  How is it different from its preparatory drawings?
11.  When and where was Max Ernst born and when did he die?
12.  What were his interests at University?
13.  What did he do during World War I?
14.  What was Surrealism?
15.  What happened to him during World War II?
16.  What was Abstract Expressionism?
17.  How did he do his “frottages” and “grattages”?
18.  What can you see in the painting The Forest?
19.  Is this his only painting about this subject?
20.  Describe your feelings about this painting.
21.  When and where was Alexander Calder born and when did he die?
22.  What was his passion when he was a child?
23.  What did he do during and soon after university?
24.  Where did he begin to build his toys?
25.  Talk about his miniature circus.

26.  What’s the difference between a “mobile” and a “stabile”?
27.  How did Calder build Arc Of Petals?
28.  Where did he take inspiration to build this mobile?
29.  What does it represent?
30.  Do you think it is easy to build a mobile? Why?
31.  When and where was René Magritte born and when did he die?
32.  What did he study at school?
33.  What was his job after military service?
34.  What did he do in Paris?
35.  What happened when he came back to Belgium?
36.  What elements of the Surrealism can you see in his paintings?
37.  Describe Empire of Light.
38.  What’s the paradoxical element in this painting?
39.  Talk about the contrast between light and darkness in this painting.
40.  Do you like this painting? Why?
41.  When and where was Jackson Pollock born and when did he die?
42.  Where did he study art?
43.  How did Peggy Guggenheim help him?
44.  How did his style change in the mid-40s?
45.  Where and how did he paint?
46.  What did he want to paint?
47.  Why you can say that his art belongs to Abstract Expressionism?
48.  What is “action painting”?
49.  Describe the painting Enchanted Forest.
50.  How is it different from Max Ernst’s forest?