|Shakespeare Set Free Workshop (based on workshops devised by Folger facilitators)
|“Shakespeare’s language has a whole energy that has
nothing to do with what the words mean and everything
to do with how the words sound.”
- Cicely Barry
(voice instructor to R.S.C.)
“If all we do is offer our reverence for the text, we run the
risk of paralyzing our students.”
- Peggy O’Brien
5 min 1. Dissing: (see handout)
|- Get the class on its feet, milling about, handout in hand.
- Stop them at various moments (ala musical chairs) and have them
hurl an insult at the person opposite them.
- The student creates an insult by choosing one item from each
5 min 2. Shakespeare in a minute: (see cards)
|- Prepare 30 odd cards with short lines from the plays- preferably
lines with exclamatory values. Students form two lines, cards in
hand, and play their two line scene’ one at a time.
10 min 3. Shakespeare in a minute (with a one minute rehearsal)
|- Each student takes a different card and is paired with a different
- They have one minute to create the “Given Circumstances” of their
scene. (i.e. Who? What? and Where?)
- Each pair performs their scene.
15 min 4. Shakespeare in five minutes (see Handout)
|- The teacher prepares a ‘five line play’ of lines taken at random
from the play.
- Divide the class into pairs. They have five minutes to make up
their own play using this ‘script’.
- Perform the plays. Note how an infinite variety of interpretations
can be generated from the same text.
15 min. 5. The Choral Soliloquy (see Handout)
|- Choose a soliloquy from one of the plays (Lear?). Xerox it. Blow
it up in large letters. No footnotes!
- Have the entire class read the soliloquy out loud and together
while standing. Do not lead or prompt them.
- Do it again, louder and faster. Do it again, even louder and
- Read the soliloquy in succession, one speaker/ one idea at a time.
- An idea stretches through commas to a period, dash, semi-colon or
colon. Don’t try to sound like an actor. If the speech ends, start
over again. Do it as loud and fast as possible.
- Read the soliloquy again, one speaker/one line at a time. Read to
the end of the line, then next speaker takes over. Try to do it like
one voice speaking. Do it again as loud and fast as possible. “Let
it roar out of your mouth,” like a family argument.
- Choose two partners. Have them hurl the speech back and forth loud
and fast, first idea by idea. Group half the class behind one
speaker, half the class behind the other. Do the same thing
30 min. 6. Getting a scene on its feet (Handout)
“Its not about acting; it’s about doing.”
- Peggy O’Brien
- Begin each section on Shakespeare by staging a scene from the play
you plan to study in the first class period.
- Xerox the scene so that the whole scene appears on one piece of
paper, sans footnotes! This text is your Bible. You may refer to it
and only it to answer all of your questions. Make a Shakespeare
Glossary available as well.
Read the scene out loud, casting two actors for each large role
and switching them mid-way through the scene.
- Read the scene again with a different cast.
- Read the scene a third time with an even different cast.
(Everyone participates. Be patient. Let the students struggle with
the language. Don’t jump in to help. Give them the time to work it
out on their own.)
Next, analyze the text. Discuss the given circumstances of the
scene. Entertain various readings without favoring one or the other.
Read the scene again. Underline unfamiliar words and get the
students to look them up in the Shakespeare Glossary or the O.E.D. ,
but make them aware that they understand the gist of the scene
without understanding what every word meant. Do not translate the
scene for them. Get them to deal with the language.
Next, choose a student to be the casting director. Make sure the
student understands that he/she is allowed to cast against type
(size, race, gender, etc.).
Discuss with the class where the scene takes place. Have them come
to some consensus. Then using existing furniture and props within
the classroom, have them create the setting. Where do the characters
enter from? Work through different possibilities.
(Note: Unlike a real stage director, you are not concerned with
creating a ‘stage picture’. Bringing the text to life is what is
Next, run the scene. Discuss the scene. Say, “As directors, what
would you like to see more of next time.”
|Look up one of the words from your insult sheet in
the O.E.D. in the library. Be prepared to report to the class on the
varying meanings the word has had through time.