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 column.

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 student.
- 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 faster.
- 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 chorally.

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 important.)
  • Next, run the scene. Discuss the scene. Say, “As directors, what would you like to see more of next time.”

7. Homework:

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.