Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Is It Harder To Act Shakespeare?

Antipholus of Syracuse (Darragh Kennan) and Adriana (Suzanne O'Donnell)

Folger Theatre presented the first of its four matinee performances of The Comedy of Errors for students today.  As we have in the past, students were invited to participate in a talk-back with the actors following the performance.  One of the students asked the cast whether or not it was harder to act Shakespeare than contemporary plays.  A great question.  Members of the cast gave  terrific answers. It is harder to act Shakespeare.  The language can be more challenging, requiring more effort to get the message in  the text across to an audience.  But, noted one cast member, eventhough the work was written more than 400 years ago, what it says about the human spirit has remained constant. When an actor knows the intent of a line, it is easier for an audience to understand.  So, the actors’ advice to the students was to “do their homework,” make sure they understand what they are saying and use their voices and their bodies to get the intent across.

So, is it harder to act Shakespeare?  Is there a difference between performing Shakespeare’s plays and another playwright’s?  What do you think?


  • I find there are some elements which are easier – for instance, with his blank verse, this is easier to memorise as you know when you’ve dropped something / put something in as the rhythm is disturbed.

    It is also wonderful to use the ‘rules’ of iambic pentameter (and riff on them, as in jazz) for exploring inbuilt directions and ideas for playing.

    What does make acting Shakespeare more difficult is the learning that comes first to be able to play with the verse, understand the syntactical differences and the ideas, as well as being able to sustain thought, breath and energy / drive through the sentences.

    There is more preparation necessary for acting Shakespeare than for acting scripts that are written more as we speak today and deal with the world as we now know it. Once that preparation is done, however, the clues, directions and help for the actor that is in the lines is amazing, freeing and in some ways easier! (See opening remarks.)

    The language is rich and something an actor can really enjoy ‘tasting’ and thoughts, once understood, are obvious – characters say what they think, usually as they think, so the energy is dynamic, immediate and interesting, and characters tend to be quite easy to understand.

    Those are some of my thoughts – be lovely to read other people’s too!

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