Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Speaking Shakespeare: From fear to "the feeling that I could do it"

Why do we make such a big deal about performance-based learning?

We at the Folger strongly believe that Shakespeare is for everyone and that speaking the Bard’s words for yourself is essential to gaining an understanding of and appreciation for Shakespeare’s plays.

Lenny Henry, the British comedian turned acclaimed actor, recently shared his turn-around experience with Shakespeare, in an interview with The Telegraph:

What came next was a Radio 4 documentary series called What’s So Great About…? The first was on Shakespeare. “I had a real allergy to Shakespeare. I wasn’t really taught it at school properly and thought it was very much the reserve of middle-class white people with tights and a cabbage down the front. So I was very frightened of it. Everybody we interviewed on that show, Peter Hall, Trevor Nunn, Adrian Lester, Judi Dench, said, ‘You should try it. Don’t slag it off if you don’t know what you’re talking about. Get some of the words in your mouth and then you’ll understand why we all love Shakespeare so much.’”

Henry delivered 20 lines of Othello’s last speech for the documentary and he was hooked. “It gave me the feeling that I could do it. It’s almost like I had my head put on straight for me. ‘This is what it’s about, it’s a serious thing, take it seriously, learn your lines, do some research.’ So the rehearsal process was brutal and I was reading that play for months and months before we did it.” And it was a success.

Henry went from thinking Shakespeare was not for him, to going on to perform in The Comedy of Errors at the Royal National Theatre in London.

What a testament to the power of speaking – not just reading – Shakespeare.

How are your students engaging with Shakespeare this school year? Tell us in the comments.

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