Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Is There a Difference between Teaching and Directing Shakespeare

~by Kevin J Costa

Sometimes I’m asked about the difference between teaching Shakespeare and directing his plays. I’ve often thought about that difference too – and, lately, even if there is a difference. Certainly, anyone who has the privilege, as I do, to teach and to direct, at school and professionally, will have different opinions about this. So let me address the question this way.

Years ago, I would have probably said, without much hesitation, that, yes, there is a fundamental difference between the two. At that time, I think, I would have agreed with many that, in the classroom, it’s important to cover this or that point, to try to gather up what the play “means,” and so on. In the theatre, I would have been interested in telling a clear story – I still am – but I would have seen it as a fundamentally different task than teaching these works.
Students of Kevin Costa perform Romeo and Juliet

Now, however, all that has changed. I find, when I am studying a play alongside students – I wouldn’t even say that I “teach” anything – I’m less interested in theme or meaning. Or, perhaps to put it a more precisely, I’m not as centrally concerned with these kinds of things, at least at the outset; I believe that close, patient, collaborative, and active work on the words and on what those words reveal about the characters and their relationships with each other will, at the right time, let larger ideas bubble up. In the theatre, directors and actors are charged with telling the clearest, most honest story possible, and to do this well, we must always live wholly in the text – exploring the words, appreciating how their very utterance brings a character and his or her contradictions into full being. If this is done well, a company may achieve a great story to play on the stage. But why only on the stage? In the school room, the same can certainly be achieved and allow for a much deeper, longer lasting relationship with plays that continuously explain to us who we are.

Kevin J. Costa is a TSI 2010 Alumni. In addition to being an English teacher at McDonogh School, he is Head of the Drama Department, Director of Fine & Performing Arts, and Assistant Director of College Counseling. He also serves as the Director of Education for the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company– where he recently directed Titus Andronicus in the ruins- and as Chair of the Shakespeare Theater Association of America’s Education Committee.


  • What a lovely expression of your philosophy, Kevin. Taking on the “direction” of plays could intimidate some teachers, but your caveat to treat the telling as the thing…clear, honest story-telling that treats the words (not the themes) as the resource we cherish is a guiding principle for our education programming, too. Thank you!

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