Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Thematic Shakespeare

Students perform a scene from Much Ado About Nothing in the 2012 Folger Seconday School Festival

I’ve written about student festivals before, but I want to come back to the topic again and,  this time, look at the thematic lines being explored by students and teachers in their festival performances.  Recently, I attended Shakesperience: NJ at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.  Two days of absolute delight watching students engage the text and make meaning of Shakespeare’s language.  What is not to like about that opportunity?  While many of the schools presented selected scenes from the plays, or reduced versions of the play (keeping Shakespeare’s language in tact), some looked at thematic lines and explored them through excerpts from a number of the plays.  Among those performances was one on “love’s confusion,” taking scenes from Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Another explored the “trilogy of evil” in Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and Titus Andronicus.  What is interesting about these thematic choices is that the students were directly involved in selecting the scenes used to explore the themes, demonstrating that close reading of the text has a direct link to performance-based work on the plays.  Love and evil are two common thematic links to Shakespeare’s plays, to be sure. I wondered what others there were and what plays might be used to present them in performance.  So, if you and your students have presented a series of scenes from Shakespeare’s plays linked to a theme, share what you did with the rest of us. It might be a great way to introduce your students to several plays without taking them through the complete work.


  • I love seeing student explore Shakespeare in this way. It is especially beneficial for the students to partake in choosing the scenes.

    Did they have any difficulty deciphering the language and if so, how did you work around that?

  • Our experience with our school residencies and children’s festivals has shown us that young students can make sense of Shakespeare’s language. We work with shorter versions of the text, or scenes, and help students to engage the language through fun activities. We’ve put some material on our website under Teach and Learn.

  • Our experience working with students in our Shakespeare Steps Out residency, as well as seeing students perform at our children’s festival, is that engaging students in fun language based activities helps them to engage with Shakespeare’s language and make sense of it. They need guidance from their teachers and/or teaching artists, of course, but they can understand the words. We have posted some lesson plans on our website — Teach and Learn.

Leave a Reply to rgyoung

  • (will not be published)