Directing a Shakespearean comedy

by Stephen Skelton | 1 September 2014

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“Shakespeare’s boring. What’s so funny about fairies?”

I can imagine this will resonate with many teachers wanting to pass their reverence of the bard onto their students while balancing the thin line between capturing their students’ inspiration with his most famous works (without gritting their teeth) and not dumbing them down or promoting ignorance by taking on a computer game’s mentality of only doing the scenes that have action or excitement. One of my classmates in high school claimed Shakespeare had been responsible for bringing boredom and misery to him and his relatives for over 400 years in exams. So how to approach Shakespeare without falling into the trap Dr. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) in the United Kingdom did by stating “teachers should give children edited highlights of the best bits of his plays like a film trailer to keep them interested” (Daily Mail, 2 May 2013)?

I wanted to focus on Shakespearean comedy to answer this question, since it is often said “a day without laughter is a day wasted”. Get your students to laugh with Shakespeare and you have awoken a jewel in their soul, an unforgettable adventure into one of life’s most precious treasures, the greatest writing in the English language. I have directed, acted in, and edited a number of Shakespearean plays between 1996 and 2014 including his comedies A Midsummer night’s dream, As you like it, Much ado about nothing and Twelfth night, and his tragedies Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Hamlet, in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Japan at middle school, high school and university level.

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