Shakespeare’s hidden stage directions

by James Copp | 1 September 2016

Is the verse worth it?

When working on a Shakespeare play with young students, an early decision that we make is whether to spend time exploring the verse or not to bother. Very often, and especially with students who don’t have English as a mother-tongue, the best thing to do is to leave the verse, focus on the story and ensure that the actors understand what they’re talking about.
However, occasionally rehearsal time and a strong cast allow time to connect a little more closely with the playwright and the way in which he might have wanted the lines to be delivered. It’s well worth it – it only takes a few simple steps to unlock the teenage mind from the initial blank-faced refusal. The blank-faced refusal, all too often, comes from an overly worshipful approach by teachers to Shakespearean texts that confines the writer to a big historical dustbin in the relevance-obsessed teenage mind.

Don’t worship the play

I don’t believe in mystifying playwrights nor do I believe that any text (least of all Shakespeare) should be treated like it is a precious Ming vase. At the end of the day about half the work is provided by the playwright and half of it by the production company and together they are going to create an enjoyable production for a specific audience.

Shakespeare, like many playwrights, wrote and re-wrote, workshopped his plays which were then updated in performance many times. Scholars continue to argue in detail over what the original texts actually contain so I don’t spend time or energy getting too worried about textual purity.

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