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A Scene of Tragical Mirth

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Jean Dorat. Magnificentissimi spectaculi . . . descriptio. Paris, 1573.

September 2001
Beth Botdorf, Governor Mifflin High School, Shillington, Pennsylvania.

Plays/Scenes Covered
A Midsummer Night's Dream 5.1.114-387
What's On for Today and Why

Often it is hard for students to understand that there is a fine line between what is comic and what is tragic, even though choosing one or the other changes a scene entirely. When the audience and the players perform the "play within a play" scene in different styles, students see the power of a director's choices and the versatility of Shakespeare's plays.


This lesson will take one to two class periods.

What You Need

Folger edition of A Midsummer Night's Dream
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts

What To Do

1. Divide students in four groups. Give students time to prepare their scene for performance and ensure that everyone participates in some way, as a character, sound or prop. Group one will perform lines 114-178. The students who read the audience's lines (the lovers and courtiers) will read them as if the scene is tragic. The students who read the players' (mechanicals') lines will read them as if the whole scene is comic. Group two will perform lines 179-231. Here, the audience will perform in a comic style, and the players in a tragic one. Group three will perform lines 232-331. Here, both groups will perform in a comic style. Group four will perform lines 332-387. Here, both groups will perform in a tragic style.


2. Have each group perform their section.


3. After all four groups have performed, discuss the ways the dynamics of tragedy and comedy changed the scene as it went along. When did the scene seem to work best? Least well? Why?


4. For homework: have the students assume the role of the play's director. Have them write a paragraph in which they choose one of these four ways of presenting this scene and explain why they feel that is the best choice.

How Did It Go?
Did the students work well in their groups? Did everyone perform? Were the students able to present differences between comic and tragic presentation styles? Did they see how those differences changed the play's theme? Could they explain why they felt one option was particularly appropriate?

If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.

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  Common Core State Standards

There are no standards associated with this Lesson Plan.
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