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Bad Bard/Good Bard: Coming to Character through Preconceptions of Shakespearean Acting

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James Dromgole Linton. Taming of the Shrew. Katherine and Petruchio. Watercolor, late 19th century

November 2008
Mike Levin teaches English at Flagstaff Arts & Leadership Academy, Flagstaff, Arizona

Plays/Scenes Covered
The Taming of the Shrew; 2.1. 182-272. Lesson can be used as an introduction to any other scenes and plays.
What's On for Today and Why

Many students have varying preconceptions on what Shakespearean acting entails, likely a result of having seen a few to none of his plays. This lesson will look at character through “bad” and “good” Shakespearean acting in an attempt to address and overcome the difficulties and rewards when it comes to acting with heightened text.

What You Need

Copies (handouts and enlarged) of Taming of the Shrew 2.1.182-272


Have one final pair go to encapsulate as many characteristics on the “bad” list as possible; then have another pair go and attempt the “great” list.

The Taming of the Shrew Handout #1
What To Do
  1. Have students draw up a list as a class of Shakespearean plays and movies they have seen.
  2. Ask students for descriptions on how they would characterize the acting in those plays/movies. With which characters did the students feel engaged?
  3. Conduct a choral reading of the interaction of Petruchio and Katherine from The Taming of the Shrew, 2.1 as an introduction. Have one group  read Petruchio, and one group read Katherine.
  4. Ask for two students to come to the front of the room. Either project the text via PowerPoint or have the script enlarged and mounted so the students acting can see the text while keeping their hands free. Have the students perform the scene as badly as possible (i.e., poor characterization, accents, gestures, no idea what they are saying.) Ask for two more volunteers to come up and act out the text. 
  5. After the pairs have performed, discuss the specific elements of what bad Shakespearean acting looks like. How does this affect interpretation?
  6. Divide students into groups of five. Have the groups discuss qualities of the characters and what each of them wants in the scene. Have them also list physical and vocal characteristics they intuit from the characters.
  7. Ask for another pair or volunteers. Using the same text, have the students perform the same scene as well as possible. Students should consider active listening, clear diction, eye contact, awareness of others on stage etc. When several pairs have gone, discuss the specific elements of what “great” Shakespearean acting looks like.
  • Discussion: What is character and how are characters developed? Why is it easier to act poorly? Which is more entertaining? What tools would an actor need to be a great Shakespearean actor?

How Did It Go?
Did the students have fun? Did they alter the ways that they read or performed based on their new understanding of the elements in “good” and “bad” acting? Do they have an appreciation for the difficulties in acting Shakespearean text? How will they come to understand character as they read through the entire play?

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.
How To

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