Department of Drama UG Module Directory (2020)

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Performing Shakespeare

Level 5 (30 credits)

How to perform Shakespeare has been one of the most enduring and ideologically fraught struggles in modern British theatre production. This module builds on the historiographical and cultural studies work of year one, providing a practical laboratory in which you will learn and explore modes of performance that will illuminate the theatrical work in performance while preserving its historical strangeness. Drawing variously on our contemporary understanding of the conditions of English Renaissance production and on performance techniques associated with experimental theatre artists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, you will work on text from Shakespeare plays, making use of, for example, rhetorical gesture, improvisation, flirting and showing off, talking to the audience, audio feeds, part-scripts, textual muddles, obscenity and cross-dressing. The emphasis will be on finding viable and intellectually rigorous modes of performance that challenge the dominant 'naturalistic' modes that operate in most British theatre production.

Preparing for this Module and Approximate Costs

We are going to be looking at three texts in detail and using these texts to create a performance piece:

  • The Tempest (1610-11) - [note change!]
  • Arden of Faversham (1592)
  • King Lear (1608)

Please watch a version of the two Shakespeare plays before we begin the module. You can access Julie Taymor's 2010 Hollywood film of The Tempest  starring Helen Mirren and Djimon Hounsou easily. We will be looking at this at the landmark 1971 Soviet film of King Lear  directed by Grigoriy Kozintsev. But you might watch various TV , film and radio adaptations through Box of Broadcasts which you have free access to with your QMUL login. The 2014 production for The Almeida Theatre directed by Michael Attenborough and starring Jonathan Pryce in the lead role is available for £7.99 through Digital TC. The 2017 production for Shakespeare's Globe directed by Nancy Meckler is available through the Globe Player for £4.99

You will need to have access to a hard copy of each of these plays. All three texts can also be purchased cheaply in first and second hand copies online. You could download a copy from the internet and print this out- you'll want to put it into a folder so you can use it in performance practice easily.  You need to read these plays in advance of our module. We have some big and profound and interesting work here that we will be exploring together.  If you would like some tips on reading and tackling plays email me- I would be delighted to offer support and suggestions.

You might find it useful to listen to Emma Smith's podcasts on these plays for some insight and context:

Prof Emma Smith's introductions to The Tempest and King Lear are also available in this share folder from her book This is Shakespeare (Pelican, 2019).

We will have a guest workshop with the great performance company Two Gents Theatre Company. (You can see their brilliant production of Two Gentlemen of Verona on the Shakespeare's Globe Player:

We will be thinking about these plays through the lenses of: Maps, Race, Ethnography, Climate Change, Gender and Violence. You might jot down some notes on where you think these issues crop up in the plays and how performing Shakespeare in the 21st Century might offer opportunities to disrupt assumptions and make other issues visible.

There are plenty of filmed and screened versions of the two Shakespeare plays that you can use to familiarise yourself with the story line and some interpretations of the characters. Do be aware that every staging and film adaptation reflects a set of choices, edits and assumptions on the part of the creatives and is not the whole story.

You will need hard copies of the three texts we are looking at on this module by Week 1. All of these are cheaply available in good Arden/Oxford/Penguin editions. If need be you could download a copy of each play from the internet but you will need to print these out and put them into a folder so that you  can use and annotate them in performance practice.

All students will also need a journal or sketch pad for this module- I suggest a blank page A4 sketch book.

Costs should not exceed £25 for this module.

Learning Context Practice-based
Semester 1
  1. Participation, 10%
  2. Written Exercise (Review of Reviews) (1000 words), 20%
  3. Annotated Script / Annotated Video or Sound Recording (12-15 mins / 3000 words), 50%
  4. Written Exercise (Performance Analysis) (1000 words), 20%
Mode of reassessment Standard
Contact Penelope Woods