We believe that the techniques developed in the RSC Rehearsal Room can help to unlock Shakespeare for young people of all ages

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All directly transferable to the classroom, these techniques are practical and exciting ways to explore and experience the language, themes and ideas in his work.

Top Tips for Exploring Shakespeare's Plays

Students as detectives

Encourage pupils to think like a detective. The clues are all there in the language but  they have to be pieced together bit by bit. Reading the text in more than one way will really help pupils to explore some of these clues. For example, asking pupils to read a scene standing back-to-back in pairs, in a whisper, will draw out something very different from a read-through where you ask pupils to keep walking as they read and stress all the words connected to a theme, such as family or power.

Don't be afraid to read an extract with pupils in three or four different ways; each time they will understand something new.

Engaging starter activities to explore the major themes

Games are infinitely flexible and can be adapted to suit the needs of practically any text you are working on. So for example if we play a Macbeth-based version of 'Grandma's Footsteps' the class member at the front who is ‘it’ can be King Duncan.  Class mates then creep up behind  them and when ‘it’ turns and points at someone, that person becomes the conscience of Macbeth saying aloud something that Macbeth might be thinking as he moves towards King Duncan's chamber.

Alternatively, the 'it' person could be Prospero and their classmates could be Caliban saying 'This island's mine' if they are caught moving towards their leader.

Create images of characters

Get pupils into small groups of three to five to create images that allow the whole class to explore key characters. For example, asking them to create still images or freeze frames of : 'A king and his subjects,' 'three witches meeting' or 'soldiers returning from battle' allows you to introduce key characters and situations in the early part of the play.

You can also ask groups to create images in response to specific lines of text and see how different pupils interpret them: 'Brave Macbeth, well he deserves that name' or 'Unseamed him from the nave to th'chops'.

Set time limits

Give groups ten seconds to create a still image. This is long enough for them to complete the task, but short enough to mean that children invariably won't mind who they are working with. It can also be a good challenge to ask groups to work without speaking.

Encourage pupils to make interpretative choices

Remember that every play is a mixture of fact and interpretation. For example three women tell Macbeth he will one day be king but how they might appear, disappear, move and speak on a stage is up to you to interpret.

Pupils can make interpretative choices about staging, design and meaning. No-one knows what Macbeth should look like, or what the ghost of Banquo looks like. There is even a choice to be made about whether the ghost of Banquo appears on stage or not. If you think he should appear on stage, the audience can see inside Macbeth's head and sympathise with him. If you don't, the audience sees how disturbed Macbeth must appear to his guests.

Feed in social and historical knowledge to root the work in a real world context

When pupils understand, for example, that many people in a Shakespearean English audience believed that fairies could be spiteful and that Midsummer's Eve was potentially a dangerous time of year when a portal opened up between the human and fairy world, their work on Macbeth and A Midsummer Night's Dream can take on a new meaning. Our challenge today is bringing Shakespeare's work alive in such a way that it has the same powerful impact on audiences now as it did 400 years ago. How can do you that? What would have the same resonance today?  

Use the original text but don't be afraid to edit it

We know that children are intrigued by the beauty and texture of Shakespeare's language and they don't mind not understanding all of it - in fact, that's part of the joy. It's an exciting challenge to explore the meaning of unusual words and phrases. But do edit the text into manageable chunks. For example, pull out ten lines of text that track the story arc of a particularly interesting scene or soliloquy, allow the children to get confident with these and then add more text in or find out what happens next by moving onto a new section of the play.

Explore the language together

Remember that editors often disagree about what words and phrases mean so it is always more interesting to start with the sound of a word and think what it might mean as opposed to immediately solving the mystery by looking it up in the footnotes. 'Peace-parted', 'pick-purse', 'malignant thing' or lines like 'You cram these words into mine ears against/The stomach of my senses' are great phrases to explore and unlock together

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