The University of Birmingham Signing Shakespeare Programme is designed to support deaf young people in their study and enjoyment of Shakespeare.

About Signing Shakespeare

Signing Shakespeare is a project designed to support deaf young people in their study and enjoyment of Shakespeare. Beginning as a research project between the RSC and the University of Birmingham as part of our ongoing collaboration since 2016, it evolved into a stand-alone programme consisting of active, rehearsal room-based resources for the study of Macbeth.

There are around 52,000 deaf children in the UK, many of whom are disadvantaged in the classroom. Deafness by itself is not a learning disability, but its effects can be compounded by factors such as non-inclusive practice or an inadequate linguistic environment. Recent figures show that British deaf students achieve, on average, a grade lower than their hearing peers at GCSE level.

Shakespeare is a compulsory element of the National Curriculum in England, yet many young people struggle to appreciate his work. Following a period of research and consultation with deaf practitioners and students and teachers of the deaf, we have created a scheme of work for the study of Macbeth, supported by a series of films performed by deaf actors.

Our activities and resources focus on visual and active learning, exploring not just the story of Macbeth but also the characters, relationships, themes, imagery, rhythms and literary devices in the play. Collaborative activities and writing tasks support students to develop understanding of the different perspectives and layers within the text.  

Signing Shakespeare Aims To: 

  • Create enjoyment and understanding of Shakespeare’s text

  • Develop pro-social, collaborative skills  

  • Support social and emotional development  

  • Build understanding of literary terms including: iambic pentameter, antithesis, soliloquy

  • Offer role models for deaf young people

  • Increase deaf awareness and appreciation of how sign language can bring new ideas and interpretations to working with Shakespeare for all 

Notes on using these resources: Our key principles of practice

  • Follow the chronology of the narrative 

  • Explicit visual resources

  • Drama/theatre-based approaches

  • Reinforce cumulative knowledge and explore interpretations 

  • Modelling including short films with deaf artists 


To find out more about the research behind the project, you might like to watch this presentation recorded for the Hay Festival in 2021.

Watch the video

Let us know what you think

This is new work and we really want to hear your feedback if you are a teacher of the deaf, or a deaf practitioner or student. Please do get in contact to let us know what you think works well and what doesn’t; anything that doesn’t make sense and any comments on how we can make this project more useful for you. Your responses will help us develop this work further through assessing the impact and efficacy of the activities we have developed. Please contact 

Creative team 

The team working on the project has been led by Dr Abigail Rokison-Woodall from the University of Birmingham and Dr Tracy Irish from the RSC. Other key members of our team include: Angie Wootten, specialist in deaf education at the University of Birmingham, Charlotte Arrowsmith, deaf actor, director and RSC associate artist and Becky Barry, hearing actor, director and interpreter. 

With many thanks to all our companions in this work: 

R&D contributors: Lauren Bates, Stephen Collins, Mary Davis, Kat Fletcher, William Grint, Annika Nori, Caroline Parker, Rachel Veazey 

Students and staff of: Braidwood School for the Deaf; Elmfield School for Deaf Children; Mary Hare School  

Illustrator: Jenna Owen 

BSL Films:

Witches: Caroline Parker, Lara Steward, Mia Ward

Macbeth: Julian Peedle-Calloo

Lady Macbeth: Sophie Stone

Banquo: Vilma Jackson

Macduff: Nadeem Islam

Ross: William Grint

Apparitions: Amber Lawrence, Megan McGrath, Joyal Tom

Directors: Charlotte Arrowsmith, William Grint

Assistant directors: Becky Barry, Ed Viney

Film makers: Phoebe Capewell, Charlene Haylett, Elli Rosser-Stanford

ASL Films:

Witches: Anna Bitencourt, Casey Johnson-Pasqua

Macbeth: Andrew Morrill

Lady Macbeth: Amelia Hensley

Banquo: Brian Cheslik

Macduff: Jane Enobare

Ross: Anna Bitencourt

Apparitions: Anna Bitencourt, Amelia Hensley, Jane Enobare

Director and project lead: Lindsey D. Snyder

Film maker: Phoebe Capewell

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