Finishing up the reformation and movin’ on down to Shakespeare


The students will demonstrate their understanding of Shakespeare by working on a scene from one of his plays.


Materials Needed

see lesson


Related Documents

• Shakespeare Dialogue – Lesson5.ShakespeareDialogue


Lesson Directions


Anticipatory Set/Hook

Film Clip: Tricking Beatrice and Benedick form Much Ado About Nothing.



Instruction: We will need to finish the Reformation and University Wits before moving onto the next section of theatre history.


Elizabethan Theatre and Shakespeare: It was in this world that William Shakespeare (1564-1616) wrote and acted in his plays in the late 16th and early 17th Centuries. Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre produced a number of notable playwrights, including Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson.
Shakespeare had the good fortune to be a share-holder in the companies he was associated with, earning him income as a maker of plays, an actor and an investor. Born in Stratford-upon-Avon, he wrote plays that are timeless for their understanding of human nature and character. He was a member of several companies including the Lord Chamberlain’s and King James I’s own company, and was also a part owner of the Globe and Blackfriars playhouses.
At this time, the plays written and performed in England were still presented in open-air theatres. Although Hamlet exhorts the actors in the play of that name to be natural in their performance, this would not be “natural” acting in the way that term is understood today. Shakespeare and his contemporaries did encourage a more natural style of speaking, as opposed to the declamatory demagogueing then practiced by some, but was not likely an advocate of the type of realism and natural character portrayal that we see in today’s theatres.


Modeling: The class will look at the overhead of the scene provided from Two Gentlemen of Verona. They will discuss what the characters are really saying and how to break apart Shakespeare’language.


Checking for Understanding: The students will break off into partners to study the scene provided from Romeo and Juliet, the balcony scene. They need to read it and figure out what it is talking about. Then they need to put it in today’terms. How does that change how they act, now that they know what it is talking about? They need to use the sides provided and work on how they would stage the play. They can also set it in a different time period and explore what happens there. By the end of the activity, each pair needs to turn in a paragraph telling us what the two characters are talking about.


Transition: Shakespeare is so important to our study of the theatre, that much of the rest of the history of theatre that we study will come back to him. In the next class period, we will further look into his influence and do the presentations we spoke of previously. These presentations will be happening in the next class period. As a reminder, you will give the class a short summary of the play you are reporting on and a brief description of the character from that play and their importance to the plot. Right now, however, we are going to continue with theatre history and see what happened to the rest of Europe during this time. We are going to pay particular attention to France.


The Republic and The Restoration
In 1642, six years before the execution of Charles I, Parliament closed the theatres in England and, until the Restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660, we have little of theatre in that country. However, it was during this time that the influence of French theatre, and through it, Italian notions of theatre architecture, was experienced by English actors and royalists in exile.
Theatre in France, and subsequently in England, was beginning to focus more on the mechanics of scenery and spectacle. The plays themselves were often masques in which costume, dance and clever scenery and scene changes were more emphasized than acting and plot. Louis XIV, the “Sun-King” appeared as himself in the Ballet Nuit. Theatres began to display the proscenium style of architecture, although the forestage remained the principal place where the acting took place, and the area behind the proscenium was reserved for the display of scenery changes which were slid into view by means of panels on tracks. It was also during this time, when theatre was designed specifically for the royal pleasure, that theatres began to be roofed in.
Theatre was also influenced by two French playwrights, Jean Racine (1639-1699) and Molière (1622-1673). Molière (born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin) was the author of some of the best comedies in European history, including Tartuffe, Le Misanthrope, Le Femmes savantes and Le Malade imaginaire. Racine was as great a tragedian as Molière was a playwright of comedies, writing Bajazet, Mithridate, Iphigénie and Phèdre. Both playwrights had an influence in turning theatre away from classical style into more contemporary subject matter.
It was at the time of the Restoration of the Crown in England, that women first began to appear on stage (a convention borrowed from the French), instead of female roles being played by boys and young men. Although theatres were again licensed and controlled by the state, with the dawn of the 18th Century approaching, it would not be long before the echoes of the Republican period in England and the influence of similar movements abroad would force a broadening of theatre’s appeal — first to property owners and merchants, and ultimately to the masses.


Guided Practice: The class will discuss how what we have talked about today will fit into their timelines and what additional work they will need to do to put it together. We will together start helping each other build the timelines.


Independent Practice: The students will need some extra time to work on their timelines up to this point. They may have questions that need to be clarified. We will be working on this with the time remaining in the class.



Closure and Assessment: The students are reminded that their Shakespeare presentations are due on Friday. They will have 5 minutes a piece to tell us about the play and the character. They need to continually work on their timelines so they aren’t saving them for the night before. They will be due as we close up theatre history 2 weeks from today.