Acting Shakespeare


Assignment 0: Speech or Scene Choice

For your first major assignment you have a choice between working with a partner on a scene of your choice from the list at the bottom of this page, or working solo on a speech from one of Shakespeare’s plays.

We will begin work on the assignment on Monday, January 11, so choose your partner and a scene by start of class that date, or have a choice of speech approved by that date.

The scenes are pre-approved. If you choose to do a speech, you need to have it approved b that you would like to work on for this course and have it approved by me by midnight Saturday, January 11 (you can email me: Approval may take several tries so it’s a good idea to come to me with more than one speech to choose from. You will learn, analyze, rehearse, and present this speech twice for your first major (midterm) assignment and twice again at the end of term.

The speech must be:

  • In verse (it’s in verse if each line of the speech starts with a capital letter).
    In iambic pentameter (most lines will be 10 syllables long, give or take one syllable).
    At least 20 lines in length.
    One you have never worked on before.
    Different from the speeches your classmates are doing.

Further advice and guidelines:

  • This class is about learning to tackle complex language, so look for speeches full of imagery, figures of speech and rhetoric. If you’re drawn to a speech because the language is straightforward, it might not be the best speech for this exercise.
  • With my approval, you may choose a speech made by a character whose gender identity differs from yours.
  • If you’re unsure or nervous about doing Shakespeare, try finding a speech by a character not too far from yourself in age, and who is in a situation you have been in or can conceive would be very possible for you to be in.
    The situation the character is in should not be too close to something you have experienced yourself if it is especially recent or traumatic.
    If you’re unsure about what speech to choose, I am happy to advise you if you come to me with at least two plausible suggestions of your own.
  • You may use internet sources* to find your speech as they make the process very easy, but you must use the version of the speech from the Arden edition of the play.  Here is a good place to start:

Once your choice has been approved, go to the University of Alberta Library main page and click on “Search for Databases”. Navigate to the “D” tab, then find and click on “Drama Online”. Use the Drama Online search bar to find your play by typing the title of the play followed by “(Arden Shakespeare Third Series)”. Look for the result that includes a count of the Acts, Scenes and Roles a few lines under the title. Click on that result, then click on “Read play” to find your speech. If you have trouble locating the play or speech, let me know.

Copy and paste it into a document, then clean and format it as per the example on page two.
Add your name, the play’s title, and the act, scene, and lines for the speech and a reference.
Print out two copies of the speech, bring them both to class, and hand one to me at the start of class on Monday, January 13.
Once I approve the formatting, make sure you always have clean copies of the speech with you whenever you come to class.

Assignment 1: Translation and Definitions


Shakespeare’s language is very complex and of its time and place, but so are the texts of many great plays spanning the classics to the contemporary. This exercise will give you a real workout in this important first step in an actor’s process working on almost any play.


1. In your speech, find:

a) all the words you don’t understand.
b) all the words you do understand but that meant something different to Elizabethans; these are harder to find but the footnotes will flag some of them.

On a clean sheet of paper, list each word and, looking them up in the approved sources (see the sample for this section), list as many meanings as could conceivably apply to each.

2. Translate your speech or soliloquy into modern English on a clean sheet of paper. To be eligible for an A on this assignment, translate it both accurately and closely, substituting another word for every word you possibly can (prepositions, pronouns, conjunctions, etc. are excepted). I repeat: substitute another word for every word you can, even modern words you already understand. This exercise will enable you to:

  • understand what you’re saying all the way through the speech.
  • consider multiple layers of meaning so you can make an informed interpretation.
  • make discoveries about your character through their choice of words.

NB: If you encounter a metaphor and the object of the metaphor is unidentified, include the object of the metaphor in brackets. In Richard II, John of Gaunt gives a speech describing England using a long list of attributes that includes many metaphors. For this exercise, a good translation of “…this seat of Mars, This other Eden, this demi-paradise.. etc.” would read: “..this [England] throne of the God of War, This [England] second original garden of paradise, this [England] half-earth, half heaven…etc.” Note that I have translated every word except “This” and “of” even though it’s pretty plain what he’s saying to modern ears.

There are translations of Shakespeare into modern English available on line and in print. No Fear Shakespeare at is one very good source. Use these sources if you get stuck, but make sure you don’t copy their translation. That’s plagiarism and will get you in a world of trouble.

Please follow the format of the sample provided for this section of the assignment. Formatting is a consideration in grading. So is grammar.

The Definitions are worth 10% of the total assignment.
The Translation is worth 20% of the total assignment.

This assignment is due: Noon, Saturday, January 17.

Assignment 2: Stage Directions


Make the following notations neatly on double or 1.5-spaced printout of your speech or scene.  If you are doing a scene, do this exercise for your own lines only.

1. Counting the Syllables in Each Line

At the right end of each line, mark down the number of syllables it contains.

  • If it contains nine syllables and a word that ends in “ed” for which you wouldn’t normally pronounce “ed” as a separate syllable, put an accent on the “e” (èd) and count it as an extra syllable that you should pronounce.
  • If it contains nine syllables and a word that ends in “ion” or “ian” or “eous”, put two dots over the “o” or “a” or “e” (iön, ëous) and count it as an extra syllable, but one that you should not pronounce in the case of “ion” or “ian”. The Elizabethans would have, but we won’t.
  • Watch out for rare eight syllable lines that contain two of these words!!

2. Identifying Regular Lines

Put an “R” beside the number of syllables in a line if it is regular. It is only regular if it fulfills both these requirements:

  • It must have exactly ten (10) syllables, AND
  • It must follow the relative stress pattern: weak-strong weak-strong weak-strong weak-strong weak-strong.

3. Identifying Irregular Lines

Don’t put an “R” beside the number of syllables in a line if it is irregular. However, if you think the line could be regular or irregular depending on how you counted the syllables or pronounced a word, denote it “10 R or 12” (for example).

  • The main rule here is that any line that is not regular is automatically irregular.
  • It follows that any line that isn’t 10 syllables in length is automatically irregular.
  • It also follows that any line with exactly 10 syllables is irregular if the stress pattern doesn’t follow weak-strong weak-strong weak-strong weak-strong weak-strong.
  • It further follows that any line with a weak ending is automatically irregular (see #4, below).

4. Identifying Weak Endings

Put a “W” beside the number of syllables for any line that ends with a weak stress (e.g. weak-strong weak-strong weak-strong weak-strong weak-strong weak).

Please follow the format of the sample provided for this section of the assignment. Please do not use a photocopy of your speech or scene from a published play. Formatting and legibility is a consideration in grading.

The Iambic Pentameter Analysis is evaluated as follows:

Syllable Count (1) is worth 50% of this section.
Regularity vs. Irregularity (2, 3, & 4): 50% of this section (16.67% of the assignment)

Assignment 3: Rhetoric

1. Repetition of Sounds

Pick five (5) instances of repetition of sound (alliteration, assonance/rhyme, consonance) that interest you.

If you have rhyme in your speech, you must make that one of your choices.

Write each instance down, and under each write a paragraph about how you think it informs what’s going on with your character.

2. Rhetorical Devices

Pick five (5) instances of rhetorical device in your speech from the speech below.

If you have antithesis, a list, repetitions of words or phrases, or irony, you must include them among your choices.

  • imagery
  • metaphor
  • simile
  • personification
  • comparison
  • juxtaposition
  • antithesis
  • contradiction/paradox
  • enumerations (lists of four or more things)
  • repetitions of words or phrases
  • irony
  • puns and other wordplay
  • onomatopoeia

Under each instance, write a paragraph about how you think it informs what’s going on with your character.

Please follow the format of the sample provided for this section of the assignment. Clear formatting is a consideration in grading.

The Repetition of Sounds sections is worth 50% of this section.
The Rhetorical Devices section is worth 50% of this section.

Assignment 4: Research Presentation

Assignment 5: Play Viewing Assignment

Assignment 6: Scene Analysis

Acting Shakespeare


Objectives 1

Objectives 2

Objectives 3

Objectives 4

Objectives 5

Objectives 6

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