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Suggested Scenes for Performance:


One option I frequently offer students in the Shakespeare 207 and 208 course is the opportunity to perform a scene from Shakespeare for the rest of the class. It is up to the students to select a scene that is appropriate in length for this performance (five to ten minutes), and they should select a scene that is "doable" for the number of actors in their group. If necessary, students might want to edit a scene to cut it down to appropriate size, or they might wish to divide their performance into one five-minute scene using half the participants, and another five-minute scene using the other half of the group's members.

I include below some suggested scenes that have worked well in past classes. You are, of course, under no obligation to use these particular ones if you can find one that works better for your group. You are obligated, however, to make your scene as dynamic, dramatic, and entertaining as possible while remaining true to Shakespeare's spirit.

Richard II: Richard II's banishment of Bolingbroke at the lists (Act I, Scene iii); the scene in which the gardeners speak with Queen Anne (Act III, Scene iv); Richard II's abdication of his crown to Bolingbroke and the reaction of the crowd (Act IV, Scene i); or Richard II's murder (Act V, Scene i), which works particularly well if one throws in violence and fake blood.

Midsummer Night's Dream: the confrontation between the mischievous Puck and Fairy is good for small numbers of actors, and the confrontation of Oberon and Titania in the same scene is also a good one (Act II, Scene i); Lysander's clumsy attempt to seduce Hermia, and Puck's magic running awry also works well (Act II, Scene ii); Bottom's serenade and Titania's declaration of affection works well if there is an actor willing to sing off-key as Bottom (Act III, scene i); the cat-fight between Hermia and Helena over Lysander and Demetrius' capricious passions is fun, especially if the actors cast themselves according to the height of each character (III.ii); excerpts from the play-within-a-play, the clumsy enactment of Pyramis and Thisbe is fun (Act V, scene i), and Puck, Oberon, and Titania's blessings in the epilogue to the play (V. i) also work well to flesh out shorter performances.

Henry IV, Part I: Prince Hal's interactions with his drunken and lecherous buddies are fun if the actors will ham it up--especially the actor playing Falstaff--(in Act I, Scene i or Act II, scene ii); likewise, the so-called "Great-Eastcheap Scene" is particularly good for illustrating Falstaff's bragging and his cowardice, but might have to be edited for length (Act II, Scene iv); the scene with Hotspur and Glendower often works well for a small number of actors, especially if the actors play up Glendower's "New Age-y" mysticism and his attempts to pretend to be a wizardly warrior and Hotspur's amused or irritated barbs to deflate Glendower's pretensions (Act III, scene i); and probably the best scene of all for performance, Act V, scene iv, contains both humor, pathos, and exciting stage combat.

Henry V: the mocking message from the Dauphin (and the King's cold response) can make for good drama as long as it is clear the King is angry and the messenger's life may be in danger (Act I, scene ii); the King's "sting operation" against Cambridge and Grey is highly recommended with some editorial trimming (Act II, scene ii); a condensed version including the King's speech at Harfleur (Act III, scene i) and the soldier's squabbling and characterization following it might prove interesting with appropriate warfare going on in the background (Act III, scene ii); Princess Katherine's English lessons with Lady Alice have great comic potential for a couple of female actors who have a bit of French (Act III, scene iv), or the King's interactions with his troops in disguise and his prayers (Act IV, scene i) has a lot of emotional punch if the actors will bring out King Henry's gnawing guilt and his concern both for his troop's lives and his own soul. King Henry's rallying of his dispirited troops works well, but the actor playing King Henry has to do a lot of talking and come across as charismatic (Act IV. scene iii); finally, King Henry's wooing of Princess Katherine has great potential for complex interactions--is his wooing one of passion and romance--or one of poorly veiled threats and extortion when the Princess is in his power?--or both? (Act V, scene ii)

Richard III: Richard's morbid wooing of Anne over her husband's coffin is particularly fun (I. ii); the two murderers who stab Clarence and drown him in a barrel of wine works well (I.iv); Richard's interactions with his nephews, Prince Edward and York are powerful but subtle scenes in which the actors need to portray the young Princes as innocent children, and Richard as a monstrous murderer hiding behind an avuncular smile as he teases and plays with them while plotting their deaths and his own coup d'etat. That scene is particularly potent if the actors choose to depict Prince Edward as being aware (or at least suspicious) of his uncle's plans, but struggling to hide his own fear (III.i). Richard's accusations of witchcraft before the Bishop of Ely work well if the actors conjoin Richard's pretend-piety and his facade of Christian behavior with his bloodthirsty rage to have Shore and Edward's wife executed as traitors and witches (III.iv). For a small group of actors, Tyrrel's interactions with Richard work well, though there is little action (IV. ii and IV.iii); for those with a more surrealistic bent, the ghosts that haunt Richard's dreams the night before the battle are rather disturbing (V. iii), and a final montage of bits from Act V, scenes three, four, and five, offer high drama at its best, including the confrontation between Richmond and Richard and great derring-do in stage combat.

The Merry Wives of Windsor: None of my students have yet performed this play for me, but I strongly suspect any scene involving Falstaff will be funny if the actor hams it up, any scene illustrating the pious nature of the Welsh parson Sir Hughes; or any scene illustrating Ford's jealousy and suspicion; or Falstaff's cowardice in the face of the so-called "faeries" in Act V, scene v.

 

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