Shakespeare and Selected Dramatists is a module run by the Department of English and is a core course for final year students taking most branches of English Literature. Since 2007/08, students have been able to choose between two different streams of seminars: a traditionally taught strand, or a practically taught strand entitled 'Shakespeare without Chairs'.
Professor Carol Rutter, Director of the CAPITAL Centre and tutor on Shakespeare without Chairs
This seminar gets students out from behind desks and onto their feet to work on Shakespeare’s texts through a process of 3-dimensional close reading that thinks about how much ‘play’ there is in a text, how many choices the writer offers the player, and how much physical and visual information there is to take account of in any ‘reading’ of Shakespeare’s scripts. To begin with, recognising how vast a subject we are getting to grips with (engaging with Shakespeare as both an early modern and a post-modern writer for the stage), every student is assigned a specialist ‘knowledge’ (follow the link to see a selection of the 'knowledges' used) that is his or her responsibility to track in the week’s play and to report to the seminar on behalf of the play. In the ‘knowledge’ area, the individual student wears what pedagogy calls ‘the mantle of the expert’. Questions to help the student formulate and research their ‘knowledge’ were offered during the summer; further questions week by week are offered. Students pick up on these questions (or ignore them entirely, finding ‘better’ questions) and write a weekly ‘report’ that is circulated to the whole seminar in advance of the seminar meeting.
The seminar itself is run like a mini-rehearsal. There is a physical warm-up (devised and managed by a member of the group). There is a voice/text warm-up (again, devised and managed by a member of the group). Getting down to specific work on text and play, students are typically divided into groups (Capulets/Montagues; Venice/Malta; Lovers/Fairies/Courtiers/Mechanicals). They will have prepped a section of the play that they will then work through, either directing themselves or directing their colleagues. Students not engaged in play do the work of the audience, commenting, processing, interrogating, suggesting re-play. Either as actors or reactors, everyone is involved in every bit of the work. The role of the tutor is continuously to ask questions: to get students to focus on Shakespeare’s ‘words, words, words’ but also on his entrances and exits, his stage pictures, his manoeuvring of bodies in space.