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Shakespeare and the Director

Dr Paul Prescott
Autumn 2007



  • What does a director do?
  • Is Shakespearean directing a distinct cultural activity? How does it differ from stage directing per se?
  • How do we describe what a director does from the evidence of live performance?
  • How much should a director worry about authenticity or fidelity?
  • How do directors rehearse their casts? Can early modern plays be rehearsed and produced as if they were naturalistic (i.e. post-Stanislavskian) dramas?
  • Is the most radical approach to direction to re-wright the play? And when does a production become an adaptation?
  • To what extent is a director’s interpretation determined or constrained by spatial, technological and financial resources?

Practical Presentation / Exam (40%)

This would consist of your being assessed on how you direct one of the following pieces of practice:

1) Final rehearsal for a staged reading of a Shakespearean adaptation (e.g. the Dumas Hamlet, but this could also be a staged reading of a Shakespeare-related text of your choice)

2) A 2-3 hour workshop on a Shakespearean staging problem either on campus or on the Globe stage in Week 9

3) A 2-3 hour practical project of your choice

The Practical Presentation / Exam would have to take place before the end of Week 10. You can work individually, in pairs, or in a group of 3. You will need to notify me of your choice and group members by the end of Week 6 (Reading Week).

The Practical will be assessed on the following criteria:

i) Evidence of preparation and organization, including clear objectives and a coherent structure for the session

ii) Evidence of creativity in the construction of rehearsal methods designed to explore a Shakespearean staging problem

iii) Ability to communicate effectively with other participants, including co-directors and actors

(Nb. You will NOT be assessed on how well or otherwise your participants ‘act’.)

Think of it as a Presentation, but rather than using powerpoint or video clips to make your point or to explore issues, you will be enlisting the help of live participants. As with any exam, there is an element of performance: that is, you bring to the event your expertise of the subject and ‘perform’ it within a finite time.

The Reflective Essay (60%)

The purpose of this piece of writing is three-fold:

* to provide evidence of the reading and critical thinking that contributed to your practical project (i.e. show your awareness of the history and theory of Shakespearean directing)

* to reflect on the findings of the project (the successes and shortcomings of the practical exam)

* to outline how the project might launch a larger series of practical explorations or might contribute to a fully-realised production

This 2500-word essay is due in on Monday 21st January, Week 3, 2008.


Week 2: The components of production; the early history of director; Beier’s Dream on video. Prep for Supple’s Dream. (Original rehearsal practices; textual mandates/instructions; the imperative to interpret)

Reading: Dennis Kennedy, ‘Shakespeare and the visual’, Marowitz,
‘Recycling Shakespeare’ JSTOR

Week 3
: The Dream in Performance.

TRIP (Tuesday): Tim Supple’s Dream in Oxford

Week 4
: Stanislavski, Craig and MAT Hamlet; Prep for Henry V

Reading: Norman Rabkin, ‘Rabbits, Ducks, and Henry V’ JSTOR

Week 5:
The Director as Auteur: Marowitz and Muller’s Hamlets;

Reading: Marowitz’s Hamlet Collage and/or Heiner Muller’s Hamletmachine.
Hamburger, ‘Hamlet at World’s End’;

TRIP: (Tuesday 30 Oct): RSC Henry V


Week 7: Masterclass: Gadi Roll, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry (and formerly of LAMDA): Stanislavski and Shakespeare. Prep for RII.

Week 8: Reviewing Richard II. Preparation for Globe Trip.

TRIP (Tuesday 20 Nov): RSC Richard II

Week 9: MON: Q and A with Donnacadh O’Briain, Assistant Director on RSC History Cycles.

FRI: GLOBE TRIP (stage booked 3-7pm) – staging problem: Hamlet’s Ghost? (Hamlet on the Ramparts, Foakes’s article).

EVENT (Thu 29 Nov – tbc): Staged reading of Alexandre Dumas’ adaptation of Hamlet (1848)

Week 10: OPEN



There are no texts you need to own except a copy of Shakespeare’s complete works.

We will be focussing on the following plays: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Henry V, Richard II, Hamlet.

Online Scanned Articles:





Name Description


Braun, E. 1982


Braun, E (1982). The Meiningen Theatre. In: The Director and the Stage: from Naturalism to Grotowski, Methuen: London, 1st Ed, Ch. 1, pp. 11 - 21



Burgin, G.B. 1893


Burgin, G.B. (1893), Lyceum Rehearsals, 1893. In: Jackson, R. (Ed.) 1989, Victorian Theatre: A New Mermaid Background Book, London: A & C Black, pp. 221-227



Craig, E. 1983


Craig, E (1983). The Art of the Theatre. The First Dialogue (1905). In: Walton, M (Ed). Craig on Theatre, Methuen: London, 1st Ed, Ch. 2, pp. 52 - 71



Dawson, A. 2005


Dawson, A. (2005), The Imaginary Text: of the Curse of the Folio. In: Hodgdon, B. & Worthen, W.B., A Companion to Shakespeare and Performance, Blackwell: London, 1st Ed, pp. 141 –161



Delgado, M. 1996


Delgado, M (1996). Peter Brook. In: In Contact with the Gods? Directors talk theatre, Manchester University Press: Manchester, 1st Ed, Ch. , pp. 36 – 54



Hamburger, M. 1994


Hamburger, M. (1994), Hamlet at World’s End: Heiner Muller’s Production in East Berlin. In: Schneider, R. & Cody, G. (Ed.) 2002, Re: direction: A Theoretical and Practical Guide, London: Routledge, pp. 347-351



Hartley, A.J. 2005


Hartley, A.J. (2005), Theatrical Collaboration and the Construction of Meaning; The Text/Performance Relationship. In: Hartley, A.J. 2005, The Shakespearean Dramaturg: A Theoretical and Practical Guide, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp.31-42



Kennedy, D. 2001


Kennedy, D (2001). Shakespeare and the visual. In: Looking at Shakespeare, Cambridge UP: Cambridge, 2nd Ed, Ch. 1, pp. 1 - 24



Knowles, R. 2004


Knowles, R (2004). Practice: conditions of production and reception (extracts). In: Reading the Material Theatre, Cambridge UP: Cambridge, 1st Ed, Ch. 2, pp. 24 - 36



Kott, J. 1967


Kott, Jan (1967) Hamlet of the Mid-Century. In: Shakespeare our contemporary. 2nd ed., London: Routledge, pp.47-60



Marowitz, C. 1991


Marowitz, C (1991). How to Rape Shakespeare. In: Recycling Shakespeare, Macmillan: Basingstoke, 1st Ed, Ch. 2, pp. 16 - 31



Williams, D. 1988


Williams, D (1988). The Theatre of Disturbance. In: Peter Brook: A theatrical casebook, Methuen: London, 1st Ed, Ch. 1, pp. 3 - 22




General (brief) Bibliography:



Stephen Greenblatt et al, eds. The Norton Shakespeare. (Key texts: Hamlet, The


Taming of the Shrew, Coriolanus)


Edward Braun. The Director and the Stage. London, 1982.

Declan Donnellan. The Actor and the Target. London, 2002.

Maria Delgado and Paul Heritage, eds., In Contact with Gods? - Directors Talk


Theatre. Manchester, 1996.


David Bradby and David Williams. Directors’ Theatre. Basingstoke, 1988.

Toby Cole and Helen Krich Chinoy, eds, Directors on Directing: A Source Book of


the Modern Theatre. London, 1973.


Colin Counsell. Signs of Performance: An Introduction to Twentieth Century Theatre.

London, 1996.

Rebecca Schneider and Gabrielle Cody, eds. Re:Direction, A theoretical and practical


guide. London, 2002.

Dennis Kennedy, Looking at Shakespeare. Cambridge, 2003.

Stanley Wells and Sarah Stanton (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on


Stage. Cambridge, 2002.

Jonathan Bate and Russell Jackson (eds), The Oxford Illustrated History of Shakespeare on Stage. Oxford, 1996.

Gary Taylor, Reinventing Shakespeare: a cultural history from the Restoration to the present. London, 1990.

William Dodd, ‘That question’s out of my part’: Preparing and performing Shakespearean character’ (pfd)


Michael Redgrave, Mask or Face (1958). Opening chapter on incompatibility of Stanislavski with Shakespearean acting.





Slings and Arrows: Episode 3, 25mins: new director Derrell Nichols introduces his concept for Hamlet – rottenness. Youtube: 1m 40secs into section; speech lasts 1min 20sec

Any video of a staged production of a Shakespeare play should be watched. Prominent examples: Adrian Noble’s RSC Dream; Trevor Nunn’s Macbeth, Othello and The Merchant of Venice.