Alas, poor Yorick, your scene's been cut

9th May 2008 at 01:00
First the authorities stipulated which lines of Shakespeare pupils would study for KS3; now theatres are staging abbreviated versions of the plays
First the authorities stipulated which lines of Shakespeare pupils would study for KS3; now theatres are staging abbreviated versions of the plays

The play's the thing. Or, if you are a key stage 3 English teacher, it seems, two scenes of the play are enough. Shakespearean theatre companies are facing slings and arrows for staging performances and workshops that only focus on the scenes that are to be assessed in KS3 national tests.

The National Association for the Teaching of English (Nate) described them as a "sad indictment" of the modern results pressures on schools, in which cultural activities could often only be justified if they could be seen to have a direct impact on exam scores. However, Nate said the productions were better than pupils seeing no Shakespeare in performance. One teacher described them as "excellent".

The controversy comes as 650,000 teenagers took their KS3 tests this week.

Every year, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority stipulates in advance which lines of a Shakespeare play pupils will be tested for in KS3 English.

At least four organisations have been running productions for schools, which centre on the set scenes. Best known is Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, the historic venue on London's Bankside, which re-opened in 1997. The original Globe burned down in 1613.

This year, it staged a free production of a stripped-down version of Much Ado About Nothing, one of three plays set for KS3.

On the Globe's website, the director spoke of his intention to leave as many of the set scenes intact in this abbreviated version. "As members of the audience will primarily be young people who are studying the play for exams," he said, "I have had to edit the set scenes very carefully." In addition, the Globe staged workshops for 30 London schools which, it said, were "geared towards the set scenes".

Educational resources on the Globe's website for the events, sponsored by Deutsche Bank, are also directed towards the set scenes.

Rainbow Theatre, a company based in Worthing, West Sussex, this year staged workshops in schools centring on the set scenes for The Tempest and Much Ado. Costs were pound;1.90 per pupil.

Nicolas Young, its artistic director, said it was inevitable this would be the focus, given how hard it was for drama groups to get funding.

Bitesize Theatre Company, based in Wrexham, North Wales, this spring offered 90-minute workshops in schools "looking in detail at the set scenes," says its website, adding that the scenes are "performed, analysed and compared". The cost was pound;2.80 per pupil.

Shakespeare 4 Kidz, based at Oxted, Surrey, runs one-hour workshops in schools in which test-style questions are explored. The cost is pound;325 for the seminar.

Simon Gibbons, chair of Nate's 9-14 committee, said: "It's just a sad indictment of the situation schools are in for organisations to feel that they have to go down this route". But, he added: "The vast majority of kids are going to get nothing in terms of exposure to a Shakespeare play in performance except, perhaps, a video. This is much better than that."

John Gallagher, head of English at Stratford Upon Avon Grammar School for Girls, said: "If the Government is saying students must study Shakespeare at KS3, let's make it Shakespeare in performance, not just on the page. If this is how it is to be done, I would say 'excellent'."


Richard III

Included: Act 1, scene 1 lines 33 to 186, and Act 4, scene 4, lines 199 to 342.

What's missing: "Now is the winter of our discontentMade glorious summer by this sun of York" (Act 1, scene 1)

"The world is grown so bad, that wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch". (Act 1, scene 3)

"A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!". (Act 5, scene 4)

The Tempest

Included: Act 3, Scene 2 (whole scene) and Act 4, Scene 1, lines 139 to 262.

What's missing: "You taught me language, and my profit on'tIs I know how to curse. " (Act 1, Scene 3).

"Does thou forgetFrom what a torment I did free thee?" (Act 1, Scene 2)

"O brave new worldThat has such people in't!" (Act 5, Scene 1)

Much Ado About Nothing

Included: Act 4, Scene 1, lines 196 to 325 and Act 5, Scene 4 (whole scene).

What's missing: "Friendship is constant in all other thingsSave in the office and affairs of love." (Act 2, Scene 1)

"Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps." (Act 3, Scene 1)

"Are you good men and true?" (Act 3, Scene 3)



A Small Ado About Nothing

A Midsummer Night's Nap

Troilus and Lessida

Measure for Half-Measure

Third Night

Richard II and a half

Tighter Andronicus

The Tempest in a Teacup


The One Gentleman of Verona

As you Might Have Liked It.

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