MFL - All the world's a stage

5th April 2013 at 01:00
Get into character for some Shakespearean improvisation

Shakespeare's plays enthral in any language, from the Zulu Macbeth to the Russian Hamlet. The characters are exciting and strange. Kings and queens rub shoulders with ghosts and witches. Fairies play tricks on people lost in a forest. Yet somehow we can relate to them, because their motives and reactions are so human and convincing.

Shakespeare's plays are a great dressing-up box for a child. Step into his world and they could become a ghost with a terrible secret or a guilty queen sleepwalking around their castle.

Let children become a Shakespearean character. Walk around your classroom with "Shakespeare's Hat", containing a set of picture cards. Start by giving each student a card with a simple sentence on it in the target language: "I am a soldier"; "I am a spirit"; "I am a liar".

Then give them a second card revealing what they want: "I want to be king"; "I want to escape"; "I want revenge". Next, put students into groups and let them start to create their own story based on their characters.

Offer around the hat a third time. This time, it contains picture cards with props: "poison"; "letter"; "love potion". You can use physical props, of course. Children can decide which characters in their group should get each prop.

It does not matter if students have a limited vocabulary - they can use mime to tell part of their story. Let them watch the "dumb show" in Hamlet (act III, scene 2) to give them an idea, or any puppet show that uses mime. It is also worth remembering that some of Shakespeare's most powerful lines are very simple: "I am not mad"; "The queen, my lord, is dead"; "To be, or not to be, that is the question"; "I was adored once too". Let students say some of these.

Shakespeare tells us stories from the inside out. We know how everyone feels, even servants with only one line. In the same way, children playing with Shakespeare's raw dramatic materials will experience the world of the plays from the inside.

We remember the things we pretend to be when we are children. In later life, your students can discover that Shakespeare's words paint the imagination with the help of costumes, scenery and lighting. For now, though, just sow some simple seeds.

Catherine Paver has taught French in England and English in Italy and South Africa. Read more of her articles at


Catherine Paver's Shakespeare's Hat lesson works in any language.


Or take a look at her guide to Shakespeare in Spanish.


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