History in Shakespeare, by Lucy

It is important to consider the historical context of producing a play at the time of Shakespeare as the practice of rehearsal differed much from modern practices. Today actors have accessibility to the entirety of the play and can easily learn who else is appearing on the stage and at what time, as well as essentially being able to read the complete plot. Contrastingly, in Shakespeare’s time when a play had been fully completed actors would receive a ‘role’ which singularly contained their part for the whole of the play. They would also receive a ‘cue’ for each line which involved a limited number of words last spoken by the actor before them, along with an overview of the plot detailing who is needed for each scene. These pieces of information were really the only aspect of the play that could be known to actors.  

Moreover, the lack of a director then as compared to modern rehearsals for plays was significant in making each actor a sort of self-director. This meant they had more responsibility in interpreting their personal parts and posed a further challenge of understanding the importance of each individual character as essential to the wider plot. Another factor of these rehearsal processes was how actors would be expected to memorise their lines ahead of time to ensure rehearsals had a flow, actors could then more effectively connect with their own part whilst learning more about the other characters and storyline due to them only ever knowing their own part. 

Performance in Shakespeare, by Josie

To properly study and understand how Shakespeare and his company rehearsed and performed plays, we decided to try and stage some scenes from Act 3 – specifically the siege of Harfleur. We began with the cast list for Act 3. The members in the first scene gathered in the middle of the room after we pushed all the tables to the side. All of us who were not a character in the siege acted as the army that Henry was rallying to siege Harfleur. We listened to a rousing monologue, and all cheered along to create an atmosphere of intensity and passion as the troops readied for battle. To imagine the town gates, we put a table in front of a chair where the actor playing the Governor of Harfleur stood to highlight the height differential of the town in cased by a wall. We thought if we staged this in the actual Globe Theatre, we could use the balcony as a visual representation of Harfleur while the actors playing the army were underneath the balcony to stage the scene. To add to the atmosphere of the scene, we all held props of swords and ladders to further get into the spirit of acting (see below image)  


I played the character of Fluellen in the play, who appeared predominately in Act Three. I had to have a Welsh accent because my character was the Welsh captain. My Welsh accent was sub-par and ended up in much laughter and the accent forgotten as the play progressed. Yet it was interesting to hear the different accents in the play; there was Scottish, Irish, and French also. This accumulation of different inflections used by each character added to the tension between the characters of the different characters having to work together (tension that was also explored through their interactions with each other.  

A vital role for performances in Shakespeare’s time was the role of the bookkeeper. We also had a bookkeeper, who was our tutor, Alison. The bookkeeper was the only one who held the full script, the actors only had their lines and cues. The job of the bookkeeper was to tell the actors who were in what scene as the performance was rehearsed and when the play was performed. They also had the job of telling actors if they missed their cue or said someone else’s cue, or if a prop was needed. This was vital for the production when none of the cast had complete scripts. The bookkeeper also held the cast list for who was in each scene to make sure everyone was on stage and if they were not, they had to go and find them or get a replacement if they did not turnup. 

Listening in Shakespeare, by Qais

My experience with Shakespeare in Parts has taught me above all else the importance of listening when working within a collaborative effort. As with improvisational performance and acting, one of the most crucial elements that will facilitate a harmonious experience is your ability to actively listen and in turn engage with your fellow peers. It became clear to me and others that because we had no full script it was imperative to listen to the parts of other characters, as they not only revealed how the plot would develop, but they also provide vital insight into the characters that you played yourself. It appeared to me that by listening to the opinions, perceptions and reactions of other characters within the play to my own, I could glean more of my character’s personality, opinions and potential development than I perhaps would from a completed script. By navigating around the personal biases and beliefs inherent within my own characters and listening through the although still bias perspective of others, I could unlock facets of my roles that might have been inaccessible due to their own preconceptions.  

During our reading of Shakespeare’s play, our teacher and guide Alison Findlay suggested that to improve our listening ability we close our eyes whilst another actor performed their dialogue. To be honest, this at first seemed slightly odd but very quickly I realized it was beneficial in forcing me to focus entirely on the dialogue and parts of the other characters. By limiting distractions like my phone or even staring out the window in a daydream, I was able to listen more closely and enhance my reception to the plot and character developments of the play, (Eyes closed exercise image below). 


Furthermore as the weeks went by I realized that listening to the parts of other characters and remembering every line they recited would be impossible. The lengthy nature of soliloquies and extended scenes, along with the early modern English that Shakespeare wrote in made it difficult to understand the narrative as a whole. As such I found myself devising a kind of method when listening which was to quickly judge which lines were most valuable to my understanding of the plot and characters and let the rest slip from memory. I would try to remember those lines as well as I could which helped me to not get lost in the sea of words and meanings within the play.