Midsummer: Text in Performance KS4/5

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In these lessons, students will learn how to respond to the play not just as a piece of writing, but as a piece of drama. Tasks include: a discussion about Shakespeare's inclusion of songs in A Midsummer Night's Dream and other plays; researching previous productions and adaptations to broaden an understanding of the text; and a list of practice exam questions with an emphasis on the text in performance.

In order to benefit fully from these lesson plans, we recommend you use them in the following order:

If you would like to teach the play in greater detail, use these advanced KS4/5 Lesson Plans. If students are new to the play, we suggest you start with the introductory KS3 Lesson Plans

These lesson plans are available in the Downloads section at the bottom of this page. To download resources, you must be logged in. Sign up for free to access this and other exclusive featuresActivities mentioned in these resources are available in a separate downloadable 'Student Booklet', also at the bottom of this page. The 'Teachers' Guide' download explains how best to use Teach Shakespeare and also contains a bibliography and appendices referencing the resources used throughout.

Key Questions for Students:

Can I ask questions to help me find out about the new Globe Theatre?

Can I research in detail one way in which the Globe Theatre incorporates original theatre practices in its work?

Key words: archive, authentic, costume, original practices, pronunciation, questions, research, sources, vision


Prologue: Opening Discussion

Students should look at the following four images which are included in the Student Booklet: Stephen Fry dressed as Malvolio, and Mark Rylance dressed as Olivia in the 2012 production of Twelfth Night; costumes being fitted backstage before a production of Twelfth Night in 2002; Mark Rylance applying make up backstage; musicians from the 2008 production of The Merry Wives of Windsor. Also show the following video, which is a speech from Richard II performed in Original Pronunciation by Ben Crystal.





Students should:

  • describe what is contained in each image
  • explain the connection between the images

The connection is ‘original theatre practices’. Students could also be asked for their view on whether they feel the things that are pictured are relevant to modern theatre. This question should provoke and set up a debate that will be important to return to in the course of the activities that follow.


Enter the Players: Group Tasks

1) In the hotseat

Who was Sam Wanamaker? Why did he want to rebuild a Shakespearean theatre on Bankside? How long did the process take and what hurdles were encountered and overcome along the way? How similar is the new Globe to the original one (building methods, building materials, use of any modern technologies) and how much do we know for certain about the first Globe? Students are going to research Wanamaker and the building of the new Globe Theatre by interviewing 'Sam Wanamaker', who you are going to play. Support students in advance of the interview in their drafting of a variety of questions. The fact sheets on this website and books such as Barry Day’s This Wooden ‘O’: Shakespeare’s Globe Reborn are useful resources for the purposes of your research in preparation for this ‘teacher in role’ activity. Students can also access these fact sheets at home, via the Globe website.


2) Original practices

Show students the definition from the Globe glossary of ‘Original Practices’:

This is a term used to describe a production that explores methods used in Elizabethan or Jacobean theatre. Strictly speaking, the term Original Practices defines a particular approach used by the Globe when Mark Rylance was Artistic Director. Under Dominic’s direction the Globe is continuing to explore some of these techniques.

Some Globe productions have actively sought to follow original Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre practices. These practices include:

  • costume
  • pronunciation
  • use of authentic musical instruments and sound effects
  • all-male companies

Students could choose one of these areas and research it. This research could be used in a class discussion about the value of such practices 400 years later, when language, technology and cultural attitudes are very different.




3) Adopt an Actor!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a very popular play with audiences and has been staged several times at the new Globe, in 2002 (directed by Mike Alfreds), in 2008 (directed by Jonathan Munby), in 2012 (directed by Bill Buckhurst), in 2013 (directed by Dominic Dromgoole) and in 2016 (directed by Emma Rice). The 2013 version is available on a Shakespeare’s Globe DVD and several video extracts from the 2012 version are included within these materials, as are stills from each of the productions. What can students find out about these different productions using production images, these resources, theatre reviews, the Adopt An Actor archive, etc.? Give students time to investigate this rich archive of actor interviews from past productions. Students could be given the name and headshot of a particular actor from one of the productions; they should then research that particular production, and how the actor prepared to play the character in question. N.B. There are cast lists for the 2002, 2008 and 2012 productions in the Globe Education Shakespeare for GCSE A Midsummer Night book, and in our Previous Productions archive.


Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

What was Sam Wanamaker’s vision in rebuilding the Globe?

To what extent do I think this has been achieved?

How can researching how Shakespeare was performed in the past be of use to actors today?


Suggested plenary activity…

Where would students prefer to see a production of Shakespeare? At the Globe or in a modern theatre? Outdoors? On screen? Why? 


Asides: Further Resources


  • Ben Crystal writes in Shakespeare on Toast (pp. 52-54) about the connection that can be achieved between the actors and the audience in the reconstructed Globe. 


Epilogue: Teacher's Note

Students could listen to a passage from A Midsummer Night’s Dream spoken by Oberon on this Original Pronunciation CD.

Key Questions for Students:

Can I evaluate the importance of movement work and choreography in productions of Shakespeare plays?

Can I develop my own ideas for music and choreography in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

Key words: body language, character, choreography, combat, facial expressions, jig, movement, songs, stage directions, swordfighting


Prologue: Opening Discussion

Ask students to discuss the following two questions in pairs:

  • How might the shape and layout of the Globe’s stage make particular demands of actors?
  • In which parts of the play do scenes take place that need carefully rehearsed movements, e.g. dancing, chasing, hiding, fighting?

Then watch this clip from Act 3 Scene 2 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Students should jot down any examples of carefully choreographed moves from this clip, and share findings.


Enter the Players: Group Tasks

1) What does a choreographer do?

Students will find some interview questions and answers from a Globe choreographer at 2011.playingshakespeare.org/text-performance/choreography and from a Globe text and space coach at 2011.playingshakespeare.org/text-performance/text-work.

Now ask students to answer the following questions in as much detail as possible in the Student Booklet:

  • Which other parts of A Midsummer Night’s Dream might require careful choreography?
  • Can you make notes about how you would stage one or more of these parts of the play?


2) Songs

The following activity works as a fun homework or alternative starter task. Students could be given the challenge of coming up with a playlist of ten pop songs that tell the story of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They should then share their ideas with the class, giving reasons for their choices.

Next, assign to groups of students one of the songs taken from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, i.e. the ‘roundel and fairy song’ from Act 2 Scene 2, and Bottom’s singing in Act 3 Scene 1. Activities linked to these songs could include:

  • listening to them sung/watching them as part of a performance
  • cloze or textual reconstruction activities
  • clarifying obscure language or references
  • explaining the context of the song within the play
  • preparing and performing a choral reading of the song
  • setting the song to music

Pairs of groups could feedback to each other about their respective songs. Students should then write a paragraph in the Student Booklet about how and why Shakespeare uses songs in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As an extension activity, students could also research Shakespeare’s use of songs in other plays and reflect on who sings them, e.g. fairies, spirits, jesters/fools.



3) Over to you: marriage celebrations

Ask students to consider how they would use music and choreography to stage the marriage celebrations of Act 5 Scene 1, including the performance of 'Pyramus and Thisbe' by the Mechanicals. Students could work in pairs, recording their ideas on a storyboard sheet in the Student Booklet. You could also ask students to bring some of these images to life in their own tableaux and even take photographs to which captions/quotations could be added. Students could also research Elizabethan marriage celebrations in books and online (see ‘Aside’). Encourage students to reflect on how many Shakespeare plays end with friendly and peaceful gatherings of people, and the celebration of at least one marriage. Also consider the role that music and dance play in these gatherings and celebrations.


Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

How important are a character’s movements in a play?

Should all movement on stage be planned and rehearsed? Why?

How can a character’s movements affect our reactions to them?

What is signified to the audience by the use of music and dance at the end of a play?


 Suggested plenary activity…

Ask students to find three stage directions from the play and to write in the Student Booklet some detailed notes about how that stage direction might be interpreted. This could be completed for homework.


Asides: Further Resources

  • All performances of plays in Shakespeare’s time would have ended with a dance or ‘jig’ involving the whole company of actors. This is a tradition that continues to this day at Shakespeare’s Globe as you can see in the following clip, from a production of the Scottish Play. What is the effect of a jig coming after these dramatic scenes of fighting and death? How would this be different at the end of a comic play?



  • Weavers were associated with a liking for singing, and there are several references in the play to the range of Bottom’s vocal skills as a singer and as an actor.


Epilogue: Teacher's Note

The final page of this learning sequence also takes the staging of Act 5 Scene 1 as its focus. 

Key Questions for Students:

Can I notice and comment on how a particular setting is created and a particular mood evoked on the stage of the Globe?

Can I think like a stage manager and work out how to achieve certain effects on stage by coordinating a variety of different elements?

Key words: character, costume, director, entrance, exit, interpretation, magic, movement, prompt book, props, sound effects, stage manager, voice


Prologue: Opening Discussion

Before looking at the text, first develop students’ ideas about the connotations and symbolism of the woods. Start a brainstorm with the following structure, in keeping with the idea of the woodland:

  • A trunk (bearing the title: the woods)
  • Branches (with headings)
  • Leaves (with ideas written on them)

Students could think about a wide range of cultural references to inform their ideas, from myths and fairy tales to movies and tall tales. 


Enter the Players: Group Tasks

1) Entering the wood

a) Show students stills of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, taken from different productions. These are available in the Into the Woods PowerPoint at the bottom of this page. Students should make a note of every detail that is contributing towards creating a magical woodland setting on the stage.

b) Students should then watch a clip from the Globe’s 2012 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, taken from the beginning of Act 2 Scene 1. Students can now add to the list they began for the Prologue activity by writing down additional staging decisions that have given the setting a particular mood. These include music, sound effects and speech. This activity could be repeated for the same scene from the 2008 production (available on a Globe DVD).



c) Students should then discuss how they would create this setting on stage. Emphasise that they should think about what their woods ‘stands for’ in a symbolic sense, e.g. fairy magic, fear of the unknown, turning one’s back on civilization?



2) Focus on stagecraft: stage manager

What does a stage manager do? By following this link - 2011.playingshakespeare.org/text-performance/stage-management.html - students can find about more about the stage manager’s role, and about some of the terms they might use. In their notes and feedback, students should emphasise how the role of the stage manager involves a great deal of coordination of different artistic and technical inputs.


3) Over to you: Act 2 Scene 1

If students have completed the previous task, they will have found out more about what a ‘prompt book’ is. For this activity, students are going to be creating a prompt book version of Act 2 Scene 1 for the Student Booklet. The prompt book should include:

  • any cuts that are being made to this scene
  • notes about entrances and exits, and about positions (blocking)
  • notes that have been agreed with the actors about important aspects of their performances (use of voice, body language)
  • notes about costumes and props in this scene

Ensure that students relate their work on this task back to their ideas about what the woods in A Midsummer Night’s Dream represent. How could the woods be staged in order to convey these ideas? How will this be achieved?


Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

What different factors influence and inspire an actor’s performance in a role?

What are some of the different ways in which the play’s magical woodland setting has been created?

How would I approach the task of creating this setting on the Globe stage as director or stage manager?


Suggested plenary task…

Create a spider diagram to show the different kinds of creative input that contribute to a performance. This could include: the actor, fellow actors, Shakespeare, audience members, musicians, costume designer, prop maker, choreographer, composer, etc. 


Asides: Further Resources


  • ‘The forest in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is said to be outside Athens, but it is really an English wood, like the forest of Arden Shakespeare knew so well. The play can be seen to be a hymn to England, full of magic, yet down-to-earth and real – a reminder, perhaps, to distant rulers of what really matters. The wild flowers…are those of an English wood, brought to life with a tenderness and knowledge of a writer who had walked those woods since childhood…The fogs and sodden fields and the tired ploughman that the queen of the fairies, Titania, describe are scenes from England, not from Athens, and the artisans who put on the play are as solidly English as one can imagine.’ The Shakespeare Book,  Stanley Wells et al. 


Epilogue: Teacher's Note

The prompt book task could be used to assess reading, speaking and listening too. This would be particularly useful if students run through a rehearsal of the scene - or a part of the scene - in the roles of the actors, the director and members of the stage management team. 

Key Questions for Students:

Can I develop fresh and original ideas about how this play could be staged?

Can I explain how my ideas are based on my interpretation of the text?

Key words: abridge, adapt, casting, director, effect, gender, interpretation, role, vision


Prologue: Opening Discussion

Display the following quotation by Paul Edmondson:

‘We should ask ourselves whether the text has been abridged, expanded or manipulated in ways that affect interpretation. Are there any cross-gendered casting choices or meaningful doublings of roles, such as Cordelia and the Fool in King Lear, or Theseus and Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream? What age are the characters being played and what difference does this make (for example, an older Beatrice and Benedick or Romeo and Juliet?’

Ask students:

  • What do you understand by ‘abridged, expanded or manipulated in ways that affect interpretation’?
  • What do you understand by ‘cross-gendered casting choices’?
  • What do you understand by ‘meaningful doublings of roles’?
  • How do you think the three different kinds of casting decision mentioned here could be used to create different effects in productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

Then ask students to look through cast lists that show the castings for three Globe productions of this play. These are available on the Previous Production pages, alongside an assortment of production photographs. Ask students to find at least one example of each of the casting decisions mentioned above. These include: 1) cross-gendered casting, 2) doubling of roles, and 3) interesting choices as regards the age of actors for particular parts. Students should share the findings with the rest of the class.


Enter the Players: Group Tasks

1) Through the centuries

Students should view an extensive slide show of images from past productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. N.B. You could consult the extract from David Bevington’s This Wide and Universal Theatre’ (2007) that is featured below and in other materials, as a historical survey of the text in performance. The idea is that students can quickly sample and reflect on a wide range of approaches to imagining, casting and staging this play, e.g.

  • David Garrick’s operatic version of 1755 in which all but 600 lines of the original play were cut
  • Lucia Vestris playing Oberon in 1840
  • Robert Le Page’s 1992 production at the National Theatre, set in a bog, with acrobat and contortionist Angela Laurier playing Puck
  • Comedian Dawn French cast as Bottom in 2001
  • The comic actor Mark Wootton cast as Bottom at the RSC in 2011
  • The young Athenian characters in their school uniforms from the 2012 production at the Globe
  • The cabaret artist Meow Meow playing Titania at the Globe in 2016
  • The casting of a man as ‘Helenus’ in place of Helena at the Globe in 2016
  • Students should write a short piece in the Student Booklet about one of the ideas that has particularly resonated with them as a way of interpreting the text, and why. Students should refer closely to the text in their answer

Extract from David Bevington’s This Wide and Universal Theatre (2007):

'Post-Shakespearean productions, both onstage and on film, have often yielded to the temptation to show us viscerally what Shakespeare’s theater invokes through suggestion. As early as 1692, at the Queen’s Theatre, in a retitled version by Thomas Betterton called The Fairy Queen and with enchanting music by Henry Purcell, the play was transformed into an operatic extravaganza. A woodland scene in act 2 consisted of grottos, arches, and flower-adorned paths. In act 3 two great dragons fashioned themselves into a bridge overarching a river in which could be seen, at a distance, two swans transforming themselves into dancing fairies. In act 5, Juno entered a Chinese garden in a machine drawn by peacocks, while monkeys descended from the trees. David Garrick continued the musical tradition at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in 1755, attributing the play, in a new prologue, to ‘Signor Shakespearelli’. Garrick increased the twenty-eight songs of the 1692 production, based on lyrics by John Dryden, Edmund Waller, John Milton, and Shakespeare, to thirty-three songs in 1763. Frederic Reynolds, at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden in 1816, adopted a musical score by the eighteenth-century English composer Thomas Arne. Felix Mendelssohn’s well-known incidental music for the play was performed first in part in 1826 and then in its entirety in Potsdam, near Berlin, in 1843, for a stage production by Ludwig Tieck. This work was much admired by Hector Berlioz, who went on to compose a musical score based on Romeo and Juliet. In an 1840 production of Midsummer at Covent Garden, as the night in the forest drew to its close, the staging revealed a moon that sank gradually in the sky of the stage’s back wall until its fading rays disappeared from the tops of the trees. Act 5 brought staircases and a hall of statues into view, with Parisian lanterns held by the fairies. The moon was a prominent feature of Samuel Phelps’s production at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in 1853, shining first in the forest and then on Theseus’s handsome palace in act 5. Charles Kean’s set at the Princess’s Theatre in 1856 conjured up the marble temples and theater of Bacchus in ancient Athens. Herbert Beerbohm Tree, as we have seen in chapter 1, brought this sumptuous tradition to a climax in 1900 at Her Majesty’s Theatre and then in 1911 at His Majesty’s with carpets of thyme and wildflowers, flickering lights held by gossamer-winged fairies, and scampering live rabbits.

We should not minimize the splendor and creativity of extravagant productions like these. Theater artists like Garrick and Kean explored new means, unavailable in Shakespeare’s day, to visualize what the forest of Midsummer could be imagined to be like. These productions were not interested in the verisimilar; they recognized that fairies are creatures of the imagination. Nor has this stage tradition of ornate spectacle lost its appeal in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Tyrone Guthrie’s lavish production at the Old Vic in London, 1937-38, with Vivian Leigh as Titania, Robert Helpmann as Oberon, and Ralph Richardson as Bottom, devoted a lot of its energy to ballet sequences. Michael Benthall’s production at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1949 outfitted the fairies in gauze dresses. A German-text version at Weimar in 1995 featured a rotating stage that successively brought into view every imaginable monstrosity of an enchanted forest. Titania’s bower can seem like an inviting target for technical ingenuity, as at Court Theatre, Chicago, in 2001, when Titania and her lover were swung aloft in a contrivance that hung in suspension above the action for some time.'


2) ‘It’s time for a big adventure’

Students should read the interview by Lyn Gardner with the new Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe, Emma Rice: theguardian.com

They should then answer the accompanying questions in the Student Booklet. Ask students for their opinions on the issue of making radical changes to Shakespeare and some of the conventions of staging Shakespeare.


3) Over to you!

Students should now pick a character, a group of characters or a scene, and work in small groups to develop a fresh and original idea for interpreting the text in performance. Their ideas - which could be about setting, casting, cutting or revising the text, etc. - can be outlandish, but must connect to the text in a meaningful way! Students should then ‘pitch’ their idea to the class in the form of a presentation.


Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

Should Shakespeare’s plays be abridged, adapted and altered? To what extent?

What are the potential benefits and drawbacks?


Suggested plenary activity…

Students could give feedback to each other following their presentations. 


Aside: Further Resource

  • There were no female actors in Shakespeare’s theatre, with women only appearing on the English stage after 1660. Instead, Shakespeare’s company and all their rivals used boy actors to play most female roles, whilst some male actors specialised in playing older women. The boys were apprentices, learning their trade from the adult company members. Their female roles could be demanding, with many lines to learn and long speeches to deliver. Their characters were often involved in the most dramatic scenes in the play. When they got too old to play the women’s roles, they usually became male actors in the company. Theatregoers at the time saw this as normal. Eyewitness accounts of Shakespeare’s company performing simply describe the women characters as female, without mentioning that they were played by boys and men.


Epilogue: Teacher's Note

Students’ presentations for Activity 3 could be assessed for speaking, listening and reading. There is space within the Student Booklet for students to collate their assessed work on this play in the section called ‘My Revision Folio’. 

Key Questions for Students:

Can I combine my ideas about performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

Can I apply my ideas to a detailed description of how I would stage one key scene?

Key words: actor, character, comedy, context, cue script, dance, music, parody, performance, scene, stage directions, visual effects


Prologue: Opening Discussion

Watch a version of the play-within-a-play in Act 5 Scene 1 being performed. Lead a discussion with students in response to the question ‘Who was Shakespeare making fun of?’ Having brainstormed a few ideas, show students the following text:

In this scene, Shakespeare seems to be making fun of a number of targets. The Mechanicals’ play allows him to make fun of amateur actors. In Bottom’s desire to dominate everything, he may also be making fun of some of his fellow professionals. He could also be making fun of his aristocratic audiences. During the play Theseus, Hippolyta and the lovers often interrupt, sometimes clearly upsetting the actors. Perhaps Shakespeare and his fellow actors remembered rude audiences they had performed for when they were playing this scene.

Ask students to identify the different points this writer makes in answer to the question: ‘Who was Shakespeare making fun of?’ Are there any ideas presented here to add to the class brainstorm? What do students think of these ideas? Would students describe Shakespeare’s ‘making fun’ as affectionate or cruel or somewhere in between? Students should be encouraged to justify answers with evidence.


1) Cue script

A cue script was an actor’s ‘part’ with just his lines and his cue – the very last line before each of his speeches. Cue scripts for this scene are available online at: shakespearesglobe.com. Split the class into pairs, with one student playing Pyramus and the other Thisbe. Students should read through their lines and cues (without looking at the other characters’ cue scripts). Once students feel acquainted with their lines and cues, they could:

  • Read aloud in their pairs.
  • Read aloud again, this time listening out for what they have to do. For example, when they enter, when they speak to the Court audience, when they speak to other characters, etc.
  • Go through the cue script again, this time thinking about the emotions their character feels.
  • With what they know now, perform the scene.

Students could then answer these questions in the Student Booklet:

  1. What do you think are the advantages of working with a cue script for an actor?
  2. What do you think are the disadvantages?
  3. What do you think might be the advantages and disadvantages of an actor having the whole script?





2) 10 steps to performance

In her book Creative Shakespeare, Fiona Banks describes ‘a clear, straightforward way of creating a performance in a limited time frame’. Devised by Globe Education’s Senior Practitioner Adam Coleman, it’s an approach that’s still evolving! Banks suggests that A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act 5 Scene 1 lines 154-334 works well, though you may wish to cut the text according to the needs of their students.

Stage 1: Robot voice – enunciate every syllable in a calm expressionless way

Stage 2: Whispering – clearly, as if confiding a secret

Stage 3: Radio voice – count “3,2,1…on air” as if students are in a radio play

Stage 4: Theatre voice: actor and audience – position students around the space but ensure that when they speak their line(s) they are addressed to the right person(s), wherever they are

Stage 5: Overlapping - interrupting the line before yours

Stage 6: Hitting the paper – hitting their piece of paper whenever it feels appropriate, e.g. on important or interesting words – but don’t overthink this!

Stage 7: Gesture – replacing the moments when they hit the paper with a gesture

Stage 8: Silent movie – using gesture only

Stage 9: Outward circle – speaking and gesturing with backs turned to each other

Stage 10: Performance!


3) Writing about this scene

Students should now plan and draft a piece of writing about how they would stage this final scene of the play. They can use the prompts in the Student Booklet to help them. As a form of differentiation, students could write about the whole scene, the extract from the scene, or a heavily abridged version of this extract. 


Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

What should be the effect of this final scene on the audience?

How would I achieve this?


Suggested plenary activity…

Ask students to present some of their ideas about staging this scene in the form of a talk. One should play the role of the ‘director’, and the others are the actors and crew members. Students in the roles of actors and crew can ask questions of the director in role.


Asides: Further Resources

  • In this scene, Quince in the part of Prologue introduces the characters of Pyramus and Thisbe. He also tells the entire story of the play, even the ending! It was a famous story so the audience would have known it anyway. However, audiences in Elizabethan England seem not to have valued suspense in a story the way that we do. What they did enjoy was the particular way in which a play presented that story. A dumb show is the term for actors telling a story in mime. They go through all of the action of the play, but stay silent. That way, when the play really starts, the audience can concentrate on the poetry. This is probably what happened in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Bottom, Flute and the other Mechanicals performed their actions whilst Quince was talking.


  • Another activity using cue scripts can be found here within the Key Stage 3 Characters Lesson Plans (The Mechanicals).


Epilogue: Teacher's Note

For more about the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, see Key Stage 4 Historical and Social Context Lesson Plans.

Key Questions for Students:

What are some of the different possibilities when producing A Midsummer Night’s Dream on stage and on screen?

How varied are the versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by different directors that I have researched?

Key words: adaptation, close up, colour, connotation, director, mise en scene, lighting, long shot, shot, still


Prologue: Opening Discussion

Distribute sets of cards, each providing the details of a different screen version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or films loosely inspired by the play. You could also include film stills from those productions as well as the director, stars, date and other interesting facts. Students should match the film still to the film it is taken from:

  • Charles Kent’s silent movie version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1909)
  • Max Reinhardt’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream starring James Cagney, Mickey Rooney and Olivia de Haviland (1935)
  • Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) directed by Ingmar Bergman
  • Adrian Noble’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1996), a film of an RSC production starring Lindsay Duncan, Alex Jennings and Desmond Barrit
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream starring Calista Flockhart, Michelle Pfeiffer and Kevin Kline, directed by Michael Hoffman (1999)
  • Get Over It starring Kirsten Dunst and Ben Foster (2001)
  • Julie Taymor’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2014) starring Kathryn Hunter and David Harewood

Take feedback, asking students to explain the process by which they matched film still to caption. For homework, students could find out more about one of these versions, e.g. Where was it filmed? Did it win any awards? How faithful to the original play is it? Students could also speculate about the performance history of this play on screen. A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a popular work by Shakespeare, however, it has not been adapted for the big screen as many times as many other well-known works by the bard.


Enter the Players: Group Tasks

1) A Midsummer Night’s Dream on screen

Now distribute larger versions of the four film stills from the starter activity, one per group. Students should analyse the still in detail, looking at such things as:

  • what kind of shot it is (e.g, long shot, close up)
  • lighting (e.g. light source, what’s in shadow)
  • use of colour (colour palette, contrasts, connotations and symbolism of colours)
  • mise en scene (what’s in the frame, how the frame is composed)

Through discussions, the class could build two brainstorms showing some of the different possibilities of Shakespeare on stage versus Shakespeare on screen.


2) ‘Unfilmable’?

Julie Taymor’s 2014 film A Midsummer Night’s Dream is made up of footage from different performances of her famous stage production of the play. Taymor herself has called the play ‘unfilmable’. Students could read the following extract from a piece in the New York Review of Books by Geoffrey O’Brien in order to explore this idea further:

Taymor’s sense of the play’s unfilmability—and neither of the versions I’ve seen, including the often gorgeous Max Reinhardt pageant, really suggests otherwise—has to do with Midsummer’s essential theatricality. Cinematic art direction and special effects, however cunning, cannot adequately substitute for the very different kind of magic that actors can create out of the tension of being live on stage. Since the play—presumed to have been first performed as a masque for a marriage celebration—unfolds like a ritual, perhaps it demands a community of physically present onlookers for the ritual to be accomplished. The first word of Shakespeare’s script is “now,” and it feels like a signal for an action to be performed in real time.

The audience is part of the play, and our response to being surprised and played upon by the successive gags, spells, and metamorphoses an indispensable element of the proceedings. In live performance, no matter how amateurish the circumstances, I have never seen it fail to produce a sense of unexpected gratification at having emerged in one piece after being, like Bottom, “translated.” Everything is restored, only curiously changed, shot through with a lingering strangeness: “Are you sure / That we are awake? It seems to me / That yet we sleep, we dream.” Apprehended at second hand onscreen, the transubstantiation loses some of its force.

N.B. This is a challenging text and students may wish to read this piece two or three times, clarifying word meanings and syntax, before summing up what O’Brien is saying in their own words.


3) Assessment task

Individually, students choose one element of the play, either a character, an event or a scene. They should then prepare a slideshow presentation comparing and evaluating different interpretations (perhaps involving a timeline), expressing some personal opinions and preferences. Students should:

  • make as many connections as they can to the text itself
  • explore how Shakespeare’s text has been interpreted in the various versions of the play they are examining
  • and propose why (making points about the historical and social context of different interpretations in the process)


Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

How has A Midsummer Night’s Dream been interpreted in different ways on stage and on screen?

What is my personal response to some of these different portrayals and interpretations?

Which is my favourite and why?

Can there be such a thing as a definitive version?


Suggested plenary activity…

Students construct a complex sentence comparing one particular aspect in two different productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


Aside: Further Resource

  • The BFI has produced materials about Film Language in general and about a number of examples of Shakespeare on film, including Olivier’s 1944 Henry V and the 2010 version of Othello starring Christopher Eccleston as Iago.


Epilogue: Teacher's Note

As extension work, students could bring in research about other productions they have studied independently. The individual presentations can be assessed for speaking, listening and reading. 

Key Questions for Students:

Can I demonstrate an awareness and understanding of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a text written for the theatre in my essays?

Can I write about the dramatic effects of Shakespeare’s text on stage in an insightful way?

Key words: actor, director, drama, glossary, jargon, performance, script, stage directions, text, theatre, vocabulary


Prologue: Opening Discussion

Shows students the following sentence:

'He is going to be married soon. His wife will be the queen of the Amazons. They seem very happy in this first part.'

Ask them to work in pairs to find five ways to improve the language used so that it is:

  • more clear in its meaning
  • more fluent in its expression
  • more precise in its use of the language of drama and theatre
  • more appropriate for an essay.

One or two pairs could share with the group the improvements they made and why. As they feedback, show which of the four criteria for improvement can now be ‘ticked’ and why. What is the effect of their more precise and appropriate vocabulary choices on the reader?


Enter the Players: Group Tasks

1) Glossary

As a class, students compile a detailed glossary of drama and theatre terms, a template for which can be found in the Student Booklet.


2) Different ways of writing about the text in performance

Students might be asked to write about A Midsummer Night’s Dream in performance in more than one way, e.g.

  • a review of a production they have seen
  • a commentary from the point of view of an actor in relation to a specific scene
  • an interview with an actor or director
  • advice from a director to an actor about playing a particular part
  • a commentary to accompany a moodboard where the director is explaining their vision for a new production
  • a comparison of different interpretations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on stage and on screen
  • an essay focusing on the play in performance

Students could identify the Text type, Audience, Purpose and appropriate level of Formality for these different kinds of tasks.



3) Question bank: text in performance

The following tasks can be used in the modelling of planning and drafting written tasks, as well as for students’ more independently produced work for assessment:

  1. Write a review of a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream you have seen.
  2. Explain to a group of actors, designers, etc. your vision as director for a new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, aimed at attracting more teenagers to watch Shakespeare plays.
  3. What advice would you give to the actor playing Bottom in Act 1 Scene 2? Make reference to at least two other parts of the play within your answer.
  4. Re-read Act 1 Scene 1 lines 20-127. Describe in detail how you would stage this part of the scene and explain the reasons behind your decisions. 
  5. Compare how the character of Puck is portrayed in three different stage or screen versions of the play. Refer extensively to the text in your answer.
  6. To what extent would you agree with Geoffrey O’Brien that A Midsummer Night’s Dream is best performed ‘live on stage’?


Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

How can I demonstrate my understanding of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a work of drama to be performed?

To what extent should I write about performing the text when I’m writing about characters, language or themes for an essay?


Suggested plenary task…

Focus marking of work in progress against individual curricular targets.


Aside: Further Resource

  • The tasks in the question banks can be used as the basis for devising further tasks to suit the needs of your own class, curriculum and syllabus.


Epilogue: Teacher's Note

For more detailed guidance on revising and writing about A Midsummer Night’s Dream in exam conditions, see the materials in the Student Booklet.


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