10 Tips for Performing Shakespeare

If you haven’t read or seen much Shakespeare before, performing it can seem daunting. It is a challenging task for even the most established of actors and actresses. In this blog, we have compiled our top ten tips for performing Shakespeare successfully. 

1. Don’t panic! 

The first rule is not to panic. Lots of Shakespeare’s plays can seem confusing and complex at first glance. The trick is to give yourself time. When you are faced with a play to read and perform, it can be overwhelming. Taking a moment to pick it apart and discuss with others what you don’t understand is crucial to having a better understanding of Shakespeare. 

Performing Shakespeare usually requires lots of patience. However, this gives you the opportunity to really master something. Once you have performed Shakespeare, you can perform pretty much anything else! 

2. Discover Shakespeare’s world

The key to understanding Shakespeare’s plays is learning more about what was happening at the time he was writing (between 1590 and 1613). You can research this easily using online resources, such as the ones provided by The British Library. Alternatively, you can visit Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon. By delving deeper into the world of the extraordinary playwright, you gain a better insight into his work. 

3. Read out loud

When you first pick up the play, find a quiet and comfortable place where you can read it out loud. This will not only help you learn it and understand the plot but will also make you more confident on stage. 

Reading out loud can ease any anxiety about pronouncing words incorrectly. It also gives you the opportunity to start to experiment with how you will deliver certain lines, or perform different scenes. Once you know your role, we always recommend reading through the play with other people as much as possible before rehearsals begin. 

4. Act it out!

This may seem like an obvious one, but Shakespeare’s plays are designed to be performed! After your first read-through of the play, choose your favourite scenes to act out. It doesn’t matter whether this is in your bedroom, on your lunch break, or in front of your friends, it is just important to get into character early on. This means that when rehearsals start you should be able to share some ideas about how best to perform the play. 

5. Nail the Shakespeare speeches

Shakespeare’s famous speeches are satisfying to master. Aside from being incredibly famous, having been performed for centuries and interpreted countless times, they also provide insight into certain characters and plots.

There are numerous different Shakespeare speeches to choose from. It is best to read and perform several of them in order to get a true sense of Shakespeare’s writing style. Most of them follow a similar structure. Why not learn the infamous ‘To be, or not to be’ soliloquy from Hamlet, or Jaques’ ‘Seven ages of man’ speech from As You Like It

6. Discuss with your fellow actors

Whether you are trying to learn your lines for the first time, or are struggling with interpreting your character, there are many benefits to discussing Shakespeare with your peers. Perhaps they can give you insight into certain scenes, phrases, or words you are having difficulty understanding.

Teamwork is crucial to the success of a performance. Shakespeare is renowned for its complex plots and interweaving characters and actors and actresses are required to work closely together for a play to be delivered effectively. Don’t forget to take the time to speak to each cast member and understand how they plan to bring their character to life.

7. Watch Shakespeare performed live

Watching Shakespeare is necessary to have a better understanding of how it should be performed. Over the years, there have been many different interpretations of his plays, from completely modernised performances to alternative adaptations for screen and stage. 

The Globe theatre in London is where Shakespeare’s plays first came to life. The first play performed there was Julius Ceasar in 1599 and they are still being performed to this day! If you have the chance to visit the Globe or another theatre where Shakespeare is being performed live, we highly recommend you do so. However, you can also stream or watch performances online from the comfort of your home. The RSC have shows on BritBox and BroadwayHD, and the Globe offers Globe Player, a platform where you can subscribe and watch a range of plays performed there. 

8. Use a dictionary

The first thing you might notice when reading a Shakespeare play is how different the language is from ours today. Even though this can be intimidating, it is something you can handle. Most modern versions of the plays have footnotes and glossaries that help you to decipher the text and draw your attention to specific events or imagery. 

The subtleties and flourishes in Shakespeare’s writing are what make it so effective on stage. Understanding these will help to elevate your performance and make it authentic to what Shakespeare would have intended. 

9. Choose a monologue that suits you

If you have been asked to perform Shakespeare for an audition and really want to impress, make sure that you choose a monologue that suits you. Before deciding which Shakespeare speech to perform, it is a good idea to read and practice multiple. By doing this, you’ll be sure you’re selecting the right one.

There are various Shakespeare speeches to choose from. If you are a fan of Shakespeare’s comedies, for example, choose a monologue from Twelfth Night, or try your hand at one of Bottom’s hilarious speeches from A Midsummer Night’s Dream!

10. Attend a Shakespeare online course

If you really want to master your performance of Shakespeare and learn more about the techniques that will help you become a better actor or actress, sign up for one of iampro’s Shakespeare online courses. They cover how to approach a Shakespeare monologue, speaking verse, and Shakespeare’s language. 

At iampro, all of our on-demand courses are highly accessible and can be taken at any time, from anywhere. We also have a diverse range of live courses and the opportunity for 1-to-1 mentoring, where you can discuss that tricky Shakespeare speech you want to nail with our industry experts!

If you want to learn how to perform Shakespeare and find out more about our Shakespeare online courses, sign up