Seeing Shakespeare Live: A Study of Secondary School Students' Responses to a Production at Shakespeare's Globe

Baldwin, Catherine Anne (2021). Seeing Shakespeare Live: A Study of Secondary School Students' Responses to a Production at Shakespeare's Globe. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis explores secondary school students’ responses to Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank (PSwDB), an education programme at Shakespeare’s Globe designed to support the compulsory study of Shakespeare’s plays by 11 to 16-year olds in England. Schools are offered free tickets to a contemporary production of a Shakespeare play performed live at Shakespeare’s Globe, with workshops for teachers and students and a dedicated website also available to support the in-school study of Shakespeare. This research focuses on the 2018 PSwDB production of Much Ado About Nothing.

Very little research has explored Shakespeare in the classroom and at the theatre from the perspective of young people. Taking a sociocultural approach to learning, this study foregrounds the students’ voices through data generated by qualitative surveys and group interviews in four secondary schools in London which took their whole cohort of Year 9 students to the theatre; consequently it reports the views of approximately 800 young people. Observations of the students during performances and workshops, and interviews with theatre professionals and teachers, offer additional context for the students’ comments.

The findings show that before their theatre visit students express a wide range of attitudes towards Shakespeare in spite of sharing very similar experiences of studying Shakespeare in school. They also have pre-conceived ideas of what “Shakespeare” is and how the plays should be performed, and depend on their teachers for explanations of language and plot. The contemporary PSwDB production challenges students’ expectations for Shakespeare in performance, and their reflections on their theatre visit show that their experience at Shakespeare’s Globe promotes social and cultural development as well as supporting their school learning.

The free ticket offer means that PSwDB encourages inclusivity; the findings strongly suggest that free theatre provides an important and rare social, cultural and educational experience in many students’ lives.

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