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The University of Southampton
International Summer School

Shakespeare Course Information

William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare

Welcome to the University of Southampton’s International Summer School Shakespeare course!

This course will introduce you to the life and works of Britain’s greatest writer, William Shakespeare (1564–1616). We will explore the fascinating 16th-century world in which Shakespeare lived and worked and discover how he created some of the most iconic and powerful plays ever written in the English language. In our sessions, we will work closely with individual play-texts, developing strategies for understanding Shakespeare’s language and stories. At the same time, we will think more imaginatively about how the plays work as performances, to be seen and enjoyed in a theatre. There will even be the opportunity to try some acting yourself!

Meet your tutors

Sessions 1 and 3 will be taught by Stephen Watkins, a PhD student in the English department at Southampton. Stephen teaches and researches medieval and early modern English drama, specialising in the works of William Davenant, Shakespeare’s godson.

Session 2 will be taught by Professor Ros King, also from the Southampton English department. Ros is an internationally renowned expert on Shakespeare and early modern drama. She has also worked as a theatre director, a dramaturg and as an editor of early modern texts.

For further information on the postgraduate tutors please visit the Meet the tutors pages.



Before the course starts, please read Act 3, scene 4 of Shakespeare’s comedy, Twelfth Night. You can find this scene at the end of this course pack. The university will also provide you with a copy of the whole play. We will use this as the basis for our work in the first class. If you are not already familiar with Twelfth Night, you will find plot outlines and character summaries at the end of this pack as well.

If you find the scene or the play difficult to understand, don’t panic! You can also use a modern ‘translation’ to help you (click here).

It would be great if you could get to know the whole play before the course starts, if possible. If reading it is too demanding, feel free to watch sections of a performance online. Hearing actors speak the lines often aids comprehension. I recommend the 2012 Globe Theatre production. This will give you a sense of how the play looked in Elizabethan England. You can watch this on Youtube in two parts here: Part 1 and Part 2. Feel free to watch any other version of the play that you know or like.

If you have already studied Shakespeare before this course, then come prepared to talk about this in class. We would be very excited to hear about your previous experiences of Shakespeare!


Course Outline

The course is run over three classroom sessions and includes a trip to the Globe Theatre.

Session 1: ‘Shakespeare’s Life and Times’ (Stephen Watkins)
In this session, we will learn about Shakespeare’s life and work as both a playwright and actor in 16th-century England. We will discover what England was like at this time, and Shakespeare’s place within it. We will also look at the Elizabethan theatre and how it differs from theatre today. We will focus on Act 3, scene 4 of Twelfth Night to explore Elizabethan ideas of comedy, gender, love and folly (among other things).

Session 2: ‘Playing the Part’ (Ros King)
This session will introduce you to ideas of early modern performance and acting style used in the Elizabethan theatre. You will learn about how actors rehearsed plays in the period, using ‘parts’, and you will learn about the other ‘performances’ that accompanied the main play, such as ‘gigs’. Part of the session will be dedicated to learning a popular song or ‘catch’ like that sang by Feste in Act 2, scene 3 of Twelfth Night.

Session 3: ‘Shakespeare Today’ (Stephen Watkins)
In this final session, we will discuss the performance of Twelfth Night that we saw at the Globe Theatre. We will think about how Shakespeare is performed for audiences today and what this can tell us about our own cultural moments. How are his plays adapted or appropriated to discuss issues that are pertinent to today? Why do we still value Shakespeare as a cultural force? What is his enduring appeal? We will also think about Shakespeare as a cultural ‘brand’, no longer just read or seen at the theatre, but also in films, operas, cartoons and songs. We will spend some time exploring how Shakespeare is understood in a Global context. From India to the USA, Shakespeare is celebrated and revered. Why and how did this happen? We will look at other works by Shakespeare to explore these ideas, including Hamlet, Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing and King Lear.


Some Advice on Shakespeare’s Language

Don’t worry if you don’t understand all of Shakespeare’s words! These plays are over four hundred years old, and some of the language is different from the English we use today. Much of it, though, will be perfectly clear to you. If you find a word or phrase that you don’t recognise, try looking it up in a glossary (below) or in a dictionary or online. You can use search for unknown terms here. If you are still unsure, make a note of the word and we will discuss this in class. It is likely that your classmates will also want to know what it means too!

At the end of the Course Pack there is a glossary of useful words. Have a look through this list to familiarise yourself with technical or antiquated words you might not know at first glance.


Information about the Class Trip

As part of the course, we will visit Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. We will watch a professional production of Twelfth Night, directed by Emma Rice. More information about this trip will be given in due course. In the meantime, you might want to explore the Globe’s website, which has a section on the history of the theatre as well as some educational materials related to its productions (click here).



There are plenty of online resources to explore. Here are some that you might find useful: [General Shakespeare resources] [a great resource for all things Shakespearean and Elizabethan] [Introduction to Shakespeare’s life and times] [The Complete Works of William Shakespeare online] [Original text and modern translation] [this is a useful online glossary of Shakespearean terms] [Glossary of useful theatre terms]

Glossary of Technical Terms

• Act = a formal division of a script, made up of scenes
• Audience = people who watch a play in a theatre (from ‘audio’ = hearing)
• Character = a person in a novel, play, or film
• Costume = a set of clothes worn by an actor or performer for a particular role
• Duel = an arranged engagement in combat between two individuals, with matched weapons, in accordance with agreed-upon rules

• Early Modern = historical period in which Shakespeare lived (c. 1500–c. 1700)

• Elizabethan (adj.) = during the reign of Elizabeth I (1558–1603)
• Folio = a large printed book made up of multiple groups of folded paper; Shakespeare’s Complete Works, published in 1623 was printed in this format

• Folly = a foolish act, idea, or practice
• Fool = A jester or clown, especially one retained in a royal or noble household
• Fop/Foppish (adj.) = a man who is concerned with his clothes and appearance in an affected and excessive way
• Gallery = the covered area where audience members can sit and watch the play
• Groundlings = audience that stand in front of the stage at the Globe
• Illyria = Fictional island, where the play takes place
• Jig = a lively dance set to music, often performed after the main play at the theatre
• Octavo = a small printed book made by folding sheets of paper three times

• Part = a role played by an actor or actress
• Plot = a storyline. The main story of a literary or dramatic work
• Protagonist = central character
• Quarto = a medium-sized printed book made by folding sheets of paper twice, thereby producing a ‘gathering’ of four pages

• Renaissance = the revival of European art and literature under the influence of classical models in the 14th–16th centuries

• Role = a character played by an actor
• Scene = a unit of action in a play
• Script = written text of a play
• Spectators = people who watch a play in a theatre (from = Latin ‘spectare’, ‘to observe/look)

• Stage = the raised floor or platform where actors perform
• Stalls = the seats on which audience members can sit in the gallery
• Steward = a manager of a very large home, an estate
• Subplot = a second, subordinate plot to the main story
• Theatre = a building or outdoor area in which plays and other dramatic performances are given

• Topsy-turvy = upside-down; chaotic

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