The Elizabethan Age was a rich time for English literature, and William Shakespeare is dominant during this period. There is, of course, a superlative body of work written by his contemporaries -- notably Marlowe, Bacon and Spenser. Yet Shakespeare remains the most popular, as his plays are not only still widely studied, but also produced and enjoyed today throughout the world. It can be argued that his work has retained a relevance to our lives and times unlike any other. And so, we devote this section entirely to him.

Scenes from the tragedies of Hamlet, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet are included here in traditional approaches, as well as the comedies A Midsummer Night’s Dream and As You Like It, which we have given a LITbit (alternative or updated) treatment. Shakespeare lends itself well to improv, as it is mostly the beautiful poetic language itself that can obscure the meaning of the dialogue. However, once the language is understood and internalized, the scene and the play will speak with power and eloquence – as it was originally intended.

SPOTLIGHTS on the characters from some of these plays are also featured here. They are illustrations of major characters and their development from the beginning to the end of the play. Shakespeare relies heavily on soliloquy, a long speech directed to the audience, that reveals a character’s inner thoughts, conflicts and motivations. They are invaluable in character study.

from Hamlet Act I Scene 5 (6:51)

The ghost of Hamlet’s father appears to him, and tells him of the circumstances leading up to and including his murder.

Acting it out: improv this encounter as a séance

from Hamlet Act IV Scene 1 (3:12)

A dialogue between Claudius and Gertrude following Hamlet’s mad encounter with his mother, in which he mistakenly kills Polonius.

Acting it out: improv parents with a problem son

SPOTLIGHT on Claudius (5:34)

A character study of Hamlet’s uncle -- the murderer, new king and his stepfather. The first speech given shows Claudius trying to persuade Hamlet to get over his father’s death and stay happily at court. Later on in the play, he is tormented by guilt, yet chooses not to repent and change.

SPOTLIGHT on Gertrude (4:54)

A character study of Hamlet’s mother. In this first speech she tries to comfort Hamlet after his father’s death, to convince him to accept it, and move on. In the second, she reacts in guilt and horror to a confrontation with Hamlet. In her last speech here, she recounts her witness to Ophelia’s suicide.

from Macbeth Act II Scene 2 (4:13)

Lady Macbeth is waiting for Macbeth to return from murdering the king. She is agitated but keeps a cool head and makes sure all goes as planned.

Acting it out: “silent movie”

from Macbeth Act IV Scene 1 (6:22)

A tortured Macbeth visits the three witches and demands to be told more about his fate.

Acting it out: improv a visit to a psychic

SPOTLIGHT on Macbeth (4:59)

A character study of Macbeth. The first speech is one in which Macbeth is delusional and conflicted about killing the king. The second deals with the despair Macbeth feels as he goes into a fateful battle

SPOTLIGHT on Lady Macbeth

The dominance of Lady Macbeth, and her persuasive power over Macbeth, is evident thorough her words and actions in the play. She starts out bold, then gradually crumbles into madness under the weight of her own evil.

from Romeo and Juliet Act II Scene 2 (4:43)

The famous scene where Romeo finds Juliet at her balcony, pledge their love and plan to marry.

Acting it out: improv a modern Romeo and Juliet

from Romeo and Juliet Act II Scene 5 (4:32)

Following the death of Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, at the hands of Romeo, the Capulets arrange a marriage for their daughter to the County Paris. She understandably refuses and provokes an angry confrontation.

Acting it out: improv the scene in modern language

from A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act II Scene 1 (6:29)

Oberon, the fairy king, and Titania, his fairy queen, exchange jealous accusations. They also argue over a little changeling boy whom Titania is raising as her own, but whom Oberon wants to keep as a servant.

Acting it out: improv a dispute over an item

from A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act III Scene 1 (5:43)

An angry Oberon puts a spell on Titania so that she will fall in love with whatever creature she lays eyes upon waking. It so happens that Bottom, another unfortunate victim of the mischievous fairy Puck’s spell, has been transformed into a donkey-headed man. His singing wakes her and she is in love with him!

Acting it out: “over and under” improv the scene two ways

LitBit: from As You Like It

In this fun treatment of the scene, Jaques, here portrayed as a cynical Frenchman, and Orlando, a love-struck dude (who has been writing poetry and hanging his verses on trees) meet up and banter, and in not such a good natured way.

Acitng it out: update a scene setting and underscore it

BritWit: Shakespeare's insults

Here's something just for fun. Shakespeare made up lots of words and phrases -- now you can, too -- Elizabethan style. Use the Shakespeare Insult Kit at and make up your own.

Acting it out: Use some of your invented insults in an improv in which someone is provoked into anger