How To

How To Make Shakespeare Silly

Tara Olivero

Staff Writer

Tara Olivero is a high school English teacher in northern Indiana who tries her best to promote a lifelong love of reading. If time travel were possible, she would go back in time and confess her undying yet platonic love for T.S. Eliot. She is an escape room enthusiast, Hufflepuff advocate, and Shakespeare fanatic, and her dream is to one day run her own zine. Blog: We Know Not What We May Be Twitter: @TaraOlivero

Recently, I was struck with a brilliant idea – why not write a post about how to throw a Shakespeare reading party? After all, this is something my friends do on a monthly basis. I’ve gone three times; I’m practically an expert. Well – it’s already been written. The story of my life, really. So instead, have my take on how to throw (or attend) a Shakespeare reading and make it as silly as possible. Because if you’re not going to make it silly, what’s even the point?

Assign parts to be as ridiculous as possible. While we tend to round-robin read and shift roles each act, on occasion our host will assign us specific parts for one act (mostly so that they can claim the best roles for themselves, but that’s a fault that anyone is liable to). The greatest accomplishment of role-assigning is when, say, the person reading Don Pedro in Much Ado is also assigned to read his dastardly brother Don John, and must find a way to distinguish their voice accordingly. Or when the people reading Rosencrantz and Guildenstern happen to be accidentally wearing the exact same outfit (don’t scoff – it’s happened before). These gems might only occur if you assign parts instead of letting fate take the wheel.

Have everyone bring their own copy of the text. Or have a random assortment of Complete Works to grab from, for those who don’t possess their own. This makes the reading incredibly hilarious when certain parts are labelled wrong and no one is sure who is supposed to be talking. My copy says that’s a First Citizen line. Sentinel? Who else even has sentinel in their text? Yours says Fifth Citizen. Why is there no Fourth? Can’t Shakespeare count? Et cetera. Footnotes that explain said differences are also incredibly engaging, especially if they’ve been editorialized. Nothing better than a sassy footnote in someone’s copy.

Provide a random assortment of costume pieces. Scarves, wigs, paper crowns, whatever you have – throw them in the center of the circle and choose depending on your role. Or at random, even. Rapidly switch hats as the two characters you’re reading are engaged in conversation with each other. (Gently) toss the plastic crown across the room to whoever’s reading for Macbeth next. Perhaps it’s more of a venture into the “theatrical” aspect than you might envision, but I promise, you can really get into character when you (sort of) look like them.

Encourage funny accents. This is the most crucial of my tips. One particular attendee of our Shakespeare gatherings can read with an absolutely stunning “Southern Gentleman” accent, which we demand he use on every character, ever. Whether he’s reading Ophelia or Coriolanus: Southern Gentleman. (Assigning parts, in this case, is also an advantage.) The greatest Dogberry I ever heard was read in the style of Arnold Schwarzenegger, a la Terminator. Did it make sense? Absolutely not. Was it roaringly hilarious? Duh.

Shakespeare is meant to be read aloud. And honestly, if you read it straight and serious, you’re usually in for a depressing three-to-four hours, depending on the play. Even some of the comedies aren’t actually funny (sorry, Shakespeare) unless you spice them up. So make it as silly as possible, and please, tweet me the details (@taraolivero). Silly Shakespeare is meant to be shared.