A Midsummer Night's Dream
This article offers a practical approach to the teaching of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of the pre-20th century set text choices available. The AQA course is designed to lead students to an understanding of the practice and appreciation of set texts. They can use the set text as a stimulus for their own devised piece (usually assessed at the end of the spring term) and they will have to demonstrate their understanding of the potential of the play in performance in a written exam.
The pleasure of teaching this play lies in its potential for practical exploration. It is exciting and magical; it has strong characters who love and fight and, above all, it is funny. I have found that it has something for everyone. Students who have previously been wary of Shakespeare rediscover his gifts, and those who enjoy the poetry of his text (perhaps explored in English) are motivated by the different options that a creative outlook can inspire.
I always start by stressing that Shakespeare is universal, and that he wrote plays to be performed and enjoyed. Nevertheless, the play is long and the language a challenge to many students. The AQA requirements are that the play has to be studied formally as well as practically. The original cultural and theatrical context of the play needs to be explored, and students need to keep detailed notes and be familiar with the style of essay that is required. AQA provides its own suggestions for how the text can be taught and also exemplar material which is invaluable in helping students understand the format expected in the final exam.
This can be daunting and it is important, therefore, to try to strike a balance between formal study and practical exploration of the text. I have developed the following strategies to help students of all abilities access and appreciate the play as well as to help them get thinking about ideas for their own original drama (Unit 1).
Some tasks allude to the practitioner I teach, Stanislavski.