Shakespeare: the jury’s out5:15, 10th February 2016
Head of Learning at Shakespeare’s Globe Education, Georghia Ellinas, has brought Shakespeare to justice, and justice to Shakespeare. In a project which she initiated, now in its third incarnation, Globe Education collaborates with the Royal Courts of Justice to offer two-day workshops for KS5 students, putting controversial characters in the legal hot-seat in ‘Shakespeare on Trial’. I spoke to her about projects past and present.
‘It’s a two day course,’ she tells me. ‘It starts with the students having a lecture on the play: it’s pitched at A level students so we look at things like the historical and social context of the play and the issues around law at the time. Following this, they have a practical workshop where they explore a scene in the play, through typical approaches that the actors take when they’re in rehearsals. Then they watch a performance of the play in the Globe theatre and we supply resources, so that the students have lots of material that they can take away for their further reading. The next day they work with the legal team at the Royal Courts of Justice to put one character on trial.’
‘We’ve done it twice and we’re now going into our third project, with Twelfth Night,’ Ellinas explains. ‘The first was Othello, which was with a group of students from the widening participation project, where government funding brings students into university whose parents have never been. It’s a way of expanding horizons for those who perhaps haven’t got that parental support about going to university. We had students from different schools across Hampshire and Wiltshire.
‘For Othello there are two possible charges that can be levelled against him: his crime was a premeditated murder, or it was manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. The students went for the latter, as it allowed them to explore the fact that his whole psyche and his sense of his own identity and beliefs had been completely eroded by Iago – which was great.’
The impact on the group was really positive – many of them were considering going on to study law at university, and the experience helped them to feel empowered to do so. ‘One young woman said, ‘now I think I can be a lawyer, now I think I can do this,’ so it really had opened a door for her that previously had been closed, because she had no experience of what it was like to explore text in this way, to construct that argument and then deliver that argument. The tutor said they came back really enthused and hopefully a lot of them will now consider applying for university,’ said Ellinas.
The second group of students to partake in the project were from a different background. Independent boarding school Clifton College in Bristol brought 24 students from across the disciplines: literature, history and philosophy students took part, aided by their Director of Drama, Karen Pickles. This time the play for study was Measure for Measure, and the charge was the ‘order of misrule’, levelled at the Duke’s proxy Angelo and exploring how his rule had been corrupted.
I asked Pickles what students and staff had made of it. ‘The two-day adventure to the Globe and the Royal Courts was, in the eyes of the students, ‘the most exciting trip we have done with the School,’’ she told me. ‘From the moment they arrived at the Globe, studied the play and watched a performance of it, through to their visit to the Royal Courts, where they put together a court case with a legal team, they were transfixed – and a month later are still discussing it with their teachers and their friends. It was a wonderfully crafted, visually- and mentally-stimulating event, and our students learnt a variety of skills which they can use and discuss in their A level work and also in interviews as they apply for university.
‘From the teachers’ angle, it gave us all an insight into a more creative and inspiring way to deliver Shakespeare and to take it away from the page to further understand both the characters and the relevance of the plot in today’s world. We will be using this model of a two-day course on an annual basis for our sixth form as it was such a successful trip.’
Running as these projects in conjunction with the ‘Playing Shakespeare with Deutschebank’ productions, the next group of students to pull one of the Bard’s characters up in front of a jury will be looking at Twelfth Night. For the first time there will be two groups: one London-based and one working with the Nottingham courts. The latter group will come down for their day at the Globe and return to Nottingham for the legal section of the course. It hasn’t yet been decided what the charge will be, but Ellinas is considering ‘bullying in the workplace’. ‘It’s a topical issue,’ she tells me, ‘for people in the workplace of course, but also as an issue in schools. The students either may have been bullied themselves, or could have been implicit in bullying. That’s what you get in Twelfth Night – Malvolio suffers ‘gang bullying’ rather than just one person doing it.’
It all sounds enormous fun, but there is, of course, an underlying educational point to it. Ellinas tells me why she designed the course: ‘Students for A level have to be able to construct an argument – they have to do it in literature, drama, history, geography, law … it’s a cross-curricular reading skill; they need to find evidence, piece it together, and say why that evidence is persuasive: that’s why it proves my case. Those are really important skills for A level, for further study, and for the world of work, so this course is designed to develop those skills.
‘And then of course there’s the performance. How do you use your body and voice to convince other people of your argument? We’ve got all of the language modes: speaking, listening, reading and writing, all working together to construct that argument and to deliver it. And another skill is deciding which bits of evidence I need and in which order to put them. Do I put my most important point first or do I use it as a sledgehammer at the end?’
At the Royal Courts it’s the students who play all the roles: accused, and jurors. And there’s a valuable lesson to be learnt there too. ‘I’ve done jury service,’ says Ellinas, ‘and that jury room is so intimidating. It’s designed to be scary, so having the confidence to speak in that sort of setting is also part of it. Students have seen it on TV, but actually going in there – it really does make you feel very small. Anything that builds students’ confidence is going to be very helpful in the long run.’
My feeling is that there’s inspiration here for drama teachers – another opportunity for cross-curricular activity, and in fact a very easy project to undertake independently at school (albeit without the advantage of the Scary Room). Ellinas agrees, ‘We’re using Shakespeare because that’s what we do – but you could do it with a novel or a poem… When I was in the classroom I did things like this with the murder mystery Ballad of Charlotte Dymond. It’s a very flexible activity in the sense of putting any character on trial, and you can take any character from a book as long as it’s pertinent.’ And although at present the course at the Globe is designed for students at KS5, we also agree that it could easily be done at school with GCSE groups and younger – even with Year 6.
The course is suitable for groups of 12+ and costs £100 per student – which includes the ticket price for the production of Twelfth Night at Shakespeare’s Globe. More information can be requested by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org