MA in Theatre Practice: Staging Shakespeare pathway

The Staging Shakespeare pathway provides a unique opportunity to study Shakespeare by means of practice. It is suitable both for students with theatrical experience who want to develop a specialism in Shakespeare, and for students who have encountered Shakespeare in a literary context and now want to develop the very different understanding that comes through performance.

The encounter between these two groups has always proved a fertile one for both parties. The pathway will suit students who wish to continue to doctoral work, those who want to incorporate Shakespeare in their teaching, or those who simply wish to enhance their knowledge and skills as a performer. The rich historical environment of Exeter is the perfect setting for encounter with the Elizabethan past, a past that remains profoundly relevant to the present. 

Our collaborations with Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and with actors from the Royal Shakespeare Company will give you access to some of the finest Shakespearian work in the world today and you will participate in practical work during a two-week residency at the Globe in London.

The Edwin Rudd fund makes it possible for us to offer a partial fee-waiver (worth £4000) to one applicant for this pathway.

The programme is led by Prof David Wiles, author of many publications including Shakespeare’s Clown and Shakespeare’s Almanac, A Short History of Western Performance Space, Theatre & Time; he is also coeditor of The Cambridge Companion to Theatre History.

The Drama Department at Exeter contains probably the strongest contingent of theatre historians in the UK, including Professor Kate Newey (19th-century theatre), Dr Kara Reilly (18th-century) and Professor Jane Milling (Restoration theatre).

The Department has exceptional rehearsal premises, and many staff members devoted to performance, including Dr Rebecca Loukes and Prof Jerri Daboo (psychophysical and non-Western theatre). The Department also has a strong tradition of reaching out to the community – Dr Kerrie Schaefer (community theatre on Dartmoor and elsewhere) and Fiona Macbeth (theatre in schools).

To view staff profiles please visit the Drama website.

In the first term, the module ‘Shakespeare Scene in Action’ introduces students to the core skills of delivering Shakespearean verse, shaping the narrative of a scene, and developing character through processes of interaction. It explores the technique of clowning, and the challenge of playing tragic emotion. It also looks at some of the different historical styles through which Shakespearean performance has passed, and explores the implications of playing in different performance spaces. The culmination of this course is a public performance at St Nicholas Priory, a perfectly restored Tudor house converted from a mediaeval monastery and located in the middle of Exeter. Students may also expect to work in the Cathedral Chapter House and/or in the Guildhall, a chamber built at the high point of Shakespeare’s career and festooned with what seem to be living Elizabethan faces.

In parallel to this course students follow a core module with other MA students. The focus upon 'cultural adaptation' offers the opportunity to reflect on how Elizabethan Shakespeare is adapted by 21st century British theatre makers, and upon how a British Shakespeare is modified by theatre makers in many parts of the world to address different problems and create new meanings. The essential Englishness of Shakespeare is held up for interrogation.

The second term falls into three phases: in the first phase students look at the practice of archiving and reflect upon how our historical knowledge of performance is achieved. This phase incorporates a week spent in Stratford-upon-Avon, where students are introduced to the study of prompt books and other archival materials held by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in order to gain a direct and tangible contact with the past. They will also visit contemporary productions at Stratford, and reflect upon how the transient experience of those live encounters will be perpetuated in, and transformed by, different kinds of record.

The second phase has often been regarded as the climax of the student’s experience. Students spend a fortnight working at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, tutored by professional performance with expertise in Elizabethan theatre. They are introduced to a multiplicity of historical practices related to performance, and are assessed on their performance on the Globe stage.
In the third phase, students take a short piece of Shakespearean practice out into the community, to schools and/or village halls, and consider what is involved in making Shakespeare accessible to audiences with no prior knowledge of the plays. Students will reflect upon the universality of his appeal, across boundaries of time, age and social class. Playing Shakespeare to such audiences offers a fundamental discipline in performance clarity.

Through the three terms of the programme, students work towards their dissertation, which is perhaps the most important component of the degree. A course in research preparation explores issues of writing, sourcing information and shaping an extended argument. It also introduces the principle that practice can be a mode of research – an idea that is now embedded in British academic practice, but is less familiar in many other parts of the world. Students can choose between a conventional written dissertation, or dissertation incorporating practice. In the second model students mount a short piece of work which addresses a historical or contemporary performance problem; the practice is accompanied by a half-length written dissertation which frames, articulates and reflects back upon the problem explored in the research practice. Students are supported throughout the development of the dissertation

Total credits required: 180

Compulsory modules

DRAM102 Research Preparation and Writing Skills 15
DRAM103 Cultural Adaptation 30
DRAM080 Dissertation 60

These core modules are addition to the MA Theatre Practice modules above:

DRAM115 The Shakespearean Scene in Action 30
DRAM131 Shakespeare: Directed Production 15
DRAM063 The Old and New Globe Theatres 15
DRAM067 Promptbooks and Productions 15

Please visit our modules page for further details.

Training Actors in Shakespeare

Valerie Pye is an actor, director and alumni of the University of Exeter. Valerie is a finalist in the Professional Achievement Award in the Education UK Alumni Awards 2015.