The following guides are intended as a support to teachers and students when exploring text choice in the Junior Cycle English classroom.
The Merchant of Venice is a tragicomedy. With all his money invested in shipping, Antonio secures a loan of 3000 ducats from Shylock for his friend Bassanio. Shylock demands that Antonio forfeit a pound of his flesh as a bond if Bassanio fails to repay the loan. When Antonio's investments fail, Shylock demands Antonio repay the debt with a pound of his flesh. It falls to Portia to save Antonio's life.
Setting: Venice, Italy
Some Themes: Revenge, justice, mercy, love, self-interest
Shakespeare Solos by The Guardian
Shylock speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vSR6W8_uBU
Portia speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmmBT_4dmI0
Royal Shakespeare Company
The King of Spain's Daughter is a comedy drama. This short, one-act play set in Ireland in the early 1900's reveals the plight of dreamer, Annie Kinsella. She is limited by the realities and constraints of society at that time. Her options in life are either to marry local Jim Harris, who she does not love, or work in the local factory to sustain a living. Neither options appeal to Annie. To escape, she dreams of a magnificent wedding ceremony in the neighbourhood, imagining it as elegant, lavish and pompous. As her domineering father pushes Annie to make a decision she accepts the offer of marriage. However on reflection, Annie daringly chooses an alternative escape.
Setting: It’s set in rural Ireland, revealing a patriarchal society which impacts the life choices and happiness of the main character Annie
Genre: Comedy drama
Some Themes: Dreams versus reality, love, escape, freedom, power, friendship, relationships.
A reading of the play is available at this link from Waterford Institute of Technology
Full text available through the Digital Repository of Ireland
Twelfth NIght is a romantic comedy. Viola and her twin brother Sebastian have been shipwrecked; each believes the other to be drowned. Viola disguises herself as a young man and, under the name of Cesario, gets a job as a servant for Duke Orsino. Orsino is in love with the Countess Olivia, and sends Viola to court her for him, but Olivia falls for Viola instead. A flood of mistaken identity ensues.
Setting: The fictional country of Illyria, which corresponds with the coast of present-day Albania
Genre: Shakespearean comedy
Some Themes: Gender, class struggles, lies/deceit, rules/order.
Shakespeare Solos from The Guardian
The Burial at Thebes is a translation of the ancient Greek tragedy Antigone by Sophocles. Creon is the new king of Thebes following a civil war in which brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices fought on opposite sides and killed each other. Their sisters are Antigone and Ismene. Eteocles fought on the victorious Theban side. King Creon admires Eteocles’ heroism and gives him a proper burial but Polynieces is viewed as a traitor and his body is left exposed ‘for the birds to feed on’. Creon’s orders are that no burial will take place for him. Antigone, views this as unjust, she seeks help from her sister Ismene to bury their brother, Polynieces. Ismene, however, fears the wrath of Creon and leaves Antigone to do the deed. Creon is incredulous that Antigone has disobeyed his law. She is banished to die in a barricaded tomb despite her engagement to Creon’s son, Haemon. Creon stubbornly refuses to listen to Haemon’s advice. Only when the oracle, Tiresias, and the Chorus warn and advise Creon of his grave error does he repent but it’s too late. Tragedy ensues.
Setting: The original play, ‘Antigone’ is set in 441 BC
Some Themes: Power, Injustice, Loyalty, the state versus the individual, divine law versus civil law.
A 2015 version of the play on YouTube
Hamilton is a musical drama split into Act 1 and Act 2. It is the tale of the American past told by the American present. A high tempo musical that tells the story of American founding father Alexander Hamilton, from his role in the revolutionary war to the birth of the American Nation. It details both his political life, as the first Secretary of the Treasury, and his private life as a husband, father and friend, as he strives to make his mark and not 'miss his shot'. It was first recorded live at the Richard Rodgers Theater on Broadway in June 2016.
Setting: New York, USA
Genre: Biographical drama
Some Themes: History, legacy, war, conflict, honour, reputation.
Trailer for the 2020 film from Walt Disney Studios - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSCKfXpAGHc
Full Libretto of the play from Blumenthal Arts
The Wheelchair on my Face is a dramatic monologue. Sonya tells her story about growing up with poor vision that went undiagnosed until she was seven years old. Combining memoir, theatre and stand-up comedy, this delightful story of a myopic child shows us how we can better the world even if we cannot see the world. This short drama is only 22 pages long.
Setting: 1980's Ireland when Sonya was a child
Genre: Dramatic monologue
Some Themes: Childhood memories, belonging and acceptance, dealing with a condition/impairment, friendship/relationships.
Fishamble synopsis with video link:
Text available from Bloomsbury
As You Like It is a comedy. Duke Senior has been forced into exile from the court by the usurping Duke Frederick. He takes refuge in the Forest of Arden with a band of faithful lords. Meanwhile, Rosalind and her cousin escape into the forest and find Orlando, Rosalind's love. Disguised as a boy shepherd, Rosalind has Orlando woo her under the guise of "curing" him of his love for her.
Setting: The Court of the Duke and Forest of Arden
Genre: Pastoral romance
Some Themes: Love, deception, loyalty.
Full audio text from Librivox
Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy. Following his return from war, Claudio falls in love with Hero. Meanwhile both Benedick, who has also returned from battle, and Beatrice detest the idea of love, but their friends plot to change their minds.
Setting: Messina, Italy
Genre: Shakespearean Comedy
Some Themes: Deception, romance, honour.
Julius Caesar is a historic tragedy. Having defeated a rival general, Caesar becomes Consul of Rome. This makes him dictator for life and undermines the values of the Republic. A group of senators convince the public to support Caesar's assassination. Meanwhile, Caesar ignores a series of omens that suggest he should be cautious. Caesar's eventual murder throws the Republic into further chaos.
Setting: Rome in February of 44 B.C.
Some Themes: Deception, war, honour, the power of speech
Brutus's speech from Act 3, Scene 2. The National Theatre. Performed by Ben Whishaw
Marc Anthony's speech from Act 3, Scene 2. The Guardian, Shakespeare Solos. Performed by Damien Lewis
12 Angry Men is an American courtroom drama. Following the closing arguments in a murder trial, the 12 members of the jury must deliberate, with a guilty verdict meaning death for the accused, an inner-city teen. As the dozen men try to reach a unanimous decision, one juror casts considerable doubt on elements of the case. Personal issues soon rise to the surface, and conflict threatens to derail the process that will decide one boy's fate...
Setting: A jury room in a New York court during the 1950s
Genre: Legal drama
Some Themes: Prejudice, justice, truth, power of conviction.
Full production by Delray Beach Playhouse
Teacher resource by Prime Stage Theatre Group
Girl from the North Country is a musical drama. The musical uses Dylan’s songs to reinforce the mood of desperation and yearning that characterised America in the Depression era (1930s). The title of the musical is from the song that Bob Dylan wrote in 1963. It is a 'dustbowl drama' in that it epitomises the struggles and desperation of a random mix of guests staying in a run-down boarding house owned by one of the main characters, Nick.
Setting: Duluth, Minnesota, USA in 1934
Genre: Musical drama
Some Themes: love, poverty, racism.
Official website of the Broadway production
The Importance of Being Earnest is a satirical comedy drama. It’s the story of two bachelors, John ‘Jack’ Worthing and Algernon ‘Algy’ Moncrieff, who create alter egos, both named Ernest, to escape their tiresome, ordinary lives. They attempt to win the hearts of two women who, claim to only love men called Ernest. As a result, the pair struggle to keep up with their own stories and become tangled in a tale of deception, and misadventure.
Setting: London and Hertfordshire in the late 19th century.
Some Themes: Social Class, relationships/marriage, humour, hypocrisy, role of men and women in society
Education pack from The Watermill Theatre, Bangor, Northern Ireland
Blood Brothers is a musical drama. The plot centers around twin boys who are separated at birth and brought up in contrasting environments. They meet by chance as young boys and despite their differences they become best friends. Their journey through adolescence and adulthood is intertwined.
Setting: Liverpool, England between the 1950s and 1970s
Genre: Musical theatre
Some Themes: Social class, growing up, family, friendship, superstition.
Read an excerpt from overdrive.com
(Click on read a sample and navigate from left to right)
The Woman in Black is a gothic drama. A young Arthur Kipps travels to attend the funeral of the elderly, eccentric Mrs Drablow to sort out her papers. At the funeral, he ‘sees’ a woman in black, who appears to be suffering from some severe illness. This begins a story of mystery and ghostly happenings where we learn of the tragic tale surrounding the death of the mysterious lady; the fear engendered in the community and of the apparent consequences for those who have met The Woman in Black.
Setting: Edwardian England
Genre: Gothic fiction
Some Themes: The supernatural, fear, revenge, conspiracy.
Click to watch a promotional video for The Woman in Black at the Fortune Theatre in London.
A Christmas Carol is a timeless fable. This version from Orson Wells features a mean-spirited and selfish old man, Ebenezer Scrooge, who hates Christmas, refuses to give to charity and is rude to his nephew. One cold Christmas Eve, these events spark a visit from the spirit of an old business partner, Jacob Marley, followed by the three ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future. They each try to show Scrooge the error of his ways.
Setting: Victorian England
Genre: Ghost story
Some Themes: Greedm forgiveness, poverty and the influence of the past
Full audio text of the drama
Full audio text with transcript available here
Stones in His Pockets is a tragicomedy. *All 15 characters of the play are performed interchangeably by two actors. The town has been taken over by a production crew for a new Hollywood film and many of the villagers have a role as extras. They are initially delighted with the excitement. Charlie wants to be a scriptwriter and having so many from Hollywood in close proximity gives him hope that his script could be made into a movie. Jake is recently returned from New York and it caught up in the glamour of it all. The tide turns unexpectedly the night that Caroline, the beautiful Hollywood star, rebuffs Sean Harkin, a local teenager, and the villagers are forced to re-evaluate what is really important.
Setting: A rural town in Co. Kerry
Themes: Cultural exploitation, generational values
Trailer of performance from The Dukes Theatre, Lancaster:
A semi-autobiographical drama.
The 14th Tale is a harmonic narrative that tells the hilarious exploits of a mischievous boy, who grew up in Nigeria then lived in Dublin and later moved to London.
Setting: Nigeria, Ireland, England
Genre: Semi-autobiographical drama
Some Themes: Identity, coming of age, new beginnings, transitions
Watch an excerpt from a live performance from a London World Festival Commission.
JCT English in conversation with Inua Ellams
John Breen’s 'Alone It Stands' is a comedy which tells the story of the Munster rugby team’s epic and unprecedented 12-nil victory over the All Blacks, the New Zealand national rugby team in Thomond Park in October 1978.
The story is set against the background of this unparalleled win and follows the unique and personal stories of a variety of characters. The broad range of colourful roles (sixty two in all) is diverse, and includes encounters with the players from both teams, the motivational team coaches, supporters looking for tickets for the sell-out game, pessimistic fans, the local Limerick residents and a Munster fanatic’s wife about to give birth.
The breadth of characters involved results in a fast-paced and engaging drama that succeeds in capturing the hype associated with this heroic triumph.
Themes: Courage, daily life, social class.
Alone It Stands is a drama that will engage and amuse students whilst giving them a deep insight into the personal stories of the characters involved.
This is a 1939 Campbell Playhouse Radio Production by Orson Welles of Charles Dickens's novelette A Christmas Carol, where Ebenezer Scrooge (Lionel Barrymore), an elderly miser, learns the error of his ways on Christmas Eve, when he reflects on his past, present and future collectively, whereupon the mean old miser undergoes a radical change of heart and is "awakened" on Christmas morning a changed man.
Dickens had this to say about A Christmas Carol:
I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.
Their faithful Friend and Servant,
Set in Liverpool, Willy Russell's Blood Brothers tells the story of twins who are separated at birth as their mother is unable to afford to keep both. As a result, Eddie is raised in a privileged family while his twin Mickey is raised in poverty by their birth mother, along with the rest of their siblings. Despite their different backgrounds, both boys meet at age 7 and become best friends, in fact they become ‘blood brothers’ both unaware of the true identity of the other. They share happy times as they grow up, first into teenagers and then into adult- hood, until their different backgrounds finally become an issue and a misunderstanding leads to a tragic end.
Blood Brothers is also a very successful musical. The text contains elements of this.
Themes: Social class, growing up, family, friendship, superstition.
The themes and issues explored in Blood Brothers will appeal to all students.
'Do we blame superstition for what came to pass? Or could it have been what we, the English, have come to know as class?'
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8lnEdPS6ulkThis musical drama is written and directed by Conor McPerson. It is set in Bob Dylan's hometown, Duluth, Minnesota. The musical uses Dylan’s songs to reinforce the mood of desperation and yearning that characterised America in the Depression era. The title of the musical is from the song that Bob Dylan wrote in 1963. Girl from the North Country has been described as a dustbowl drama, it epitomises the struggles and desperation of a random mix of guests staying in a run-down boarding house owned by one of the main characters, Nick.
Elizabeth, Nick’s wife suffers from dementia, their adopted daughter Ruth is black, pregnant and refuses to reveal the identity of the father. Guests who lodge in the boarding house range from to a blackmailing bible selling Reverend, a boxer-turned-convict on the run, a financially ruined couple with a disabled son, an opium addicted doctor and a widow who is having an affair with Nick. Dylan’s songs poignantly reveal the prevailing mood of longing mixed with hope. Powerful and compelling, the drama premiered at the Old Vic theatre in 2017 then transferred to the West End.
Themes: love, poverty, racism.
The powerful, emotive songs will engage students and the musical will give a sharp insight into the 1930’s depression era in America.
Link to video:
Winners and Losers are two short complementary plays in the one volume entitled Lovers. They may be regarded as forming one play with complementary themes/issues. Both plays are set in 1960s Ireland.
In Winners we meet two young lovers, Mags and Joe on a hilltop as they meet to study for their upcoming examinations. We find out that Mags is pregnant and the young couple are to be married in a few weeks for this very reason. Both of them have been asked to leave their respective schools as a result. It is all a sign of the times they live in. Both are meant to be revising, but Mags prefers to distract herself with lots of talk, much to Joe’s annoyance. We find out a lot about the characters from their conversations here.
The two narrators (‘Man’ and ‘Woman’) give us an insight into what happens to the young couple on this day. Mags and Joe decide to take a boat onto the lake. According to the narrators, Mags and Joe have drowned. The exact circumstances are unclear.
Andy and Hanna, the lovers from Losers are older. Hanna’s mother, Mrs Wilson, is a devout Catholic and she disapproves of the relationship. The couple are frustrated by her presence and demands. When the couple marry, Mrs Wilson is still a source of annoyance, especially for Andy who mocks her for her devotion to Saint Philomena. This alienates Hanna, and in the end the couple stay together in a loveless marriage.
Themes in both plays: Love/marriage, religion, role of men and women in society.
With teacher guidance and an explanation of the context of the time, both plays are accessible to all readers.
'My God, the things they said to me – they seared my soul forever”
Written over a century ago, Pygmalion is simultaneously shockingly old-fashioned and strikingly modern. Shaw tells the tale of a Cockney flower girl plucked from poverty to be taught manners and diction as part of a waggish bet between two gentlemen. We watch with some amusement as Henry Higgins, a professor of phonetics, attempts to mould Eliza Doolittle into a woman with the poise and speech of a duchess, and then marvel at his shock when she asserts her individuality.
Many moments in this play will jar with modern sensibilities; students may need guidance to understand the context and to appreciate the point Shaw was making. Shaw’s opinions on social class and his feminist ideology underpin the entire play.
Themes: Role of women, class, poverty, relationships.
The language in Pygmalion will challenge readers, but a strong junior cycle class will enjoy this com- mentary on women’s independence and class structure.
'Yes, you squashed cabbage leaf… you incarnate insult to the English language: I could pass you off as the Queen of Sheba'
Stones in His Pockets is a tragicomedy.
*All 15 characters of the play are performed interchangeably by two actors.
The town has been taken over by a production crew for a new Hollywood film and many of the villagers have a role as extras. They are initially delighted with the excitement. Charlie wants to be a scriptwriter and having so many from Hollywood in close proximity gives him hope that his script could be made into a movie. Jake is recently returned from New York and it caught up in the glamour of it all. The tide turns unexpectedly the night that Caroline, the beautiful Hollywood star, rebuffs Sean Harkin, a local teenager, and the villagers are forced to re-evaluate what is really important.
“Sad, Hilarious and Irresistible” – The London Sunday Times.
“Stones in His Pockets is a rare case where the writing works as deftly as the acting, where a phrase is as instantly evocative as a gesture or a glance. Marie Jones is very funny and her observations of the hectic compression of a film set are dead on..” -Vanity Fair
“Gleefully tongue-in-cheek comedy” – Elle
“Witty and beautifully crafted tragicomedy…Jones has a sharp ear for a comic line and the ability to cut to the heart of the tragedy. Her script fits together like a Swiss watch.” – London Evening Standard
“Marie Jones pulls off an ingenious theatrical trick that has a political kick” – Time Out
“An unalloyed source of joy, laughter, tears and delight” – Daily Mail
“A Nimble examination of the exploitative, collusive relationship between Hollywood and rural Ireland… Jones writes sentences that sing.”- London Observer
“It is clearly magical.” – The Guardian
1988: at four-years-old, he short-circuited his home with a silver spoon and a Betamax video player.
1989: stopped a 700-strong student assembly with a tantrum.
1995: was chased through jungle growth by a crazed, frustrated French teacher called Monsieur Batcock...Misfit? Apparently – until a little family research reveals a pattern of mischief reaching as far back as a great grandfather, and so the story begins:
'I'm from a long line of trouble makers, of ash skinned Africans, born with clenched fists and a natural thirst for battle only quenched by breast milk. They'd suckle as if the white silk sliding between gums were liquid peace treaties from mums.'
Setting: Nigeria, Dublin, London
Genre: Semi-biographical drama
Gogol’s comedy of errors is built around a classic case of mistaken identity.
When word reaches the corrupt mayor of a provincial Russian town that a government inspector will soon be arriving to inspect them, he and the (equally corrupt) town dignitaries are thrown into a state of panic. They become convinced that Khlestakov, a low ranking wastrel who is holed up penniless in a hotel room, is the government inspector travelling incognito.
Much of the comedy centres around low farcical moments as the various dignitaries ply Khlestakov with bribes to ensure a good report. He takes full advantage of the situation; his desire for food, women and money comes to the fore.
The play is populated with mostly unsympathetic, greedy, corrupt, self-serving, back-stabbing characters. Through these characters Gogol satirises greed, stupidity, arrogance and the wider political corruption of Imperial Russia.
Themes: greed, corruption, deception.
While the language may be challenging at times, most students will enjoy the farcical elements of the plot.
'The convicts haven’t had their rations! The streets are filthy, the whole town’s like a dungheap! It’s a disgrace!
Two gentlemen living in19th century England decide to live a lie in order to put some excitement into their indulgent and mundane lives. Jack Worthing has invented a brother ‘Earnest’ and uses his existence as an excuse to leave his life in the country to visit the rather beautiful Gwendolyn in London. As it happens, he has told Gwendolyn that he is Earnest. His friend Algernon Montcrief, who lives in London, also decides to take on the name of Earnest and pretends to be Jack’s brother when visiting Jack’s home in the country and when meeting Cecily Cardew, Jack’s ward.
However, things begin to go awry when they end up together in the country and their double lives are discovered, threatening to ruin everything…
This is one of Wilde’s best known and most successful plays. It has some very funny moments and memorable quotations. Yet this seemingly frivolous play has a much darker side beneath the humour and the memorable quotations. It is a very strong critique of Victorian society of the time. It is a biting satire on the time and the people who live in this society.
Themes: Social Class, relationships/marriage, humour, hypocrisy, role of men and women in society.
The Importance of Being Earnest is a play that some students may find challenging in parts. However, with teacher guidance and exploration, many will enjoy the humour and themes.
'I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.'
The Shadow of a Gunman is a powerful play depicting the gripping effects of poverty, nationalism and violence on the lives of the Irish tenement dwellers in the Dublin of 1920. Ordinary lives are controlled by forces which seem to offer solutions but which apparently only bring further misery.
The play begins in May 1920 and is set in a Dublin tenement occupied by Seamus Shields, a pedlar, and Donal Davoren, a dreamer and poet who is mistakenly believed by other tenement residents to be an on-the-run member of the IRA. Davoren plays along with this notoriety and it has positive benefits for him, as it initially wins him the spurious admiration of other would-be freedom fighters, but more importantly, it wins him the affections of Minnie Powell, an attractive young lady of strong nationalist beliefs who, like Donal is slightly delusional as a result of the times in which she lived. As the play progresses, we see the negative impact of Davoren’s supposed heroism. He is the mere 'shadow' of a gunman and ultimately the shadow turns out to be a cowardly figure who must shoulder responsibility for much of the tragedy that befalls others in the play. Darkness, violence, deception, fear, tension and poverty are all bedfellows of the play, but the real tragedy is found within the lives of the people who were victims of their time.
Themes: Deception, war, religion, nationalism, poverty, love.
The Shadow of a Gunman is a challenging drama that will give students an understanding of the violence and poverty often associated with Ireland’s past history.
“Minnie, Donal; Donal, Minnie. Very pretty, but very ignorant. A gunman on the run… But Minnie is attracted to the idea and I am attracted to Minnie. And what danger can there be in being the shadow of a gunman?”
Twelve Angry Men is a gripping 1957 courtroom drama where the life or death of a young Puerto Rican teenager, charged with murdering his father, lies in the hands of a diverse group of twelve jurors.
As the play begins, we see a twelve man jury entering the jury room of a New York City court- house on a sultry, hot summer’s day to decide on the guilt or innocence of a teenager accused of murdering his father. We hear the offstage voice of the judge giving instructions to the jury and learn that, if found guilty, the accused will face the death penalty. What at first appears as a straightforward guilty verdict, given the apparent bank of incriminating evidence against the accused, soon becomes a case of intrigue and suspense, as one juror, Juror 8, following an initial guilty vote of 11 to 1, insists that they re-examine the evidence to be absolutely certain of what they are entrusted with. Despite the protests of the other jurors, the evidence is reviewed and the initial certainty of the jurors is put under the spotlight with a surprising outcome.
Themes: Prejudice, justice, truth, power of conviction.
Twelve Angry Men is a drama that students will enjoy as it will give them an insight into the importance of making the correct decision and of the power of conviction. There is also a 1957 film directed by Sidney Lumet.
“And now gentlemen of the jury, I come to my final instructions to you. Murder in the first degree - premeditated homicide - is the most serious charge tried in our criminal courts.”
War Horse is the powerful story of a young boy called Albert and his beloved horse, Joey. The play is based on a novel by Michael Morpurgo and adapted by Nick Stafford.
The play begins in England, 1914, with a drunk farmer buying a colt at auction. His young son Albert quickly forms a bond with the colt and names it Joey and raises him. At the outbreak of World War One, the farmer sells Joey to the military to pay for his struggling farm. Albert is heartbroken. Joey is shipped to France and soon caught in enemy fire. Fate takes him on an incredible journey, serving on both sides during the war before landing in no man’s land. But Albert cannot forget Joey and, still too young to enlist, he embarks on a treacherous mission to find his horse and bring him home.
The stage production features ground-breaking puppetry work, bringing breathing and galloping horses to life on stage.
Themes: War, friendship, loyalty and courage.
War Horse is a drama that most students will find captivating and moving. There is also a 2011 film adaptation directed by Steven Spielberg.
'I, Albert Narracott, do solemnly swear that we shall be together again.'
West Side Story is a modern day adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Instead of two feuding families in the Shakespearean classic love story, West Side Story features two rival New York gangs. The Jets are an established white gang who have ruled this area for years and the Sharks are a gang from Puerto Rico who have recently moved to New York and have ambitions to take control of the Jets’ patch. Following a run-in with Lt Schrank and Officer Krupke from the New York police, the Jets decide to ‘take care’ of the Sharks. However, the feud intensifies when Tony, one of the founders of the Jets, who is now living a ‘clean’ life, attends a gymnasium dance and meets and falls in love with Maria, sister of Bernardo the Sharks’ leader. This of course is a forbidden union and leads to an escalation of hostilities which can only be resolved by one final ‘rumble’ or winner-takes-all fight which has tragic consequences for some, but brings about an end to the hostilities.
Themes: Gang warfare, love, violence, ambition, death.
West Side Story is an engaging drama. Students will enjoy reading this tale of love and rivalry.
'Maria! Say it loud and there's music playing.
Say it soft and it's almost like praying.
Maria, I'll never stop saying Maria!
The most beautiful sound I ever heard. Maria'
The Woman in Black is a captivating, haunting drama in which two actors recreate the mysterious story of a ghostly figure whom the play’s central character, the younger Mr Kipps, first met while attending the funeral of the elderly Mrs Drablow.
The play begins in an empty theatre where Arthur Kipps, an ageing lawyer, and a newly hired young actor recreate Kipps’s own story. The young actor agrees to play the part of the younger Kipps while Arthur plays all the other character roles and narrates the story.
The story brings us back in time where the young Arthur Kipps travels to Crythin Gifford to attend the funeral of an elderly, eccentric lady named Mrs Drablow and to sort out her papers. At the funeral, he ‘sees’ a woman in black, apparently suffering from some severe illness. On speaking of the lady to his guide, Mr Horatio Jerome, he is somewhat bemused and puzzled by Jerome’s terrified reaction. At Mrs Drablow’s house he again encounters the woman in black and this begins a story of mystery and ghostly happenings where we learn of the tragic tale surrounding the death of the mysterious lady; the fear engendered in the community and of the apparent consequences for those who have met The Woman in Black.
Themes: The supernatural, fear, revenge, conspiracy.
The Woman in Black will intrigue all young readers as they uncover the mystery that surrounds this strange ghostly lady.
“I felt confused, teased by it, as though it were made up of millions of live fingers that crept over me, hung onto me and then shifted away again.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a Shakespearean comedy that cleverly interconnects four different subplots to form a united piece of light- hearted, slapstick comedy.
Thesus, the Duke of Athens and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons are to be married and great celebrations are planned.
Egeus brings his rebellious daughter Hermia in front of the Duke. Egeus wants her to marry Demetrius but Hermia is refusing, because she’s in love with Lysander. The Duke orders Hermia to obey her father or she must face the death penalty or banishment to a nunnery.
Hermia and Lysander decide to elope that evening. As they contemplate the plan, Helena enters. She is in love with Demetrius. They tell Helena of their elopement plans, but Helena decides to tell Demetrius in an attempt to win his love. All four end up in the forest but the intercession of Oberon, the king of the fairies, and the mischievous Puck (Robin Goodfellow) adds to the confusion when they attempt to get Demetrius to fall in love with Helena, but mistakenly gets Lysander to fall in love with her. Both men love Helena and neither love Hermia.More comedy moments follow, until eventually Oberon gets Puck to fix things and there is a happy ending.
Themes: Love, magic, dreams.
Students will enjoy the slapstick humour and moments of confusion of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As with all Shakespearean texts, a differentiated approach will help to make the story and language more accessible to all students.
“O spite! O hell! I see you all are bent to set against me for your merriment. If you were civil and knew courtesy, you would not do me thus much injury.”
Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare is a comedy set in Messina in 16th century Italy. The story revolves around two love stories, one straightforward between Claudio and Hero, the governor’s daughter and a more complex union between the governor’s niece Beatrice and a family friend, Benedick.
A spiteful villain, Don John, having suffered a defeat in war, is keen to get revenge on his brother Don Pedro and Claudio, who helped defeat him. He encourages his friend Borachio to enact a love scene with Margaret, Hero’s serving woman, but convinces both Claudio and Don Pedro that the woman is Hero. Believing this tale, Claudio angrily denounces Hero during their wedding ceremony. The friar performing the marriage arranges for Hero to be hidden, as if dead, until her innocence can be proven. A blundering local constable discovers the truth and following a series of comical events, Hero and Claudio are reunited. Love has blossomed also for Beatrice and Benedick and the play ends on a happy note.
Themes: Deception, romance, honour.
Most students will enjoy this light-hearted comedy which is filled with lots of humour and moments of confusion.
“I do love nothing in the world so well as you- is not that strange?”
Romeo and Juliet is classified as a tragedy but is perhaps one of the most powerful love stories ever told. The city of Verona, is beset by a feud between two wealthy feuding families, the Montagues and the Capulets. The young Romeo from the Montague family gatecrashes a feast hosted by the Capulets and falls in love with Juliet, the daughter of the Capulets.
As their union is forbidden they meet in secret, and following a meeting in the Capulet orchard they decide to marry. Romeo seeks the help of his friend, Friar Laurence, who agrees to marry them. Later Tybalt, a nephew of the Capulets, is killed by Romeo in a street fight and Romeo is banished, but hides in Friar Laurence’s cell. It is agreed that Juliet will marry Paris in three days. Friar Laurence hatches a plan which involves Juliet taking a drug which will give her the appearance of death. Sadly a series of unexpected events ruin the plan and the final scene is filled with tragedy.
Themes: Love, the destructive power of hatred, fate.
Romeo and Juliet is a timeless love story suitable for all students. There are several film adaptations of the play that students will also enjoy.
'But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east and Juliet is the sun'
Henry IV, Part 1 is a history play by Shakespeare. The play starts with the news that King Richard II is dead and Bolingbroke is now King Henry IV. Henry’s conscience is troubled with guilt about the removal of King Richard. Henry would like to go to the Holy Land to pay penance, but due to problems at home, he is unable to make the journey.
Henry’s reign faces growing opposition from some of those nobles who had helped him to the throne – especially the Percy family. Wales and Scotland are threatening to rebel and Richard’s nominated heir, Edmund Mortimer, looms on the horizon. King Henry’s treatment of Harry ‘Hotspur’ Percy (the Earl of Northumberland’s son) only makes matters worse.
Henry’s only son, Prince Hal, is living a life of debauchery, frequenting the taverns of Eastcheap in the company of Sir John Falstaff and other disreputable characters. As the rebellion to the King grows, Prince Hal returns to his father’s side and a gripping battle ensues.
Themes: Power, warfare, family, rules and order.
Henry IV Part 1 is a Shakespearean drama filled with humour and action and while it is a challenging text, students may find it deeply engaging.
'Thou seest I have more flesh than another man, and therefore more frailty.'
Written in 1599 this is a tragedy and a history play based on real events. The play opens with the fickle commoners celebrating Julius Caesar’s military defeat of the sons of his rival Pompey. Two tribunes chastise the crowd for switching allegiance from Pompey to Caesar. Cassius plots to kill Caesar and tries to persuade Brutus, Caesar’s friend to join the conspiracy. Brutus is hesitant to do so even though he fears that if Caesar were leader of Rome he might abuse his power. Mark Anthony has offered Caesar the crown of Rome three times but even though Caesar wants it he refuses it, hoping that the crowd will encourage him to take it. Ignoring warnings and premonitions, ‘beware the ides of March’ Caesar goes to the senate and is stabbed by the conspirators, including Brutus, ‘et tu Brute?’. Brutus delivers a rational speech defending their actions explaining it was for the good of Rome. However, Mark Anthony’s speech appealing to emotion and convincing the crowd that Caesar was not power-hungry turns public opinion against the assassins. Brutus admonishes Cassius for accepting bribes to commit regicide. A civil war ensues. Mark Anthony’s side are victorious and he pays tribute to the dead Brutus proclaiming him to be ‘the noblest Roman of them all’ acting for the good of Rome, having been motivated by honour and patriotism.
Themes: Deception, war, honour.
The unexpected twists and turns in the action will engage students and with differentiation it may interest all.
Link to video:
Written in 1599, this is a pastoral comedy, set in the countryside in France, specifically in the forest of Arden. Rosalind is the heroine. Her father Duke Senior has been usurped and exiled by his brother Frederick. Rosalind is permitted to stay in court since since she is best friend to her cousin Celia. Orlando, a young gentleman falls in love at first sight with Rosalind. This displeases Frederick and both ladies flee to the forest seeking refuge and looking for love. Touchstone, the court fool accompanies them. Rosalind disguises herself as a young man, Ganymede, while Celia pretends to be a poor woman, Aliena.
Here they encounter a variety of memorable characters, notably Jacques, a malcontent and melancholy figure. Unknown to the ladies, Duke Senior and his supporters are also in the forest. Orlando posts simplistic love poems on the trees for Rosalind. She as Ganymede encounters him and tries to cure him of his lovesickness. The shepherdess Phoebe falls in love with Ganymede while Silvius loves Phoebe. Further romantic complications occur but all is resolved in the end.
Themes: Love, deception, loyalty.
This is a light-hearted comedy sure to be enjoyed by all.