Institute Format & Schedule


The Institute runs for two weeks from 10:00am until 5:00pm Monday through Friday at Polonsky Shakespeare Center unless otherwise noted. Morning and afternoon sessions focus on the academic and theatrical considerations embedded in the three plays under investigation. Scholars and teaching artists work together to plan daily activities that reinforce each other’s work, creating a seamless interface between scholarly and creative investigations. In addition, lunches and evening activities offer participants access to other scholars, literary experts, and theatre professionals. Evening assignments prepare participants for the following day’s discussions, and theatre outings provide a further basis for discussion of the concepts participants are learning in class.

During the first seven days of the Institute, Professors Crawford and DiGangi will ground participants in the basics of sound scholarly research and theatrical practice, while teaching artists Krista Apple and Claudia Zelevansky will work with participants on the challenges of interpretation and performance that arise from deep scholarly analysis of text. In the last three days, participants will focus intensely on incorporating what they learn into their roles (as directors, actors, dramaturges, designers, etc.) in final scene performances on the last day of the Institute. During the Institute, participants will attend one or two Shakespeare (or other relevant) productions as a group, preceded by a dinner and discussion of the play.

On Day One, scholars will introduce the overall plan for the two weeks, and the three plays under study; discuss the history, organization, and significance of the theatre culture of Shakespeare’s England (including the Globe Theatre); provide some key reading practices; and incorporate primary resource material, including Holinshed’s Chronicles and the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Scholars will spend the morning session on an analysis of The Merry Wives of Windsor, placing the play in its historical, generic, and theatrical contexts. The foundation for this discussion will be the scene in which the wives receive Falstaff’s letters [2.1], the first two punishment scenes featuring the buckbasket [3.3], and the Witch of Brentford [4.2]. Through discussion of: the role of “the merry wives” in the community; the contrast of “country” with “courtly” values; the mastery of language; and formal and informal methods of discipline. Through illumination of the conditions and norms present in Shakespeare’s time, the group will consider present-day questions of the role of women in shaping local or national debates about identity, as well as the influence of insiders and outsiders in shaping social cultural values. In the afternoon, the teaching artists will continue discussion of the morning’s themes, including character and marital power dynamics, through directing (staging/ blocking) and acting (characterization/ physicality).

For their evening assignment, participants will undertake performance and other theatrical work for staging the play’s final scene the following day, integrating the initial day’s scholarly discussion and creative performance tools into their work.

Day Two begins with a scholar-led discussion of the resolution of the marital jealousy plot and the citizens’ plans to humiliate Falstaff publicly [4.4]. The fact that marital strife must be resolved before the citizen of Windsor can unit to punish the courtly interloper suggests the intimate connection between domestic order and civic order in the play. The group will also discuss the courtly Fenton securing the assistance of local go-betweens in his plot to marry Anne Page: Mistress Quickly [1.4, 3.4] and the Host of the Garter Inn [4.6]. Both Falstaff and Fenton attempt to profit from the citizens of Windsor through amorous escapades – Falstaff with the wives/ mothers, and Fenton with the daughter. The participant’s will address the critical question of what accounts for Fenton’s greater success in bridging the gap between courtly and civic values. In the afternoon, the teaching artists and scholars will lead a joint creative reading and investigation of the final scene of the play, inspired by the previous day’s tableau and staffing assignment. Participants will address the relationship between the disciplinary mechanisms used to establish “order” at both the micro (domestic) and macro (civic, national) levels.

On Day Three scholars will begin the day with a discussion of Macbeth. They will review the historical sources of the play in order to illuminate Shakespeare’s representation of Scottish history and politics in the first three acts of the play. They will also discuss King James’ views on monarchy and witchcraft, and how these views might inform Shakespeare’s depiction of authority and disobedience in the play. If witches are the devil’s servants, why might a kind interest in promoting the divine right of kings insist that he was being peresecuted by witches? Questions leading from this will touch on present-day concerns about the need to qualify or balance the power invested in a single national rules or government. In the afternoon, the teaching artists will reinforce the themes from the morning session by investigating differing uses of language in the play. Introducing concepts such as operative words, rhetorical speaking strategies, and poetic/ verse structure, teaching artists will lead participants through and investigation of how creative choices in voice and sound can illuminate the differences between the world of the nobility and the underworld of the witches.

Working together, on Day Four, scholars and teaching artists will focus on the domestic scenes in Macbeth. Picking up the issues of gendered knowledge, marital relations, and household authority from The Merry Wives of Windsor, they will read through and analyze performance possibilities for the scenes in Macbeth’s castle [1.5-1.7, 2.2-2.3, 3.2] and the Macduffs’ castle [4.2]. They will also consider the status of the Macbeth family; of Banquo, James I’s legendary ancestor who the witches foretell will be “the root and father/Of many kings;” and of Banquo’s son Fleance. The discussion will emphasize a close analysis of the scene in which Banquo and Fleance exchange swords and torches [3.3] as well as an examination of the play’s ongoing concern with masculinity, particularly during the banquet scene [3.4].  As with Day Two’s analysis of the relationship between domestic and civic/national order in The Merry Wives of Windsor, we will consider the modes of persuasion and discipline used to establish order and the micro and macro levels. During the afternoon, participants will visit the Rare Book Library at Columbia University where they will examine the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays under the guidance of Professors Crawford, DiGangi, and the Rare Book Room librarian. Participants will consider important textual differences between early quarto editions of the plays, the First Folio, and modern editions of Shakespeare’s plays. They will also examine a range of other sixteenth- and seventeenth-century books relevant to the plays under analysis, including witchcraft pamphlets; Holinshed’s Chronicles; King James’ Works; and various texts on marriage, monarchy, and English history. In preparation for the upcoming joint session on Day Five, teaching artists will assign participants specific roles and scenes from Acts 4 and 5 to research and rehearse. 

On Day Five, scholars and teaching artists will lead a joint session on significant scenes from Acts 4 and 5 of Macbeth, particularly those in which we see the increasingly tyrannical behaviors of Macbeth, and the ways in which his behavior threatens the security of Scotland. Teaching artists will place emphasis on those areas where scholarly work and creative work intersect: embedded stage directions, prop lists, and the changing use of rhetoric and language in depictions of authority in the play. Through this combined approach of scholarly dramaturgy and creative interrogation, participants will work independently in small groups to stage relevant scenes of Acts 4 and 5 for performance and workshopping later that day. Next will be a close reading of Lady Macbeth’s closet scene and of Macbeth’s political unraveling and Malcom’s (unsettling) political unfurling. The day’s examination of the last two acts of Macbeth thus addresses the question of the moral character of the nation’s leaders in ways that resonate with present-day debates about the strategies our national leaders might use to speak to the people and unite a divided nation. Day Five will conclude with a group discussion to reflect on the first week of the Institute. The focus will be on how the techniques being explored in the Institute might serve teaching practices back home. Participants will also have the opportunity to discuss their successes and challenges of the previous week which will inform the faculty moving forward into week two.

To begin the second week, on Day Six, participants will discuss King Lear, starting with the division of the kingdom, which is both predicated on a map, and divided, eventually, between north (home to Albany and Goneril) and south (Cornwall and Regan). Scholars will focus on the roles of Gloucester and Kent (both Earls of English counties) and of Cordelia and her eventual marriage to the King of France, a marriage that seems to further threaten the security and integrity of Great Britain. They also will discuss the relationship between flattery and the counsel that Kent and Cordelia offer to Lear, and on Lear’s own confused understanding of power. As with Macbeth, the scholars will explore the dilemma of a tyrannical leader and a divided nation: what are subjects to do when the monarch rejects good counsel, heeds flattery, and makes rash political decisions out of anger and caprice? What is to be done, in other words, when the ruler of the nation acts in ways that threaten the very security of the nation he is supposed to ensure? In the afternoon, the teaching artists will explore conceptual approaches to theatre, including elements of design (sound, set, costumes, lights) as a creative tool for theatrical storytelling. Teaching artists will also introduce the final performance projects and assign scenes, work groups, roles, etc. Teaching artists will also give a responsive reading/acting assignments of scenes in preparation scenes for discussions on the following day.

At lunch, participants will have the option to take part in a presentation on TFANA’s education program which brings Shakespeare to NYC public schools. Participants will be shown examples of their curriculum and discuss how TFANA uses scholarship and performance to teach Shakespeare to middle and high school students.

On Day Seven, Scholars and teaching artists will continue to integrate the scholarly and creative work (including production dramaturgy, directorial strategies, and conceptual approach), particularly as they relate to participants’ final performances. Discussions and scene work will focus on Edmund’s plan to get land (and status) “by wit” if not “by birth;” the play’s contrast between Lear’s retainers and “new men” like Oswald, who will do anything for pay; and the ways in which Gloucester and Albany are initially politically cautious and subservient to the increasingly tyrannical behaviors of Goneril, Regan, Cornwall, and Edmund. The discussion will then turn to the play’s concerns with justice. Finally, participants will examine how the play moves from an abstract notion of England into its more material landscape largely through the figure of Edgar who, banished by his father, enters the landscape of England in the most vulnerable of ways: as a Bedlam beggar. The discussion will end with Lear’s madness, and the play’s evocation of the subsistence laborers of England: crowkeepers, pressmen, seaweed collectors. As in earlier discussions of The Merry Wives of Winsdor and Macbeth, Day Seven’s analysis will address the relationship between household and civic/national identity through the domestic drama of the brothers Edmund and Edgar and their radically different trajectories in the play: Edmund rises to political power (and corruption) whereas impoverished Edgar (and the poor subjects he evokes and represents) exposes the unequal distribution of wealth that undergirds the political status quo. The play’s exploration of the radically unequal distribution of political and economic capital resonates with present-day debates about the causes of and solutions to poverty, disenfranchisement, and institutional neglect in a nation governed by the wealthy and privileged. Day seven will include another optional lunch time session led by the participants to discuss their own classroom strategies in teaching Shakespeare.

Day Eight focuses on King Lear’s increasingly complex reflections on the nature of power, both monarchy itself and the forces that defend and hold it in place: the rule of law (or the lack thereof); force or clemency; divine right or extreme might; good counselors or strong martial “champions”; the people or the aristocracy. How do brutal visions of power resonate with the play’s earlier concerns with “robes and furr’d gowns” hiding all? In the different versions of the play, England is left either in the hands of Edgar, who has spent most of the play as “Poor Tom,” or of Albany, who, as we have seen, waits until nearly the end of the play to act decisively and with integrity. How do these two endings, much like that of Macbeth, cast doubt upon the future of the monarchy itself?  In the afternoon, participants will continue to develop, rehearse, and refine their creative work on scenes from King Lear, as teaching artists and lead scholars provide targeted feedback and support for each group’s creative process and needs.

On Day Nine, working in tandem, scholars and teaching artists will facilitate scene development and rehearsal in preparation for final performances. They will also discuss best practices in the creative/professional theatre field, and how these strategies can be employed and integrated in classroom teaching approaches. This discussion will include appropriate adaptations for different ages, theater proficiencies, and specific learning environments such as ELA classrooms versus Drama classrooms, as well as applications to contemporary culture and society. 

On Day Ten, Institute participants will present scenes from King Lear for the entire faculty, after which scholars and teaching artists will lead the group in a structured feedback session of the creative work. All four instructors will then engage a final discussion of Merry Wives of Windsor, Macbeth, and King Lear, focusing specifically on how Shakespeare treats themes of nationalism and identity from the most micro (domestic) level to the most macro (global) level in both comedy and tragedy. The group will also revisit how combining scholarship with performance can enhance understanding of the complex social and political landscape of Shakespeare’s plays and culture.

folio-2016Shakespeare’s First Folio

TFANA_logo24 copyPolonsky Shakespeare Center


Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Pictured above: Participants in the 2017 NEH Summer Institute for School Teachers; Polonsky Shakespeare Center, photo ©David Sundberg/Esto.