Writing a Shakespeare Review
English 3306: Shakespeare's Major Works
One requirement for this class is to write a review of a play we are reading which you will also view probably on a video. Videos may be checked out of the University of Houston library and viewed at home or viewed on a monitor in the library.
You should read the play before seeing it. You will understand the actors and the action much more easily if you have already read the play and have a good idea what to expect. Don't worry about spoiling the performance by already knowing the story. Shakespeare's plays are not remembered because of their plots but because of Shakespeare's language and the characters he creates. By having read the play before hand, you will understand the dialogue and have some sense of the characters.
Your review should be about 800 - 1000 words long or four typewritten pages. It should be tightly written, i.e., don't write a leisurely and discursive report. Have something to say, say it fairly quickly but effectively, and then conclude. Remember that your review is not of the play (text) but of the performance. Do not summarize the plot. Refer to the story only to make a point good or bad about the performance. For the most part you should reserve judgment until near the end of your review, and it is not necessary to make a strong judgment one way or the other about the performance.
More important than judgment is description. Your review should present an overview of the performance. You should note such matters as:
- Period costumes and sets or locations which are used
- Type of music and its suitability
- General conduct of the performance
- In a film you may talk about the camera work: close-ups, camera angle, lighting, focus and other matters
- Major deviations from the text and any consequence of these
- General effectiveness of the actors in developing their characters
- The director's take or interpretation of the play
Be very careful about making sweeping judgments of the performance either positive or negative. It is your assignment to describe what you see, how effective you found the play and why you came to your conclusions.
Often it is useful to concentrate on a particular scene or even major speeches in a scene, which to you are representative of the production as a whole, or are important because of what they say about the production. It is all right to use the personal pronoun "I" in the review, but do not use it to excess. Phrases such as "I think" or "I believe" should generally be avoided since they are self-evident.
Acting in a Shakespearean play is usually a challenge to an actor or actress. The language is difficult to speak in a way that is convincing to the audience. Because it is often verse the player cannot ad lib lines that he/she momentarily forgets. Rather actors and actresses must carefully memorize and clearly deliver their lines. Nor can they seem to be "reciting speeches," but often are simply engaging in conversations with one another. How well do the actors and actresses meet this challenge?
Shakespeare often includes soliloquies in his plays. These are speeches given by an actor or actress with no one else on stage. They allow the audience to know what is on the mind of the character, but they are not normal means of communication. (What is our first reaction to an individual whom we see talking to himself or herself?) How do the actors and actresses manage with soliloquies?
Directing Shakespeare is also a tough assignment. The director wants to make the play entertaining, but he/she should also be reasonably true to the text. Speeches are often cut down to shorten the play, but words should not be added. Scenes should be in the sequence Shakespeare intended, and the meaning or interpretation should not be dramatically different from what one would expect. Twelfth Night should probably not be a dark tragedy. Nor should Romeo and Juliet be turned into a comedy. How well does the director make the play entertaining without completely taking over the play and turning it into something very different from what Shakespeare meant?
These instructions on writing a review are certainly not complete or definitive. They attempt to point you in the right direction and provide some suggestions. In the end you should write your review based upon your experience of seeing the play and what you have brought to that experience. Be sure your review is interesting, and that will happen if you have something to say, some point you want to make about the performance.