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Dividing the Kingdoms: Interdisciplinary Methods for Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates: Performance

Overview: Performance

This module introduces undergraduate students to the most basic tools used to speak blank verse in performance.  The four activities and two assignments should serve as an overview to guide non-actors through their first attempts to speak some of the verse of King Lear and to understand the text through performance.  After mastering these techniques, students can use the service learning exercise in this module to introduce middle or high schoolers to elementary performance strategies.

The goal of this module is for students to understand the fundamentals of performing Shakespeare.  The basics of scansion, operative words and paraphrasing are concrete building blocks that non-actors or novice actors can use to “reason” their way to confidently speaking Shakespeare’s verse.   As part of the study of Lear, the ability to speak the lines aloud and understand the emotion of a character through performance allows undergraduates to have more of a full immersion in this great play and to experience the play in an embodied, visceral manner.

As a supplement to this module, we have included several films featuring Larry Yando, a noted actor, interpreter of Shakespeare, and text coach.  In a 30-minute master class, Yando discusses his insights into playing King Lear in the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s acclaimed 2014 production of the play.  Yando offers further insights into performing Shakespeare in a 45-minute Q&A session with Wayne State undergraduates.  The Student Work page contains a series of recordings of Yando working with Wayne State undergraduates on bits of text from Lear.  These sessions provide more of an in-depth example of how to work on Lear through performance in order to gain a deeper understanding of the characters and situations.  Finally, we have digitized the Quarto and Fourth Folio (see Digital Texts), and students can use these original texts as a basis for more advanced approaches to performing Lear.

Please note that these activities cover only the most basic aspects of performing the text of Lear.  For a fuller discussion of other performative concepts such as working with antithesis, imagery, irony and ambiguity, see Barry Edelstein’s book Thinking Shakespeare and John Barton’s master classes from the 1980s (available as Playing Shakespeare in a 4-DVD set or via YouTube). 

About the Scholar


Tom Aulino 
twa99 at


Tom Aulino is a professional actor, director and teacher.  He has performed on Broadway in George C. Wolfe’s production of On The Town and his extensive Off-Broadway credits include Henry VIII and Measure for Measure for the New York Shakespeare Festival at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park, as well as performances at Lincoln Center Theatre, Playwrights Horizons, Second Stage, Theatre for a New Audience and as an original member of Charles Busch’s Theatre-in-Limbo.  He has appeared in regional theatres across the country, including the Goodman Theatre and the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington DC, the Huntington Theatre in Boston, Kansas City Repertory Theatre and the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, CT.  He received Chicago’s Joseph Jefferson Award for his performance in About Face Theatre’s production of Take Me Out at the Steppenwolf Theatre.  On television, he has appeared on Law and Order.  He is a long-time member of Actors Equity Association and Screen Actors Guild.  He has directed productions at La Mama ETC in New York, Remains Theatre in Chicago and the Kansas City Repertory Theatre.   Mr. Aulino has taught Shakespeare at the Steppenwolf Theatre School and Rutgers University (Camden) and several levels of Acting at the University of Pittsburgh, where he received a Master of Fine Arts in Performance Pedagogy.  He served on the performance faculty at Wayne State University and Auburn University.  He received a BS in Theatre from Northwestern University. 

Assignments (service learning)

King Lear and Cordelia (1793)

Benjamin West. King Lear and Cordelia (King Lear IV.vii). Oil on canvas, 1793. LUNA: Folger Digital Image Collection. Digital Image File Name: 3039. The Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection