Before You Read the Play

This section is also helpful in preparing students who will not be reading the play prior to seeing it performed.


Mind map Shakespeare in Love on a large wall or bulletin board. This is a modern play, written in 2014, but set in London in 1593 during the Elizabethan period. Discuss as a group what you know about that time period, Queen Elizabeth and Shakespeare himself. Use the “big ideas” from this discussion as branches. [To the teacher: you may want to suggest other important thematic elements if they don’t come up in discussion, such as social classes of the time, marrying for love vs. obligation, theater practices/no women on stage, the writer’s process, writer’s block, state control in Elizabethan England, etc.]   

Cut out photos, articles, phrases, words, that, in your mind, link to each branch, and add them to the map. Based on these images, words and ideas, what expectations do you have of the play? What kind of play could it be? (A comedy? A tragedy? A mix of both?) Who might the characters be? Can you guess what the conflict could be? As you read the play, revisit the mind map after each scene to add new content or sub-themes, and discuss again what you think might happen next. When you’ve finished the play as a class, create your own individual mind map to reflect on your own connections to the play.




Review this list of the major characters in Shakespeare in Love

  • Will Shakespeare, an actor and aspiring playwright
  • Viola de Lesseps, a young woman from a wealthy family
  • Lord Wessex, an aristocrat in debt and in search of a rich wife
  • The Nurse, a servant to Viola in the de Lesseps household
  • Queen Elizabeth I, monarch of England
  • Phillip Henslowe, a theater owner
  • Kit Marlowe, a famous playwright and friend to Will

In groups of seven, while considering what you know about the social classes of Elizabethan society, take a guess at ranking these characters in order of their social status. Share your ranked lists with the other groups by creating a “status line.” In your group, stand in the order you’ve placed the characters, with each student representing a different character. Once in place, each student briefly explains why the group chose the position they did for each character. Along the way, discuss the differences and similarities you find from group to group. 

Next in your small group, rank the characters again, but this time, to reflect our modern views on status. Again share your ranking on a “status line.” How do your two lists compare with one another? How have views of social status shifted since Shakespeare’s time? Do we place more or less importance on actors/artists today? The very wealthy? How about “nurses” or caregivers?  


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