A Question of Style

Exploring the nature of Shakespeare’s comedy.


Key Staff

Primary instructor

Key Skills

Developing Arts Literacies: Understanding Genres, Analyzing and Evaluating - Critique


Students will explore the nature of comedy by informally staging the opening scenes in Shakespeare's As You Like It. Students will consider a variety of stylistic approaches that may be used in staging the play and select the one they think is most interesting and that will most effectively convey the text to the audience. Students will seek support for their choices from theatrical tradition.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Present informal scenes from As You Like It.
  • Develop multiple interpretations and visual and aural production choices.
  • Justify interpretation, and visual and aural artistic choices made for performance with support from the text and theatrical tradition.
  • Constructively evaluate their own and others' collaborative efforts and artistic choices in informal presentations.
  • Analyze and critique presentations by their peers, taking into account the context, and constructively discuss the effect of their artistic choices.

Teaching Approach

  • Thematic
  • Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Discovery Learning
  • Discussion
  • Experiential Learning
  • Reflection

Assessment Type



What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Classroom
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Read all of the student handouts and use some of the resources listed below to gain knowledge (or enhance your knowledge) of Shakespeare and the genre of comedy. Before beginning the lesson, give students the assignment of reading all of the background material on the play in the Kennedy Center's Spotlight On Theater brochure on As You Like It, paying particular attention to the following: The synopsis of the play, The History of As You Like It, Shakespeare's Pastoral-Comical, and Characters and Themes in As You Like It.

Prior Student Knowledge

Students may have some general knowledge of theater and the genre of comedy, but this is not necessary. They should read the Kennedy Center's Spotlight On Theater brochure on As You Like It, paying particular attention to the following: The synopsis of the play, The History of As You Like It, Shakespeare's Pastoral-Comical, and Characters and Themes in As You Like It before beginning the lesson.

Physical Space

  • Classroom
  • Theater or Stage


Small Group Instruction

Accessibility Notes

Students with visual impairments or disabilities may need modified handouts or texts.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.



1. Lead a discussion of the play, focusing on the following questions/ideas.

  • As You Like It has been referred to as the "happiest of Shakespeare's comedies", and yet it has a set of mean-spirited brothers; Oliver wants his little brother Orlando pummeled and killed, and Duke Senior is banished to the woods by his little brother Duke Frederick (who shows little empathy for his daughter and niece).
  • How do such wicked characters fit into a "happy comedy" and how do we as theatre practitioners handle them? (Possible responses: They provide intrigue, they could be portrayed in a physically comedic (exaggerated) or satirical way.)
  • Opposition in theater allows for conflict, have students discuss the opposities in the play, and where they find them.
  • Have the class discuss what they imagine the setting like, what does the Duke's court look like? The orchard?

2. Go on to explain that, although the "evil" brothers in As You Like It will be somewhat amazingly transformed before the play is over, we still have to deal with them early on to set the play in motion. The question that actors and directors face is one of balance. Not all productions of As You Like It are as happy and bright as Tanner suggests. Some modern directors have taken darker views of the play with productions described by critic Sylvan Barnet as being more like Chekhov in tone than that of a happy romantic pastoral comedy.

3. Engage students in a discussion about staging.  

  • What types of staging techniques could be used? Explain that there have been many different approaches to staging the play through the last century. Some productions might honor the pastoral tradition and emphasize the idealized setting of the beautiful Forest of Arden. Others might see the play as Shakespeare's playful commentary on the pastoral tradition.
  • What other ways can you think of to stage this play? Let students know that Shakespeare can and probably has been staged in every era and location you could think of.
  • Movies that the students might know that have taken Shakespeare's stories/text and put them in contemporary contexts: "10 Things I Hate About You"(Midsummer), "She's the Man"(Twelfth Night), and "O" (Othello)

4. Tell the students that they are going to stage the opening scenes of As You Like It. Students will experiment with various approaches to the text to determine the tone and style they think is appropriate for a production of this play. Try to generate some questions students may want to consider as they read the scenes and explore the text, such as:

  • Is it dark and disturbing, or light and frothy?
  • Is it a folktale with a fairy tale ending, or is it a serious commentary on family relationships, love, and social class?

Build Knowledge

1. Give the students a copy of Orlando's opening monologue from As You Like It. (The complete text of As You Like It can be found at MIT's Complete Works of William Shakespeare.) First read through the passage together and clarify any questions students may have about vocabulary and the content of the speech. This speech is available in the resource carousel above and as a handout.

2. Ask students to detail what Orlando's complaints are and what he plans to do about it. Some sample responses might include:

  • His older brother is depriving him of an education thus keeping him from advancing.
  • He is not being treated as well as his younger brother, Jacques.
  • His brother's horses are treated better than he is.
  • He is not going to put up with it anymore, but he doesn't know exactly what he will do.

3. Now ask for students to discuss what they imagine Orlando's emotional state is as he speaks these lines to Adam. List the ideas on the board. (Sample responses might include: angry, petulant, jealous, hurt, indignant, furious, reasonable, curious, surprised.) Now let the students work in pairs experimenting with the lines and the various emotions. Tell the students that you want them to come up with several ways of interpreting the emotional content of the opening monologue. Then ask for volunteers to present various readings of the monologue to the class.

4. Engage students in a discussion about the differences in the various interpretations. Is the character believable? (Can he be believable? Do you want him to be believable?) Is the character likeable? Do you feel empathy for him? (Do you care about him? Can you care about him?) Is there any humor in the speech? Is the speech upsetting or disturbing in any way? What does Orlando want? That is, what does he hope to achieve by telling all of this to Adam?

5. For homework, have students "paraphrase" Orlando's speech. The handout has a blank line next to each of Orlando's. Students will translate every word of Orlando's speech into their own words.

  • An example might be: "As I remember, Adam, it was upon this fashion..." translates to "Adam, if I remember correctly, I know the resason why..." This exercise is called "upacking the text." Encourage students to look up words they don't understand.
  • Students should take care to make sure their re-written speech is as close to their own speech patterns/vernacular as possible. Explain that they will be doing this with all their lines when they eventually perform the scene.
  • Make sure they undertsand that the performance will be staged and spoken in Shakespeare's text, but this exercise will provide them a deeper undertsanding of the text.


1. Ask students to keep in mind the ideas they came up with in "Build Knowledge" as you read through Act I scene i and Act I scene iii aloud. Clarify any questions students may have regarding the content and the vocabulary.

2. Divide the class into groups and give them the Scene Study Rehearsal Guide Act I sc i and Scene Study Rehearsal Guide Act I sc iii worksheets, both of which are available within the Resource Carousel, to assist them in preparing their informal presentations. Tell them that the Scene Study Rehearsal Guides will help them to explore the tone and style of the scene in the same way they explored the opening monologue at the beginning of class.

3. Once they have explored the scene they should determine together what style and tone they think is most appropriate for the text and then rehearse it several times. Before each scene is presented, the group should give a brief introduction, which states the style and tone they applied to the text with a brief explanation supporting their choice.

5. Have students read each scene and complete a quick paraphrase.

4. Have them use the questions in the Scene Observation Form worksheet available within the Resource Carousel as a jumping off point. Remind the students that the point of observation for them as audience members is to determine to what degree various styles of presentation affect the meaning of the text.


After all of the scenes have been presented, ask students to write responses to (or discuss) the following questions.

  • What is the role actors have on the meaning of a text?
  • What is the role directors have on the meaning of a text?
  • What are some of the things you learned about staging comedy?


Assess the student's work using the Assessment Rubric located within the Resource Carousel.

Extending the Learning

Have students stage the wrestling scene in Act I sc ii. For a prompt, have them look at the illustrations of the wrestling scene on the website Shakespeare Illustrated.

Daniel Maclise. The Wrestling Scene from "As You Like It," 1855.

Francis Hayman. The Wrestling Scene from "As You Like It," c. 1740-42.


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Jim Carpenter
Original Writer

Jen Westmoreland Bouchard

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