Shakespeare used dramatic irony extensively, i.e. situations in his plays where the audience is aware of more than the characters in the story are. What you see within the story is not what you get when confronted by:
- people in disguise
- false report or rumor
- practical jokes
- pretence of all kinds
- above all for Shakespeare, the theatrical master, acting.
- a speech by RICHARD III is followed by a salesman lying about a lousy car to a customer;
- BOTTOM’s bemused memory of a night of romance granted him by a fairy spell is related to a party with ever-changing flirtation;
- HAMLET’s puzzle about the power of pretence is extended by a demonstration of the difficulty of precision in acting.
- IAGO declaring his determination to confuse and defeat Othello;
- EDGAR assuming his disguise as a beggar;
- FRIAR LAURENCE planning a way to re-unite Romeo and Juliet;
- MACBETH’s guilty conscience causing false visions;
- MALVOLIO being fooled by a fake love-letter;
- the FIRST PLAYER acting his socks off in describing Priam’s death.
Each play's story is summarized and the various speeches placed clearly in context. Shakespeare is revealed as a master in creating dramatic tension by using the device which sustains not only "Little Red Riding Hood" and "The Wizard of Oz" but great literature from the Bible to Beckett.
NOTE: an adapted version of this program is available for older elementary and middle school students. The rationale and theme are the same but there are fewer single speeches, no student improvs and the opportunity for up to 20 students to be involved in acting out two great scenes - the death of Julius Caesar and the duel scene from "Hamlet". Lines such as "Speak hands for me"; "Et tu Brute?"; "Friends, Romans, countrymen"; "A hit, a palpable hit" and "Good night sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest", are spoken by the students in context.