Texts in Performance

When we read texts from the Stuart era, it is important to remember that they were often read aloud or performed. Plays, pageants, proclamations and ballads, to take a few examples that are discussed in our films, were not designed for silent reading. And rates of literacy were low, so many people would encounter the written word orally, read by somebody else. Given the importance of performance, we commissioned actors to read some of the texts that were important in the films. For more information about these texts and how they might be used in the classroom, see our ‘Dialogues with Power‘ page.

There are some very helpful resources that can help us to think afresh about the impact of performance on the meaning and reception of texts. Some of the best, as we might well expect, relate to the theatre of Shakespeare’s time: indeed people with access to London can now see plays not only in an authentic outdoor theatre (Shakespeare’s Globe), but also in an authentic Jacobean-style indoor theatre (the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse).

But other resources help us to appreciate a culture in which, for instance, ballads were routinely sung on the streets and in alehouses, and pageantry (e.g. the annual Lord Mayor’s shows in London) was familiar on the streets. And the spoken word was hugely important for early modern religion. All people were routinely exposed to sermons, and many took them very seriously indeed.


BBC Shakespeare Archive Resource
A goldmine for the study of Shakespeare in performance.

Royal Shakespeare Company: Education
A range of educational material, including the opportunity to be involved in free broadcasts of plays into schools.

Shakespeare’s Globe: Education
More excellent resources, from the theatre modelled on the one where most of Shakespeare’s plays were first performed.

Folger Shakespeare Library: Teach & Learn
More from the wonderful Folger Shakespeare Library in the USA.

Bolsover Castle Masque Project
A smart film documenting an attempt to recreate a Jacobean court masque.

English Broadside Ballad Archive
Many of the ballad texts in this archive are accompanied by recordings of performances.

Virtual Paul’s Cross Project
Sermons at Paul’s Cross, London, were major public events. This beautiful site gives a tangible feel for the setting, while focusing on John Donne’s Gunpowder Day Sermon in 1622.

Learning About Shakespeare
Helpful background information and resources for students and teachers approaching Shakespeare (especially for the first time)

Download texts

Performances by Edwina Christie, Patrick Keefe, Brian McMahon, and Elizabeth Sandis.