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Food & Care
“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” – James Beard
Welcome & Ethos
A very warm welcome to the Food and Care department. A place where we have high expectations of all pupils and, are dedicated to supporting them in their learning journey.
We share a strong belief that every child can be their best and, have unique sets of skills that can be developed to make progress.
The School’s ethos is at the heart of all that we do. We expect and encourage pupils to aspire, strive and achieve by taking responsibly, seeking challenge and showing determination.
In Food and Nutrition we aim for pupils to understand how to make healthy food choices and, learn the skills needed to feed themselves a balanced diet to support their health and happiness.
The Care courses are designed to provide pupils with skills to take them onto further training in the Care sector.
Context of the Subject
- Food Preparation and Nutrition (Key Stages 3 & 4): “Food and Nutrition equips students with an array of culinary techniques, as well as knowledge of nutrition, food traditions and kitchen safety. Pupils will learn skills that will give them a strong foundation to build on throughout Key Stage 3. They will be encouraged and guided on how to adapt recipes for added appeal. There will be an emphasis on nutrition and the science of food. As well as making dishes they will also undertake experiments that support the core theory.” (AQA October 2016)
- Children’s Learning and Development (Key Stage 4 only)*: “The new Technical Award in Children’s Learning and Development to engage and excite young learners who want to study how children develop from 0 to 10 years old. Learners will also learn about a broad range of roles and careers within the childcare sector.” (AQA October 2016)
- Health and Social Care (Key Stage 4 only)*: The new Technical Award in Health and Social Care is designed to engage and excite young learners who want an introduction to life and work within the health and social care sector. (AQA October 2016)
*The Care courses are currently under review in line with Government changes to the specifications.
Food and Nutrition at Nunnery Wood High School ensures that students learn different ways to prepare, combine, mix and heat ingredients. Our students will learn about healthy eating, nutrition, sustainability and why people may have different dietary requirements.
Students are also taught to combine practical and nutritional knowledge with creative thinking to design and make interesting and innovative products of their own. We want all students to be equipped with a range of practical and transferable skills along with a questioning and enquiring mind to challenge the accepted and push for creativity.
Care courses are an integral part of our teaching and learning; developing skills to support the pupils in further training in vocational careers.
Curriculum Leader Miss S Young Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 01905 36362o
Team Structure Curriculum Leader 3 full time teachers 2 part time technicians 1 part time teaching assistant
The department is well resourced with two dedicated food rooms, complete with kitchen facilities to enable students to undertake practical lessons in school. All rooms have a projector and an interactive smart board. We also have digital cameras which are used for recording students’ practical work. We have access to IT facilities as required.
KS3 Description of the key skills, knowledge and understanding that are a prime focus of KS3 teaching in the subject area
Learning about good nutrition and healthy lifestyles is an integral part of how we develop into effective learners. Life can be better if we eat well and feel well. During Years 7, 8 and 9 pupils will learn a variety of skills and knowledge to support their own development. They will also learn about the science of food and, the wider national and global aspects. Topics will also support further learning for those that choose to pursue their learning at GCSE level.
Safety & Hygiene: personal safety, food safety, hygiene. Core practical skills & use of equipment: using all parts of the cooker, knives, whisks, and other equipment. Healthy Eating & Nutrition: nutrients, diet, Eatwell Guide. Special Diets: Gluten-free, vegetarian, lactose intolerant and others. Functions of ingredients: functionality of key ingredients in products; focus on the ‘fantastic four’: flour, sugar, egg, butter (& oils). Foods of the World: foods from different countries and cultures. Seasonality: British foods, seasonal foods, carbon footprint. Food Science: reactions that take place upon the application of heat/mechanical processing/use of microorganisms; for example, dextrinisation, coagulation, aeration, fermentation. Health and Social Care and Child Development: a brief introduction to both courses which are offered as Technical Awards at GCSE level. Other learning: There may be other activities such as MasterChef, Design and Make Project and, an Enterprise Project.
Organisation of the KS3 curriculum and how students are assessed (brief summary of long term plan of units and very approximate timings.
Pupils have a one-hour lesson, once a week. We aim to provide a balance of practical and theory work; this includes food analysis and experiments.
1 key assessment takes place each half term; usually made up of a practical task and a design, or a piece of written work. Other smaller assessments may take place in the form of tests and exam questions.
We have introduced a design element back into the units of work to help link theoretical learning and practical tasks.
Homework is an integral part of the learning, and making progress and all pupils are expected to check the Homework Zone regularly, and communicate with their teacher if they are unsure of any instructions given.
Sources of information that may be useful
Food a Fact of Life: http://www.foodafactoflife.org.uk/ NHS Eatwell: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/goodfood/Pages/the-eatwell-guide.aspx GCSE Bitesize: http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/design/foodtech/ British Nutrition Foundation: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/ BBC Good Food – Recipes: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes BBC Good Food – How To Guides: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/category/cookery BBC Food – Seasons: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/seasons Vegan Society UK: https://www.vegansociety.com/ Vegetarian Society UK: https://www.vegsoc.org/ Eat the Seasons UK: http://eattheseasons.co.uk/ Coeliac Organisation UK: https://www.coeliac.org.uk/home/
KS4 Overview – repeated for each GCSE in the department and each year From September 2017
Subject title, board and syllabus code
Food Preparation and Nutrition AQA 8585
KS4 Description of the key skills, knowledge and understanding that are a prime focus of KS4 teaching in the subject area
Pupils have 5 lessons over two week; this includes a split double in one of the weeks.
The course is integrated into five core topics:
• Food, nutrition and health • Food science • Food safety • Food choice • Food provenance
The learning continues to build on knowledge and skills learned and developed in Years 7, 8 & 9.
Organisation of the KS4 curriculum (brief summary of long term plan of units and very approximate timings)
1st Year Terms 1 &2: advanced cooking skills, macronutrients, diets at life stages, special diets, food properties and sample investigation task. Terms 3 & 4: food science, safety Terms 5 & 6: food provenance, Micronutrients, seasonality, cooking methods
2nd Year Terms 1, 2 & 3: controlled assessment Terms 4 & 5: exam preparation Term 6: exam
It is essential that students fully engage with all homework tasks set. Also, it is expected that students practice recipes and key skills at home.
The course is delivered in two units of work.
1. A written examination at the end of the course, which contributes to 50% of the final grade. This requires students to apply what they have learnt during the entire course. 2. Controlled assessment tasks which take place in the second year of the course, contributing to a total of 50% of the final grade: ¬ Task 1: Food investigation (15%): to assess students’ understanding of the working characteristics, and functional and chemical properties of ingredients. ¬ Task 2: Food preparation assessment (35%): to assess students’ knowledge, skills and understanding in relation to the planning, preparation, cooking, presentation of food and application of nutrition related to the chosen task. As part of this students will prepare, cook and present a number of chosen dishes. Sample food investigation tasks: 1. Investigate what type of flour is best for bread making 2. Investigate the use of raising agents in baked products 3. Investigate the ingredients used to thicken sauces and soups
Sample food preparation assessment tasks:
1. Plan, prepare, cook and present a range of dishes which would be suitable for vegetarians. Present three final dishes. 2. Plan, prepare, cook and present a range of dishes which are a good source of fibre and would appeal to teenagers. Present three final dishes. 3. Plan, prepare, cook and present a range of dishes from the Mediterranean culinary tradition. Present three final dishes.
Understanding and application of nutritional knowledge will be a requirement of all tasks.
Food a Fact of Life: http://www.foodafactoflife.org.uk/ NHS Eatwell: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/goodfood/Pages/the-eatwell-guide.aspx GCSE Bitesize: http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/design/foodtech/ British Nutrition Foundation: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/ BBC Good Food – Recipes: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes BBC Good Food – How To Guides: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/category/cookery BBC Food – Seasons: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/seasons Vegan Society UK: https://www.vegansociety.com/ Vegetarian Society UK: https://www.vegsoc.org/ Eat the Seasons UK: http://eattheseasons.co.uk/ Coeliac Organisation UK: https://www.coeliac.org.uk/home/ AQA exam board information: http://www.aqa.org.uk/subjects/food/gcse/food-preparation-and-nutrition-8585 AQA Video tutorials: http://www.aqa.org.uk/resources/food/gcse/food-preparation-and-nutrition/teach/food-preparation-video-tutorials Food provenance: http://www.foodafactoflife.org.uk/section.aspx?siteId=19§ionId=92 Food provenance – fish: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/9536671/Food-provenance-the-fishermen-leading-the-way.html GCSE Bitesize – Food Technology: http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/design/foodtech/
Health and Social Care OCR (J412) (Year 11 only September 2017-June 2018)
KS4 Description of the key skills, knowledge and understanding that are a prime focus of KS3 teaching in the subject area
This course includes student-led studies on areas of particular interest to be based in the learners’ local communities. This is motivating for learners and also allows them to be part of their local communities. Topics covered are under the umbrella of key units such as:
Health, Social Care and Early Years Provision • The range of care needs of major client groups • The ways people can obtain services and the possible barriers that could prevent people from gaining access to services • The types of services that exist to meet client group needs and how they are organised • The principles of care that underpin all care work • The main work roles and skills of people who provide health, social care and early years services
Understanding Personal Development and Relationships • The stages and pattern of human growth and development • The different factors that can affect human growth and development • The development of self-concept and different types of relationships • Major life changes and sources of support
Terms 1-4: controlled assessment Term 5: exam preparation Term 6: exam
60% based on controlled assessment carried out in lesson time 40% external exam at the end of the course
OCR exam board website www.ocr.org.uk www.nhs.uk/service-search (for) NHS service provision within health care, social care or early years www.equalityhumanrights.com Client safety www.gov.uk Client safety www.hse.gov.uk/legislation Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Need www.simplypsychology.org Food and Nutrition www.foodafactoflife.org.uk Careers www.careerpilot.org.uk/jobs/health-and-social-care Equal opportunities www.eoc.org.uk St. John Ambulance www.sja.org.uk
Food & Care Website Update: Food Enrichment
Food Enrichment builds on skills from KS3 in real life scenarios. The course promotes independent learners, and encourages students become more confident and competent with their practical skills. Students undertake recipe research to cater for a variety of different needs, learning new skills as they go. An emphasis on environmentally aware practices, sustainability and British Food is encouraged.
Food Enrichment classes are open to all students, regardless of whether they study food at GCSE level or not. Students who do study the full GCSE are encouraged to the Enrichment course also, but it is not compulsory; if students have an active interest in food and nutrition then they should be able to access the GCSE without the Enrichment option.
The course focuses on ‘skills for life’ underpinned with principles of healthy eating and the Eatwell Guide.
Pearson BTEC Level 1/Level 2 First Award in Children’s Play, Learning and Development – 600/6814/0
The rationale for all qualifications in the BTEC First in Children’s Play, Learning and Development suite is to:
● inspire and enthuse learners to consider a career in early years, or related sectors, where knowledge of child development is relevant ● give learners the opportunity to gain a broad knowledge and understanding of, and develop skills in, the early years sector, for example, of child development and using play to promote child development ● support progression to a more specialised level 3 vocational or academic course, such as in early years, health and social care or psychology, or an apprenticeship ● give learners the potential opportunity, in due course, to enter employment.
Unit 1: Patterns of child development – External assessed (25%) Unit 2: Promoting Children’s Development Through Play – Internally assessed (25%) Unit 3: The Principles of Early Years Practice – Internally assessed (50%)
EYFS http://www.foundationyears.org.uk/eyfs-statutory-framework/ Children’s Development Institute https://childdevelopmentinfo.com/ Small Talk https://www.thinksmall.org/for_parents_and_guardians/understanding_your_childs_development NHS Choices – Birth-to-five development http://www.nhs.uk/Tools/Pages/birthtofive.aspx
Health and Social Care – OCR Cambridge National Award Level 1 / 2
Health and social care aims to develop students’ knowledge and understanding of the health, social care and early years’ sectors, through the investigation of a range of client groups/ages, their health & developmental needs and services designed to meet those needs. Underpinning skills of Communication, independent research and teamwork will be utilised.
- Unit 1: Client’s Rights and Values of Care (mandatory unit)
- Unit 2: Communication Skills & working with others (mandatory unit)
- Units 3 and 4 are optional and chosen from a range of 5 interesting topics.
- Investigate the range of health or social care services available to people and describe how client’s needs are met by them.
- Investigate the pattern and stages of Human Growth & Development from Birth to Later Adulthood.
- Investigate the Nutritional needs of clients at different stages over the Lifespan. Planning meals to meet specific health needs.
- Learning and putting into practice basic First Aid
- Job Roles, qualification pathways and employment in the Health care sector.
- Creative activities to support clients in care settings (older adults & children)
Students will learn about equal opportunities legislation and the value of effective communication as these are essential to protecting and safeguarding vulnerable clients and removing potential barriers to their care. Learning also includes the Health, social care and developmental ‘needs’ of clients over the lifespan and the services designed to meet them. Learners will have the opportunity to put their knowledge into practice through a combination of research projects, practical experience, theoretical study and independent learning.
Students who choose this option need to have a real interest in the subject and, be committed to their studies.
Exams will be in summer of Year 11 and assessments are on-going, throughout Year 10 & 11.
www.nhs.uk/service-jobrolesearch www.equalityhumanrights.com Client safety www.gov.uk Client safety www.hse.gov.uk/legislation Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Need www.simplypsychology.org Food and Nutrition www.foodafactoflife.org.uk Careers www.careerpilot.org.uk/jobs/health-and-social-care St. John Ambulance www.sja.org.uk
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- Young People
We asked RSC actors your questions for #RSCHomeworkHelp. Take a look at their answers here.
We received hundreds of questions from students all over the world in 2020 and lots of RSC artists have been answering your #RSCHomeworkHelp questions. We have now closed submissions.
David Tennant, Paapa Essiedu, Niamh Cusack, David Bradley, David Threlfall, our Artistic Director Gregory Doran and lots of members of RSC alumni and artists have answered some of your questions below.
We've arranged the questions and answers into different headings below, exploring questions about:
- Acting and directing
- Comedy plays
- History plays
- Tragedy plays
Take a look and see if you can find yours!
Questions about Acting and Directing
Does the rsc have preferred editions of the plays to work from.
Question from Brian and Brooke
What tends to happen at the RSC is, in advance of rehearsals a director compares editions of the play they are staging, working with the RSC Literary Department to produce a rehearsal script based on a mixture of editions. They also sometimes refer back to and compare editorial choices made by other directors of the same production and/or the First Folio, which was the first published collection of Shakespeare’s plays. Directors also look to the RSC Complete Works edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen.
The script is then constantly edited by the director and actors during rehearsals and often into early performances till they have a finished script for that production by opening night.
How do you annotate your script, and what character notes do you make?
I scrawl all over my script during rehearsals so its annotation is rather messy but I like that. I do like to make a lot of notes though so every job I do, I get a notebook. The first thing I will do is write down thoughts, questions or first impressions of my character. I make lots of notes when listening to the creative team talk or when other actors come out with some absolute gems of insights. Particularly with Shakespeare, I will try and look up as many words in the glossary as possible and I will write my lines out as though speaking in my own voice, in modern English, to make sense of them. With any texts, contemporary or Shakespeare, I will always ask the same questions of my character which is a technique by Stanislavski. You go through the play with a fine toothcomb and note down the facts: these are the indisputable facts, so avoid any judgement or opinion. Next I note down what other characters say about my character. It really gives you a sense of what your character thinks about him or herself and how others perceive them. You can also do another list, which is what your character says about other people. That can be so helpful!
Lots of actors do many things when it comes to character and often in rehearsals I find new techniques but using the text to your advantage always gives you excellent insights. I will always look up what my character name means. Often a writer will have really thought about why they named that person that particular name. I'm playing Dorcas in The Winter's Tale. Dorcas meant Doe, as in deer, so that really helped me start to shape my character and how she might move. I also pictured her with huge ears!
Do you have any advice for actors auditioning for universities?
Question from Avery
I went to university to study Theatre Studies at Glasgow without audition and I then went on to study at ALRA which I had three auditions for, the first round and then two further recalls. So my experience with auditioning is specific to drama schools and I'm sure that will also be helpful for auditioning for universities too. Mostly what I'd say is do your preparation. Thoroughly read what the school or uni is asking for. One or two monologues? A movement session? Is it in front of a group or is it just you and a panel? Prepare your speeches well, read the whole play, research the play. When was it written? What questions do you need to ask to fully understand what you are saying, particularly with older texts? Do something that feels right for you, something that excites you, that you can relate to. You don't have to pick the most emotional speech, or the most complicated. Those people auditioning you will be seeing so many people so having material that you LOVE will show. Entertain them, don't be afraid to make a fool of yourself. The more you can show them who you are the better. Some places will audition you in groups, or you may do workshop sessions together. You can't really prepare for what those are so be as open and generous as possible. By that I mean, welcome everything and everyone with open arms, without judgement (that's judgement of others and of yourself). No matter how brilliant and confident someone else may come across, they will be feeling just as nervous as you. Nerves are good. Use them.
Before an audition day I will plan what I want to wear, something that is comfortable and makes me feel good. I always think like it's me, but on a good day. Try and get a good sleep and drink lots of water. Connect with your breathing, nerves can make your breath a bit erratic and makes you feel out of control of your nerves. Acknowledge those nerves, and then focus on your breathing. Lastly, and it's a cliche, but enjoy it, see it as a learning and growing experience and you getting to do the thing you love.
Alice Blundell (RSC Actor)
Why and how do productions cut certain lines?
Question from Ashley
Making cuts to Shakespeare’s plays is something that some directors like to do, although some others prefer to perform them in full.
Initially, I think the number of cuts made can depend on the length of the play. For example we don’t have any cuts in our production of The Comedy of Errors; however it is the shortest play Shakespeare wrote. On the other hand, The Winter’s Tale team have made a few cuts as it is a much longer play.
Another reason to make cuts would depend on the creative vision the director has for the play. Sometimes a director’s focus may require more attention on certain storylines or moments in a play, so they will make cuts accordingly. Quite often cutting some of the longer plays can be highly beneficial as it can bring a four-hour running time down to under three hours. This helps it become more palatable for audiences and also allows the director more time to explore visual imagery, movement and music. Sometimes this breathing space is really important to help reinforce the world of the play and allow for mood changes. For example, the cuts might enable more time for music in Twelfth Night , an essential ingredient of the play, or the fight sequences in Henry V, which a director might want to ramp up for dramatic effect.
Who makes these cuts? Well, often a director will edit the script themselves. I feel like I find out a lot about a play whilst cutting it, as it makes you realise what feels essential to your vision of the play and what feels unnecessary. There is no definitive cut of any given Shakespeare play as different directors will make different choices depending on their vision. Smaller edits do happen in the rehearsal room in collaboration with the actors. Any changes would be discussed in detail between the whole company and any approved changes would then be written up in the stage manager’s ‘rehearsal notes’ and emailed out to everyone at the end of the working day.
Generally you will find directors will steer clear of cutting the most famous scenes or speeches and instead snip off some lesser known lines. It is unlikely some of the famous speeches between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth will be touched, nor will Hamlet’s famous monologues. However, some productions aren’t afraid to make radical, bolder changes and even move the order of certain speeches or scenes to suit their vision.
Hal Chambers (Assistant Director on A Comedy of Errors )
How do directors work with actors on characters?
Question from Julia
I absolutely love exploring character with actors. One of the approaches I take is to ask the actors to create a ‘scrapbook’, in which they build up an extensive understanding of the character’s inner life. All of these things would be rooted from the text and subsequent research. Content and tasks might include:
- Facts and questions about their character
- Timelines of key moments in the backstory
- Write down a list of ‘What they say about themselves’, ‘What they say about other characters’ & ’What other characters say about them’ - this is an insightful way into the detail of who they are
- Write a memory from every year of their lives
- Stick in images from the world of the play (found in books, magazines, online etc)
- Written diary entries - to try and find their voice
- Identifying a character’s super-objective - what they WANT
- Research into key subjects. e.g - An actor playing Macbeth might want to research further into the life of a soldier
- Interviews with people from real life. e.g - Macbeth might arrange a phone call with a soldier to get first-hand evidence
During rehearsals I allow some time for improvisation and character exercises to further deepen an actor’s understanding. With a Shakespeare text the words are often all we have, so we also need to have a clear understanding of the clues Shakespeare is giving us. We should be rooting all of our decisions from the text so we are playing the character truthfully. In that way we are collaborating with Shakespeare directly.
However, all directors will have different approaches.
How do you put expression into an audio recording of a speech?
Question from Kaia
Well, I suppose the biggest difference between performing a speech on stage and recording an audio version is that you obviously can’t rely on facial expressions and physicality to enhance the words; therefore you have to be extra aware of your vocal work making sure that it conveys as much as possible to the listener.
Pitch, articulation, rhythm, emphasis, volume and breath are important things to work on and help you put expression into an audio recording. You need to vary the qualities of sound so that the speech becomes interesting, exciting to listen to and offers up surprises.
Warming up the voice is really important so that it is in tip top condition to move its way through a speech with skill and hit the right notes. I would say controlled breathing and knowing when to take breaths in a speech is vital for expression. I find however it's still important to warm your body up for an audio recording, especially your head, shoulders, face and neck, as this will loosen everything up, regulate your breathing and centre the body and mind. In the same way you would warm up an instrument before playing a piece of music.
You also need to know the speech incredibly well. If you know the speech inside out then you can really enjoy feeling it, which of course brings expression and life and vitality to the speech. You need to have said the speech out loud a good few times before recording it, so you are familiar with how it feels in your mouth, on your lips, tongue, jaw.
Another thing that helps with expression is to think about the person who the speech is for. Is it to yourself? A lover? A crowd? Someone you’re angry with? The speech is being said out loud to someone so try and imagine who that person is. This will help with the energy and expression.
I often record myself on my phone before doing a recording so that I can hear myself (it's never the same as when you hear it in your head!) and see what I need to work on.
Zoe Lambert (RSC Actor)
How do actors learn to work with props?
When actors rehearse a play and discover what props are needed, they will be found and provided in the rehearsal room for the actors to practise with. They will spend time learning how to use them and making it look like these are objects that they have used or owned, and sometimes a specialist is called in to help, especially if the objects or props are dangerous like swords, so they can be handled safely. It is very important for the actors to practise using the props so it looks like they are comfortable and the audience believes that these are objects that they have used before. It might be a prop that an actor uses every day in rehearsal so that it becomes second nature when handling that object and can often really help an actor's portrayal/physicality or character like a cane or walking stick.
At what point before a performance do you get nervous?
Question from Chris
It’s totally normal to feel nervous before a performance. The adrenaline you feel is a sign that you care about what you’re doing but sometimes nerves become overpowering. I have a few things that help me:
- Take it scene by scene. It’s often not the entire show that I’m nervous about. Maybe it’s one song or one monologue. It seems wild to be nervous for the whole show because of one moment so I never think about the second scene until I’ve finished the first one and so on. This means I tend to only feel that buzz of adrenaline and nerves just before I go on stage. I enjoy shows a lot more this way! I sometimes get butterflies in my stomach during the day before certain shows e.g. press nights. I try to trust that the work I’ve done in rehearsals will guide me.
- Warming up gives me time to focus, relax and concentrate on my breathing. If you need to be quiet before a performance then people will understand.
- I don’t like using the word nerves because I think I relate it to something it’s not. Instead I say adrenaline!
Amy Trigg (RSC Actor)
What do you think is the best way to show a battle on stage?
Question from Hannah (specifically on King Lear )
Each production of King Lear will be different, and each director and company of actors will stage battle scenes differently depending on their interpretation of the text and circumstances. So unfortunately there isn’t any guidance we can give about a ‘best way'. However for more information on staging King Lear visit the RSC Learning Zone to find out more about past RSC productions.
Is it difficult to know when to be serious and when to have a slightly humorous tone when acting Shakespeare?
Question from Tadd and Avery
The text and your understanding of the characters can guide you when it comes to tone. Once you understand the context, world of the play and the opinion of your character then I think you’ll instinctively know what feels right and wrong. That's why cold readings with no context are so difficult! In one production it’d be wrong to have the fool speak with a serious tone but perhaps in another show that’s the whole gag - it really does depend on the text and the world you create. There are multiple ways of interpreting text, so play about in rehearsals. Talk to your director and scene partners about different possibilities. You might even play about during previews to see how the audience responds. Comedy and tragedy are very close cousins, especially in Shakespeare, so it’s a conversation that’s natural to have.
Side note: Most comedic characters don’t know that they’re being funny (e.g. Elbow in Measure for Measure ) so it’d be weird for them to have a heavily humorous tone. Imagine that as an actor you’re a puppet master and the character is the puppet. The puppet master might have a humorous tone but the puppet might not.
How do you prepare for a role that you've done over and over?
Question from The Averills
Preparing to do a show for the hundredth time feels very strange. By this point it’s become routine but it's also still an adrenaline rush. There’s a risk of ‘phoning in’ the performance but there’s also still a chance that you’ll forget your lines. I like having a pre-show routine e.g. When I played Biondella in The Taming of the Shrew, I did the same tongue twisters before each show. This helped me have an anchor but it also became very repetitive.
We did some workshops on ‘keeping it fresh’ whilst in Stratford last year. Here are a couple of my takeaways: Find another Shakespearean character who is similar to the role you’re playing and imagine how they would say your lines. For example I imagined how Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream would say Biondella’s lines. This helps keep the dialogue fresh. We also worked on sonnets that we felt resonated with our characters. This helped give our characters life outside of the lines we’d said hundreds of times. When it comes to a role that you’ve played multiple times in different productions, I think you’re always influenced by the design and director of the different shows.
How do you know when there is a good place to pause?
Question from Gabi
Playwrights normally tell you when to pause or when there is a ‘beat’ in the script (a beat can be described as an event that changes the way a character thinks or sets out to achieve their objective). It’s a little harder with classic text but one thing that helped me was knowing that when a verse line is cut short then it might imply a pause. Your director will tell you if they don’t think a pause works or if it’s too long. When it comes to adding in your own pauses, I think it has to be rooted in character. Every character has an objective (what they want, need or desire) and opinions of other characters and the space they’re in. If something happens to make them question their objective or opinion then they might need a moment to process, in which case a pause works. I’ve been guilty of trying to sell a pause as a character choice even though it doesn’t work and I’m just doing it because I don’t know the script well enough! You want to make sure that the text flows and has pace. I try to honour the text and use additional pauses sparingly.
What do you most want to see from a director?
Question from Max and others
I always look for a director to be willing to play: to have a strong sense of what the play is about but also be open to changing their mind. I look for a strong work ethic and the sense and sensitivity to know when to stop. It's really important that a director respects me and what I do. That they know I can do it! But most of all, I look for someone who wants to go on a journey of exploration with me: knowledge begins with knowing nothing!
Andrew French (RSC Actor)
Do you have any tips for playing unlikeable characters?
Questions from Mahirah and Mia (on Caliban specifically)
I don't think there are any unlikeable characters. You have to see it from their point of view. Have they been threatened? Are they scared? Have they been loved? Most characters are the hero in the play that's going on inside their head. It's always good to play things the opposite of what you may first assume. So: 'evil' deeds become heroic deeds. You are nice to people you hate and horrible to people you care about. None of us are black and white, we are all varying shades of grey. The same for unlikeable roles. By the way, they are usually the best ones to play! Enjoy!
It’s a cliche but playing “Evil” characters is the best fun you can have without getting arrested... You’ll need to take my word for it when I say I’ve never been on a killing spree... but I do know what it’s like to feel overlooked, unable to connect to people and rejected. All of that helped me to play Richard III. Characters like Richard III and Iago commit atrocious acts of evil. However, when you play the roles you have to look for clues as to why those characters behave in unlikeable ways.
Personally, I don’t find it helpful to label characters as “good” or”evil”. We’re all more complicated than that. Human beings are flawed and murky. It’s helpful to find the humanity in a character even if your initial view of them is that they’re a monster. I’m still very protective of Richard III. Having played him I feel that his Mother, the Duchess of York is the evil one... Joseph Arkley (RSC Actor)
How do you start rehearsing at the RSC?
Question from Dan
I start rehearsals by studying the text. But I never do a “read-through” on the first day. I find, if you do, what tends to happen is that some actors show off, and deliver a pre-prepared performance that sometimes doesn’t vary until the last night, while others mumble and stumble their way through. And others sit realising how few lines they actually have and get depressed.
So what we do in my rehearsal room, is to sit around a circle of tables, and all read the play together, section by section, or scene by scene, and put it all into our own words. There are two rules: at this stage, you can’t read your own part, and you can’t comment on your own character.
The advantages are that everyone gets a sense of ownership and shared understanding of the play, and are encouraged to see not just the function of their own character but the larger force of the whole play. It also means that if you have relatively few lines, your engagement in the play is nevertheless welcomed, your opinion embraced, and a common ownership is established.
It can be quite “head-banging” as an exercise to put the entire play into our own words, but on the other hand, it really throws up a fascinating series of perspectives and possibilities. We are generally surrounded with every edition of the play we can get our hands on, and pore over footnotes. Though it is important to remember that the editors may be wrong!
To relieve the pressure of so much brain-work, we often intersperse the sessions with early work on fight sequences, or choreography, or learning songs in the show, or indeed sharing pieces of research that individuals or groups may have done to enhance our shared understanding of the context of the play. Sometimes we are joined by experts who can fill in extra background about Shakespeare or the themes of the play.
Gregory Doran (RSC Artistic Director)
Has anything ever gone wrong on stage?
Question from a parent
Yes! Things go wrong all the time - the set breaks down, fire alarms go off, people (occasionally) forget lines... In the Swan in 2018 I was in ‘The Follies of Mrs Rich’, playing a huntswoman who was always accompanied on stage by two real dogs. There were some blind people in the audience of a matinee and I had to improvise a few lines when my dogs ran off to play with the guide dogs in the front row!
Amanda Hadingue (RSC Actor)
Do you have any advice for performing on 'Zoom'?
Question from Elizabeth, Sammy and Lydia
In my Winter’s Tale company (currently on standby), we’ve found Zoom helpful for running lines. I’ll be honest - I don’t really like rehearsing scenes over Zoom, because the screen often doesn’t show me the person I’m speaking to! But I would suggest making sure that everyone can hear/ see each other properly before you begin. If you’re performing solo over Zoom, make sure your lighting and sound are okay - just as you would if filming yourself.
Do you have any tips for memorising lines?
Questions from Alexander, Evelyn, Jennifer, Sophia, Sabiha, Malc and Katherine
Well, the more you do it, the better you get at it - like exercising a muscle. Don’t try and learn too much in one go. I usually do a ‘first draft’ - where I’ve pretty much got it all in my head - then go back to the text a few days later to flush out any inaccuracies. I also find apps like Line Learner helpful. And get people to test you!
I find somewhere quiet and split the text into bite sized chunks so that it doesn’t feel overwhelming. I tend to read the bite-sized chunks once in my head, once aloud and then once aloud whilst looking away from the script. I repeat this a lot! I think repetition is key. I record the cue lines on my mobile so I can run the scene by myself. Once I think I know the lines I write them out and read them back to make sure it’s all correct. If I need to learn a script whilst on the train or in a rehearsal room or even in a busy cafe then I find writing out the words really helpful. It makes me focus on the text and not paraphrase. It’s really hard to re learn lines if you pick them up wrong, so try to learn it as written and not summarise. Also, try not to learn your lines in one particular way. You still need to be flexible in the rehearsal room. You can practice this at home by giving yourself a different objective, emotion or situation when running lines. It’s a good way of seeing if you really know your lines inside out.
How do you work on your part outside rehearsal?
Question from Lewis
I do a lot of prep for a role before rehearsals begin. I source music, images, bits of text that might feed into my interpretation of a role. Much of this research may never appear in the final product as eventually you strip it all down so that you're left with the key elements that work for you.
Sometimes directors have a fixed idea about your role and you have to be flexible enough as an actor to take on those ideas, whilst still ensuring that you have ownership over them. An example of this happened to me last year. Gregory Doran cast me in the role of Lucio in Measure for Measure and saw the role as a kind of 'Dandy'. He really wanted me to have a cane. I liked the idea, but I had to make it work for me. Consequently, I watched a lot of clips on YouTube and became obsessed with the actors Terry Thomas and Peter O’Toole. They hugely influenced my voice and demeanour. I then discovered Janelle Monae’s performance at the Coachella Music Festival from a few years back. She did all sorts of tricks with a cane and I simply stole them! In the end, my Lucio was a fusion of these things. I was able to achieve what my director wanted whilst also using my own ideas. The designer, Stephen Brimson Lewis, also pulled all that together in the most brilliant way and I wore an O’Toole inspired suit with cane in hand. Most actors are magpies. All of the best ideas are stolen.
Joseph Arkley (RSC Actor)
How do you get invited or chosen to be in a play?
Question from Ari
It’s often word of mouth, where people in the industry have seen your work or heard of it and are keen to meet you, such as Directors, Casting Directors, Producers or Writers and so forth. Often, it’s a case of ‘who you know’. Sometimes there's a call out, and we have to apply in the hope we will get seen, which is never guaranteed. There are also auditions, and you must always prepare, work hard, and do your very best. Which is why it's important to always attend workshops, meet and greet sessions and that sort of thing as you will always meet someone, who might well remember you and may get in touch in the future. Again, we must understand there are no guarantees in this industry, but there’s always determination, ambition and hard work to succeed. So never stop trying, and always talk to people when you can.
Charlotte Arrowsmith (RSC Actor)
Questions about Shakespeare
Did shakespeare create new words.
Question from Jennifer
Shakespeare played a major role in the transformation of the English Language. Many words and phrases were first written down in his plays.
Which character recurs most in Shakespeare's plays?
Question from Temima
Sir John Falstaff is Shakespeare's most recurring character, appearing in three plays: Henry IV part 1, Henry IV part 2 , and The Merry Wives of Windsor .
Why is Shakespeare so important in 2020?
Question from Kaitlynn
Many of the words we still say today were first recorded in Shakespeare’s writing – you are quoting Shakespeare without even knowing it! He writes about big themes and his plays give us an insight into the society of the period he wrote in, while also allowing us to see the similarities with situations of today. I also think his plays have survived for a long time because they are full of themes and characters that still resonate with us today. His stories have space in them for interpretation – so over the years each generation and production is able to explore and highlight the themes that are important to them and that moment in time.
If you could create a musical from a Shakespeare play, which play would you use and what music would you use for it?
Question from Anya
I love musicals so was really excited by this question. There have already been some great musicals inspired by the writing of Shakespeare. West Side Story is a retelling of Romeo and Juliet, the play which also was the inspiration for my current favourite musical &Juliet, which imagines how Juliet’s story would have continued if she hadn’t died at the end (sorry for the spoiler!). Both of these show how one story can be the springboard for very different creations. I have been reading Pericles recently and as the story travels to different locations I would want to use music from different parts of the world each time the journey takes us to a new place.
What is your favourite Shakespeare insult?
Question from Aristotle
There are some absolutely excellent insults in Shakespeare’s plays with combinations of words we no longer use, for example – ‘puke-stocking’ or ‘swollen parcel of dropsies’.
But I really enjoy the insults that sound like they could have been written today, that in all of this time no one has found a way of saying it better.
“More of your conversation would infect my brain” from Coriolanus (Act 2 Scene 1) is my particular favourite at the moment.
Leigh Toney (Assistant Director on The Taming of the Shrew )
How important is poetic structure and antithesis in performing Shakespeare?
From Maggie, Jordan, Maja and Ella
Some people will tell you that it’s not important, that the rules of poetic structure are barriers to understanding of the text. They will tell you that, but I think they are wrong. The structure is as important as the music in a rap song. Indeed, it is the music. Where does Shakespeare want you to interrupt? Where are there pauses? Why go from verse to prose? Why? Why? Why? I guarantee if you ask yourself these questions, your understanding of his work will dramatically improve.
Antithesis is one of the main ways Shakespeare highlights the beautiful, maddening contradiction of being human. Of course, you don't have to play the antithesis. But if you don't, you miss the exquisite beauty and power of his metaphors. After all, what is love without the fear of loss?
Is Shakespeare’s lack of subtext hard for actors?
Question from Rodd
I would say no it isn’t hard because in fact Shakespeare has done all the hard work for us by putting just about everything that happens on stage.
Shakespeare’s writing is so finely tuned, with such precise rhythms, carefully placed consonants and vowels that give us very strong clues as to how to play it and the particular tone of the speech. The words actually make your mouth, facial muscles and tongue do things and behave in a certain way which as a consequence makes you sound a certain way. So, the subtext indicators are already there waiting to be sounded and felt. Thoughts are discovered at the moment of speaking and Shakespeare’s language is so rich, such a gift to us actors. In the soliloquies and asides, inner thoughts, struggles and arguments are all voiced and it’s a joy to get your mouth around these. Of course, all these words provide us with a challenge because we have to fully understand what all these words mean and really dig deep into them for meaning and sense.
Once we fully understand the text we can really enjoy exploring with our lips, teeth, tongue and breath how the words make us feel and then what we are saying and what we’re thinking hopefully become joined up!
Are female characters dressing as boys ever convincing?
Question from Timothy
I found this such an interesting question to think about and the short answer to this, in my opinion, is yes they can be!
At first this question prompted me to think about female actors playing men and I believe that you don’t necessarily need to be the same sex to get into the head of a character. As actors, our job is to lift the words off the page that, certainly in Shakespeare’s writing, give us such clear indicators of what the character is thinking, the status they have and what human emotion is motivating their actions. Therefore as long as we are getting behind the needs of that character truthfully, and play the intentions clearly, we can forget that we are watching a woman being a man. Plays are performed by people pretending to be someone else – actors – so when a female character dresses as a boy e.g. Rosalind in As You Like It , Viola in Twelfth Night, Portia in Merchant of Venice, we the audience I think delight in being in on the disguise but also believe that they are who they say they are in that moment.
When Glenda Jackson played King Lear, gender sort of became irrelevant, what we were most struck by was that she was playing a king. She played the command, the power, the stakes and the decline of this king. Maxine Peake played Hamlet as an angry prince with the energy of a young man reeling from the sudden death of his father and marriage of his mother to his uncle.
Shakespeare wrote about what it’s like to be human, human emotions, love, envy, fear, confusion, the whole lot! So, I think as long as we are telling the story and powering the words, yes a female character can definitely be convincing as a boy!
Was Shakespeare echoing Elizabethan antisemitism or was it a view he held himself?
Question from Mimi
We don’t know what Shakespeare’s own views were about anything, and he wasn’t the kind of writer who intended that we should, or he would have written autobiographical essays or sermons instead of plays: we only know what different words and different behaviours he allocates to different characters in different situations. He got the pound-of-flesh plot of The Merchant of Venice from an Italian short story, and while it is true that the play adds the detail of Shylock’s forced conversion, the notion that the play as a whole is perfectly comfortable about what happens to him seems surprising. It certainly isn’t funny, and many actors, including many Jewish actors, have seen Shylock as the play’s great tragic role.
What are some key clues for analysing Shakespeare?
Question from Ramman, Kellie and Yael
To help you to make sense of the plays, you might want to start by learning more about the key language features used within Shakespeare’s texts by visiting the RSC Learning Zone.
Take a look at Key Definitions for more information.
Why was Shakespeare so interested in shipwrecks?
Question from Laura
That’s a great question. Partly, I think, because Shakespeare is interested in what it is like to be a stranger, or to become a stranger – he never uses the word ‘foreigner’ (except as part of the insult 'mountain-foreigner', which is applied to a Welsh vicar), but he does think a lot about how it is to arrive in the world with no baggage and no set place (as Viola does in Twelfth Night ). Shipwrecks are a sign for fortune, for everything we can’t control, and Shakespeare never underestimates those things.
Did Shakespeare write in a 'posh' or in a 'popular/colloquial' English of the time?
Question from Carmen and Ana
Shakespeare writes in different registers for different characters. (In Henry IV part 1 , Prince Hal actually sets out to learn the slang used by pub staff, though he doesn’t imitate them when he is talking just to the audience as himself). Since Shakespeare lived in a time before many rich children were locked away from the world in private boarding schools talking only to each other, and before aristocrats shunned city centres, the distinctions among different accents worked a bit differently for him – some very important Elizabethan lords, for instance, had regional accents. Most of Shakespeare’s characters use a large vocabulary which includes both learned technical terms and also what we would think of as country dialect phrases. He was a writer for the public theatre, which meant his stuff had to be accessible, but he was also writing for a public which wanted to know how kings behaved and what the newest fashionable slang was.
Were some of the love sonnets written to a man?
Question from Pamela
The first 126 sonnets in the 1609 published collection all seem to be addressed to a young man. They are on various topics, but many of them praise the young man’s beauty, often in very intimate ways. They are easily found in any complete edition of the works of Shakespeare, and well worth reading.
Could it be possible that Shakespeare was a woman?
Question from Johnny
Disappointingly, no. Reliable eyewitness testimony, from his baptism onwards, uniformly says that Shakespeare was a male, called William, and the plays show clear evidence of an Elizabethan grammar-school education, which sadly was only available to males – as was a career on the public stage (and we have plenty of evidence that Shakespeare worked as an actor, as well as being a theatre company shareholder and scriptwriter). There is one play from Shakespeare’s time written by a woman – The Tragedy of Mariam , by Lady Cary, Viscountess Falkland (1613) – but it wasn’t intended for performance (and it shows). The first full-time female playwrights started working only after the theatrical profession was opened up to women, in 1660. If it’s any help, one of them, Aphra Behn, wrote that she found Shakespeare a great enabling precedent, because like her he hadn’t been to university.
Michael Dobson (Director of The Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon, and Professor of Shakespeare Studies, University of Birmingham)
When were Shakespeare's "lost years" and how many sonnets did he write?
Question from Joanna
There aren’t any records about Shakespeare between the baptism of his twins in Stratford in 1585 and Robert Greene mentioning him as an ambitious actor and scriptwriter in London in 1592 – this period in his life has been nicknamed ‘the lost years’, though since most Elizabethans are barely documented at all you might say that nearly everybody else’s years at the time were entirely lost between a record of baptism and a record of burial. We do at least know that during these Lost Years Shakespeare went to London and started getting himself known as an actor and scriptwriter, which is quite a lot to be getting on with.
The published edition of Shakespeare’s sonnets (1609) includes 154 sonnets, but some of the plays include sonnets too. Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson are about to publish a new edition of ‘All the Sonnets of Shakespeare’ including the ones in the plays.
What is Sonnet 130 about?
Question from Hope
A Valentine poem
My sweetheart's got such sunny eyes They sparkle out with bright surprise Her skin like peaches, and like cream Fills my every waking dream.
Her raven hair is smooth as silk, Her breast as white as morning milk Like perfume is her every breath I love madly, half to death.
And when she speaks, It's music that I hear, And when she moves, A goddess does appear.
And put all women to the test My love would be the very best.
This is the sort of soppy poem you might find in a Valentine’s Day card (I just wrote it actually!). But it’s the sort of sentimental verse that Shakespeare is satirising in Sonnet 130. He is saying that though classical poetry often glamourises the beloved as close to perfection (sun bright eyes, coral lips, snow white skin, complexion like roses, perfume breath etc.), his love doesn’t match up. In fact quite the opposite. Nevertheless, despite all the gooey metaphors others use to describe their lovers, he bets he loves his girlfriend much more than all those folk who put theirs on a pedestal! His love is more special than any woman about whom such false claims are made.
What inspired Shakespeare's writing?
Question from Susan
He was clearly incredibly excited by seeing touring actors when he was young, and by reading, from school onwards. Just as he was growing up, so was this thrilling new industry of the full-time commercial theatre, in which you could actually make a living out of writing, without having to grovel to an aristocratic patron all the time so as to be fed while turning out poems. I think the combination of seeing live performances and being taught to read amazing books (and some of the stuff he studied at school stayed with him all his life) made him want to take both of those things as far as he could.
Do you think we sometimes over-analyse the text?
Question from Shannon
Yes, but we sometimes under-analyse it too. Plays that work do so because of the way(s) in which they are written, and it is always worth looking closely to see how they do it. It is possible to investigate the imaginative cues and opportunities that Shakespeare’s lines offer (and which can feed such a wide range of performances and interpretations) without implying that his plays are cryptic encoded symbolic machines full of pre-programmed Secret Meanings.
Why did Elizabethans believe so strongly in fairies?
Question from Sebastian
I don’t think most of them did; in the 21 st century lots of people enjoy movies about vampires and zombies, without necessarily thinking that such beings exist. The picturesque and exciting details about fairies and witches that Shakespeare used in his plays are mainly things he learned from Reginald Scot’s book The Discovery of Witchcraft (1584), which is an exposé, a book about the foolish superstitions held by others rather than a field guide to genuine supernatural creatures.
Do you think Shakespeare’s tragedies are better at conveying lessons than his comedies?
Question from Bethy
Personally, I don’t go to the theatre in the hopes of learning lessons, though I do find Shakespeare’s plays useful to think with. Whether one prefers tragedy to comedy is a matter of personal inclination, though I don’t think Shakespeare saw the two as really separate – his comedies are full of people who know they will die and his tragedies are full of people who sometimes laugh.
What is the meaning of ‘be of good cheer’?
Question from Bob
Be cheerful; maintain a positive, jovial outlook.
Which play was most popular when it was written?
Question from Toby
Sadly we don’t have detailed figures for audience numbers across the whole of Shakespeare’s career (though we do have records of a very successful production of Titus Andronicus early on), so we have to deduce the relative popularity of his plays from how often they get mentioned in surviving random documents and how often the ones that got printed in Shakespeare’s lifetime (which is only half of them) got reprinted. On this evidence, the big hits were Titus Andronicus, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, Henry IV part 1, Hamlet and Pericles, with strong showings from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Merchant of Venice (which was the one Shakespeare play King James I asked to see a second time when Shakespeare's company performed a whole slew of his back catalogue at court during the winter of 1604-5). But the evidence is very patchy – there weren’t newspapers or theatre blogs or mandatory audits of box office income in the 1590s.
Did Shakespeare have a happy childhood? He writes about sad stuff a lot.
Question from Clementine and others
Even so, he wrote more comedies than he did tragedies: but our culture has tended to think tragedies are more important, so they tend to be more famous. We know quite a lot about Shakespeare’s childhood (he was the third child in his family, but the two elder sisters had already died as babies before he was born; then there were two younger sisters and three younger brothers), but he never wrote down whether he enjoyed it or not. Sometimes it is people who have had a cheerful family life in youth who feel more able to go into traumatic subject-matter if they grow up to write. In his plays, Shakespeare was more interested in telling us about his characters’ experiences than about his own, so deducing things about him from them is both tricky and a bit off the point.
Did Shakespeare ever write a play and not finish it?
Question from Ruby
Timon of Athens was co-written with Thomas Middleton, and it doesn’t look as though the result was ever staged in Shakespeare’s lifetime. In the state in which we have it, it certainly isn’t very polished, though there is an ending. The play only seems to have been put into the First Folio collection to fill the space that would have been left by Troilus and Cressida (about which there were copyright problems with a previous printer), and then when the compilers got permission to include Troilus and Cressida at the last minute, Timon stayed in. Like other scriptwriters of his time and ours, Shakespeare co-wrote sometimes – on The Two Noble Kinsmen , he wrote the beginning and the end, and John Fletcher wrote the middle. New plays were in constant demand, so if any writer ever did leave half of one lying about it would be worth commissioning another writer to finish it. Timon is an anomaly in this respect - possibly Shakespeare's colleagues were really disappointed with it!
What makes Shakespeare different to others, like Webster?
Questions from Rebecca and Daniel, and from Michelle who is studying Hamlet
I often think Shakespeare is set apart from other writers because he doesn’t judge his characters. You always know what Ben Jonson thinks of his characters, for example, and he often despises them. Shakespeare never does.
Shakespeare also allows what might otherwise seem to be inconsistencies in character, or contradictory elements. But that is why actors love to play these roles because those contradictions make them human. We are all so full of apparent contradictory elements in our characters, depending on what time of day, or what mood you may find us in.
With regard to Hamlet, there is a very interesting test of how this works. Take the different positions in which the famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy is placed in a) the first quarto, (published in 1603, and sometimes called the “bad” quarto) and b) in the second quarto published in 1604 (the same position it appears in the Folio published seven years after Shakespeare’s death in 1623) .
In the first (bad) quarto, Hamlet has just encountered the ghost of his dead father on the battlements, and been told his uncle has murdered him, and that he must revenge that death. He has, we are told, run into his girlfriend’s bedroom, deeply distressed, but unable to connect with her, has fled the room. It is in this state that he plunges into his existential enquiry. He contemplates death, and the reasons why he does not commit suicide.
But in the second quarto and the Folio, he doesn’t do the “to be or not to be” speech until after he has met his two old school chums, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, been introduced to the players, and invented a plan to reveal his uncle’s guilt publicly (with a performance of the play called “The Mousetrap”). He seems to be on a real high here. So why would he now fall back into his slough of despond, and contemplate his own annihilation?
Well, you could say, because he is volatile, and suffering massive mood swings, brought about by the trauma of his father’s death, and the news that the whole world is out of joint.
The first quarto position is perhaps the more logical position for a soliloquy of such anxiety. It’s a more linear progression from one state to another. But maybe the second position more vividly describes the fragile psychological state of the young prince.
Another lesser writer would have chosen a); but perhaps the more sophisticated Shakespeare relishes the complexity of option b).
You ask about other writers, Shakespeare’s contemporaries, and how they compare with him. It’s almost an unfair comparison, because many are great in their own ways.
Marlowe has magnificent daring, and revels in what Ben Jonson called the “mighty line”, ringing with violent thunder. His plots are huge and deal with dangerous subjects: a man who sells his soul to the devil, an openly homosexual king, a world conqueror, a Machiavellian Jew, a religious massacre in Paris.
Shakespeare can match him for grandiloquence, but Marlowe is rarely simple. He rarely takes your breath away with simple monosyllables: “ to be or not to be”; Leontes’ “O, she’s warm” or Lear’s “Never, never, never, never, never”.
Webster is baroque in his plotting and his obsession with what T.S.Eliot called “the skull beneath the skin”. He is gothic in his imagination, and unrelentingly bleak in his outlook. He’s always striving for effect. Shakespeare never is.
John Fletcher has a gentleness, a sweetness, and a wit, but no rage.
Shakespeare’s plays are all completely different from each other. Ben Jonson’s plays merge one into another. And Jonson, though bitingly satirical, and a scourge of vice, can never quite love his characters, can’t help criticising them. Shakespeare steps into each of his character’s shoes, understands how they tick, and has deep compassion for them, for all of us. He is able to express 360 degrees of human experience, while the others rarely get past 180.
None of his contemporaries can describe the entire spectrum of society from Court to country, from king to beggar in the way that Shakespeare can.
None can capture experience in a way which makes you say “how did he know I thought that?”. And none can do it in such memorable language, lines which once heard can never been forgotten, which hook into your brain and latch there for life.
What is your understanding of Sonnet 15?
Question from Kate
I think Shakespeare is pointing out that life is temporal, and everything mortal is unstable. So whereas the young man addressed is also subject to Time, yet he will live forever in the poet’s verse.
The Poet sees the natural world around him, and that every plant or flower only blossoms, or holds its perfection for a very brief moment. And all the business of life is really as insubstantial as a stage show. It’s as if the stars are in fact the audience watching and commenting on our actions.
And man is the same as plants. Encouraged and restrained by the very same sky (perhaps by sun and rain, or frost), we grow, exult in the beauty of our youth, and once we get to a pinnacle of our careers, we start to decrease towards death, and are quickly forgotten.
This thought brings the young man (“most rich in youth”) to mind, and the poet realises that even he will be subject to time and decay, and ultimately death (“sullied night”).
But then, in the way that Shakespeare often turns things around in the final couplet, he says despite Time’s efforts to destroy it, your beauty will live on in my poem, or possibly by “grafting”, as in inserting new growth to a plant, by which he may mean, by you having a child who will share your looks and live on after you.
The first seventeen sonnets are thought to be a sequence, addressed to an aristocratic young man, imploring him to get married and have children. There are several candidates for this “Fair Youth”. Perhaps the most likely candidate is William Herbert. In 1595 William Herbert had refused to marry Elizabeth Carey, the granddaughter of the Lord Chamberlain, the patron of the very company Shakespeare worked for. Some people suggest that his mother, Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke, invited Shakespeare down to Wilton House and commissioned him to write these 17 for the 17th birthday of her son, William in April 1597. William Herbert’s initials certainly seem to fit to the dedication of the book to Mr W.H. , although as an aristocrat it would have been odd to address him as “Mister”. Hemminges and Condell, Shakespeare’s business partners, would later dedicate the First Folio of all his collected plays to William Herbert and his brother Philip.
Some suggest that the sonnets are written for Henry Wriothesley (pronounced “Risley”) the third Earl of Southampton to whom in 1593 Shakespeare dedicated his poem 'Venus and Adonis' and later 'The Rape of Lucrece'. Same initials just the wrong way round HW not WH (perhaps to conceal his identity).
It’s worth reading Sonnet 16, the next in the sequence, where the poet continues the thought, specifically suggesting the young man marry and have kids.
How do the actors know what gestures to use?
Questions from Resa, Nathan and Anna
Is there a director's book somewhere? Are there written notes passed down or is it up to the actor/director's interpretation?
I love the idea of a book full of secret tips and instructions for actors! But your last suggestion is correct. Actors and directors (and sometimes movement directors) work together to find out how to interpret a character or scene physically. Hopefully, an actor will find that hand and body gestures arise naturally with their growing understanding of a character and their thoughts. That said, there was a famous version of Richard III at the RSC in the 1980s in which Sir Antony Sher decided to show the creepy cunning of Richard by basing his movements on a spider. Also, the setting for the play may affect how you move - people living on the streets of Italy in the 1950s will use gestures differently from those in the Elizabethan court. Discovering your character’s physicality is a fun and crucial part of the process.
How do you help the audience to understand?
Questions from Abigail, Hannah and Gabby
Firstly, make sure you completely understand everything you are saying. Then, pay attention to the verse. For example, Shakespeare usually places important words at the ends of lines because the audience need to hear these! Otherwise, normal acting techniques apply. Make sure you’re speaking to affect or change the other characters on stage (are you trying to persuade them, frighten them, scold them etc). If you’re speaking a soliloquy, decide what question or problem you’re trying to solve (in ‘to be or not to be’ Hamlet is trying to work out whether to carry on living). If the thoughts behind your words are clear, the audience should (hopefully) stay with you.
How do you approach adapting or 'updating' a play?
Question from Mellie
When modernising Shakespeare we need to consider how the play speaks to our current world order. Why is it important to stage it right now?
For example, I directed Henry V last year and the story of that play (an English king having a great conflict with France) found some interesting resonances with the Brexit fallout that was dominating the news this time last year. It was exciting seeing how Shakespeare’s play had much to say about nationalism, the persuasive nature of political speeches and the perils of being a leader.
The original cast of Henry V has only two female parts, but we decided to have a 50% female cast. This better represented our modern world where women serve as politicians and soldiers, when they couldn’t in 1599 when the play was first written.
Finally, my target audience for any of my productions is always a younger version of myself who wasn’t interested in Shakespeare’s plays. I try to thrill him and make him lean forward in his chair. That is the job of somebody bringing these plays to modern audiences - make them matter.
Hal Chambers (RSC Assistant Director)
Which is your favourite Shakespeare play?
Question from Grace
Hi Grace! It’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Mainly because it was the first play that lit my fire for Shakespeare. I saw Baz Lurhmann’s film at the age of 13 in a class at school and I cried my eyes out at the end. The brash pop music, the modern setting and the power and violence of it all left a lasting impression. I was shaken.
Then, when I was 19 at university, I was cast as Romeo in a production. That allowed me to get right up close to the power of the text and see just how well Shakespeare creates character through words.
I’ve directed the play on a few occasions and there are always new things I find in it. There are so many good scenes: the gripping fight at the start, the famous and surprisingly funny balcony scene, the brutal death of Mercutio and the tragic finale which always seems so avoidable. Every time I work on it or see a production of it, I always hope that the couple will find a way of escaping and living a happy life, but they never ever do and I am once more back to being 13 at school, crying my eyes out.
Why are genders reversed in productions, and does it work?
Questions from Lauri, Sophie Ella, Robyn, Hadley, April and Alice
I think swapping the genders of characters can work as long as it’s not an end in itself. I still feel that you have to serve the playwright’s words. If I see a production of Othello , I don’t care if Iago is played by a woman, man or martian as long as the performance is intricate and fully rounded.
In my experience, the gender reversing of characters can appear gimmicky if that’s the only creative choice in the production. The characters and emotional dynamics between the characters still have to be believable. The text can feel newly minted if it’s approached sensitively and in sync with the playwright’s emotional intentions. The danger with performing Shakespeare is that we keep doing the same thing and create “Museum Theatre”. Switching the gender of roles can often shed new light on the text and allow us to view the play anew. To give you a personal example, when I played Kate as a man in The Taming of the Shrew recently, my interpretation of Kate’s final speech felt more of a plea for peace and a romantic tribute to Petruchia. When I’d seen Shrew in the traditional form, Kate (played by a woman) would often deliver the final speech as an act of submission. Neither of these approaches are better or worse than the other, it just shows that these texts can be explored from many different viewpoints.
Jospeh Arkley (RSC Actor)
I think there are three important reasons why genders are sometimes reversed in productions:
- Shakespeare’s characters follow very human struggles. Many of their obstacles and challenges are universal - regardless of gender - even when placed in the wider context of the world of the play. I would argue this means any actor can play any role in Shakespeare. This is reflected in a lot of modern productions.
- Women weren’t allowed to perform onstage in plays and Shakespeare wrote for all-male acting companies. Now women have an established space on stage spanning a legacy of hundreds of years. Limiting them to the small amount of female roles (there are considerably less than those written for men) seems reductive, so lots of modern theatre makers have decided to reverse these roles in productions.
- Shakespeare wrote women in a historical context of deep injustice and patriarchy. By reversing gender roles in his plays, theatre makers can subvert the patriarchal injustices that might exist in Shakespeare’s works. For example the RSC production of The Taming of the Shrew, which saw Katharina played by a man and her lover and ‘master’ Petruchio played by a woman.
Georgia Landers (RSC Actor)
Are Shakespearean roles more difficult than others?
Questions from Helen, Hannah and Gabi
It can be, it depends on the play. If it’s a tragedy it’s hard to sometimes get into the mind of someone who is so in depth with sombre and heavy issues which means we have to break it down, and understand those issues first. It takes a lot for an actor to research characters and get to know them, understand them, and be able to reflect the character in true form with 'believability' at the core. It often means actors have to allow themselves to be vulnerable, and let the audience look in and witness those vulnerabilities. If it’s a comedy, it’s slightly easier (for me anyway) to reflect those traits. However, normally, comedy is where characters are at their saddest so, again, we need to research and delve into the play’s narrative to help us define the characters and their reasons/goals/direction to perform in the scenes.
Can the language be a barrier?
Questions from Clara, Emma, Mia and Edie
l sometimes believe that Shakespeare saw words visually. His poetry is sublime in the fact that he writes as if he is painting a picture. The way an artist flicks the paint, the colors, the motion of the artistry demonstrated on a canvas… that’s sometimes how I think Shakespeare sees his poetry, as if he is always imagining a storyboard in his head and the words flow like a paintbrush would. There have been so many occasions when I translate his work into modern English in order to translate into BSL, I have to refer back to the old English because it’s simply clear what he is saying, visually. There’s sometime conflict with the modern English translation, in trying hard to translate and it means the opposite, as it’s done without imagining first. A lot of people get stuck on the meaning of the words and analyse too much, without imagining the picture of the sentence as a whole. Ultimately it’s the whole piece, the framework of those words that help us to imagine the picture.
What is iambic pentameter?
Question from Chous and Nishra
You can find out all about iambic pentameter and other key language terms on the RSC Shakespeare Learning Zone YouTube channel.
Take a look at the Definition videos for more information.
Questions about Tragedies
What is the time frame for macbeth.
Question from Dylan
The real-life Macbeth lived from c.1005 to 1057, and after killing King Duncan in battle in 1040 he enjoyed a prosperous 17-year reign, during which he encouraged Christianity and made a pilgrimage to Rome, until he was overthrown and killed by Duncan’s son Malcolm. In Shakespeare’s play, however, his reign seems far, far shorter. Shakespeare, as is often the case except in a few plays such as Romeo and Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing , is deliberately vague with days and dates (of all his histories, only Henry IV part 1 mentions what year it is anywhere). Shakespeare prefers to help us feel how time is passing with his characters, rather than asking us to follow a carefully narrated chronology on a chart. Time rushes past between Macbeth first speculating about killing Duncan and committing his regicide, and then it falls apart, into endless guilty retrospect and meaninglessness, in which every day just becomes another tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.
Why should students study Macbeth?
Question from Joshua
Although Shakespeare’s plays were written 400 years ago, they are full of characters, dilemmas and stories we all still recognise. At the RSC we believe that studying and seeing Shakespeare deepens our understanding of ourselves, each other and the world we live in. Macbeth is a story about ambition, misuse of power, superstition, and the consequences of actions. All of those things are still relevant today. It’s also a great story, with murder, battles and bad choices that we see played out through a host of different characters.
To find out more about the plot of Macbeth, visit the Macbeth Story Section on the RSC Shakespeare Learning Zone.
What is Hamlet's fatal flaw?
Question from Zoe
The notion that the central characters in tragedies must each have their own ‘fatal flaw’ derives from a misreading of a passage in Aristotle’s Poetics . Aristotle was describing ancient Greek tragedies, in which, he remarked, at a key moment the central character always displayed ‘hamartia.’ Hamartia, though, might better be translated as ‘error’ – so Aristotle was saying that Greek tragic heroes make fatal mistakes, rather than that they have fatal character defects. Aristotle’s essay became influential in the eighteenth century, but of course it wasn’t describing Shakespeare’s tragedies, and in any case Shakespeare shows no sign of ever having read it. Shakespeare’s tragedies do not follow any of the formulae followed by Greek tragedies: they just depict a variety of people who, for a variety of reasons (not all of their own making), wind up dead. Hamlet learns that his uncle Claudius killed his father Old Hamlet, thereby securing control of the state; given this tragic and perilous situation, Hamlet has an interesting and quite possibly fatal problem on his hands whoever he is and whatever we may decide we do and don’t know or value about his character.
Do you have any advice or tips about Julius Caesar?
Question from Yael
You can find out about the plot, characters, language and staging of Julius Caesar by visiting the RSC Learning Zone pages on the play.
How would you direct the scene where Gloucester's eyes are gouged out to make it as realistic as possible?
Each director's approach to staging this gory scene will be different depending on their interpretation of the text, circumstances, and company of actors. Past productions show many different interpretations, from symbolic red ribbons to more realistic blood bags.
How do I teach Romeo and Juliet?
Question from Lori
You can find many resources to help you teach Romeo and Juliet on the Education pages of the RSC website:
- Take a look at our teacher packs/films and scene studies
- Explore the text deeply with the Shakespeare Learning Zone
- Enrol in our certification programmes in the teaching of Shakespeare
Why is Macbeth called the Scottish play?
Macbeth gets called 'the Scottish Play' because of the old theatrical superstition that it is unlucky to say the word 'Macbeth' (except in the course of rehearsing or performing Shakespeare's play) in a theatre. Hence some actors (and others) refer to Macbeth as the Scottish Play, so as to avoid any supposed curses attendant on those who mention it unguardedly. The superstition dates from the nineteenth century, and while some actors have indeed had accidents while playing Macbeth (not least because the role often involves carrying dangerous daggers and swords across dimly-lit sets!), not all theatrical practitioners follow it. At the first rehearsal of his 1999 production for the RSC, for instance, Greg Doran announced that he was having nothing to do with the story of the curse, and that the whole cast were to say the word 'Macbeth' as often as they liked: the production was an immense critical and popular success, plus nobody was injured.
How would you approach Macbeth from an Absurdist Theatre point of view?
Question from Alex
Macbeth is a very interesting play as, on the one hand, it is an honest and brutal deep-dive into Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s psychologies and is, in a way, hyper-real. On the other hand, the play is full of unsettling, nightmarish imagery and has a strong sense of the uncanny. If you were to bring these latter elements to the fore and create a production that highlights the strangeness that dominates the play (perhaps with an emphasis on the Witches' interference), then you could find some very interesting results.
If we take Absurdist theatre to be a central character's reaction to a world that lacks meaning, who is controlled or menaced by invisible outside forces , then does Macbeth fit into this vision? Another hallmark of absurdist theatre is the anti-character , anti-language and anti-plot focus.
Yes, Macbeth’s famous ‘Tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow’ speech may lend itself nicely to an absurdist vision. And the absurd image of the ‘poor player strutting and fretting his hour upon the stage’, whose life ultimately ‘signifies nothing’ sounds like something straight out of Beckett or Pinter’s playbook. However, Shakespeare spends quite a bit of time in the play focusing on the psychological reality of a killer and much of the story of the play is action-packed / story-driven. With this in mind, the absurdist adaptation might be a little more challenging and may need a more radical adaptation of the text.
If it helps, I directed Macbeth in 2019 and re-imagined it with a female Macbeth and a male Lady Macbeth (in this case he became Lord Macbeth). The production explored the imagery of lost children and infertility. There was a heightened reality to some of the key moments in the play, in particular the murder ritual, which involved members of the company arriving onstage in face masks pulling in medical curtains at the outside of the space at the climactic moment. The frenetic killings were hyper-stylised and took place behind the curtains. They were not fully seen by the audience and this, in a way, made it all the more terrible. I was influenced by iconic imagery from horror films and wanted the audience to feel the intensity of the deaths through a surreal theatrical device. There was no real blood in the play; instead we used red surgical gloves to denote those with blood on their hands. Furthermore we only had one witch and she was dressed as a nurse. She took the Macbeths' dead child from her at the beginning of the story. The Witch’s presence was an almost constant throughout the play. She served as a constant reminder of the suffering the couple had experienced. There was a feeling of ‘nightmare' that I wanted to sustain throughout.
All of the theatrical devices we employed were used to help heighten the psychological truth of the characters in the story, so in this way it was not necessarily an absurdist production, yet by fragmenting the fabric of the play’s reality we tapped into some of the play’s inherent strangeness.
Also, maybe check out Macbett , by iconic absurdist playwright Eugène Ionesco, who re-imagines Shakespeare’s story into the cold war in a tragic-farce style.
Does Gertrude marry Claudius out of duty, passion or conspiracy?
Question from Katrina, Abi and Sofia
I'm afraid I'm going to give an actor's answer: all three motives (or combinations of them) are possible, depending on how the director and actor choose to shape the play.
For example, a long time ago I played Gertrude in a production that favoured the idea that Gertrude marries for political reasons. In Act 1 Scene 2 Claudius explains that, following Old Hamlet's death, enemies such as Fortinbras perceive Denmark to be floundering in a power vacuum. A swift marriage to install Claudius as king therefore makes political sense, and Gertrude would also have been protecting Hamlet's inheritance by marrying Claudius. As the play wears on, and Gertrude comes to know that Claudius murdered Old Hamlet, her world begins to unravel. Having tried to do the right thing, she is stuck in a horrible situation - between a murdering husband and a revengeful son - with no way out.
Where this falls down, however, is that Gertrude's admission of guilt in the closet scene (Act 3 Scene 4) must refer to something. Penny Downie played Gertrude at the RSC in 2008 and for her, Gertrude is driven by desire for Claudius and the crown - sex and power. When I played the part more recently, I felt that Gertrude marries Claudius out of a combination of passion, duty and a degree of personal ambition (all of which distract her from the proper care of her son). I suspect Gertrude may be the kind of person who can persuade herself that she is doing the right and dutiful thing, while really she is just going after what she wants. Perhaps for this reason, she can't quite bring herself to act on what she discovers about Claudius. She seems to find it difficult to confront hard truths: she repeatedly begs Hamlet to stop telling her his truth in the closet scene; she then lies to the king to protect Hamlet, but soon after throws him to the lions by defending Claudius to Laertes over the killing of Polonius; she tries to avoid speaking to Ophelia at all. Maybe (like Ophelia sinking beneath the water in the river), it's a relief to her to finally 'opt out' by drinking the poisoned wine.
But I do have sympathy with Gertrude, whatever her motives. She's not a fool, she's a woman in a world where women (even queens) have few options. She's trapped in an almost impossible political situation that she has little power to affect, even if she had the will.
What do you think is the importance of the 'Life is but a shadow' speech after Lady Macbeth's death?
Question from a student
This is an interesting question.... I think one of the images Shakespeare gives Macbeth, "A poor player/that struts and frets his time upon the stage", is an image his audience has just witnessed in the sleepwalking scene. Lady Macbeth frets in her sleep as she walks past the doctor and the gentlewoman, reliving her guilty past. And now she is dead: "And then is heard no more." But it is also a premonition of his own end, I feel. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have both strutted and fretted throughout the play. Both of them, at different times, full of sound and fury. It is a potent, potent speech because it IS the action we see in the play... Soon he will die too. The sleepwalking scene, coming before, makes the whole speech all the more vivid.
Like much of what Shakespeare has written, Macbeth's speech chimes and resonates with us all: we all strut and fret at times... And life is short... A brief hour upon the stage, really!
Niamh Cusack (RSC Actor)
Do you think 'guilt' and 'appearance v reality' are themes in Macbeth?
Question from Jessie and Gallifreya
Yes. I think it is guilt that pervades the Macbeths’ conscious and unconscious minds once Duncan is killed. Directly after having murdered Duncan, Macbeth is overwhelmed by guilt for what he has done: "I am afraid to think what I have done." He can't even go back to leave the daggers with the servants to make sure they are framed as guilty: "Look again I dare not". At THAT point, Lady M doesn't feel guilty. She is so obsessed with carrying out their plan.
But then, a turning point in the tale is when Macbeth, despite his guilt, believes that he must kill Banquo and Fleance to ensure he keeps the crown. He seems to shelve his guilt, and in a pragmatic way (he IS a soldier, remember), he proceeds in his ruthless plan. On and on he goes towards the bloodbath that ensues.
We don't realise that SHE is feeling guilty until we see her sleepwalking... when it is clear that she is haunted by the death of Duncan: "Yet who would have thought the old man had so much blood in him." I, personally, feel that her guilt emerges because she has been left alone with her thoughts. Left by her husband who no longer confides in her. After the banquet scene we never see them together again. He acts alone, without her.
I think there are two types of "appearance" in the play. There is the supernatural appearance of the witches. Are they real or not? They appear to both Macbeth and Banquo. So are they real? Or are they visions conjured up by two ambitious imaginations??? Banquo’s as well as Macbeth's. The ghosts of the people he has murdered appear to Macbeth but to no one else. So they, presumably, are NOT real. And in her sleepwalking scene, Lady Macbeth sees images that are no longer real, but guilty memories: "Yet who would have thought the old man had so much blood in him", and the guilty memory conversations she had with her husband: "No more o' that my lord, no more o'that, you mar all with this starting"... Guilty "REappearances".
But there is also how the Macbeths "appear" to everyone at the beginning of the play: he a stunning soldier, "Brave Macbeth"; she the perfect warm hostess, "Fair and Noble hostess", Duncan calls her. And then we see the reality of who they are...driven and ruthless (although the cause, to my mind, of their desperation MUST be to do with the grief and damage they have suffered personally with the loss of their child/children). By the end of the play, the reality of their murderous ambition leaves them with the titles "dead butcher and his fiend like Queen". Titles which have reality AND appearance in them...It is how they are seen by Malcolm. It is not the whole story: they are also the human couple who love each other that we, the audience, have seen too.
Why does Romeo make terrible decisions?
Question from Andrew
Romeo is young and seems to be a bit naive; he is very quick to make decisions in the play. He appears to be ruled by his emotions which can make him a bit impatient. This makes him seem like he is making bad decisions but sometimes being patient is hard to do when you are young and excitable and have no experience of what the consequences might be. You often learn from past experience and from your mistakes. Many people try to advise Romeo but he is headstrong and wants to do things his own way. It is just a shame that some of these decisions lead to such tragedy in the play.
Is Macbeth a tragic hero, villain, or victim of fate?
Question from Persephone
The play is certainly a tragedy – we watch as the Macbeths lose everything they have, including their own lives due to their own decisions. In one sense, Macbeth is the hero because he is the protagonist – we are watching his story – but certainly lots of the other characters begin to believe he is a villain, and we watch as he becomes a murderer.
But I don’t think there is an easy answer and I think you are onto that with your question. The amazing thing about Shakespeare is that he presents us with characters who are fully rounded believable human beings. For us to truly understand Macbeth, we have to see how this great soldier, a man of violent action, is convinced to do the things he does by a combination of the Witches' prophecy and his own superstition, his ambition and that of his wife Lady Macbeth and by sheer chance – for instance Duncan coming to visit their castle. I think Shakespeare is explicitly exploring the tension between ‘coincidence’ and ‘fate’ in this play. He creates characters who believe in the supernatural and then presents them with the choice whether to believe the prophecies before them. But it’s very important to say that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth make their own choices about what to do with the information the Witches give them. If I were playing Macbeth, I would like it always to feel as though Macbeth COULD choose to do something else at every moment. As we see, Banquo doesn’t take violent action the moment he hears his sons will be kings hereafter. So in this sense I don’t think they are victims of fate at all, even though all of the prophecies do appear to come true. The clever thing about fate is that once something has happened in a story, we can say ‘it had to happen that way’. What’s brilliant about live theatre and telling stories, is that we as performers must make it feel as though anything is possible at any moment as you are watching. After that, it’s up to you! What do you think?
Joseph Kloska (RSC Actor)
Is Iago evil personified?
“Evil personified”? No. I don’t believe in evil. It has a religious connotation. Good and evil, God and the devil. I believe that when people do bad or monstrous things, it isn’t commanded from heaven or hell, but born from within themselves, from damage or illness within themselves. Nor do I believe in the “motiveless malignity” theory about Iago (the phrase was coined by the 18th century literary critic, Samuel Taylor Coleridge). Iago has plenty of motives. He is a racist, which can be a kind of mental sickness. He is also frustrated in his career - Cassio is promoted instead of him - and bitterness can be very destructive. And in our production, we also decided that there was something sexually wrong with him - perhaps impotence? - taking this from clues in the text; i.e. the frequency and grossness of sexual imagery in his dialogue, and his conviction (which is untrue) that both Othello and Cassio are sleeping with his wife, Emilia. Putting all these things together, I decided that Iago was suffering from an extreme and violent form of jealousy. The play is famously about jealousy, the jealousy of one man - Othello - but I believe it’s about the jealousy of two men.
In Romeo and Juliet who is to blame for Mercutio’s death?
Question from Sylvia
What might have come up if they had held a public inquest? A failure by the Prince to keep the city adequately policed and to prevent young men carrying dangerous weapons; Romeo’s clumsy attempt at peacemaking; Mercutio’s own enthusiasm for duelling (even when his family aren’t either Montagues or Capulets). But mainly, I’d have thought, the violent young man who kills him, Tybalt. And then let's not forget Shakespeare's artistic need to change the mood of the play at this point and give Romeo a reason to kill Tybalt and get banished. What’s your own verdict?
In Macbeth is it important that the lords meet the English at Birnam Wood?
Question from Xavier
It’s certainly important that the army which defeats Macbeth is a combined Anglo-Scottish force (rather than looking entirely like an English invasion – even if Malcolm’s decision to abolish the term ‘thane’ in favour of ‘earl’ makes it look as though his government is going to be a puppet regime, a client-state of London). It is equally important that they should fulfil the weird sisters’ prophecy by moving Birnam Wood to Dunsinane.
Do you think we misuse "to thine own self be true" as a slogan about authenticity?
Question from Shawn
Given that the first words of Hamlet are ‘Who’s there?’ and its protagonist spends much of the play trying to work out who he is and what he should do about it, it’s a phrase which in context can sound pretty glib: in this play, being true to yourself just isn’t that simple. It is a facile slogan in and of itself, as you suggest, though I have seen Polonius say it to Laertes with desperate intensity, trying to get his beloved son away from Elsinore in the hopes that he will somehow retain a personal integrity which Polonius clearly sacrificed to his political career years ago.
In Macbeth, is Hecate a character Shakespeare created, and are her lines in a different style?
Question from Saxon
The text we have of Macbeth , printed in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death, appears to be the working script which the surviving members of his company were using in 1623 – and by then it had evolved a bit since Shakespeare’s time. Yes, it looks as though his junior colleague Thomas Middleton had added these new passages involving Hecate and pasted in a couple of songs from his own play The Witch into the bargain. Hecate was the goddess of witchcraft – Shakespeare does mention her sometimes, but I don’t think he wrote this dialogue in which she actually turns up on stage.
Which colours represent the Capulets and the Montagues; who is red and who is blue?
There is nothing in Shakespeare’s script which colour-codes the rival families, though different stage productions and film adaptations have sometimes found it convenient to do so. So either or both can be as red or as blue as you like.
Do you think Claudius and Polonius overhear Hamlet’s famous soliloquy?
Question from Charlie
Many editions suggest that Claudius and Polonius do eavesdrop on the exchange between Hamlet and Ophelia and are on stage for Hamlet's ‘To be, or not to be’ soliloquy. However, the staging of any scene is decided during rehearsals between a director and the actors. Each production will make a different choice as to whether Hamlet’s soliloquy is delivered alone on a stage or when other characters are present.
You can find out more about staging Hamlet on the RSC Shakespeare Learning Zone. Take a look at Staging Hamlet for more information.
Is there love between Ophelia and Hamlet?
Question from Rachel
You can find out more about the relationship between Ophelia and Hamlet on the RSC Shakespeare Learning Zone. Take a look at Character Relationships and the films in the section for more information.
Should the casting of Edmund and Edgar in King Lear highlight their different natures?
Question from Erez
Each director will have a different approach when casting actors for these or any roles in Shakespeare. You can find out more about the staging of King Lear on the RSC Shakespeare Learning Zone.
What are the themes in Romeo and Juliet?
Question from Izzy
You can find out more about the themes in Romeo and Juliet on the RSC Shakespeare Learning Zone.
Take a look at our Key Themes resource for more information.
What is Juliet like?
Question from Ann
You can find out more about Juliet’s character by visiting the RSC Shakespeare Learning Zone.
Take a look at Character Analysis for more information.
What is the speech 'tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow' about in Macbeth?
This speech comes near the end of Macbeth in Act 5 Scene 5 and Macbeth has just been told his wife has died and that his castle is about to be besieged by Malcolm and Macduff. But Macbeth still believes he cannot be defeated as the last of the witches' prophecies seem utterly impossible to him.
I think this speech shows us Macbeth in a terrible state and at the very limit of holding himself together. The person he has been incredibly close to and who has encouraged him to murder Duncan and his friends has been consumed by her guilt herself and died. I believe this makes him realise everything – all of the actions and decisions we take in life - is utterly pointless.
He speaks about the nature of time as though it no longer exists – that he is trapped in this awful moment where he has murdered so many of his closest friends and they are never coming back and he can never be forgiven. That every single minute feels like an eternity in the hollow awfulness of what he has done in the present. That any kind of action is no longer possible and he is completely surrendered to ‘fate’, trapped in the horror of this moment, his betrayal of everybody is pathetic and unavoidable.
He takes this further to deliver the ultimate nihilist philosophy – life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing. As well as telling us Macbeth is completely hopeless at this moment, this is a stunning and deeply ironic comment here being made by Shakespeare – certainly about our own lives, but perhaps we can also understand it as a stinging line about the nature of storytelling and going to the theatre! When we are looking at Shakespeare’s plays, we have to remember that they were written always with and for an audience in mind, that people enjoyed seeing characters comment on their own predicaments in these moments, and that sometimes Shakespeare expressed some great truths about life in these moments, and perhaps he is commenting about his own job as a playwright.
What I think Shakespeare captures so brilliantly is the utter deadness of Macbeth’s emotions at this point, that his ambition has fallen away and he is conscious of the full and awful impact of his terrible actions. If I were playing Macbeth, I would really look forward to playing this awful and terrible moment and getting to speak with such beautiful and powerful language.
Why are comic relief characters, such as the porter in Macbeth, important?
Question from Kate and Tilly
That’s a great question! I think these types of characters (the funny ones) are very important in Shakespeare’s plays for all sorts of reasons. And I’ve also played quite a few at the RSC and elsewhere!
For one thing, it was very important to Shakespeare that his audiences had fun at the theatre. So, as well as telling these epic stories of ambition, warrior kings and evil enemies, the audience got to have a break and a change of tone and some laughter.
But these characters often serve another purpose. They make jokes about drinking too much, being selfish or self-important. So that means they get to speak truth to power (or more often, NEXT TO power), reminding the audience that while these people concerned with high politics and kingship fight between themselves, the rest of the world gets on with their daily jobs and lives. They are you and me, standing in the pit of the Elizabethan theatre, making jokes at the expense of the pompous, the ambitious and the foolish egos in the main story.
I believe when you go and see a play by Shakespeare today, that those characters should feel like they are connecting directly with the audience right now to comment on the play and the actions of the main characters, often in a naughty and knowing way, just like the Porter.
Do you believe that the ghost of King Hamlet was actually real?
Question from Kayla
Even if I don’t believe ghosts exist myself, if I am playing Hamlet then I must believe they are. Hamlet thinks it is real, and that’s partly because Shakespeare wrote the play at a time when some people really believed that the dead could speak. At this time, ghosts and the afterlife were a huge preoccupation for everybody, so the appearance of a ghost with some vital news about who had killed him would have been very powerful for that audience. When the Ghost tells Hamlet he was murdered by his brother, Hamlet completely believes him, and that’s a crucial part of understanding what Hamlet does in the play – that makes him decide to test his mother and her new husband, ending in disaster.
But Hamlet is a complicated play and there are other ways of understanding what is going on with the Ghost. Hamlet is a young man, experiencing great grief at the untimely death of his father. We might understand him now as someone who would be diagnosed as clinically depressed, or experiencing a crisis in his mental health. In this reading of the Ghost, perhaps we can say it is a figment of Hamlet’s unhappy and energised imagination, an expression of his deepest fears about what happened to his Dad. In any case, the key thing is that Hamlet does see and believe the Ghost and that pushes him down the path of the rest of the story.
How and why does King Lear change and transform?
Question from Hayden
Lear goes on an immense journey of change and transformation. He starts in a position of absolute power. He is a kind of demi-god. In fact, he believes he is literally in touch with the gods, and in the early part of the play frequently calls upon them to curse people who displease him. He is a man to whom no-one has ever said “No”. In the first scene, when Cordelia challenges him - and even though she’s his favourite daughter - he banishes and disowns her. But in the act of dividing his kingdom, and seeking to retire, while still holding the name and status of king, he so weakens his position that he becomes gradually more vulnerable, losing all status, losing even a roof over his head - i.e. the storm scene - and eventually losing his sanity. But, alongside these losses, he also experiences a tremendous growth of knowledge - about real life, real people - and when he regains his sanity, he is a gentler, wiser, more loving character than he was at the beginning, able to acknowledge the simple truth - “I am a very foolish, fond old man.” (Act 4 Scene 7). His tragedy is that this self-awareness and humility comes too late.
Sir Antony Sher, who played King Lear in the RSC’s 2016 production, and is also the author of the book, “Year of The Mad King; The Lear Diaries”, published in 2018
What significance do the mock trial and Lear dying of heartbreak have?
Question from Meghan
The significance of the Mock-Trial Scene is that it shows Lear at his maddest - imagining that he is putting on trial his daughters, Goneril and Regan, while in reality he is in an outhouse somewhere on Gloucester’s property, and the defendants are just a little wooden stool or fresh air.
The significance of Lear’s death is that he is at his sanest - grieving for the death of Cordelia, who he now realises was his most loyal, most loving daughter.
Sir Antony Sher, who played King Lear in the RSC’s 2016 production, and is also the author of the book, “Year of The Mad King ; The Lear Diaries”, published in 2018.
Was Hamlet a representation of the political climate at the time?
Question from Jolie
Insofar as it is all about a royal succession crisis, and England had been worrying about who would succeed the unmarried and childless Elizabeth I for decades by the time it was written, I suppose so. There was certainly a mood of melancholy and apprehension at the end of the 16 th century, which this play both borrowed and fed. Hamlet is a play which has always been popular with oppositional political groups, since it depicts the established regime (of Claudius) as an illegitimate tyranny which ought to be overthrown. But it isn’t a thinly-disguised documentary about England in 1601 – it wouldn’t have lasted so long or been popular in so many parts of the world if it were as local as that.
What are the different ways that Hamlet and Ophelia show their feelings and their "madness"?
Question from Emily
This is a great question. The play seems to divide them in a fairly sexist way: Hamlet gets to think aloud and tell us about his feelings in philosophical speeches to the audience, while Ophelia is completely overcome by her emotions, breaks down and bursts out into oblique poetry and rude songs. Actress Harriet Walter, who played Ophelia in 1980 but who has consistently refused to play Gertrude, says she loves the role of Ophelia because she sees Ophelia’s ‘mad scenes’ as her protest against the way she has been treated in Elsinore all her life.
Why do you think Shakespeare uses comedic characters in his tragedies?
Shakespeare had noticed that even at funerals people sometimes make jokes; that there aren’t two separate worlds, one solely preoccupied with trauma and death and the other with laughter and sex, but one world in which both happen all the time. His comedies contain seriousness too.
Why do you think Shakespeare made the relationship between Claudius and Gertrude feel incestuous?
Question from Susie
Claudius is the brother of Hamlet’s father, so when he marries Gertrude, he is marrying his sister in law. When Henry VIII married his first wife Katherine of Aragon, she had previously been married to his older brother Arthur. When Henry divorced Katherine he did so on the grounds that such a union was forbidden in the Bible. Shakespeare of course knew that (he indeed wrote a play about the divorce at the end of his career). This may be the root of Hamlet’s assertion “O, most wicked speed, to post / With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!” And of course of the ghosts’s accusation:
“Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast, With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts- O wicked wit and gifts, that have the power So to seduce!- won to his shameful lust The will of my most seeming-virtuous queen”.
We debated for a long time how that relationship came about. They do marry very hastily after the funeral, as Hamlet wryly quips, “The funeral bak'd meats / Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables”. Claudius clearly wants to secure his crown, and his kingdom as quickly as possible, and thereby ousts his nephew from his inheritance.
I think Shakespeare’s intention is to apply further layers of guilt upon Claudius in Hamlet’s eyes. He hasn’t just murdered his uncle, and usurped the throne, but is conducting an incestuous relationship with his mother, which adds yet another sin to his score card.
Hamlet does go on about it, determining to stab Claudius “in th' incestuous pleasure of his bed”; and calling him “thou incestuous, murd'rous, damned Dane” when he makes him drink the poisoned chalice. The idea of his uncle having a sexual relationship with his mother seems to obsess him to an unhealthy degree. This of course has lead others to regard his complex psychological relationship with his mother as “Oedipal”; but that’s another story.
In the production of Hamlet with David Tennant, was the intention to make his costumes jar with the rest of the characters?
That’s an interesting question. I wonder if you are referring to the way that after the formality of the first court scenes, and his encounter with his father’s ghost on the battlements, David as Hamlet removed his suit and put on the red “Hercules” superhero muscly torso t-shirt (a little ironic comment perhaps on Hamlet’s line “no more like my father/ Than I to Hercules”).He wears it for the “nunnery” scene in which Ophelia is “wired for sound” and pushed out by Claudius and her father to spy on him.
We wanted to show him throwing off the shackles and protocols of court life, and rejecting the stifling claustrophobia of Elsinore. He needs to be a superhero to accomplish the revenge the ghost of his father has demanded. But it is ultimately vain posturing, and he returns to the formal wear required for the court scene of the play within the play.
But he still signals his resistance to the conventions of his “prison” by wearing no shoes, and borrowing a prop crown. He should by rights after all be the king, having been of age when his father died. But Claudius has stepped in instead.
David wanted to make his Hamlet feel like a very real recognisable young man. We had deliberately set the play in modern dress, but then “smudged” that a little, so it could be virtually any time in the late twentieth century. The technology always gives it away (his old fashioned cine camera for instance). But when Hamlet returns from England we put him in a ripped parka, with a beanie hat. This is how he is photographed for the famous encounter with Yorick in the graveyard.
Did Shakespeare visit the places in Scotland where Macbeth was set?
There’s no evidence that Shakespeare ever went north of the border (though we know his friend Ben Jonson did), and it’s hard to see when during his busy writing and acting career he could have found the time to do so. The play includes no Scottish pronunciations or other evidence of first-hand knowledge, and we know the book, Holinshed’s Chronicles , from which Shakespeare got its local details: luckily Shakespeare wrote plays rather than geography books, so accuracy about road networks, relative placings of mountains and such isn’t crucial to his success.
What was the purpose of making Iago so manipulative, and how was this portrayed on stage in Shakespeare's time?
Shakespeare seems to have been interested in finding out how an audience feels when it knows more about what is really going on than does a tragedy's nominally leading character. How far are we prepared to go along with watching an evil man, who confides in us, getting away with murder? Manipulative characters, however cruel, are good news for playwrights, since a) they can take part of the blame for devising a nasty sadistic plot, and b) they are innately dramatic and interesting to watch. As for how Iago was portrayed in Shakespeare’s time, we don’t have any eyewitness accounts (though we know people admired Richard Burbage’s performance of Othello’s sufferings). I suspect he was just acted rather well.
Why would Sampson and Gregory insult/harass Montague women when they want to stay out of trouble?
Question from Anna
Depends on whether we think they really want to stay out of trouble, and whether they are mainly showing off to each other when they find that genuine Montagues are within earshot.
In Romeo and Juliet do you think that love is actually a theme, or is it just lust and power?
Question from Rowan, Conner and Sabrina
It’s OK to struggle with Romeo and Juliet . Sometimes it’s pressed upon us at school that it’s “THE GREATEST LOVE STORY”. I’ve seen productions that swoon around the idea of romantic love and they have left me cold. In my experience, first love is clumsy, overwhelming and can be a combination of lust, power and love.
We sometimes forget how violent Romeo and Juliet is. Mercutio’s death and Romeo’s revenge killing of Tybalt is horrific. Romeo is capable of delivering stunning passages of poetry but he is also capable of murder. He’s young and makes mistakes.
In short, love is a component within this play but you’re right to highlight lust and power alongside this. Another theme which can be overlooked in the play is grief. Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech leads us into surprising spaces and the Friar’s recollection of events is deeply sad. All of the best stories about first love tend to draw on these themes. The BBC’s recent adaptation of Normal People is a fantastic example of this.
Where do you think the rivalry between the Montagues and the Capulets came from?
Money, religion, cultural differences and generational hatred towards each other. Those are just a few that I’ve seen explored. The reasons for the rivalry will change and evolve depending on the period in which you set the production and who you are performing it to. Somewhere, right now, an emerging director will be looking at the state of our divided world and will use it as fuel for their production of Romeo and Juliet in 2021.
If Julius Caesar was a radio play how would you do the assassination scene?
Question from Sammy
Gosh, what a great idea.
I think radio plays work best when they rely on the imagination of the listener. So maybe lots of horrible sound effects and breathing but no actual words? Lots of exertion but the rest is silence, as the conspirators catch their breath and realise what they've done... Or, perhaps ominous music playing whilst the attack happens underneath. Or, the sound of the cheering crowd outside the forum getting louder and louder as Caesar is slaughtered.
Were Romeo and Juliet's deaths brought about by fate, accident or wilfulness?
Question from Kitty
Their deaths were brought about by all those things you mention. Different productions may decide to highlight one of those causes more than another but essentially it’s a cocktail of all those things. What I love about the prologue is how it implicates us, the audience, in this “death marked love”. We’re told from the outset that these two star crossed lovers will meet their death, yet nobody in the audience stands up and tells the characters not to fall in love with each other! We know that this romance will end in tragedy and we watch it regardless. Besides, even if Romeo and Juliet knew of their fate, who is to say they wouldn’t throw themselves at each other with the same abandon? Is love worth dying for?
Why would Friar Laurence marry Romeo and Juliet?
Question from Betsy
Betsy: great question.
I played Friar Laurence and I'm not sure I ever really answered this. I think Romeo and Juliet are threatening to kill themselves and he has to do something! I think he's hoping that when things calm down he can reveal the marriage without too much anger. Also, if Juliet is married already, the later marriage to Paris won't count. But it's important to remember that he has so little time and they both come to him for help. What would you do?
Which sister in King Lear is worse, Goneril or Regan?
Question from Sam and Mia
I’m not sure either of the sisters are “bad”, so it's hard to say which one is worse. I don’t think they are the wicked sisters as they have sometimes been portrayed.
They have lived with a very volatile father for who knows how long. Is this behaviour erratic or something that has been a part of their whole lives?
Goneril gets the brunt of his anger. As the oldest, perhaps she has always suffered from not being male, and therefore the immediate heir. Nor has she produced him any grandchildren or secured the future of the line. And if her father is over eighty, then her own time to bear children may be running out.
I feel she has had to shoulder the burden of his increasingly unstable behaviour for years. It is certainly insensitive for the old man to publicly declare that his youngest daughter is his favourite - bad parenting that!
And when she takes the first responsibility of looking after him, she is surely pushed to the limits by having her house invaded with his unruly 100 knights, who treat the place like a riotous pub or brothel. And is she really that unreasonable in her demands to him in those circumstances? On the other hand, does she really deserve her father to curse her quite as viciously and with such virulent misogyny as he does, cursing her very womb with sterility!
Regan seems to me the younger sister who has always managed to duck the torrent of her father's anger, which Goneril gets right in the face. Goneril takes everything deeply to heart; Regan seems more concerned with her own welfare. Goneril only has her mild mannered husband Albany to take her pent up rage out on whereas Regan seems to me to have married a strangely like-minded spirit in the sadistic Cornwall. That sadism is surely not merely ignited in the eye gouging scene, but must be prevalent in his character, and perhaps in hers before that.
I am not denying that they behave badly, but they are pushed into extreme circumstances, and found wanting. But I do think you have to see that situation from their bruised points of view. Somehow, once they have tipped over the edge in this brutalised world into self preservation, the gloves come off, and they both fight all out for number one, which is ugly and unfortunately perhaps all too human. They are doubly unfortunate in that they both fall for Edmund, another person brutalised by the life long prejudice he has endured, and who decides he will get his revenge on the world that has spurned him.
Is there a comparison to be made between Hamlet and 'young' Fortinbras?
Question from Twitter
We don’t have any real information about Fortinbras, except that he is referred to as “young” Fortinbras, isn’t he? Hamlet has had to return from University in Wittenberg for his father’s funeral, and his mother’s wedding. So, unless he’s a postgraduate of some description, that would suggest he is in his late teens or early twenties.
Hamlet asks the gravedigger how long he’s been doing his job, and he replies that he’s been doing it since the day King Hamlet (Hamlet’s Dad) overcame Fortinbras (young Fortinbras’ Dad); which happened to coincide with the day young Hamlet was born. He later says he has been sexton in the churchyard man and boy for thirty years, which would suggest Hamlet is in fact 30.
In an early edition of Hamlet the timescales change. Yorick, (the old jester who Hamlet remembers as a boy, carrying him on his back), has only been dead 12 years, which might suggest Hamlet is only about 16. The age confusion is probably more to do with the age of the original actor to play Hamlet ( Richard Burbage when he was about 32) and the length of time the play stayed in the repertoire, played by the same actor.
But more important, in terms of your question I think, is that Fortinbras and Hamlet seem two sides of the same coin. Fortinbras is the man of action, and Hamlet a man incapable of action. Fortinbras seems a chip off his father’s old block, a soldier, used to decisive action in the field. Whereas Hamlet the cerebral thinker, thinks perhaps too much, and consequently as he concludes in “To be or not to be”:
- thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action .
What inspired Shakespeare to write Macbeth?
Questions from Rhys and Logan
This is a great question, and there are lots of parts to the answer!
Several important things had just happened at the time when Shakespeare was writing Macbeth:
- King James I had not long been on the throne of England. He was a Scottish king, and had united Scotland and England
- King James had just published a book called 'Daemonologie' about witchcraft, and was fascinated with magic and the supernatural
- There had been a plot, involving Guy Fawkes, to kill King James I
- Shakespeare's acting company had just become the King's men, and King James was now their patron
When you look at these things together, you can start to imagine why Shakespeare might write a play that includes witches and would entertain his new patron and king. He has also explored what happens when a king is killed, and chooses to focus on Scotland as his setting. It's interesting to note that Banquo, who the witches prophesy will have sons who are kings, is an ancestor of King James I. So, Shakespeare is also cleverly endorsing the new king's claim to the throne through his work.
Why are there so many different ways of playing Hamlet?
Question from Natalia
I think it's a mark of a good play text, a good story, that there isn't a set way of playing any character. People say there are as many 'Hamlets' as there are actors, and when you play Hamlet it's such a huge part, and such a rich part, that it demands that you invest certain parts of yourself into it. I think that allows you to make it your own and informs the way you play the character. As a role, it touches on everything: philosophy, life, death, love, revenge, grief, family relationships, politics - everything! So, there is such a width and depth of character and potential situations that you can explore that I think that encourages you to be yourself and helps you to put yourself in that situation and think about what it would be like if you were in that situation and what it would be like if you were asking those questions. And that allows you to play the part in a way that feels right for you.
Paapa Essiedu (RSC Actor)
How does Queen Mab represent death?
Question from Abi
Dear Abi, From a performance perspective I feel that this is one of Shakespeare’s most opaque soliloquies. On paper it is a morbid, dreamlike warning about falling in love. But in performance the actor can use it to reveal a tapestry of different emotions. Mercutio isn’t linear, he is chaos. He doesn’t belong to either family, which casts him as an anarchic wanderer in the thick of the action. I’ve always interpreted Mercutio as a character that treats life as a game. Falling in love is so over-rated! We should be choosing life not boundaries...
In short, the Queen Mab speech represents death because it alludes to falling in love being the kiss of death. In Romeo and Juliet this is prophetic as we know that Romeo and Juliet take their own lives after falling in love with each other. Perhaps Mercutio dies because his love of Romeo is so great that he will sacrifice himself to stave off Tybalt.
That is just my opinion. There are a million other interpretations of the Queen Mab speech. That’s why it’s so exciting for actors to perform - you can infuse it with so many different interpretations.
When Juliet challenges social norms, was Shakespeare making a judgement?
Question from Natasha
Particularly in Act 2 Scene 2, was he making a mockery of gender roles?
I think this is a great question! Shakespeare is certainly playing with gender roles and expectations, especially at the beginning of the scene. He gives the pragmatic, logical responses to Juliet “if they find thee, they will murder thee” and the lyrical, imaginative verse to Romeo “with love’s light wings did I o’erperch these walls”. Then he experiments with Romeo asking for a vow or promise of love and Juliet resisting any such commitment. He moves backwards and forwards though (like in real relationships!) so her verse soars later in the scene and she pledges that her love is “boundless as the sea”. I think he’s interested in the way we underestimate people by putting them in boxes. So he always shows us the unexpected; Romeo is bereft without Juliet and frightened of dying and Juliet is the bravest person in the play and he gives her a Roman Emperor’s death. They have lasted as characters because they are so rich and fully-rounded.
Erica Whyman (RSC Deputy Artistic Director)
How would you update the servants in Romeo and Juliet?
Question from Torrin
How would you update the servant characters in a modern day setting as we don't have servants in 2020?
You’re right, Torrin, that we don’t have servants in the way Shakespeare would have known them, but wealthy families still often have nannies so I think the Nurse, for example, can be played as quite a recognisable person in a household where the parents are pretty unhappy and she has had to be a mother figure to Juliet. In the end, it’s important she’s a servant because she can’t risk her job to save Juliet’s marriage. We meet Gregory and Sampson talking about violence and rivalries and showing off; could you imagine them as private security guards? And the servant who gets landed with Capulet’s party invitations in Act 1 Scene 2, but can’t read them, could he have come to work in the UK from another country (is he an assistant to Capulet or a gardener or a chef?) whose first language isn’t English? I’d love to hear your suggestions..
What motivates Othello to kill Desdemona?
Questions on Othello's race, nature and manipulation from Alice, Charlotte and Ryan
I think the big issue in the play and the chief reason for Othello’s descent into violence is the collapse of his sense of self, the destruction of his identity. Shakespeare sets up a story about a black man in white society, an ‘Other’ whose celebrity and agency is defined by and dependent on his success as a soldier-for-hire, a mercenary for the state of Venice. What he’s had to do to achieve this is the ‘chaos’ he says Desdemona is rescuing him from. His leap of faith in her, the enormous risk in eloping with her is testament to his great love, but also, perhaps, a desperate and fragile act.
As a military man he has had to be sure of himself, he has left behind his religion and has defined himself, up to this point, by the contract with the state. The fact they side with him against Brabantio in the opening scenes, his success against the Turks and Desdemona’s extraordinary decision to join him in Cyprus, only reinforces his confidence in this sense of self.
But a person can never know what another dreams, where their thoughts drift when they are hidden from you. This requires unqualified faith. The differences between Desdemona and Othello are significant: their age, race, social position, experience of the world, their sexual maturity or otherwise... all these are threads that can be pulled at, the moment Othello’s certainty is shaken. This is what Iago skillfully does. He breaks Othello’s confidence in his own judgement. He sets up the idea of betrayal. He allows doubt in and exploits Othello’s inexperience of Venetian ways: he distorts the speed of their marriage into evidence of Desdemona’s sexual appetite. Iago exposes the unsaid, unconscious and violent sense that Othello as a black man has always known he’s only useful to the world of power, when it suits them. It will tire of him. Desdemona’s betrayal is an image of Venice’s betrayal.
Ultimately, Othello is tortured by the simple fact that one can never ‘know’ a thing, one can never have the ‘ocular proof’ that removes doubt once it has entered. Once he confronts the fact that he has always been a means to an end - an end he never chose - his reaction is to disrupt, to destroy.
The killing of Desdemona is, for him, strangely sacred and justified if he knows he is recovering certainty, killing doubt, purifying himself in some way. When he is contradicted, first by her, then Emilia he is unshakeable. It is not useful to him now to entertain questions!
But the truth breaks in, and breaks him. The seeds for this violence are in him and in the world that has made him what he was. A world that enslaved him, rewarded him for the violence it publicly ignored or pushed to the margins. He lived a life that was built on provisional contracts and required him to reinvent and fracture his identity.
Does he feel he deserves Desdemona’s love? In spite of his apparent confidence at the beginning of the play, and in certain military contexts, what does he think of his real worth and value? Race is a big part of these dynamics, but it is more profound, more complex, more human than this one issue. We all, whatever race or gender, have the potential to be ‘Othello-ed’.
Iqbal Khan (RSC Director, Othello 2015)
What is the plot of Hamlet?
Questions from Anya and Alex
You can find out all about the plot of Hamlet, and a number of Shakespeare's other plays on the RSC Shakespeare Learning Zone.
Take a look at the Hamlet timeline for more information.
Questions about Comedies
How is the merchant of venice a comedy.
Question from John
There are two story strands: the love story (or 'caskets' story) and the pound of flesh story (which dramatically come together in the trial scene).
Technically, it's possible to look at the love story and see many of Shakespeare's favourite comic devices:
- the comedy of disguise / cross-dressing women
- the 'biter bit' story - the 'villain' Shylock receives his comeuppance when Portia turns his own demand for rigorous justice against him in court
- the comedy of lovers deceiving each other to test their fidelity (Portia, Nerissa and the rings)
- the 'heavy father' is defeated and the child liberated (Jessica in this case, comparable with Hermia in A Midsummer Night's Dream )
- a final scene involving the comic 'undeceiving' of Gratiano and Bassanio, reunion, and the possibility of renewal
In our 2008 production at the RSC, we found a lot of comedy in Act 1 Scene 2, in which Portia and Nerissa (my character) discuss her suitors (we used audience members to represent each suitor). The energy that the women bring onto the stage after the melancholia of Act 1 Scene 1 is fun and infectious (Nerissa jokes about Portia in a way that reminds me of the relationship between Juliet and her Nurse). Act 5 was also full of joy and mischief, gaining lots of laughs from the audience as the story strands resolved in classic comic fashion. But this was perhaps only possible because we had dealt very lightly with the antisemitism and racism in the play - I'm not sure I would want to do that again if staging it today.
I think that The Merchant of Venice contains some of Shakespeare's most beautiful writing, but it is also a deeply problematic play. The antisemitic comments and insults hurled at Shylock by the Christian characters, the very nature of the Shylock story (which portrays him as valuing money above his daughter's happiness and harbouring a deep hatred of Christians that culminates in an almost animalistic demand for vengeance) taps into deeply antisemitic themes. Also Morocco is dismissed by Portia for the colour of his skin. So, the question for artists tackling this play is *can* one, in good conscience, play it as a comedy? What is to be gained by doing so?
I met some Jewish-American academics after our show in Stratford who told me that in America the play is sometimes performed as the tragedy of Shylock, omitting Act 5 altogether. The 2015 production at the RSC, and Trevor Nunn's 1999 version for the National Theatre, both portray the Christian faction (Gratiano etc) as vicious, entitled louts, who gleefully persecute Shylock. Instead of offering a comic and romantic resolution, in both of these productions Act 5 staged a tense and unhappy reunion, suggesting that the women are unlikely to find future happiness with these rather unpleasant men.
What do you believe is most important about A Midsummer Night's Dream?
For me, the important thing about MND is how it treats its female characters. All who show power, get reminded they live in a male dominated world:
"Hippolyta, I would thee with my sword, And won thy love doing thee injuries."
For a play that is so popular in schools, it deals with some very adult themes: Power and Weakness, Passion and Apathy, Reality and Illusion. It's not just about faeries and pretty wings. It's about who controls who and how they wield that power.
Is the character of Dogberry just comic relief?
I am sure there are many academics who would be able to give you a more comprehensive outline of why Dogberry is or isn’t comic relief but we as a company felt that, whilst being a terribly funny character coming into the play at a time when the drama has gotten more serious, and giving the audience some extremely funny scenes, he also is a very sad character, lonely and embittered. In our production, Nick Haverson (who played Dogberry) felt that there was enough in the text and the period we set it in to give him PTSD or ‘Shell Shock’ as a result of the war. His wife has died, he has no real friends, he only has his authority which he is not really able to command, and that represents I think a warning to people about being arrogant and seeing themselves as grander than they actually are. Everybody knows someone like him I think which makes it relatable, funny and rather sad too.
Edward Bennett, who played Benedick in the RSC’s 2014 production of Much Ado About Nothing
What started the 'merry war' between Beatrice and Benedick?
The ‘merry war’ was something we had great fun imagining and debating during rehearsal. It can be anything, but what we imagined is that Beatrice and Benedick had a relationship… brief, passionate and intense, at some time in the past. We thought it was not that long ago to have been forgotten but long enough ago that they should be over it! Promises were made and perhaps even an engagement considered but then Benedick had to go off to war and whilst he wrote at first, the letters became more infrequent and Beatrice therefore stopped replying so much. Benedick, through experiencing the horrors and temptations of war, and thinking Beatrice was the one not writing, decided it must be over; Beatrice thought he was over her and it all just fizzled out but without explanation or with them being able to see each other, until the start of the play.
Edward Bennett, who played Benedick in the RSC’s 2014 production of Much Ado About Nothing
Would Benedick have acted on his feelings for Beatrice if left to his own devices?
Question from Shreya and Amelia
There are of course many answers to this depending on your feelings about Beatrice and Benedick but I think it is dramatically more interesting if we imagine that without the intervention of the plot, the other characters etc, they would have been too proud, stubborn and damaged to be able to come together. Who is more proud, more immovable, is up to you but I think Benedick, if you take him at his word at the beginning of the play, is very happy with where he is emotionally and is happy to be a bachelor for the foreseeable future. He has made himself forget the love he had with Beatrice and how vulnerable it made him and needs the drama of the play and the action of his friends to remind him. Who knows though…maybe getting older, more desperate, being dumped, the death of a friend…anything might have made him act on those feelings in time…but by then it might have been too late!
Why must there be a marriage to make it a comedy?
Question from Jeremy
This is an excellent question. For Shakespeare, a family reunion may be just as good – eg in The Comedy of Errors , or Pericles ; and the end of Cymbeline includes a reconciliation between an estranged married couple, but no betrothals. In Twelfth Night the reunion between the twins seems much more emotionally important than any of the engagements.
How do you approach Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing?
Question from Leah
All actors will have different starting points when playing Claudio, as they make decisions about his character and relationships. You can find out more about the character of Claudio on the RSC Shakespeare Learning Zone, particularly in our Character Analysis section.
Does Caliban in the Tempest represent the subjugated masses under colonialism?
Question from Ryia
That depends very much on whose production you are watching, and whose essay you are reading. I don’t think Shakespeare thought he was writing an allegory in 1610, but he was certainly dramatizing a document which had come to him through his contacts in the East India Company, an account of a colonial voyage to Virginia (via, thanks to a shipwreck, Bermuda). Shakespeare certainly allows Caliban to voice a very eloquent protest against his own slavery. Some anti-colonialist writers, though, such as Aimee Cesaire, have preferred to use Caliban as an image for brutal US colonialists in Spanish America, with Ariel instead representing the civilized Hispanics.
Is Shakespeare writing about himself in the character Prospero?
Question from Joan
No more than when he is giving life to any of his other characters, I think. The big speech in which Prospero says farewell to his magic, and sounds rather like a playwright going into retirement, is actually taken almost word for word from a famous speech made by the enchantress Medea in Ovid’s Metamorphoses . Prospero does behave a bit like a dramatist, but he is a far more manipulative and purposeful one than Shakespeare, much more concerned to impose prohibitions and preconceived outcomes on his cast.
Is Orsino in Twelfth Night a constant and true lover?
Question from Miranda
And in what way is Orsino a true lover? He certainly fancies himself as one, and here he claims that a true lover is obsessed with his beloved and has no attention span for anything else, unable to concentrate on anything except a mental image of his adored. But Orsino seems more passionately attached to his own self-image as a lover than he is to Olivia; in the last scene he is dangerous enough to threaten to kill Cesario out of jealousy, and then to agree to marry Viola instead of Olivia seconds later. Not a reliable witness, on the whole.
Can you tell me why you think Maria is an important character in Twelfth Night?
Question from Adrianna
Even if she isn’t interesting in herself – and the out-of-hand and upwardly-mobile Maria, deviser of pranks and accomplice of her misbehaving bosses, definitely is – a gentlewoman’s lady-in-waiting tells us a lot about the kind of household we are visiting and the woman at the top of the hierarchy. The moment when Olivia dismisses Maria, formerly her confidante, in order to talk alone with Cesario is a turning point in the play; from then onwards Maria has no scruples about pursuing marriage with Olivia’s drunk uncle, with the gulling of Malvolio as part of the collateral damage.
How can you give students today more insight into why The Taming of the Shrew isn’t sexist nor endorsing spousal abuse?
The world seems to demand binary choices for complicated issues on everything right now. I don’t believe that The Taming of the Shrew is a knockabout romcom, nor do I believe that it’s purely about abuse.
I do know that it was one of Shakespeare’s first plays and that he wrote it in his early to mid 20s. Like many others at that age, his love life was no doubt full of betrayal, chaos, lust and feelings that were too big for him to articulate. I think Shrew is a beautiful mess of a play. It can be viewed through multiple lenses and to be absolute that it’s not sexist nor endorsing spousal abuse is to restrict its rich array of themes and emotions.
Petruchio hits Kate and starves her so those issues (amongst many others) need to be looked at and explored.
In my experience of playing Kate for over a year, I noticed that there wasn’t a gender divide in audience’s perception of our production, but there was a strong generational divide. Some audience members of a mature age felt strongly that the play didn’t endorse spousal abuse and was a good, old fashioned, romantic yarn. Indeed many previous productions facilitated this viewpoint. Younger viewers took issue with this and felt like the play highlighted themes of gaslighting and gender inequality. The joy of Shakespeare's plays is that they talk to our times (whatever period we’re living in). They resonate with the now even though they’re hundreds of years old. If they didn’t, the plays would become museum pieces.
I’m delighted that The Taming of the Shrew speaks to your “very 21st century kids“ in a different way to you. After all, we are in the 21st century and if the meanings of these plays don’t evolve and connect with the nuances of our age, what hope do we have? Listen to the very 21st century kids. You’ll learn more about the play from them than from opinions based on the past.
How do you tackle the ending of Measure for Measure?
Question from Isaac
The Shakespeare scholar Harold Bloom called Measure for Measure Shakespeare’s farewell to comedy. It’s as if he has taken the least likely subject for comedy (rape) and struggles to apply the template of the happy ending required for comedy, which might include a series of marriages, and happy-ever-after endings.
We recently presented Measure in a season with As You Like It . At the end of that play several couples are given a blessing by Jaques, the melancholy malcontent. Some will be happier than others, some deserve what they get, some are destined for a turbulent time.
At the end of Measure , the Duke performs something of the same function, but to very different effect. He releases Barnadine into a liberty he does not want. He forces Lucio to marry the prostitute whom he got pregnant, and abandoned. He tells Claudio to “restore” the woman he “wronged”, Juliet his pregnant fiancée. He yokes together Angelo with the woman he dumped, Mariana. And finally, having made a rather ham-fisted, badly timed offer of his hand in marriage earlier, he then repeats that offer to Isabella, with apparently no reference to her thoughts on the matter.
In rehearsal we reviewed some past production solutions. There was once a tradition that Isabella’s silence constituted an overwhelming gratitude for his handsome offer, and a humble acceptance of it. The Duke was often played as a sort of Christ-like figure who had a master plan to solve all the city’s problems. We felt he had in fact no plan and was crazily improvising as he went along.
Then there was a period in which Isabella’s silence was seen as defiant, and sometimes she would turn on her heel and exit, possibly back to the convent to resume her cloistered life.
We felt neither choice was now appropriate, but that Isabella had been robbed of choices, and would now be forced (again) by a man in power over her, into a marriage for which she had no desire, and in which she would have no agency.
So in our production as the rest of the cast left the stage at the Duke’s invitation, Isabella was left alone with the Duke as he reached out his hand to her, and just before the lights went out, she turned to us. In some performances she seemed to be asking “What would you do?" and sometimes turned with a look of such terrible despair, we knew her fate was sealed, and she had no options left. We were thus left wondering what other choices she had in this patriarchal society.
Shakespeare is like a magnet attracting all the iron filings of what is going on in the world. Doing the play as the #MeToo movement was playing out meant that we could not ignore its relevance to today. But Isabella does not have the opportunities for complaint and redress that are emerging for women today. Setting our production back in time (we chose a Vienna not of 1600, but of 1900) allowed those challenges and restricted choices to be vividly apparent.
Gregory Doran (RSC Artistic Director)
What is the plot of Twelfth Night?
Questions from Shannon, Kiki, Jacob and Barry
You can find out all about the plot of Twelfth Night, and a number of Shakespeare's other plays on the RSC Shakespeare Learning Zone.
Take a look at the Twelfth Night timeline for more information.
What do actors like to stand out in comedies?
We always want the text to be understood and audible. We also want the audience to understand the story, otherwise they probably won’t get the jokes! Sometimes in comedies we get so wrapped up in a funny physical moment that the plot and text momentarily goes out the window. It’s important for us to signal to the audience “Right, we’re back on track now!” There may also be certain moments or lines that we ping out because we reference it later in the play. For instance, Desdemona's handkerchief in Othello becomes a key element in the plot so you want things like that to be memorable and clear. It may sound odd but if you’re in a comedy then you also want the tragedy to stand out (if there is any, that is). The subplot in The Taming of the Shrew is pretty much continuously funny and light-hearted but the main plot has very dark moments. I found that the moments of comedy within the sub plot worked best when the audience was really invested in the tragedy of the main plot. And finally, entrances are very important. As long as it’s not distracting then we would also want new characters to stand out.
How is 'Time' presented in The Winter's Tale?
Question from Hector
I was wondering if you could shed any light on memorable or experimental presentations of the character.
I love this question because I love how experimental Shakespeare was being when he wrote this speech. It is so daring to create the first three acts of a play that seem realistic, which persuade us to believe in the characters and which obey conventions by being set over a few days in the same place, but then to introduce an unexpected figure who reminds us that this is all just a play. Time has been interpreted in lots of ways, he has been doubled with the Bear, played by Gods and Goddesses, reminding us of the role of faith in the play, and my favourite was in an RSC production about 15 years ago, in which Time was a gardener, joining the two halves of the story by tending to nature all the way through.
However, I discovered recently that we have evidence that in 1611 when the play was first performed, Shakespeare himself played Time. He had mostly stopped acting by this point in his life so this was a special guest appearance! When I imagine that it makes a new kind of sense – the author taking the stage to invite us to believe in something amazing, a huge leap of time, but also the possibility of a happy ending, a fairy story, just when we thought all was lost. So, in my production we have rehearsed almost the whole company speaking the speech as a chorus, representing Shakespeare and how as theatre-makers we are always persuading an audience to believe in us.
What is the plot of A Midsummer Night's Dream?
Question from Liana
You can find out all about the plot of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and a number of Shakespeare's other plays on the RSC Shakespeare Learning Zone.
Take a look at the A Midsummer Night's Dream plot and timeline for more information.
Questions about Histories
If all the leading characters in henry iv were women, would the same themes still be explored, such as honour.
Question from Brooke
Definitely! Honour is such a huge theme in Henry IV , Shakespeare just uses these characters, like puppets, to debate it. They could equally be women, Roman Emperors, Egyptian queens or mythical characters on an island. Falstaff concludes that honour is worthless - “Honour is a mere scutcheon” - and maybe that’s how Shakespeare himself felt about the idea at the time.
Are the plays about kings and queens actually true?
Question from Alexandra
Shakespeare got most of the information he used when writing his plays about English history from a massive compilation of different narratives and historical documents known as Holinshed’s Chronicles (1587). Some of the sources in Holinshed are definitely slanted (it includes Thomas More’s account of the reign of Richard III, for instance, which certainly exaggerates Richard’s crimes), but it is still an important text for modern historians. Shakespeare alters details, and compresses events, and adds some fictitious characters such as Falstaff, and he makes various adjustments for the sake of making great plays rather than scrupulously accurate histories (the real-life Prince Hal was a lot younger than the real-life Hotspur, for instance, and did not kill Hotspur in single combat). And of course Shakespeare makes most of his characters far more eloquent than any medieval warlord can really have been (the real Richard II, sadly, did not habitually speak in blank verse). But the substance of the plays is reasonably sound. Shakespeare seems to have been willing to be much less accurate about Scottish history than he was about English, though.
Was Richard III truly villainous or pressured to 'play the role' of his deformity?
Question from Eryn
I don't think any character truly sees themselves as a villain, even if they say they are. They all have reasons for why they do what they do. And if you see the characters from that angle, you'll see how clever Shakespeare really is. Richard being villainous is really an invention of Shakespeare. He was in the midst of a violent time known as the Wars of the Roses. Almost everyone cheated and lied and killed to survive and to progress. What Shakespeare is interested in is how well Richard does it. Shakespeare emphasised his deformity to dramatise his 'evil' nature but Richard was actually not a bad king. So maybe Shakespeare is saying something about ambition, about leadership, about the power of words and finally, about what we want from a king. I'd love to play him!
In Queen Margaret's monologue what does 'raught' mean?
Question from Catherine
In her monologue in Henry VI Part 3 she says ‘That raught at mountains with outstretched arms, yet parted but the shadow with his hand.' Does 'raught' mean tore or reached?
Hello. I think it can mean both. Shakespeare is the Master of the multiple meaning of a word. What we do know is that Margaret is humiliating York.
'Raught' has such a long vowel, it’s an effort to say. Takes a lot of breath and we can hear the desperation in the word, that over-stretching awwwwwww. We can hear in that one word, Margaret’s opinion of York’s pitch for the Throne, his pitieous over-ambitious reach for the Crown. It also sounds like fraught and roar... like a fractious old lion clawing hopelessly for a prize. He’s definitely a few moments from losing his head. Shakespeare is such a genius that often we don’t need to know exactly what the word means and can trust that his intent will still land perfectly in the ears of the audience.
Katy Stephens (RSC Actor)
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Tag Archives: Dolma Ling Nunnery
Life at dolma ling.
Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in northern India is a special place.
Here are the latest photographs from Dolma Ling’s media nuns. We hope they bring you joy and help convey the impact of your support.
Dolma Ling is the first institute dedicated to higher Buddhist education for Tibetan Buddhist nuns from all traditions.
Dolma Ling was established by the Tibetan Nuns Project to educate and empower nuns of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition as teachers and leaders, and to sustain Tibetan religion and culture. It is now home to about 250 nuns. Most nuns have sponsors, but new sponsors are always needed.
The nunnery is unique because it offers a 17-year curriculum of traditional Buddhist philosophy and debate, as well as modern courses in Tibetan language, English, basic mathematics, and computer skills. The nuns also receive training in the ritual arts such as sand mandalas and butter sculpture.
In early autumn, the nuns learned and practiced drawing, including the sacred symbols of Tibetan Buddhism.
The nuns helped to build the nunnery and they work hard to maintain it. The large campus is near Dharamsala at the foothills of the Indian Himalayas, one of the wettest areas in India. In the summer of 2023, the monsoon rains were very intense.
In September, after torrential monsoon rains all summer, the nuns had to move large rocks affecting water lines.
The academic year begins in early spring after Losar, the Tibetan New Year. Throughout the year, the nuns have exams and quizzes as they pursue their degrees. The Tibetan Nuns Project aims to elevate the educational standards and the position of women within the monastic community.
Exam time at Dolma Ling! Photos by the media nuns of the July written exams. When the Tibetan Nuns Project was founded in 1987, most of the nuns escaping from Tibet were illiterate.
The ultimate goal is to empower the nuns to become teachers and leaders in their own right and to help preserve Tibet’s unique culture and religion.
On September 13th, Science for Monks and Nuns held a one-day exhibition on “Secrets of Particles” for the Dolma Ling nuns and staff. Over 100 nuns from different classes attended.
In September, Sikyong Penpa Tsering, the political leader of the Central Tibetan Administration , visited three nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project: Dolma Ling, Shugsep , and Geden Choeling Nunnery . His visits were part of his assessment tour of the Tibetan refugee community in India.
Sikyong Penpa Tsering visited Dolma Ling in September and met with Rinchen Khando Choegyal, TNP’s Founding Director and Special Advisor (center upper right) and Nangsa Chodon, Director of TNP in India (right).
The curriculum is divided into two parts: (1) secular subjects such as Tibetan language, Tibetan history, English, social sciences, mathematics, and science and (2) monastic education. The nuns have quizzes and exams and are now able to proceed through a degree-granting program.
Ancient and modern. The nuns learn sacred arts, such as making tormas, as well as computing, science, and mathematics.
In September, students from Upper TCV school (the Tibetan Children’s Village) visited Dolma Ling and learned about monastic debate from the nuns. These photos show the growing role of nuns as teachers and leaders in the Tibetan exile community.
Geshema Delek Wangmo (top photos) teaches Tibetan students from Upper TCV school about traditional Tibetan monastic debate and the importance of critical thinking and logic.
Debating is an essential part of monastic education in the Tibetan tradition and combines logical thinking with a deeper understanding of Buddhist philosophy.
In late October, dozens of nuns set off for the holy city of Bodh Gaya to attend the annual Jang Gonchoe Inter-Nunnery debate. In Bodh Gaya, they will join hundreds of nuns from nunneries in India and Nepal. The costs are funded by our Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund. We are now fundraising for our Long-Term Stability Fund .
Nuns from Dolma Ling departing in late October to attend one month of intensive training in monastic debate. Before 1995, there was no Jang Gonchoe for nuns. Only monks had the opportunity for intensive debate training.
Thanks to your support, the Tibetan Nuns Project has created a ground-breaking education system to preserve Tibetan culture and equip and empower these dedicated women to become leaders in the modern world.
“The Buddhist philosophy of tolerance and compassion has something very important to offer in a world full of intolerance and hatred… As a Tibetan, I feel it is very important that an organization like the Tibetan Nuns Project makes it possible for nuns to study and practice their religion and thus contribute to the preservation of Buddhism and the unique Tibetan culture,” said Tseten Phanucharas, TNP Board Member. Thank you for your support!
Thank you for helping the nuns!
To donate or sponsor a nun for $1 a day, click here.
Educating and Empowering Tibetan Buddhist Nuns
Education is the key.
The Tibetan Nuns Project believes that education is the key to empowerment. We seek to give Tibetan Buddhist nuns the resources to carve out independent, creative identities for themselves. In this blog post, we’ll explain what and how the nuns study and give an outline of their degrees and curriculum.
Through all its work, the Tibetan Nuns Project is strengthening Tibet’s unique religion and culture — both under great threat due to the occupation of Tibet — by educating and empowering women. These dedicated women were previously denied equal access to education and the opportunity in Tibet to freely and safely practice their faith. The nuns are an integral part of the spiritual roots of the society and are teachers and leaders of the future.
Starting from Scratch
When the Tibetan Nuns Project was founded in 1987 in response to many nuns escaping from Tibet to India, most of the newly arrived nuns had no education in their language. Many were illiterate and were unable even to write their names. While in Tibet they had also been denied education in their religious heritage.
An outside classroom in the early days of the Tibetan Nuns Project. TNP had to create an education program for the nuns from the ground up.
The Tibetan Nuns Project has created a groundbreaking education system aimed at both preserving Tibetan culture and equipping and empowering these women to live and become leaders in the modern world.
The Tibetan Nuns Project aims: – To combine traditional religious studies with the best of a modern education – To preserve Tibet’s rich culture and religion through giving ordained Buddhist women educational opportunities – To elevate the educational standards and the position of women within the monastic community. – To prepare the nuns for positions of leadership and moral authority in a culture that is going through a very challenging transition – To support a number of nuns who opt to live in meditative retreat rather than in a nunnery.
The Tibetan Nuns Project also serves women from the remote and impoverished border areas of India such as Ladakh, Zanskar, Spiti, and Arunachal Pradesh. The women and girls from these areas have traditionally been given far less education than the men and boys and were often removed from school as early as Grade 4 if they were sent to school at all. Our programs give them a chance for education that they would not have otherwise.
Photos by Olivier Adam showing girls receiving education at nunneries supported by TNP in the remote Spiti Valley (top) and Zanskar (bottom). Girls and women in these regions lack equal access to education.
Since the Tibetan Nuns Project was founded in 1987, many nuns have been educated and have assumed leadership roles in their community, such as teachers in Tibetan schools, instructors for other nuns, health care providers and other roles serving the Tibetan-exile community. Thanks in part to consistent effort from the Tibetan Nuns Project, for the first time in Tibetan history, nuns are now receiving educational opportunities previously available only to monks.
In May 2023, Geshema Delek Wangmo (shown) and Geshema Tenzin Kunsel gave online teaching via Facebook Live with help from two Dolma Ling media nuns. Geshemas from other nunneries also attended to learn how to deliver such basic philosophical knowledge to the lay community. Photo courtesy of the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.
Another goal of the Tibetan Nuns Project is to empower nuns to teach Buddhist philosophy in nunneries and schools. To do this, the nuns must achieve equal academic standing with the monks, proving their qualifications by earning the highest degrees. For monks, depending on their tradition, these degrees are called the Geshe or Khenpo degrees; for nuns, the equivalents are the Geshema or Khenmo degrees.
Wisdom and compassion. The Geshemas at Dolma Ling teach Tibetan refugee children during the children’s school holidays. Photos by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.
The education program varies by nunnery but the nuns have been introduced to a systematic form of education in their respective nunneries. Though their core subject is Buddhist philosophy they have also been equally educated in Tibetan and English languages since the very beginning. The nuns have built up a strong foundation in Tibetan language over the years.
The curriculum at the nunneries is divided into two parts: (1) secular subjects such as the Tibetan language, Tibetan history, English, social sciences, mathematics, and science and (2) monastic education. The nuns have quizzes and exams and are now able to proceed through a degree-granting program. If the nuns are very young as may be the case in the very remote nunneries, they do not receive teaching in philosophy, but rather a basic education in subjects like reading, writing, and arithmetic. Once that is established a more robust curriculum is used.
Geshema Tenzin Kunsel teaching Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Photo by Olivier Adam
Most courses take place in classrooms, much as in a school, except for the practice of monastic debate, which takes place in the open air. As part of their monastic education the nuns are also instructed in the performance of ritual music, the creation of butter sculptures, and other Tibetan Buddhist ritual arts.
The curriculum of the nunneries varies depending on which of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism the nunnery follows: – Nyingma (founded in the 8th century) – Kagyu (founded in the early 11th century) – Sakya (founded in 1073) – Gelug (founded in 1409) The Tibetan Nuns Project supports nuns from all four traditions.
Tibetan Buddhist nuns practice monastic debate each day at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Through debate, nuns and monks test and consolidate their classroom learning and gain a thorough understanding of the Buddhist teachings. Photo by Olivier Adam.
The Gelukpa monastic curriculum in Dolma Ling for example is as follows: Preliminary studies: 4 years Perfection of Wisdom: 7 years Middle Path: 3 years Phenomenology or “meta-doctrine”: 3 years Monastic discipline: 1 year
After about ten years, the nuns receive a first diploma called Parchin which is equivalent to a BA and allows the students who so desire to continue to higher studies. The Geshema degree is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa tradition and is equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhism. The degree was only formally opened to women in 2012 thanks to the work of the Tibetan Nuns Project.
In 2022, Tibetan Buddhist nuns made history as the first group of Khenmos were enthroned at Sakya College for Nuns. The Khenmo degree for nuns, like the Khenpo degree for males, is roughly equivalent to a PhD. In the Nyingma, Kagyu, and Sakya traditions, the title is awarded usually after 13 years of intensive post-secondary study. The comparable title in the Gelug and Bon lineages is Geshe or, for nuns, Geshema.
In the Nyingma, Kagyu, and Sakya traditions, the Khenmo degree for nuns, like the Khenpo degree for males, is roughly equivalent to a PhD. This title is awarded usually after 13 years of intensive post-secondary study. A nun who holds the title Khenmo is recognized as a female Buddhist teacher/scholar who can give official and high-level teachings to nuns.
Reacing the highest degrees in the monastic curriculum takes between 20 and 25 years. Our goal is to support nuns’ education and to enable them to progress to higher degrees such as the Geshema and Khenmo degrees if they so wish.
Thank you for supporting the Tibetan Nuns Project and educating and empowering Tibetan Buddhist nuns!
Geshemas Have Audience With His Holiness the Dalai Lama
On May 17, 2023 Geshemas had a special audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
The Geshemas from Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute , Geden Choeling Nunnery , and Jangchub Choeling Nunnery met His Holiness the Dalai Lama at his residence in Dharamsala.
Here is the video courtesy of Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Can’t see the video? Click here.
His Holiness spoke in Tibetan. Here’s a translation from courtesy of Dechen Tsering, a Tibetan Nuns Project board member.
“Now you all must keep studying the Buddhist script well. In order to achieve Gelongma (female Gelong) one must usually have the linage of Gelongma. Nevertheless, Buddha has granted access to his teachings to all – it is not limited to just male monks – so take the opportunity to study the scriptures well and achieve Geshema. Study the scriptures hard and benefit the world [with your knowledge and insight]. There are many people in parts of the world who previously had no idea of Buddhism who are now showing a lot of interest in the Buddha’s teachings. Therefore, by becoming Geshemas, it would be most beneficial if you now become teachers. So, do your best! Stay with peace of mind.”
“Remember that we Tibetans originally descend from the linage of the Avalokiteshvara so visualize that on the top of your head sits the Avalokiteshvara and move through the world to be kind-hearted and think only of benefiting others – never hurting others. If you do that then the blessings of Avalokiteshvara will follow you for lifetime after lifetime. I’m like the messenger of Avalokiteshvara. So, we from the people of the land of snow mountains (Tibet) are dedicated followers of Avalokiteshvara and have a special relationship with Avalokiteshvara. So, develop the Buddha’s compassion heart and do your best to benefit others and make some contribution for the benefit of others. These days there are many people showing interest in Buddhism – so if you do your best to help them. It will be very beneficial. So do your best!”
Also attending the event were Nangsa Chodon, Director of the Tibetan Nuns Project in India and Tsering Diki, Assistant Director.
The Tibetan Nuns Project is deeply grateful to our supporters for helping to educate and empower nuns of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition as teachers and leaders.
About the Geshema Degree
The Geshema degree is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa tradition and is equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhism.
The degree was only formally opened to women in 2012. The Geshema degree is the same as a Geshe degree but is called a Geshema degree because it is awarded to women.
Fifty-three nuns hold the Geshema degree as of November 2022. The Geshemas are paving the way for other nuns to follow in their footsteps. This degree makes them eligible to assume various leadership roles in their monastic and lay communities reserved for degree holders and hence previously not open to women.
The 10 Geshema graduates from 2022. As of the start of 2023, there are 53 nuns who hold the Geshema degree.
Some Facts About the Geshema Degree
- The Geshema degree is comparable to a doctorate in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. It is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.
- The Geshema degree is the same as the Geshe degree for monks. The ending “ma” marks it as referring to a woman.
- Until recently, this highest degree could only be earned by monks.
- The historic decision to confer the Geshema degree to Tibetan Buddhist nuns was announced in 2012 by the Department of Religion and Culture of the Tibetan Administration, following a meeting of representatives from six major nunneries, Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, and the Tibetan Nuns Project.
- Candidates for the Geshema degree are examined on the entirety of their 17-year course of study of the Five Great Canonical Texts.
- To qualify to begin the Geshema process, nuns must score 75% or above in their studies to be eligible to sit for the Geshema exams.
- On December 22, 2016, His Holiness the Dalai Lama awarded 20 Tibetan Buddhist nuns with Geshema degrees at a special graduation ceremony held at Drepung Monastery in Mundgod, South India.
- In 2011, a German nun, Kelsang Wangmo, who spent 21 years training in India, became the first woman to receive the Geshe degree. This was before the Geshema degree process was approved in 2012.
Debate Courtyard Expansion Completed!
We are very pleased to report that the debate courtyard expansion at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute is now complete. The improved courtyard provides an additional 2,500 square feet of covered area. With 60% more covered area than the old debate courtyard, all the nuns can have shelter as they practice daily monastic debate.
This big project was kindly funded by Tibetan Nuns Project donors. We are extremely grateful to the donors and the entire team for their hard work and dedication which has resulted in this elegant structure, totally in keeping with the original design.
Before the debate courtyard was expanded there was not enough sheltered space for the nuns to debate. The improved courtyard has an additional 2,500 square feet of covered space along with other improvements such as sliding windows on the back and sides of the courtyard to prevent rain coming in.
The nuns are already using the courtyard for their daily debates. Monastic debate is of critical importance in traditional Tibetan Buddhist learning. Through debate, nuns test and consolidate their classroom learning. Without training and practice in debate they are unable to attain higher academic degrees such as the Geshema degree .
The Impact of the Improved Debate Courtyard
In the spring of 2022 the Tibetan Nuns Project launched a fundraising campaign to expand and improve the debate courtyard at Dolma Ling.
Over the years, the number of nuns at this large non-sectarian nunnery increased to over 260 nuns. The existing debate courtyard was too small and at least two-thirds of the paved area was open to the elements, so many nuns were forced to debate in the open under the hot sun. When it rained, as it does throughout the summer monsoon season , the unprotected space was unusable.
In an attempt to create more shelter the nuns have been stringing up tarps for years as they practice monastic debate. The area near Dharamsala experiences one of the heaviest monsoons in India and the sun is also fierce.
During their debate sessions, pairs of nuns spread out across the courtyards and even onto the adjoining grassy areas and steps. Some distance is required between the pairs or groups of challengers and responders. The aim of the project was to provide enough covered space to shelter the nuns as they do their daily practice of Tibetan monastic debate.
Work on the courtyard began in January 2022. The first phase involved protecting the upper courtyard from rain by enclosing the back and sides with sliding windows that can open to allow ventilation during the hot season.
Work on Phase 1 to improve the debate facilities at Dolma Ling. This part of the project involved enclosing the back and sides of the existing debate courtyard to prevent rain coming in.
The steel roofing over the upper section was also extended on all four sides to prevent rain from blowing in. Finally, an additional row of stone seating was added at the back and sides of the courtyard in front of the windows.
Nuns debating in front of the new windows at the back of the debate courtyard. Because of its reputation for providing excellent teachers and the best facilities for nuns to study, the number of nuns applying to join Dolma Ling has increased substantially. In 2022, 32 nuns joined the nunnery. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam
In the early autumn of 2022, the Tibetan Nuns Project office in India signed a contract with the contractors for Phase 2 of the expansion project. On September 29th, the architect for the project came to assist the contractor with the positioning of the 8 new pillars for the extension roof.
Phase 2 of the debate courtyard expansion began in October 2022 and involved excavating and building 8 more columns and extending the roof.
The nuns were very involved in the design of the new space and in discussions with the architect and engineers. Building specifications for this high-risk seismic zone were made and the extension complies with current building standards. In addition to the eight new columns, there had to be tie beams and two additional below-ground-level columns because they are building in previously filled land.
The Important of Tibetan Buddhist Debate
Dolma Ling is unique because it offers a 17-year curriculum of traditional Buddhist philosophy and debate, as well as modern courses in Tibetan language, English, basic mathematics, science and computer skills. Training in Buddhist debate, the extensively practised method for examining philosophical, moral and doctrinal issues, is an essential part of monastic education in the Tibetan tradition.
Until recently, Tibetan nuns did not have the opportunity to fully study and practise Tibetan Buddhist debate, a process that uses logical enquiry to build a deeper understanding of Buddhist philosophy. The Tibetan Nuns Project has worked hard to make this opportunity available to nuns by including debate as a core part of their education, which enables them to extend their use of logic and deepen their understanding of the arguments asserted in the texts they are studying.
Before: Tibetan nuns practice debate on the grass under a makeshift shelter of netting. Since the Tibetan Nuns Project was founded in 1987, nuns are training in debate for the first time in the history of Tibet.
“Opening up education to the women, particularly in conjunction with training in debate, has been transformative for the nuns,” says Dr. Elizabeth Napper , US Founder and Board Chair of the Tibetan Nuns Project. “Not only have they been given access to the full intellectual richness of their Buddhist tradition but also, through debate, they have been trained to actively engage with it in a way that gives them confidence in their knowledge. Their body language changes from the traditional meekness of nuns to that of women who occupy space with confidence in their right to do so.”
The practice of debate takes many years to master fully and is critical to the nuns’ ability to assume roles as fully qualified teachers of their tradition.
We are very grateful to everyone who has contributed to providing this unique opportunity to build capacity and equality for the nuns, to help ensure that a centuries-old tradition of learning continues to expand to include more nuns, and to foster the dharma for future generations.
Five More Illustrated Stories by the Nuns
In January, we shared four stories by Tibetan Buddhist nuns created as part of an English assignment. The stories got a wonderful response, so here are five more for you!
Pat said, “Oh, I loved reading those handwritten and illustrated stories! I hope to see more in future blogs.” Suzanne wrote, “I love reading these stories! The words are wise and the illustrations are beautiful.”
Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute is dedicated to higher Buddhist education for Tibetan Buddhist nuns from all traditions. These stories are part of a book project assigned by the English teacher at Dolma Ling, Mr. Tenzin Norgyal.
Traditionally Tibetan Buddhist nuns have had few opportunities for education. Most of the Tibetan refugee nuns were illiterate on their arrival in India. Now the nuns are at last able to study for higher degrees such as the Geshema degree, roughly equivalent to a PhD.
Thank you for educating and empowering these dedicated women. We hope you enjoy these stories written by nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. This nunnery was built and is fully supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project
Five Illustrated Stories by the Nuns
Click here to view.
This first story, The Arrogant Rose , teaches not to judge by appearances.
Inside a classroom at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in May 2022. Traditionally, Buddhist nuns have not had the same access to education as monks. The Tibetan Nuns Project aims to elevate the educational standards and the position of women. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.
Educating the nuns is the core of our work. In the 1980s and 1990s, hundreds of nuns escaped from Tibet. The overwhelming majority of the nuns were illiterate. Most of the them had had no education in their own language. While in Tibet they were also denied education in their religious heritage.
Photos taken by Olivier Adam in May 2022 at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. The top left photo shows Geshema Tenzin Kunsel teaching. The bottom left photo shows nuns leaving one of the Tibetan classes. The nunneries in India are helping to preserve Tibet’s religion, language, and culture.
The Tibetan Nuns Project created an education program for nuns from the ground up. “Today when I see those nuns who didn’t know how to read and write their own names now have Geshema degrees , it is amazing. In a way, 30 years is a long time, but when it’s creating history it is not very long,” said Rinchen Khando Choegyal , Founding Director and Special Advisor to the Tibetan Nuns Project.
The Tibetan Nuns Project also helps women and girls from the remote and impoverished border areas of India such as Ladakh, Zanskar, Spiti, Lahoul, and Arunachal Pradesh. The women and girls from these areas are usually given far less education than men and boys. The nunneries give them a chance for education that they would not have otherwise.
Dorjee Zong Nunnery in located in the remote, high-altitude area of Zanskar in northern India. Girls and women in the Himalayan regions have traditionally been given far less education than men and boys. All photos courtesy of Olivier Adam.
What the Tibetan Nuns Study
A primary goal of the Tibetan Nuns Project is to assist nuns in reaching the same level of education as the monks. Each of the four traditional schools of Tibetan Buddhism has its own specific curriculum and degrees, but they also share a great deal. All are based on the teachings of the Buddha and the Indian commentaries that developed to explicate them.
Exactly which commentaries the nuns most rely on varies between traditions as do the number of years of study, but there is uniformity as to the basic topics. All the nuns study:
- Logic and Epistemology, which provide the basic tools for advanced philosophical study
- Perfection of Wisdom for understanding of the Buddhist path
- Middle Way for understanding of Buddhist philosophy, and
- Tantra for the final level of teachings.
Sherab Choeling Nunnery in India’s Spiti Valley is one of seven Tibetan Buddhist nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project. This year, nuns from this remote nunnery will take part in the inter-nunnery debate which brings together hundreds of nuns for one month of intensive training in monastic debate. All photos by Olivier Adam.
At most of the seven nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project, courses are also offered in Tibetan language, English, and computer skills, as well as in ritual arts such as sand mandalas and butter sculpture. The smaller nunneries in more remote areas are at earlier stages in the educational process.
Tibetan Buddhist nuns taking part in a Tibetan calligraphy competition
In addition to providing basic educational requirements, the Tibetan Nuns Project seeks to elevate the educational standards and the position of women within the monastic community. To prepare the nuns for positions of leadership and moral authority in a culture that is going through challenging times, it is essential to combine traditional religious studies with aspects of modern education.
Why Educating Tibetan Nuns Is So Important
It is a historic time for Tibetan Buddhist nuns and Tibetan Buddhism.
Inside Tibet, nuns and monks are under constant surveillance and are unable to freely practice their religion. There’s a very great risk that the priceless wisdom and teachings of Tibetan Buddhism may be lost.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama, patron of the Tibetan Nuns Project, has said, “The Tibetan Buddhist philosophy is something precious which we can be proud of and should strive to preserve.”
An essay in the English classroom at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute. The original Shugsep Nunnery in Tibet was completely destroyed and then partially rebuilt by the nuns themselves. However, the nuns faced frequent harassment by Chinese authorities and many escaped into exile in India. Shugsep was re-established in exile by the Tibetan Nuns Project.
It is also a time of opportunity for Buddhist women. Never before have Tibetan nuns been able to receive the same education and the chance to study and sit for the same degrees as monks.
For the first time in the history of Tibet, nuns can take the Geshema degree , roughly equivalent to a doctorate in Tibetan Buddhism.
Our focus with the Tibetan Nuns Project has been on helping the nuns to gain the top degrees within their Tibetan Buddhist traditions, so that they could reach the same level of academic proficiency in those traditions as the monks. Our further hope is that they will go on to teach other nuns so that teachers do not always have to be monks.
Geshema Delek Wangmo teaching at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. She and Geshema Tenzin Kunsel made history when they were hired in 2019 to teach the nuns there. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam
Your support has helped bring about these major educational accomplishments:
- The creation of groundbreaking education program for nuns
- Providing debate training for nuns for the first time in the history of Tibet
- Supporting the annual Jang Gonchoe inter-nunnery debate event, which provides one month of intensive training in debate
- Enabling nuns to pursue higher degrees such as the Geshema degree and the Khenmo degree
- Creating a Tantric Studies program for Geshemas to empower them to become teachers and leaders
Do you want to do more to help the nuns? Learn about our Current Projects here and how you can sponsor a nun. More sponsors are always needed.
Losar in Photos: Tibetan New Year 2022
Losar or Tibetan New Year is a joyful holiday celebrated by Tibetans and people in the Himalayan region with festivities traditionally lasting for several days.
Here are photos and slideshows from two Tibetan Buddhist nunneries showing how the nuns prepare for and celebrate Losar.
This year, Losar began on March 3rd, 2022. According to the Tibetan lunar calendar, it is the start of year of the Water Tiger, 2149.
Nuns at Dolma Ling hold a chemar box for Tibetan New Year. This ornately carved box contains roasted barley and tsampa (roasted barley flour). It is decorated with butter sculptures made by the nuns. The chemar is an auspicious offering to make at the Losar shrine to bring prosperity in the new year.
Goodbye to All Negativities of the Old Year
Losar-related rituals fall into two distinct parts. First, Tibetans say goodbye to the old year and let go of all its negative or bad aspects. Part of this involves cleaning one’s home from top to bottom. After that, the “new year” Losar (ལོ་གསར་) is welcomed with prayers and by inviting all good, auspicious things into our homes and our lives.
Before Losar, there are many preparations at the nunneries, including making khapse , the deep-fried biscuits that are a staple of Tibetan New Year’s celebrations everywhere. The dough is usually made with flour, eggs, butter, and sugar and is then rolled out and twisted into a variety shapes and sizes. Some are served to guests and some decorate the Losar altar.
Here’s a slideshow of the nuns at Geden Choeling Nunnery preparing for Losar and making khapse. Geden Choeling is the oldest nunnery in Dharamsala, India and is home to about 175 nuns.
Can’t see the slideshow? Click here.
Munishwar Nath Ashish Ganju, a long-time friend of the Tibetan Nuns Project and the architect of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute passed away from COVID-19 on May 9, 2021.
About Munishwar Nath Ashish Ganju
Munishwar Nath Ashish Ganju trained at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London and qualified in 1966. He returned to India in 1967 where he later taught at the School of Planning and Architecture and at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi. MN Ashish Ganju was also a visiting professor at the UK’s University of East London and Italy’s Universita IUAV di Venezia.
He was highly respected and won many national and international design competitions. He was the founding Director of the TVB School of Habitat Studies in New Delhi and was a member of several Government of India committees.
Remembering MN Ashish Ganju, The Indian Express wrote, “For him, architecture was a deeply spiritual pursuit, where he combined his knowledge of Kashmiri Shaivism and Tibetan Buddhism.”
Tibetan children looking at the architectural model for Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Photo from the Tibetan Nuns Project archives.
“One never saw him as trying to be a legend or an architect, he just went about doing what he believed in,” said architect Henri Fanthome . “He had a refreshing spirit and an undying ability to go after what he believed in.”
“He brought an innovative perspective to design combining Eastern philosophy, local materials with a Western rigour,” said Sumita Singha , Director of Ecologic Architects. “In time, his body of elegant and masterful works included his own home, community centres, a Buddhist memorial and nunnery for the Dalai Lama and urban design projects.”
MN Ashish Ganju described his work as follows: “My architectural practice provided the ground for the exploration of architecture as a manifestation of ancient sacred principles, so much a part of our everyday existence. The practice made no distinction between architecture, interior, landscape, or urban design. The message from our cultural roots was very clear; our existence on Mother Earth was an interdependent process with all five elements of earth, water, fire, wind, and space manifest in the dynamic equilibrium of human activity and the physical environment, as found and as built.”
Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in the monsoon. The region experiences heavy monsoon rains and is the second rainiest place in India. The design has a series of courtyards and terraced gardens drained by a network of water channels. Photo courtesy of Norman Steinberg
Architect for Tibetan Projects
MN Ashish Ganju did many projects for Tibetan refugees. “I was asked by Tibet House (the cultural office of HH the Dalai Lama) to design a memorial in Buddha Jayanti Park in New Delhi. The memorial was to house a two and a half metre tall statue of Buddha which was presented by the Dalai Lama to the people of India as a symbol of gratitude by the Tibetan people who were given refuge in India… The iconography of the canopy was worked out in close consultation with Tibetan Lamas and scholars, while the tectonics were decided with the stone masons who belonged to a tribe practising this vocation since time immemorial by building temples in Central India as well as Rajasthan and the North Indian plains.”
Tibetan Buddhist nuns helping to build Dolma Ling Nunnery. Architect MN Ashish Ganju said the design was “in keeping with Buddhist principles of harmonious interdependence of all living beings and objects.”
“This assignment led to my being asked to design a monastery for Tibetan refugee nuns in Dharamsala in the Kangra Valley. The project, sponsored by the Tibetan Nuns Project, was executed as an exercise in self-build by the user community. The design was worked out in close consultation with the users, and in keeping with Buddhist principles of harmonious interdependence of all living beings and objects. The construction, including materials and labour, was managed by the user community.”
Dolma Ling: Living with Nature
Here’s how MN Ashish Ganju described the Dolma Ling project:
The Tibetan Nuns Project has undertaken an extensive program to resettle many of the nuns fleeing their homeland in Tibet to escape persecution by the Chinese government.
The site for this Nunnery is piece of agricultural land, measuring about 6 acres, situated in the valley below Dharamsala where the Dalai Lama now lives. The requirement was to house 250 nuns along with teachers and support staff. The plan provides for 125 rooms and 12 classrooms, an assembly building containing a hall for religious assembly, a library, a large lecture room and a residential suite for the Dalai Lama; as well as common dining hall with kitchen, a workshop for craft activities, a health centre, an office, a guest house, and staff residences.
The site slopes to the south and was terraced for farming. This region experiences extremely heavy rainfall during the monsoon making it the second rainiest place in India. The design makes use of system of verandahs which distribute the built spaces around a series of courtyards and terraced gardens which are drained by a network of water channels lined with locally quarried stone.
An aerial view of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute taken in 2018. MN Ashish Ganju was the architect for this large campus.
The common facilities are placed on a central axis across the contours with the office at the bottom near the entrance, the dining hall in the center, and the assembly building at the top. The nuns’ rooms are placed along the contours overlooking south-side terraced gardens and connected by north-side verandahs to the common facilities and the central courtyards. These courtyards are flanked by the main verandahs to form a ceremonial route rising up the slope and culminating in the assembly building.
A water reservoir on the north-east corner of the site and a water channel running along the northern boundary act as a moat to protect the buildings from the flash floods which inundate the fields above during the monsoon. The construction is being done by local masons and carpenters supervised by volunteers of the Tibetan Nuns Project. The construction techniques are chosen to be easily managed by a somewhat inexpert building team. The main building materials are locally quarried stone and slate tiles, as well as local bricks.
Slideshows and Updates from all the Tibetan Buddhist Nunneries
As 2020 draws to a close, we wanted to update you with slideshows and news from all the nunneries and institutions in India that we support. if you sponsor a nun, scroll down to her nunnery and find the associated slideshow.
Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute
HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT DOLMA LING. Can’t see it? Click HERE.
The main gate of the nunnery remains closed and notices have been posted to ensure that no one enters without permission. The nuns created a makeshift gatekeeper room and every day. two nuns wearing masks take turns to guard the gate, with an electronic thermometer, hand sanitizer, and materials to sanitize things such as food and fuel canisters ready to hand. Essentials such as vegetables, rice, flour, and fuel are kept at the gate under the sun for hours and sanitized properly before being brought into the nunnery.
During the holy month of Saga Dawa which this year ran from May 23 to June 21, the nuns once again read the Kangyur , the spoken words of the Buddha, and Tengyur , the Tibetan collection of commentaries to the Buddhist teachings. Together, the 108-volume Kangyur and the 225-volume Tengyur form the basis of the Tibetan Buddhist canon . The texts were divided among the nuns. The nuns maintained physical distancing while reciting the texts in their rooms, on the verandahs, in the dining hall, and in the prayer hall. It took about three days for the nuns to complete the reading of the whole set. The nuns also marked Saga Dawa with the burning of juniper branches.
On August 24, the nuns held their annual academic award ceremony, an event that usually takes place in late March or early April. It was the first time since the pandemic began that the nuns assembled in such a big group. Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Founding Director and Special Advisor for the Tibetan Nun’s Project, was the guest of honor and other special guests were Mrs. Nangsa Choedon, Director of Tibetan Nuns Project and Mr. Norman Steinberg. The nuns received awards for academic achievement in their classes, the inter-house quiz competition, the handwriting competition, and memorization exams.
Since good nutrition is crucial for health, particularly in times when the immune system might need to fight back. the nuns are regularly making tofu for meals. Fruits and vegetables and juices are given to the nuns. Meals are eaten in the nuns’ respective rooms or apart in the courtyard.
Shugsep Nunnery and Institute
HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT SHUGSEP. Can’t see it? Click HERE.
In mid-June, the results of the annual exams for 2019-20 were announced and classes for 2020 officially began in July. At the beginning of August, the summer retreat started and lasted for 45 days from August 4 to September 17. During that period, we organized a lot of debates, essay competitions, and public speaking for the students.
Recently, Shugsep Nunnery and Institute had a drawing competition among the younger students and we are glad that all of them participated and showed their talents. Classes stopped on December 14th for the annual examinations with a study holiday of one week after every test. The examinations begin on December 24th and the last tests will be on January 25th.
December 7, 2020, marked the tenth anniversary of the inauguration of Shugsep Nunnery and Institute by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Geden Choeling Nunnery
HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT GEDEN CHOELING. Can’t see it? Click HERE.
In terms of health care and emotional matters, all the nuns are in good health. They received frequent talks and advice from Geden Choeling Nunnery’s Abbot, office administrator, teachers, and Gekoe (Disciplinarian) to keep them mentally strong without any fear and anxiety during this pandemic period.
All the nuns and staff members are restricted from visiting outside places and the market area since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. No visitors are allowed in the institute, except for prayer offerings by the well-wisher. The nuns maintain daily hygiene and sanitation using sanitizing spray for COVID-19.
Finally, the nuns hold regular prayer sessions twice a day from 6-7:30 a.m. and from 3:30 to 4:30 pm.
Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Tilokpur Nunnery receiving handknitted sweaters, hats, and mittens donated by the volunteers at Wool-Aid
In December, the nuns received two large boxes of handknitted sweaters, hats, and mittens donated by the volunteer knitters at Wool-Aid.
In terms of education and other activities, the nuns are continuing with their philosophy classes, monastic debate practice, and computer learning in person, with only English classes being taught online. The younger nuns are also learning painting and drawing. The nunnery holds two prayer sessions each day, in the morning and evening, to pray for all sentient beings and for the betterment of this world.
The nuns wrote, “We are making our best attempt not to get caught with any virus in the community so everyone remains safe and healthy. We hope that this pandemic will finish soon and that everyone can enjoy normal living.
Sherab Choeling Nunnery
HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT SHERAB CHOELING. Can’t see it? Click HERE.
In 2019, Dorjee Zong began a major expansion project and good progress was made last year. The housing block and the structure of a multi-purpose two-story building were completed before extreme weather shut down construction in October. The two-story building contains the kitchen, dining hall, storeroom on the ground floor and, on the upper floor, the prayer hall and a conference hall.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit India in the spring, we feared that no construction would be possible because most of the labor force comes from Nepal and strict restrictions would prevent their travel. However, in July and August, the nunnery was able to move forward gradually with the building process.
As life after the nationwide lockdown in the spring began slowly getting back on track, the nuns’ committee decided to move forward to complete the interiors of the multi-purpose building with work such as plastering of the floors, electrical work fittings etc. They have also undertaken the construction of the bathroom and toilet block needed to go with the housing block. Around six to seven local village workers were hired for this job because outside laborers were stopped from coming to Zanskar. All labor work this summer was done by local village people under the guidance of the working committee.
Currently, the housing block is being used as living quarters on the ground floor for the young nuns, while the top-floor rooms are being used for multiple purposes including as temporary classrooms, office, and a meeting room.
During the lockdown, the younger nuns from nearby villages temporarily left the nunnery to stay with their families. These young nuns were not able to stay at Dorjee Zong because there is not enough space to house them in separate quarters or to follow safe physical distancing measures. Their elder siblings who have returned home are helping the younger children with their studies.
In 2019, generous donors funded the purchase of a school bus to enable the young nuns at Dorjee Zong to continue their education. The nuns needed a school bus to make the 12-mile round-trip journey to the government school to continue their education beyond Grade 5. The bus has arrived in Zanskar and is ready for use. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the schools in India are currently closed. We will keep you updated.
Sakya College for Nuns
HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT SAKYA COLLEGE FOR NUNS. Can’t see it? Click HERE.
Some of the nuns claim the course has been of immense help in terms of maintaining tranquillity and peace of mind. They have continued to practice individually since the workshop. As meditation is all about dealing with the mind, the main purpose of the workshop was to help the nuns keep their minds in peace and stress-free throughout the lockdown period.
The College had previously invited Tibetan yoga trainer Tsering Yangzom and, on two different occasions, she conducted a 10-day yoga workshop. This greatly motivated the nuns in keeping their bodies in proper health and shape in order to lead healthy, happy lives.
In the special update in mid-December 2020, the College wrote, “We believe that with the introduction of yoga and Vipassana mediation we ensure that our nuns are relatively more relaxed, healthier, and stronger physically and mentally. This, apart from the daily academic activities and curriculums, always keeps their body and mind busy and active.”
The Tibetan Nuns Project is extremely grateful to all those who sponsor nuns and to all our supporters. Thank you for your compassion and generosity!
Life at Tibetan Buddhist Nunneries During COVID-19 Pandemic
Here’s our monthly update on life at some Tibetan Buddhist nunneries during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Tibetan Nuns Project supports seven nunneries in northern India.
This month, India reported a surge in COVID-19 cases even as the nationwide lockdown eased. India now has the fourth-highest number of coronavirus cases in the world. Hospitals are swamped in the worst-hit cities of Mumbai, New Delhi, and Chennai. Experts predict that the infection rate in India will continue to rise through July. On June 19, a new lockdown will go into effect for the 15 million people in Chennai.
This is worrying news for the tens of thousands of Tibetans refugees who live in India. The Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala has issued special guidelines for nunneries and monasteries.
The nuns are doing their best to adhere to physical distancing, the use of face masks in public spaces, hand and respiratory hygiene, and environmental sanitation.
Tibetan Buddhist nuns get their temperatures checked during health checks at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team
Geshema Exams Postponed
Each year, the nuns sitting various levels of the four-year Geshema examinations gather together for one month of final exam preparations and then for about 12 days of exams.
The Geshema exams , normally held each August, are being tentatively postponed to October 1. This year’s venue for the Geshema exams will be Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala.
Nuns often travel long distances to take the exams, such as from Nepal and South India. With the number of COVID-19 cases in India rising and with stricter travel rules from Nepal, the committee decided to postpone the exams to lessen the risk of infection. Last year, all 50 nuns took who took Geshema exams passed.
The nunnery is closed until the end of June. The nuns are still not getting together in groups so there are no classes, pujas etc. In lieu of face-to-face classes, some philosophy teachers are recording their lessons using an mp3 player and sharing the files with their students.
Each year, during the holy month of Saga Dawa , the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute read the entire Tibetan Buddhist canon or Kangyur , the 108 volumes of the spoken words of the Buddha.
Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling maintain physical distance while reading the Kangyur, the 108 volumes of the spoken words of the Buddha. Photos courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.
After finishing the reading the Kangyur texts, the nuns had a two-day break with free time to themselves.
COVID life at Dolma Ling. Thank you for helping to support the nuns during this difficult period.
The nuns at Shugsep have been organizing a few classes each day and have now decided to follow their normal schedule. They are once again performing pujas or prayers, so if you have a puja request you can make it here.
The Shugsep Khenpo and the senior nuns who were in Bylakupee, South India, have returned safely to the nunnery and are currently in two weeks of quarantine.
According to the latest news, all the nuns at Sherab Choeling nunnery are safe and well. To mark Saga Dawa, the nuns read special puja texts including:
– Yum Puthi Chunyi (a full reading of all the 12 volumes of the Perfection of Wisdom in the Kangyur , the 108-volume set of the words of the Buddha) – Dolma (the Tara puja) – Dukkar Tsezung for all sentient beings (This a long-life ritual focused on Sitapatrā, Goddess with the White Umbrella, who appears from the Buddha’s uṣṇīṣa. ) – Reading pages from each Kangyur book (Called shal chad, this is the “opening and partial reading of the entire canon. To read it all would take too long so each volume is opened and a bit of it read.)
Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery marked the holy month of Saga Dawa with prayers, the lighting of butter lamps, fasting, and vows.
During the holy month of Saga Dawa, the nuns also received puja requests from villagers for their late family members and for their own well being. The nuns also offered Menla , the Medicine Buddha ritual as requested by many people. Most of the nuns fasted during the entire month, taking no meals after lunch. On the 15th of the holy month, they took Thekchen Sojung , the eight Mahāyāna vows.
Earlier Updates on Life at Tibetan Nunneries During the Pandemic
Since March, we’ve been providing regular updates on life at some Tibetan nunneries in India during the coronavirus pandemic. Each update has photos and news from some or all of the seven nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project. Here’s a list of earlier updates:
- June 1, 2020 – Special message from Nangsa Chodon
- May 4, 2020
- April 15, 2020
- April 3, 2020
- March 30, 2020
Order by December 13th for the best chance for gifts to arrive by Christmas. Dismiss
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Making The Transition From Lpn To Rn Rose Kearney Nunnery Test Bank Chapter 1: Multiple Roles 1. Jennifer is reviewing class notes she made during her PN program 8 years ago. This is an example of which phase of transition? a. The neutral zone b. A new... More
Making The Transition From Lpn To Rn Rose Kearney Nunnery Test Bank Chapter 1: Multiple Roles 1. Jennifer is reviewing class notes she made during her PN program 8 years ago. This is an example of which phase of transition? a. The neutral zone b. A new beginning c. Transformative learning d. Ending, losing, letting go 2. Which of the following characteristics of learning is at the highest level? a. Reaction to the information b. Analysis of the information c. Use of the information in various situations d. Recall of factual information on an examination 3. John’s learning inventory showed a high auditory preference. Which of the following would be most beneficial? a. Highlighting the book content b. Taking detailed notes during class c. Participating in a seminar discussion d. Completing a computer-assisted lesson 4. A personal factor to consider for efficient time management is the individual’s a. spirituality. b. work schedule. c. social obligations. d. course requirements. 5. Which Less
Making The Transition From Lpn To Rn Rose Kearney Nunnery Test Bank Chapter 1: Multiple Roles 1. Jennifer is reviewing class notes she made during her PN program 8 years ago. This is an example of which phase of transition? a. The neutral zone b. A new beginning c. Transformative learning d. Ending, losing, letting go 2. Which of the following characteristics of learning is at the highest level? a. Reaction to the information b. Analysis of the information c. Use of the information in various situations d. Recall of factual information on an examination 3. John’s learning inventory showed a high auditory preference. Which of the following would be most beneficial? a. Highlighting the book content b. Taking detailed notes during class c. Participating in a seminar discussion d. Completing a computer-assisted lesson 4. A personal factor to consider for efficient time management is the individual’s a. spirituality. b. work schedule. c. social obligations. d. course requirements. 5. Which of the following is least effective in managing test anxiety? a. Allocating sufficient study time b. Joining a compatible study group c. Reviewing notes in the car before taking the test d. Getting sufficient sleep after reviewing the content the previous evening Answer Key: 1. D, 2. C, 3. C, 4. A, 5. C Download Full Version Test Bank Here : https://studiazone.com/product/making-the-transition-from-lpn-to-rn-rose- kearney-nunnery-test-bank/
Chapter 2: Professional Practice Parameters 1. Janna is a RN on a telemetry unit who just reviewed a client’s lab work and sees a new irregular EKG pattern on Mr. Jameson’s monitor. Which of the following is her initial action and is consistent with her scope of practice? a. Order repeat lab studies. b. Call the admitting physician. c. Repeat a comprehensive admitting assessment. d. Evaluate Mr. Jameson’s current vital signs and physiological status. e. Conduct a focused assessment on Mr. Jameson’s keen replacement surgical site. 2. Donna is a RN licensed to practice in South Carolina but is currently on assignment in Utah on a practice privilege based on the NLC license. Which of the following is a concern? a. Her home in Florence, SC. b. The policies and procedures of the travel agency. c. Adherence to Advisory opinions from the Utah Board Nursing. d. Additional current RN licenses in Louisiana, New York, and California. e. Her adherence to the SC Board of Nursing continuing competency requirements. 3. Which of the following is a standard of practice for the RN but not for the LPN? a. Makes independent nursing decisions. b. Conducts a focused nursing assessment. c. Seeks clarification of orders, when needed. d. Documents nursing care and client responses. e. Provide nursing care consistent with the client’s cultural preferences. 4. The concept of career ladders primarily places value on all of the following EXCEPT a. salary scales. b. continuing education. c. additional knowledge. d. additional skills and abilities. e. acceptable client-centered care. 5. Which of the following is one of the core competencies expected of all healthcare professionals? a. Conducting research studies b. Promoting quality improvement c. Using the electronic health record d. Effectively working in disciplinary teams Download Full Version Test Bank Here : https://studiazone.com/product/making-the-transition-from-lpn-to-rn-rose- kearney-nunnery-test-bank/
Answer Key: 1. D, 2. C, 3. A, 4. A, 5. B Download Full Version Test Bank Here : https://studiazone.com/product/making-the-transition-from-lpn-to-rn-rose- kearney-nunnery-test-bank/
Chapter 3: Nursing Theory 1. In Maslow’s Hierarchy, which needs are considered as the most powerful? a. Basic b. Physiologic c. Environmental d. Self-actualization e. Love and belonging 2. Jonathan is 2 years old. According to Erikson’s theory, positive function at this developmental age is a. Trust vs. Mistrust. b. Industry vs. Inferiority. c. Generativity vs. Stagnation. d. Identity vs. Role Confusion. e. Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt. 3. The healthy newborn who demonstrates a positive sucking reflex is at which stage of Piaget’s theory of cognitive development ? a. Sensorimotor b. Preoperational c. Concrete Operations d. Representational Thought 4. Which of the following nursing models views nursing as an external regulatory force to restore equilibrium? a. Goal Attainment b. Human Becoming c. Behavioral Systems d. Unitary Human Beings e. Culture Care Diversity and Universality Download Full Version Test Bank Here : https://studiazone.com/product/making-the-transition-from-lpn-to-rn-rose- kearney-nunnery-test-bank/
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A world-weary political journalist picks up the story of a woman's search for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent. A world-weary political journalist picks up the story of a woman's search for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent. A world-weary political journalist picks up the story of a woman's search for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent.
- Stephen Frears
- Steve Coogan
- Martin Sixsmith
- Sophie Kennedy Clark
- 279 User reviews
- 349 Critic reviews
- 77 Metascore
- 33 wins & 86 nominations total
- Philomena Lee
- Young Philomena
- Sister Hildegarde
- Mother Barbara
- Pete Olsson
- Sally Mitchell
- Sister Anunciata
- Sister Claire
- Young Sister Hildegarde
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- Trivia There are flashbacks, done with "home movies". Some were created for this movie, and some are footage of Philomena's actual son.
- Goofs When the phone rings in Martin's Washington, D.C. hotel room, the ringtone is typical UK, not US: two short rings, which repeat. "Filming Locations" indicate that interior hotel scenes were filmed at the London Marriott Hotel. The sound editor should have changed ringtone.
Martin Sixsmith : The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
Philomena : That's lovely, Martin. Did you just think of that?
Martin Sixsmith : No, it's T.S. Eliot
- Crazy credits Real footage of Anthony/Michael is shown at the ending credits
- Connections Featured in At the Movies: Venice Film Festival 2013 (2013)
- Soundtracks Mother of God Here I Stand Composed by John Tavener and Mikhail Lermontov Published by Chester Music Ltd. By kind permission of Music Sales Creative Performed by The Tiffin Boys' Choir Choir Director: Simon Toyne
User reviews 279
- Sep 24, 2015
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- Is 'Philomena' based on a book?
- November 27, 2013 (United States)
- United Kingdom
- United States
- Official site (France)
- The Lost Child of Philomena Lee
- Killyleagh, County Down, Northern Ireland
- The Weinstein Company
- Yucaipa Films
- See more company credits at IMDbPro
- $12,000,000 (estimated)
- Nov 24, 2013
- Runtime 1 hour 38 minutes
- Dolby Digital
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C.F. Møller Architects transform historic Danish Monastery
Dalum Monastery has a long and very important history; both as an institution with many important social functions, which over time have had great value for the local community and the development of the region, and as a unique cultural heritage building, much of which is now listed.
The building has its origins in the Bennedicte Nunnery in 1193 and has since undergone major changes, serving both as a private estate. It has been owned by the royal family and used by King Christian IV, and it has served as a local and public gathering place. Among other things, it has also served as a local tuberculosis hospital, and for the past 150 years, as a monestery for the Catholic nunnery of the Sisters of St Hedwig, which has made a very significant social contribution to the weak and vulnerable in the region.
Dalum Monastery, like many older buildings, has been built and extended over different periods of time. Parts of the northern building of the monastery can be dated back to 1600, while the rest of the buildings were mainly built during the 19th century with continuous extensions. In 1930 the monastery church was built and in 1958 additional apartments were added. The monastery is scenically situated in a large surrounding hilly area with stunning landscape qualities. The area includes a large open park, an impressive field of trees, as well as the Peace Forest (Fredskoven) with large clearings that formerly housed the nuns' animal pens and kitchen gardens.
Careful development of historical heritage
In 2021 it was decided to sell Dalum Monastery and the surrounding land, and after a dialogue and tender process MT Højgaard Projektudvikling (Project Development) together with C.F. Møller Architects were selected to develop the entire area and manage the unique historical heritage.
Dalum monastery offers, with its fantastic history and unique location near Odense, an unique opportunity to create a very special place for the enjoyment of many people, and the idea is that the existing historic buildings will be complemented by new buildings that create an open and welcoming environment in a subtle relationship with both the landscape and the context in general.
"We are very much looking forward to working on this exciting project and we see a unique potential in uniting cultural history, architecture and landscape around new communities and activities," says Michael Kruse, partner and architect at C.F. Møller Architects, and elaborates,
"We want to continue and develop the area's historical heritage with its significance for nature, people and society and will have a strong focus on creating life in both old and new settings from a consistent social and sustainable perspective."