The Institute for Shakespeare and Renaissance Studies operates on the premise that Shakespeare offers the most comprehensive compendium of what it means to be human, and that the liberal arts find a nexus in the texts of Shakespeare. With Shakespeare as an anchoring point, the Institute offers a plan of study that is engaging, vital, and relevant to our students and to the mission of the school – to find joy in work and play.
The Institute is an elected two-year curriculum for juniors and seniors providing concentrated study in the fields of Shakespeare and Early Modern Culture. Though a major objective is to perform Shakespeare’s plays, the Institute actively pursues an interdisciplinary approach in its work. Students, for example, study the culture of Renaissance England through immersion in the literature and history of the period. Science, mathematics, and other arts – fine and performing – provide compelling aspects of the Institute.
The Institute adheres to a project-centered pedagogy. Students focus on a single Shakespeare play, steering a course of study that ultimately concludes in an “original practice” performance in year two. But the performance is only one project – and one assessment tool – in the Institute. Other Institute goals, like a student-led conference, with a scholarly keynote, at the end of junior year as well as an edited edition of the play being studied provide alternative, authentic academic routes to engage students in writing, research, conference organizing, and public speaking. The proceedings of this annual conference and the student-produced play edition are published on the Web and in other media.
Year one consists primarily of seminar work, team-led by members of the drama, English, and history departments. The major project of this year is the production of a scholarly edition of the play being studied – a volume in a series called The McDonogh Shakespeare. This pedagogical model engages students in scholarship of consequence through authentic projects and assessments that allow them to exhibit what they have learned. Students organize an end-of-year scholarly conference, with invited keynote, which provides an authentic audience for Institute participants, a substantive academic event for the McDonogh community, and the forum to present a draft of the students’ edition of the play.
While there is no formal classroom work expected of participants in the summer between junior and senior year, students will study 16th & 17th century stagecraft by attending a travel program to a world-class theatre/center of scholarship and by reading pertinent scholarship. McDonogh is fortunate to be a mere three hours away from the renowned American Shakespeare Center, located in Staunton, VA.
Year two focuses on the immersion into Original Practice staging, or “OP” for short, which means that the Institute participants operate as an Elizabethan/Jacobean playing company, approximating how a production would have been carried out in Shakespeare’s day. Students study the conditions of playing by reading a number of key scholarly texts, attending OP productions, being engaged in the Institute seminar, and, when possible, attending relevant events outside of class. As a company, these students are responsible, among other things, for casting, cutting the script, costuming (design & concept), directing, rehearsing, and marketing, all with the guidance of the primary Institute instructor. The culmination of the Institute, a full OP production of a Shakespeare play, constitutes the participants’ senior project. In addition to the production, each student also produces additional material relevant to his or her specific area of responsibility and focus in the production for evaluation.
Since the Institute requires the level of commitment equivalent to every other course in a student’s plan of study, the Institute has limited enrollment for only the most committed students. Interested students will be required, in the spring of their sophomore year, to
Home to the only recreation of Shakespeare’s indoor stage, Blackfriars, American Shakespeare Center (ASC) is a destination not only for theatre audiences, but for scholars of all stations. ASC has a long-standing commitment to bringing Shakespeare’s works to modern audiences while still maintaining the authentic spirit of his productions. Their efforts to adhere to original practice playing provide an excellent model from which the students can develop their own production.