Post-Show Questions for Discussion and Activities

Note to Educators: Use the following assignments, questions, and activities to introduce your students to Twelfth Night and its intellectual and artistic origins, context, and themes, as well as to engage their imaginations and creativity before they see the production.

  1. Twelfth Night:  Performance Reflection and Discussion.  Following their attendance at the performance of Twelfth Night, ask your students to reflect on the questions belowYou might choose to have them answer each individually or you may divide students into groups for round-table discussions. Have them consider each question, record their answers and then share their responses with the rest of the class.

Questions to Ask Your Students About the Play in Production

  1. What was your overall reaction to Twelfth Night?  Did you find the production compelling?  Stimulating?  Intriguing?  Challenging?  Memorable?  Confusing?  Evocative?  Unique?  Delightful?  Meaningful?  Explain your reactions.
  2. Did experiencing the play heighten your awareness or understanding of the play’s themes?  [e.g., the joy and the pain of love; the types and natures of painful love (i.e., unrequited love, unspoken love, and lost love) and how they manifest themselves in humanity; the sadness, longing, loneliness, and anxiety that accompanies the loss of a loved one; the conflicts that crop up between opposing social groups (men and women, young and old, master/mistress and subordinate); the social order and decorum upended by the chaos of love, blind/foolish ambition, the blurring of class lines, cross-dressing/gender confusion and mistaken identity; how and why people deceive other people and how and why they deceive themselves; and madness and how a person's sanity is judged, defended, and dealt with/punished.
  3. What themes were made even more apparent in production/performance? Explain your responses.
  4. Do you think that the pace and tempo of the production were effective and appropriate? Explain your opinion.

Questions to Ask Your Students About the Characters

  1. Did you personally identify with any of the characters in Twelfth Night?  Who?  Why?  If no, why not?
  2. What qualities were revealed by the action and speech of the characters?  Explain your ideas.
  3. Did either character develop or undergo a transformation during the course of the play?  Who?  How?  Why?
  4. In what ways did the characters reveal the themes of the play?  Explain your responses.

Questions to Ask Your Students About the Style and Design of the Production

  1. Was there a moment in Twelfth Night that was so compelling or intriguing that it remains with you in your mind’s eye?  Write a vivid description of that moment.  As you write your description, pretend that you are writing about the moment for someone who was unable to experience the performance.
  2. Did the style and design elements of the production enhance the performance?  Did anything specifically stand out to you?  Explain your reactions.
  3. How did the production style and design reflect the themes of the play?
  4. What mood or atmosphere did the lighting design establish or achieve?  Explain your experience.
  5. How did the music and sound design enhance your overall experience?
  6. Did the design of the costumes and/or makeup serve to illuminate the characters, themes, and style of the play?  How?
  1. Additional Post-Show Questions and Discussion Points For Twelfth Night
    According to Adam Immerwahr in his article "Shakespearean Comedy" (found in this resource guide), when dealing with one of the Bard's comedies, one should "pay particular attention to the first lines of the play" because Shakespeare often gives "a hint as to his prime interest in the first few exchanges." Read Duke Orsino's opening lines of the play below to your students, but before you do, instruct them to keep in the forefront of their minds their memory of the play in performance.  In addition, ask them, as you read, to record words or phrases that strike them as being of "prime interest" in their experience of the story, characters, and themes of Twelfth Night.

      If music be the food of love, play on;
      Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
      The appetite may sicken, and so die.
      That strain again! it had a dying fall:
      O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet sound,
      That breathes upon a bank of violets,
      Stealing and giving odour! Enough; no more:
      'Tis not so sweet now as it was before.
      O spirit of love! how quick and fresh art thou,
      That, notwithstanding thy capacity
      Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there,
      Of what validity and pitch soe'er,
      But falls into abatement and low price,
      Even in a minute: so full of shapes is fancy
      That it alone is high fantastical.

    • Ask your students to reflect upon how Shakespeare depicts romantic love in Twelfth Night.  How is romantic love presented?  What view do they think the playwright is trying to put forth about romance?  Do they find the play's final three couples to be "well-matched" romantic couples?  Ask them to explain their responses.  And what about the matches that don't work out in the play—how do they contrast with the marriage matches?  Viewing the play as a reflection of Elizabethan society, what do students think Shakespeare and his audience considered appropriate matches?  What are considered appropriate and inappropriate matches in American society, circa 2009?

    • Share with your students, information on Shakespeare's use of twins as comic characters/types in his early play A Comedy of Errors and the story of his own twins, Judith and Hamnet, as outlined in Akiva Fox's article "A Double Life" (found in this resource guide).  Then ask students to consider how the death of Shakespeare's son, Hamnet, informs the story of Twelfth Night.

    • As a final discussion point, ask your students what Shakespeare's title, Twelfth Night, or What You Will, means in the context of the play and in their experience of the piece in performance.  If they do not know to the significance of the title, ask them to do some research for homework.  At the opening of the next class session, have them share their research and reflect upon how it informs the play and its production.

  2. Adapting Twelfth Night for 2009
    Theatrical adaptation involves the rewriting of a dramatic text, utilizing the original work as raw material.  Adaptation can entail the relatively straightforward transposition of a play’s original place and time with minor changes in character and/or dialogue necessary for the play’s new context.  Other approaches to adaptation can involve extensive changes to a play's text, narrative content, and even its ultimate meaning and/or outcome.  Some adaptors of Shakespeare's works, especially those who adapt plays for children, transpose Shakespeare's verse into more straight-forward and easily understandable prose; they paraphrase and modernize Shakespearean language so that it plays more like everyday speech.

Get your students directly and dramatically engaged in Shakespeare's 1601 text through the process of writing their own adaptations of a dramatic moment from Twelfth Night

  • Working in groups, students should choose one of the following partial scenes from Twelfth Night for present-day adaptation (or they may adapt a dramatic moment of their own choosing)

    • Act I, scene v (lines 167-295): Viola/Cesario's and Olivia's first meeting.  (2 person group)
    • Act II, scene v (lines 1-185): Malvolio's letter scene with Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Fabian, and Maria. (5 person group)
    • Act III, scene iv (lines 218-373), The "duel scene" with Viola/Cesario, Sir Toby Belch, Fabian, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Antonio, and Officers (5-6 person group; Officers 1 and 2 can be combined)

  • Understanding the meaning of the original text as well as its dramatic context (that is, what the characters want and why) is a key first step in the adaptation process.

  • In addition to choosing a dramatic moment for adaptation, each group of adaptors should choose where and when they would like to set the play and should feel completely free to modify the characters and dialogue accordingly for the play’s updated setting.

  • Conduct readings of each adaptation followed by a class discussion (urge your students to focus their analysis and critique on the adaptations themselves and not the performances).  Ask your students if there was an adaptation that they thought was best.  Ask them to explain why it is that they found it to be superior to the other adapted dramatic moments
  1. Twelfth Night:  The ReviewHave your students take on the role of theater critic by writing a review of McCarter Theatre’s production of Twelfth Night.  A theater critic or reviewer is essentially a “professional audience member,” whose job is to provide reportage of a play’s production and performance through active and descriptive language for a target audience of readers (e.g., their peers, their community or those interested in the arts).  Critics/reviewers analyze the theatrical event to provide a clearer understanding of the artistic ambitions and intentions of a play and its production; reviewers often ask themselves, “What is the playwright and this production attempting to do?”  Finally, the critic offers personal judgment as to whether the artistic intentions of a production were achieved, effective and worthwhile.  Things to consider before writing:

    • Theater critics/reviewers should always back up their opinions with reasons, evidence and details.

    • The elements of production that can be discussed in a theatrical review are the play text or script (and its themes, plot, characters, etc.), scenic elements, costumes, lighting, sound, music, acting and direction (i.e., how all of these elements are put together).  [See the Theater Reviewer’s Checklist.]

    • Educators may want to provide their students with sample theater reviews from a variety of newspapers.

    • Encourage your students to submit their reviews to the school newspaper for publication.

    • Students may also post their reviews on McCarter’s web site by visiting McCarter Blog.  Select “Citizen Responses” under “Categories” on the left side of the web page, and scroll down to the Twelfth Night entry to post any reviews. 
  1. Blog All about it!:  The Day After Twelfth Night.  McCarter Theatre is very interested in carrying on the conversation about Twelfth Night with you and your students after you’ve left the theater.  If you are interested in having them personally reflect upon their experience of the play in performance, but are not interested in the more formal assignment of review writing, have them instead post a post-show comment on the McCarter Theatre Blog.  To access the blog, click on this link McCarter Blog , then select “Citizen Responses” under “Categories” on the left side of the web page, and scroll down to the Twelfth Night entry to find a place to post an inquiry or comment.  [For structured responses, consider the following prompt:  What expectations did you bring with you to Twelfth Night and were your expectations met, not met, or exceeded by the performance?]  See you on the blog!