Shakespeare on Trial
Awoken on the 400th anniversary of his death, William Shakespeare is put on trial before the Celestial Court to face the charge that his plays boring and out-of-date!
With the aid of many of his characters, and quite a few that aren't, Shakie defends himself.
This is a one-hour play I wrote especially for schools to stage - either in whole or in part. It's complete with a range of sound effects and a number of songs (w. yours truly, m. Barry Gibson)
All the resources - script, sound effects, backing tracks -can be downloaded from the BBC Education website. And they're FREE! Just follow the link opposite -->>
The script is written for a set which has a ‘stage’, in front of which is a ‘performance space’. The ‘stage’ should be thought of as being in two sections: upstage and centre-stage comprise the coutroom, downstage ‘another world’ in which enactments and excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays are carried out. During these excerpts the ‘performance space’ serves as the area filled with the standing theatregoers known as ‘groundlings’. At other times the space will be used for songs and/or movement elements. Although not essential, it would add to the staging if the courtroom, downstage and the performance area could be separately lit. Some lighting effects are suggested.
In keeping with Shakespearian tradition, stage directions are fluid – more hints than directions! Entrances could be as indicated, or by having characters come up on to stage from the Ensemble.
Costumes can be as simple or complex as desired. Likewise props. The script details only those elements which are essential.
SCENE 1: ‘CELESTIAL COURTROOM’
The courtroom has three seats on a raised dais upstage centre. These will be occupied by the three JUDGES throughout the play. In front of them is a bench (trestle table) upon which they rest their reports. Centre-stage right are two lecterns (music stands), used by SHAKIE and PORTIA during the play. SHAKIE’s lectern has a small bell on it. Centre-stage left is another lectern, used by ‘witnesses’.
FX: SHARP CRACK OF A JUDGE’S GAVEL
JUDGE 1: Silence in the Celestial Court!
After a short delay to ensure total audience attention(!) lights up to show JUDGES 1, 2, 3. Suggest their ethereal nature by having them dressed in white capes and white hats. At the side, upstage left is the scruffy, dishevelled (think Baldrick!) USHER.
JUDGE 1: Call William Shakespeare!
USHER: (directed off stage) Call William Shakespeare!
Two ATTENDANTS enter centre-stage left, carrying WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (SHAKIE) on a stretcher (camp bed). They place him on the floor before the judges and retire to the witness stand. SHAKIE is asleep, hands together as if in prayer; a quill is between them.
JUDGE 1: William Shakespeare!
SHAKIE: (awaking from 400-yr sleep!) Er ... ooh. That’s me.
JUDGE 1: You have now been dead for four hundred years.
SHAKIE: As long as that? I don’t believe it!
JUDGE 2: That was no lie! You’re not being tricked!
JUDGE 3: In sixteen-sixteen the bucket you kicked!
SHAKIE: And ... you woke me up to tell me that?
JUDGE 1: No. We woke you up to put your work on trial! Place the defendant in the dock!
USHER bustles forward, helps SHAKIE to his feet and leads him across to one of the lecterns centre-stage right. ATTENDANTS pick up the stretcher and exit..
JUDGE 1: William Shakespeare, four hundred years after your death your work is accused of being boring and out of date. How do you plead?
SHAKIE: Not guilty!
JUDGE 2: Innocent, you say? (to Judge 1) Hah! He wants us to know ...
JUDGE 3: That he’s as pure as the driven snow!
SHAKIE: Yes, I am! And by the way (jangles bell loudly) “Pure as the driven snow” is one of my lines. I used it in my play “Hamlet”. And “The Winters Tale”.
JUDGE 1: Quiet, Shakespeare! (to Judges 2 and 3) Would you believe he’s as dead as a doornail?
SHAKIE: (bell, quieter but loud enough to be heard clearly) “Dead as a doornail”. Mine. Henry the Sixth ...
JUDGE 1: (ignoring him) Enough!
SHAKIE: All right, but who says my work is – whatever you said it was?
JUDGE 1: Boring and out of date? They do.
JUDGE 2: Wayne ... [or the name of any other contemporary male ‘icon’]
JUDGE 3: And Cheryl. [ditto, for female ‘icon’]
WAYNE and CHERYL enter the enactment space, downstage left. They are wearing school tops, and carry copies of Shakespeare’s plays which they open with an exagerrated sigh.
CHERYL: Shakie ...
WAYNE: Shakie ...
CHERYL: Is it us?
WAYNE: Or is it you?
CHERYL: What’s it all about?
BOTH: We haven’t got a clue!
(c) Michael Coleman 2020