Why Teach Performance?


Since the time of Plato's Republic and the Poetics of his pupil Aristotle, art has been identified as an imitation of life. Compared to the normally two-dimensional art of painting, or even the mostly static three-dimensional art of scupture, drama (and to a much lesser extent its later permutations in film and video) uses forms of artifice more closely corresponding to the actual conditions of life of its audience: with live human bodies in three dimensional physical spaces. These spaces may approximate to the settings of actual experience, or even utilize surviving historical settings of actions when these are recreated on location - as with any performances of Shakespeare's divorce trial in Henry VIII in the Blackfriars theatre, which occupied the identical space where Queen Catherine of Aragon originally confronted her judges. What has become fully explicit in modern training programs ranging from language skills to jet piloting, is that such imitation of reality can provide an intrinsic part of effective learning, using artificial situations and mechanical "mock-ups" to approximate and anticipate the challenges of "the real thing." Modern sociology typically invites neophytes to imagine themselves in hypothetical situations in which to learn by experiment through acting out their options. Moreover, the celebrated psychologist Erving Goffman (once a faculty member at U.C.B.) has asserted that all social interaction is acting, in his seminal work, The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life. His avowed precedents for detailing this intersection of daily experience and dramatic artifice lie in such famous assertions by Shakespeare as are found in Jaques's speech in As You Like It:

                                   All the world's a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances,

And one man in his time plays many parts. (2.7.139-42)

Similarly the tragedy of Hamlet invites the hero and his audiences to explore the distinction between the harmless acting in a feigned reality and those fatally irreversible actions taken in earnest. My ultimate point is simply that education and theatre are not just complementary, they are deeply interrelated, even interdependent. The very role of teacher in any discipline necessarily involves the planning and staging of learning experiences. Perhaps all teachers should take an introductory course in acting (or in Shakespeare, at least).

The Shakespeare Program, specifically, was developed in response to the vast size and impersonality of an undergraduate lecture course in the major plays of Shakespeare, in which dynamic individual interaction by students with the material or the instructor seemed impossible, not least because of the almost total absence at that time of usable theatres and even of film-projection facilities on campus, to provide direct theatrical experience to students. In 1964 I taught this class to 400 students and it became clear that procedures for such huge courses needed drastic rethinking to ensure the appropriate educational outcome of a significant student appreciation of the Fine Arts in general, and particularly of those involving performance. Our use of new, more authentically theatrical procedures was incremental and financially modest, as it was initially necessary for these attempts to be largely self-supporting. For it was soon apparent that any use of performance for intensified understanding of Shakespeare's texts required diverse procedures for which only minimal facilities and funding then existed. We had to develop means for the rental and projection of major feature films of Shakespeare productions; the co-ordination of course schedules and activities with local professional productions; the recruitment of professional actors and directors from such distinguished resources as the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, A.C.T., and the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival; the use and even creation of video documentaries of performances, etc. Modest student fees and then tiny administration grants helped to institute these innovations.

Additionally, presentations were diversified by a series of prominent actors such as Mark Rylance and Mel Gibson. Demonstrations and workshops were also given by professionals: R.S.C. actors including Susan Fleetwood and Mike Gwilym; and stage directors Patrick Tucker (R.S.C.), Dakin Matthews (Calif. Shakespeare Festival), William Glover (Oregon Shakespeare), and Louis Fantasia (Shakespeare's Globe, U.S.A). Such approaches were further diversified by a range of distinguished lecturers from various departments of U.C.B. itself, such as Louise Clubb, Stephen Greenblatt, and Norman Rabkin, and scholarly visitors such as John Wilders of Oxford University (consultant for the B.B.C. TV Shakespeare series), Laurence Ryan (Professor of English at Stanford University), and Stanley Wells (Director, Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon).

However, such exposure to the professional theatre and to researchers into its nature did not provide the full interactive experience offered by direct participation. A more active mode for undergraduates was introduced which used dynamic options to replace minor mid-terms and quizzes - such as writing a Shakespeare sonnet, or staging Shakespeare scenes. The first of these options proved so successful that several collections of sonnets were published (see the fourth of the Appendices for examples). Later, on the model of a traveling Elizabethan company of players adapting to circumstances, many experimental performances were given to the public on Wheeler Hall Steps, at the Faculty Glade, in the Fife Room, at the Lawrence Hall of Science, and even (appropriately, if ambitiously) at the Greek Theatre, which now seems suitable mostly for pop music

Essays remained central to the Shakespeare Program since it remained imbedded in the English major, but writing now included use of diverse and professional formats such as theatre reviews, actors' notes, script writing, etc. However, the deeper student involvement in the presentation of course materials fostered a marked increase in effective writing skills generally because criticism was based on experience not theory. As student interest in performance evolved, satellite courses were attached to the main lecture course, offering formal credit for study of Renaissance analogues and source materials (Rabelais, Erasmus, Machiavelli, Cervantez, Lope de Vega, etc.) and for the staging of full-length student productions. The latter even won international recognition because the productions ultimately included useful video recordings of rarely staged plays: King Henry VI, King Henry VIII, Pericles, The Two Noble Kinsmen, etc. These performance options were successfully extended to related texts in the other courses, in comparative literature, medieval studies: La Celestina of Rojas and The Second Shepherds' Play; and even to (supposedly) non-dramatic literature such as Milton's Paradise Lost and Pope's The Rape of the Lock. Some of these productions were so unusual that they are now cited in scholarly works (e.g. the Oxford University Press edition of The Two Noble Kinsmen; the Lang performance script of Paradise Lost; and the Manchester University Press performance study of King Henry VIII).

Students become so deeply involved that, as a direct consequence of the Program, many are now distinguished university teachers and producers of Shakespeare (e.g. Eric Nicholson, at SUNY and Syracuse University in Florence); others founded repertory theatres (e.g. James Reber: the San Jose Repertory theatre) or performing companies (Jess Borgeson - now Jess Winfield - a founding member of the internationally-famed Reduced Shakespeare Company). Three winners of Distinguished Teaching Awards are among those faculty who have been involved in supervising or applying materials from the Program: English Professors Janet Adelman, Stephen Booth, Jackson Burgess, William Nestrick, Hugh Richmond; in Dramatic Art, Warren Travis, Barbara Bush. Dr. Paul Shepard (of Media Services) won a Distinguished U.C.B. Staff Award for his directorial work on stage and video with the Program. Such outcomes are less crucial than the vitalization of Shakespeare studies for large numbers of undergraduates. Coupled with associated courses, the Program has affected 250-400 students per year. It has received very favorable approval ratings from around 90% of students enrolled, which is close to the best ratings of even small classes of 30 students or less on campus. This level of appreciation remained consistent for twenty years, as verified by research surveys funded by the U.C.B. Council for Educational Development, which also indicate high memory retention and sustained interest in Shakespeare by ex-students ten years after the courses. Once firmly established, the Program received numerous grants from many sources, on and off campus, including $102,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to make its methods and materials available in video programs such as Shakespeare and the Globe now in national distribution by Films for the Humanities (Princeton, NJ). Graduates from the Program regularly send financial contributions to U.C.B. to ensure the continuation of its operations and initiatives.

As a result of the Program's twenty-year association with Sam Wanamaker's project to rebuild Shakespeare's Globe Theatre near its original site in Southwark, London, the Program's staff helped to set up a new summer course in 1997 at the Globe for American Shakespeare students, scholars, teachers, and performers, but the precedent for this course had already been established in 1996 when a student production of Much Ado was transferred from U.C.B. to the stage of the rebuilt Globe in London. A performance was recorded, and it provided the core of a video documentary about the use of the rebuilt stage called Shakespeare's Globe Theatre Restored (distributed by T.M.W. Media, Venice, CA). This documentary provides a key resource for the annual courses now operating for American Shakespeareans who wish to work on the Globe stage. The Globe course initially included, and has since been partially staffed by U.C. faculty and doctoral students, who have used this activity in their research about the significance of the restored Globe stage. The initial opportunity to participate in a full Elizabethan-style performance of a Shakespeare play before a large invited audience at the Globe marked the high point of the Shakespeare Program's artistic achievement for the undergraduates involved. They will not readily forget the lessons learned under these circumstances. Moreover, the U.C.B. Office for Educational Development has funded a project (2007) to digitize the visual records of the Globe Theatre reconstruction and its subsequent use in such projects as our production of Much Ado. Some 550 of these images have since been added  to this web-site, for student and scholarly use. The academic strength of the program as part of the English major (if not more broadly) remains its diversification of academic methods, such as the kinetic use of performance for instruction by professionals and the students themselves.

But this approach leads to better writing, because it involves the most intense preparation and thoughtful awareness: the obligation to present one's understanding of a text to a live audience of 200 people is a unique reinforcement for study. Moreover, this reinforcement is not confined to Shakespeare scripts or even texts originally written in English. The methods have been applied to foreign drama such as Rojas' La Celestina, Molière's Misanthrope, and Racine's Phèdre, and it has proved rewarding with speeches from Plato and St. Paul, Erasmus and Cervantes. The value of the approach reaches far beyond English studies and can be used equally well to heighten student participation in the teaching of foreign language and literatures. One of the Program's assistant directors, Linda Lees, staged Menander's The Girl of Samos for the U.C.B. Classics Department, before going on after her Ph.D. to become a theatre director in New York. The Program has thus provided a model for the current structure of the revised UCB drama program by encouraging joint productions with the Drama Department with such foreign language disciplines as Classics, Spanish, Italian, German, and French. The Program has sponsored performances in foreign languages (e.g. a Spanish performance from La Celestina and a Tagalog version of Milton's Paradise Lost). Thereby, it demonstrated that the student staging of literary material can be as dynamic a factor in foreign language instruction as it has been in English courses. This is currently being applied to work with the Hispanic population which will soon become the majority in modern California, using the Program's previous experience with Spanish cultures in two conferences (in Los Angeles and Oakland) called "Shakespeare, California, and the Spanish Connection." The Program's numerous performances of Shakespeare have been both live and edited for video, with many of the latter being broadcast on public television, while four are in national distribution, the two on Shakespeare and one each on Chaucer and Milton. The Program staged the first production ever in California of The Two Noble Kinsmen (the last play associated directly with Shakespeare), and the first fully staged production ever of Paradise Lost. in its originally intended play format. It also made an educational video documentary about the historical recreations of Tudor costume, music, and dance, attempted in the Renaissance Fair of Northern California. Many of the videotapes produced are unique and unprecedented, such as a performance of the surviving music of Milton's Comus, the video version of the Spanish classic, La Celestina, and a modern dress version of John Webster's The White Devil.

These videos are all available from a variety of sources and are used in instruction and in scholarly research throughout the U.S.A. and abroad (some copies are in the Stratford-upon-Avon Shakespeare Centre). The U.C.B. production of Shakespeare's King Henry VIII led to a stage history of the play published by the Manchester University Press, while the script for the performances of Paradise Lost was published in 1992 by Peter Lang. Indeed, such performances have led to numerous other scholarly and critical publications and to the founding of two University facilities: the Shakespeare Film Library, a teaching collection based on the Extension Media Centre of U.C.B. which served all eight campuses from 1979 until video cassettes made it redundant; and a Multi-campus Research Group with over a hundred active participants: the University of California Shakespeare Forum, which has organised annual conferences and frequent research and pedagogical training sessions statewide and year-round from 1980 to 1999. Some of these meetings have involved many hundreds of expert Shakespeare teachers, noted scholars, committed students, and famous performers, such as our international congress on Hamlet, honored by the participation of Mel Gibson, the star of Zeffirelli's film of the tragedy. Members of the Forum such as Reginald Foakes and Hugh Richmond also worked closely with the International Globe Centre on the rebuilding of Shakespeare's original Globe Theatre near its original site in Southwark; on creation of the California Shakespeare Festival's new theatre at Orinda; in restoring the Joseph Wood Krutch Theatre on the Kerr campus of U.C. Berkeley; and with many other cultural organizations. During its twenty years of operation the Program has encouraged the development of analogous groups across the U.S.A., for example, at Cal Poly at San Louis Obispo, at the University of California Santa Cruz, and in SUNY.

Most recently the teaching resources of the UCB Program have been devoted to Shakespeare courses at the Osher Life Long Learning Institute at U. C. Berkeley, including lectures on audience impact on many Shakespeare plays which have been attached as epilogues to the single-play bibliographies of major scripts on this site. The Program has earned recognition in numerous journals, including favorable notices in professional publications and such national organs as The New York Times. Staffing, facilities, and resources are sustained by skillful interaction with routine campus scheduling and by co-operation with other units with relevant resources. Thereby the university acquired a major pedagogic and research facility for a very modest budget. Indeed, the sales of its four video documentaries, about Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, and the restored Globe Theatre in London have reached a combined total approaching 10,000 cassettes, grossing an income of $820,000, of which $200,000 has accrued in royalties to the UCB Shakespeare Program. As the original N.E.H. grant stipulated, these royalties have been applied to further analogous projects, which continue to evolve, such as the recent programs in Los Angeles and Oakland, "Shakespeare, California, and the Spanish Connection."

This latter topic led to a key-note presentation of Shakespeare Program documentaries to the national conference of the Association for Spanish Golden Age Theatre at the Chamizal Festival of Spanish Drama in El Paso (February, 2000). A further joint program about such projects drew on the discoverers of the surviving Renaissance Spanish Theatres in Madrid, as presented at the International Shakespeare Conference in Valencia in 2001. Program publications about such Anglo-Spanish interaction demonstrated the affinities of Shakespeare and such great Spanish artists as Lope de Vega, Calderon de la Barca, and even Velázquez. This material has now been consolidated into a new video documentary called "Shakespeare and the Spanish Connection," distributed by TMW Media, and regularly appearing on UCTV. A version of it will be found on this site via the title: and on our site on YouTube. Interactive relations have also been established with other international Shakespeare websites, such as Internet Shakespeare Editions at the University of Victoria, B.C., Canada, and Open Shakespeare at Cambridge, U.K. Introductions have been added recently to the website's single-play bibliographies, as well as supplementary essays after several of them, concerning modern audience input in performance of the tragedies. After the success of the Shakespeare website a comparable Milton one called "Milton Revealed" has been undertaken, to be found at http://miltonrevealed.berkeley.edu/. Much of the Program's teaching has recently been conducted with the U.C. Berkeley's Osher Life-Long Learning Institute. So the interaction of the Shakespeare Program with the Fine Arts in general and with the strengthening of language and literary skills in particular continues well into the new century.



Dear Professor Richmond,

I know that when I was last in communication with you some forty years ago, I felt very privileged to be on a first name basis with you, I now feel hesitant to invoke such familiarity. But maybe I can warm my way back to it, because for me, you were only formal at a distance. Up close, you made me laugh and grin with enthusiasm.

You may need some prompting to remember me. I graduated from Cal in 1977 after having studied in seven of your extraordinarily wonderful, life-changing courses on Shakespeare. You may also remember that I directed two student video productions: Love's Labors Lost and  Dark Lady of the Sonnets. It was in those days and for a few years after graduation that I also got to know you during lunches and visits at your home up in the Berkeley hills. Times that I still regard as stimulating and engaging and fulfilling as I found your classes.

As life seems to do, time flew and my trips to Berkeley from Pasadena, where I lived (and still do) occurred with less frequency while I worked on making a career in television production as an associate director and as a director, a production executive (mostly sitcoms, a soap opera, reality programming, and a few documentary/corporate films). I also worked at writing screenplays and found a modicum of success, including a 35mm short film, The Lion's Den, produced under the aegis of UCLA Extension. I eventually married my wife, Gillian, and we raised our son, Vik, who is 26 years old, living and working at the University of New Mexico. Oh, and about twenty-years ago, during one of a series of unemployments, I became a high school English teacher at North Hollywood High School.

During my various credential courses, when prodded to draw upon positive personal educational experiences, I found that one of the most positive educational memories for me was from the day of your Romeo and Juliet lecture. Your unsentimental take (which I have permanently adopted) on Romeo as a reckless and destructive, love obsessed character whose actions resulted in the deaths of  six characters was breathtaking (especially to someone who had been fed the dull and inaccurate reading of love as society's teacher, etc.) I remember literally running across Sproul Plaza to meet some friends for coffee, and dominating the conversation with a recounting of that upending view of the play. I also used this interpretation a few years later while directing a scene from the play for a Directors Guild master class.

Yesterday, I found myself with a bit of time and I read your essay "Hamlet as Detective Story," which I had stumbled on quite accidentally a couple of weeks ago during an internet search for something related to this play, which I have been teaching to my high school AP English Lit students. As you did in person some forty-four years ago, this piece filled me with fresh ideas and new insights, and above all great enthusiasm for the ways to think about Shakespeare's work. I especially appreciate, among many other rich observations, your reading of the play within the play as a mirror of Hamlet's hesitancy, something that will enhance my student's experience with the play the next time that I teach it.

I am embarrassed to say that for twenty years, I have wanted to write you to tell you about my conversion to educator (I have continued to write screenplays and have a masters in the subject) in no small part because of your teaching, and perhaps no less life-changing than Saul/St. Paul's conversion. And I am sorry for not doing it sooner, but yesterday, when reading your Hamlet essay I searched for more information about one of your citations, I found my way to the Berkeley Shakespeare Program, and then to your site biography, I discovered that today is your birthday.  I knew I would procrastinate no longer.

So please accept my very best wishes for a happy birthday. And most of all, my gratitude for setting before me a model of exemplary, joy-inducing teaching. I hope this letter finds you and Mrs. Richmond both well. In 1977, I had no idea how old you were, but find it funny to think that you were 20 years younger than I am today.

With warmest regards and appreciation to you, Hugh,

Rick Gough. Pasadena


This question originally appeared on Quora: "What is the best way tp answer a student who says: "why are we learning this? We are never giong to ise geometry or Shakespeare n the rest of the real world"

I was watching an interview with a well-known actress a few years ago. She was opposing nuclear power, and made statements about the aftermath of 3-Mile Island. After she went on for a while, the interviewer pointed out that she got many of her facts wrong. She was indignant. “This is not about facts,” she said. “It’s about feelings!”Many, maybe most people have a similar approach to life. There is a marvelous description of this attitude in the wonderful book, Uncommon Sense by Alan Cromer. Most of the world makes decisions based on feelings, not taking into account thoughtful analysis.

Yet nothing conflicts with good decision-making as much as giving in to this instinct. In my mind, Shakespeare and Geometry teach the most essential lessons needed for a productive and successful life. Properly taught, they teach you to think, to take in the evidence, to analyze, and to deduce. My favorite Shakespeare course was taught by Prof. Hugh Richmond at Berkeley; I went to all the lectures (as an auditor) and did the readings while I was a graduate student earning my Ph.D. in physics at Berkeley, but this course was very important to me. Whenever I see Prof. Richmond, I thank him yet again for this course. No course gave me more insight into human behavior. Or about writing and persuasion—Shakespeare’s methods for convincing us of his insights.

Think of Antony’s great speech, “Friends, Romans, Countrymen …” and how he brings a hostile crowd to his own point of view. In what other course would you learn how to do that? Is that a skill that will prove useful in your future life? Let me ask that differently. Is there any more important skill?And it is not just the way that Antony does it. It is the very fact that he does it. Recognize that, and you become aware of an aspect of life that you don’t get in a physics or engineering course.

About writing…Shakespeare sets the standard, not in flowery language, but in vivid language, language that makes you understand what it is that Shakespeare wanted you to understand. That’s why you need to read (or better yet—watch) the originals, not the short study guides designed to give you the plot and help you with a pop quiz.Think of what we learn about life and love from Much Ado About Nothing, about how two people who hate each other can change and feel deep and true love towards each other. I can go on and on, and if you had a good Shakespeare course, so can you. Many of the great books are comparably good; I particularly love the Russian novels, especially War and Peace. But I sometimes just sink into Moby Dick and read it again.

Geometry is the class that teaches us about logical thinking, about what it means to draw a conclusion, about the meaning of truth and how we can test it to see if it is correct or false. Most reality cannot be reduced to simple theorems in the way we do for geometry, but a study of that subject shows us that at least some truths really do exist; some speculation is definitely false, and with careful thought and analysis, you can (at least sometimes) tell the difference.Of course, there is a limited amount you can learn from these courses. They are really meant to trigger a lifelong learning, of logic, of literature, of books and plays, of fact-based knowledge and knowledge of people and persuasion, a lifelong learning that informs and educates. Stick with it for a few decades and you will understand and be able to control and influence much of the world around you.

If the actress I was referring to had studied geometry, maybe she wouldn’t have been so cavalier about whether facts matter; if she had studied Shakespeare, maybe she wouldn’t have been so cavalier about total trust in the guidance of feelings.If you are older, and feel that you don’t understand the world; if you feel powerless and cheated out of life, it just may be because you didn’t study Shakespeare or Geometry when you were younger, or because you just got through them, instead of getting into them.

Related links:

Richard Muller is the co-founder  of Berkeley Earth (climate change and air pollution research) and has previously done work in experimental and theoretical physics, particularly cosmology/


What TV series or movies does Richard Muller think make you smarter? Who are the smartest characters in TV shows, and what do I really need to learn from them? Richar Mulle rAuthor "Now - the Physics of Time" (Norton, 2016); Physics Prof UC Berkeley.Author has 2.3k answers and 160.2m answer views

The characters in The West Wing were indeed smarter than me. But what I learned from them wasn’t new; they reminded me of the wisdom that when challenged with great problems, the right approach is to study the problems carefully, to do the “homework”, and to remain objective and open-minded.TV series definitely can teach you things, but the only way they can make you “smarter” is to show that people who think before they act do better than those who don’t.

Which reminds me of something taught by Prof. Hugh Richmond in his Shakespeare course. The simple-minded analysis of Hamlet is that Hamlet’s failing is that he can’t make up his mind. He doesn’t act, but just keeps thinking. Richmond pointed out that Hamlet is indeed hesitant—hesitant to believe that ghosts are telling him the truth! Good for him! He is very wise to be cautious. Indeed, when he does act quickly, without taking time to ponder, he winds up killing Polonius, an innocent person.

I never learn more or more quickly than when watching a Ken Burns documentary. I don’t put that in the category of becoming “smarter”, just better informed. By presenting knowledge in a visual/personal way, I feel that what I learn quickly becomes internalized and something that will stay with me.







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Except where otherwise specified, all written commentary is © 2016, Hugh Macrae Richmond.