Scripting off-stage scenes – every exit, an entrance somewhere else.
Scripting off-stage scenes – every exit, an entrance somewhere else.

Scripting off-stage scenes – every exit, an entrance somewhere else.

We do on stage things that are supposed to happen off. Which is a kind of integrity, if you look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.

The Player, the leader of troupe of traveling actors

Fresh from reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet, I had the opportunity to watch Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in the Little Theatre, in Brighton. It was a clearly a memorable experience, one that changed my thoughts on the original play (Hamlet) and introduced me to existentialism and leaving me pondering the intricacies of the human condition.

For reference Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead shifts the perspective of “Hamlet” onto two, somewhat haphazard, minor characters – Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Two old school friends of Hamlet, they come to visit him after his father’s death, though it turns out that they are also called by King Claudius and Queen Gertrude to spy on unravelling Hamlet. While the young prince grapples with issues of mortality and revenge, Stoppard take us on a existential detour, exploring the nature of free will, and our search for meaning in a series of connected scenes, not presented in the original play. What I have referred to as “off-stage scenes.”

Life in a box is better than no life at all, I expect. You’d have a chance, at least. You could lie there thinking, “Well. At least I’m not dead.”


Through their witty dialogues and philosophical musings, I gained valuable insights into their personalities and motivations, largely unexplored in Shakespeare’s play. What is more, I better understood Hamlet.

Thirty-years later I stumbled upon myShakespeare, a wonderful resource supporting six Shakespeare plays, with various resources including a series of “off-stage scenes/interviews” with the major characters. The interview with Lord and Lady Capulet and Juliet brilliantly illuminates the family dysfunction – which sparked an idea.

Synthesising knowledge and understanding – reimagining Shakespeare

This past week my Year 8’s have been writing, directing and acting their own three minute “off-stage scenes” inspired by Stoppard and myShakespeare format.

By reimagining, or re/creating, Shakespeare’s work, our pupils (groups of two or three) had to grasp the themes and empathise with the characters, ensure consistency with established events and to some extent, mimic Shakespeare’s style, selecting appropriate textual references. With hindsight, I would invest a little more time in the directing of the scenes, especially Scene 2 below. For example:

  • The entrance and exits of Lord and Lady Capulet
  • Seated? Standing? How are the patriarchal roles fulfilled?
  • Lady Capulet an apologetic mother? Or equally besmirched, fuelling her husband anger?

It was definitely challenging “hard work” – however it was a task that the pupils tackled with real determination and enthusiasm, both the script writing and the rehearsals. Interestingly, writing for Lord and Lady Capulet also meant we convened cross-gender working groups and that appeared to be positive component of the learning. Now, the quality of the acting, albeit with the script in hand, was fair… if in truth, a little wooden. However, I do think an end product is important, I did have to soften some of the audiences directorial feedback. What was truly inspiring was the different approaches groups took in presenting Lady Capulet. Most played her as a subservient wife, one very creative pairing had her fight fire and fire, agreeing, pushing and fuelling her husband’s wrath, Grateful that her daughter was the focus on his anger and not her… it was a brilliant performance and stimulus for discussion.

Here is what might be achieved in a short lesson cycle.

  • Lesson 1 (40-60 mins) Read an extract. Teach / outline the key plot points. Check for understanding.
  • Lesson 2 – show a myshakespeare off-stage scene. Define the off-stage scene. Recommend 3-4 minutes. Pupils draft the off-scene script.
    • *Differentiation – offer/share key textual references.
  • Lesson 3 – Allow scripts in hand. Pupils direct / rehearse the scene. (Teacher input)
    • Mixed gender groups of 3 worked well, two actors and director.
  • Lesson 4 – Allow scripts in hand. Perform – discuss. What do we learn about the characters? The context? About ourselves?

Below are two example scripts. I loved the pupil’s Shakespearian conversational tone and actor directions!

Scene 1: A room in the Capulet house. Lord and Lady Capulet are seated, discussing the recent visit of Paris.

Lord Capulet: (thoughtful) My lady, this visit from Paris hath given me much to ponder. He is a noble man, well esteemed in Verona, and he seeks our Juliet’s hand in marriage.

Lady Capulet: (nodding) Indeed, my lord. Paris is a fine match. He is noble, his wealth abundant, and his manners impeccable. He would make a worthy husband for our daughter.

Lord Capulet: (sighs) True. Yet, I am hesitant. Juliet is but thirteen, still young and unseasoned in the ways of the world. I would have her wait two more summers before she is wed.

Lady Capulet: (persuasive) But, my lord, “younger than she are happy mothers made.” Many noble families arrange such unions to secure alliances and ensure the prosperity of their family. Paris’s suit is advantageous. The sooner we secure this match, the better for our house.

Lord Capulet: (considering) You speak wisely, my lady. The Montagues grow ever bolder, and an alliance with Paris could strengthen our position. Still, I wish to see Juliet happy. She is our only child, our jewel.

Lady Capulet: (firmly) And she will be happy, my lord. A marriage to Paris will bring her comfort and security. Love, if it is to come, will follow in time. It is our duty to guide her towards a prosperous future, as our parents did for us.

Lord Capulet: (nodding slowly) You are right, as always. I shall speak with Juliet, gently and with care. She must understand the honour and responsibility that this match entails.

Lady Capulet: (smiling) She is a dutiful daughter. She will heed our counsel and see the wisdom in this union. It is a great honour to be chosen by Paris. She will not refuse.

Lord Capulet: (decisively) Then it is settled. I will arrange a meeting with Paris and formally accept his proposal. Juliet will be wed to him in due course, and our house shall flourish.

Lady Capulet: (pleased) A wise decision, my lord. Our family’s future will be secured, and Juliet will take her place as the wife of a nobleman. We have done well.

Lord Capulet: (smiling) Indeed, my lady. “And too soon marred are those so early made.” Now, let us prepare for the joyous events to come. Our daughter’s future is bright, and our house shall stand strong. After all – I love a good party. 

(They rise and exit, hand in hand, with a renewed sense of purpose and unity.)

Scene 2: Lord and Lady Capulet discuss Juliet’s unexpected response to her arranged and accelerated marriage to Paris.

Lord Capulet: (frustrated) What is this? How now, my lady? Juliet’s defiance is a thorn in my side. I thought our news would be met with gratitude, not resistance.

Lady Capulet: (sighs) She is but young, my lord. Perhaps the suddenness of it all hath overwhelmed her. Yet, her refusal does trouble me. She seemed so dutiful until now.

Lord Capulet: (angry) “She’s young baggage! Disobedient wretch!” She has brought shame upon our house with her disobedience. A marriage to Paris is an honour, and she repays it with stubbornness.

Lady Capulet: (calmly) We must remember, my lord, that she is still a child in many ways. Though her years may be few, she has her own thoughts and fears. We must guide her with firmness but also with care.

Lord Capulet: (mockingly) For sure. But did you hear her words? “I’ll not wed, I cannot love, I am too young.” And then, I swear she mocks me, “Ever rul’d” by me! Hmmph! As if our guidance is something to be scorned.

Lady Capulet: (nodding) Yes, my lord. “These are news indeed!” She must understand the gravity of our decision. Paris is a nobleman of great repute. To refuse him would be folly.

Lord Capulet: (firmly) I will not brook any more defiance. She shall be married to Paris on Thursday, come what may. We have given our word, and she must obey.

Lady Capulet: (supportive) Indeed, my lord. We must stand united in this. Juliet will come to see the wisdom in our choice. Love may blossom in time, but duty must come first.

Lord Capulet: (calming slightly) You speak wisely, my lady. Yet, I will not have her defy me. She must know her place and her duty. This marriage will secure our family’s future and strengthen our standing in Verona.

Lady Capulet: (softly) “What say you? Can you love the gentleman?” She must be made to see the sense in our decision. We have only her best interests at heart.

Lord Capulet: (resolved) Aye, my lady. We shall ensure she understands. This marriage to Paris will proceed as planned. Our house shall be secure, and Juliet will fulfill her duty.

(They rise and exit, resolute in their decision, determined to uphold their family’s honour and secure Juliet’s future.)

Following the success of off-stage productions, I looked to accelerate the process. Having read about when investigating therapeutic uses of conversational agents (the research term for chatbots) and Poe (a versatile AI tool that allows you to create personal chatbots and explore different AI) I ask the AI to write the script.

Here is an off-stage scene from Much Ado About Nothing, where Beatrice outlines her motivations for asking Benedick to murder Claudio and Benedick outlines the sticky position he finds himself having declared his love for Beatrice. It was the AI that conjured the clear “back to back” setting.

Much Ado About Nothing: A secluded garden in Leonato’s estate. Benedick and Beatrice are seated back to back on a stone bench, each deep in thought.

Benedick: (speaking to himself) What cruel jest is this, that I, Benedick, should find myself in such a quandary? Beatrice, my now beloved, has asked of me an impossible task: challenge my dear friend Claudio. Claudio, who has been like a brother to me. And yet, he has wounded Beatrice’s honour. What am I to do?

Beatrice: (muttering to herself) How can I remain silent when my cousin Hero’s honour has been so viciously slandered? Claudio must pay for what he has done! He has ruined her, and for that, he must be challenged. Benedick is the only one I can turn to, the only one who can right this wrong. But what if he refuses?

Benedick: (leaning forward) To fight Claudio would betray a friendship forged in battle. Refuse Beatrice would be to betray my love. Oh, what a wretched position. How can I reconcile these conflicting loyalties?

Beatrice: (clenching her fists) Hero’s innocence must be avenged. Claudio’s held accountable. If Benedick truly loves me, he will understand, he will do what is necessary… and if he does not love me… enough…

Benedick: (voice low) Beatrice’s words haunt me. Her plea for justice, her demand that I prove my love through this act of violence. How can I show her my love without forsaking my honour as a man of loyalty and friendship? Is there no other way?

Beatrice: (tears in her voice) I hate that I must ask this of Benedick, but what choice do I have? Hero’s honour is at stake, and I cannot rest until it is restored. Benedick must see that this is about more than just us. It is about righting a terrible wrong. But what if he sees me as a monster for asking this?

Benedick: (sighs deeply) To lose Beatrice would be unbearable, yet to lose Claudio is to lose a part of myself. Can love truly demand such a sacrifice? Can justice be served without tearing my heart in two? What a cursed choice I must make.

Beatrice: (resolutely) I must be strong. Benedick must understand. This is not vengeance; it is more about justice, more about defending the honour of the innocent. If he truly loves me, he will do what is right. 

Benedick: (standing up slowly) I must speak with Claudio. I will confront him, make him see the gravity of his actions. Perhaps there is a way to resolve this without bloodshed. But if it comes to it, I will be ready to fight. 

Beatrice: (standing up, determined) I must speak with Benedick again, make him understand. This is about more than just us. And… If he truly loves me… he will see that.

(They both turn around simultaneously and are startled to see each other.)

Benedick and Beatrice: (in unison) You!

Benedick: (recovering quickly) Beatrice, I did not see you there.

Beatrice: Benedick, I… I was just thinking.

Benedick: (softly) About Claudio…

Beatrice: (firmly) Yes, about Claudio. Will you do it?

Benedick: (nodding slowly) For you, Beatrice, I will do what is necessary.

Beatrice: (relieved) Thank you, Benedick.

(They exit the garden together, their hearts heavy with the weight of the decisions ahead.)

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