Teacher's Guide

"Not of an age, but for all time": Teaching Shakespeare

Edwin Landseer, Scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Titania and Bottom (1848)
Photo caption

Edwin Landseer, Scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Titania and Bottom (1848)

“If music be the food of love, play on.”

—Twelfth Night, (1.1.1)

For more than 400 years, Shakespeare’s 37 surviving plays, 154 sonnets, and other poems have been read, performed, taught, reinterpreted, and enjoyed the world over. In the interest of contemporary connections for teachers and students, this Teacher's Guide includes ideas for bringing the Bard and pop culture together, along with how performers around the world have infused their respective local histories and cultures into these works. Lesson plans and resources are included, as well as NEH supported projects that advance research and teaching of Shakespeare in classrooms and for the public.

Guiding Questions

Why do Shakespeare's works remain relevant across time and place?

How do the differences between the page and stage when interpreting Shakespeare's plays affect meaning?

What events and people are important to the historical context and sourcing of a Shakespeare play? 

How are class, race, gender, and politics portrayed in the plays of Shakespeare?

Shakespeare and Pop Culture

The Bard and Television


One does not have to go to a theater or a park to see Shakespeare inspired performances. Popular cultural adaptations, as illustrated in the above video produced by the New York Times, have been accessible for years through television, movies, and digital media. Inspired by King Lear, the Fox television series Empire began as a show premised on a father who has created a situation in which his three sons must earn the privilege of inheriting his recording company. A long time NEH partner, the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Shakespeare Unlimited podcast series includes an interview focused on the connections between Empire, King Lear, and a mix of other Shakespearean references and themes.  

The Bard and Hip Hop

How we read someone else’s words compared with how we hear them gives space for reinterpretation and meaning making that provides life and longevity to those works. Phrasing, rhyming, emoting; poems and songs both use metaphors, figurative language, similes, word play, and a number of other rhetorical and literary devices to express and communicate. Arguably the world’s most popular musical form, hip hop does all these things (and with a beat). Look to the The Hip-hop Shakespeare Company (THSC) in London for creative interpretations of the Bard that bring a 21st century twist to the classic works. In the U.S., The Q Brothers Collective has received commendations across the country and beyond for the hip hop stylings that shape their reimagining of Shakespeare and other theatrical productions.

The Bard and the Global

The famous Globe Theatre in London has been a home for performances of Shakespeare’s plays for centuries. But, as we know, “all the world’s a stage.” MIT’s Global Shakespeares archive is a rich collection of videos and performances from around the world, with essays and analysis, and other resources for teaching and learning about Shakespeare. Consider what fresh perspectives we gain when Julius Caesar is set in a newly independent African nation? What does it look like to set The Tempest in 5th century KoreaOr what do we learn about history and culture if characters in Romeo and Juliet come from different ethnic groups or nations? Why was Macbeth banned in Thailand?

Teaching Shakespeare

The collection of EDSITEment lesson plans provided below include close reading exercises and performance based activities for middle and high school classrooms. 





  • Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: Leadership and the Global Stage—Students not only consider the significance of the updated staging of Julius Caesar in an African nation, but will address important questions about how and why Shakespeare is adopted, adapted, and appropriated by people around the world.
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream: Conflict Resolution and Happy Endings—The activities in this lesson invite students to focus on the characters from Athens in particular (though they can be applied to all the characters in the play), to describe and analyze their conflicts, and then to watch how those conflicts get resolved.




  • Shakespeare Uncovered Returns!—Each episode of this PBS series combines history, biography, performance and insights and personal passion of each host as they conduct interviews with actors, scholars and directors from key locations and include video of performances.
Shakespeare and NEH Connections

The National Endowment for the Humanities continues to fund projects that bring Shakespeare to all corners of the United States. Multimedia resources, lesson plans created by the Folger Shakespeare Library, access to digitized versions of Shakespeare's works, and more are available below. 

Folger Shakespeare Library—Since 1984, the National Endowment for the Humanities has supported the Teaching Shakespeare Institute at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Each summer, the K-12 teachers who attend the institute examine Shakespeare's work from three essential perspectives: scholarship, performance, and curriculum.

Shakespeare in American Life—The Folger Shakespeare Library’s radio documentary Shakespeare in American Life explores the English language’s most important playwright and his influence on American performance, politics, and popular culture. Each hour-long episode, narrated by Sam Waterston and produced by Richard Paul, deepens our understanding of Shakespeare and the American identity.

Oregon Shakespeare Festival: With NEH grant funding for a Preservation and Access project, the Oregon Shakespeare Company created a playlist consisting of 59 short films and audio recordings based on performances at their annual festival. 

Theatre for a New Audience (2019 Summer Institute)—Theatre for a New Audience will host K-12 teachers from across the country for a 2019 summer institute entitled “Teaching Shakespeare’s Plays through Scholarship and Performance.”  Shakespeare scholars and theater practitioners lead this professional development program that integrates text-based scholarship, contextual and original source material, language, and performance in three Shakespeare plays.

Articles published in HUMANITIES magazine

David Scott Kastan’s “Did He Even Know He Was Shakespeare?: What the history of the First Folio tells us about our greatest playwright” (HUMANITIES, January/February 2016, Volume 37, Number 1).

James Williford’s “To Be or Not to Be: In a digital archive of Hamlet quartos, classic Shakespearean words come and go” (HUMANITIES, January/February 2014, Volume 35, Number 1).

Ann Meyer’s “How Shakespeare Learned to be Shakespeare” (NEH blog post, September 16, 2013).