1st Edition

Lessons from Shakespeare’s Classroom Empowering Learning Through Drama and Rhetoric

By Robin Lithgow Copyright 2023
    254 Pages 18 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    254 Pages 18 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This volume explores the relationship between the emphasis on performance in Elizabethan humanist education and the flourishing of literary brilliance around the turn of the sixteenth century.

    This study asks us what lessons we can learn today from Shakespeare’s Latin grammar school. What were the cognitive benefits of an education so deeply rooted in what Demosthenes and Quintilian called "actio"—acting? Because of the vast difference between educational practice then and now, we have not often followed one essential thread: the focus on performance. This study examines the connections relevant to the education offered in schools today.

    This book will be of great interest to teachers, scholars, and administrators in performing arts and education.


    Cast of Characters




    Chapter 1. Time Travel: Setting the scene

    Chapter 2. Engagement before Information: Instruction in both colloquial and rhetorical language in Elizabethan schools

    Chapter 3. Angels and Eaglets: Schoolboy actors set the scene

    Chapter 4. Good Behavior and Audacity: The training up of Elizabethan schoolboys

    Chapter 5. The Lego Snap of Learning: Research in arts education and neuroscience

    Chapter 6. Context: The Hatch and Brood of Time: A brief history of the English Reformation

    Chapter 7. Erasmus’ Egg: His life and his works in support of performing arts in education

    Chapter 8. The Delightful Mulcaster: Playmaking schoolmasters in Tudor England

    Chapter 9. Per Quam Figuram? Rhetoric in Shakespeare’s classroom

    Chapter 10. Erasmus Writes Colloquies: Classroom training in Latin conversation

    Chapter 11. The Little Eyases: Professional boy actors in the 16th century

    Chapter 12. Conclusion


    Appendix I: Performing the Colloquies

    Examples of Erasmus’ Colloquies in Latin and English

      • Proci and puellae (Courtship)
      • Naufragium (The Shipwreck)
      • Uxor (Marriage)
      • Abattis et eruditae (The Abbot and the Learned Woman)
      • Herilia (A Master’s Commands)

    Appendix II: Selection of Educational Drama Resources for Teachers



    Robin Lithgow was the first ever Theatre Adviser, and later the Director, of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Arts Education Branch. In that role she and her colleagues were the architects of the Elementary Arts Program, serving every one of over 550 elementary schools, with itinerant teachers in dance, music, theatre, and visual arts.

    She is the daughter of Arthur Lithgow, perhaps the only person ever to have produced every play in Shakespeare’s canon. She is the sister of the theatre and film actor, John Lithgow, who has kindly illustrated this book.

    ''I guarantee that Lessons from Shakespeare's Classroom will be the most surprising, most readable learning you will do all year, and that you will laugh out loud in every chapter. Zwounds!—hie thee to these pages most expeditiously.'' 

    Eric Booth, Actor and author of "The Everyday Work of Art," "The Music Teachers' Bible," "Playing for Their Lives," and "Tending the Perennials."

    ''Robin Lithgow has done anyone interested in Shakespeare or education (and more particularly those of us interested in both Shakespeare and education) a great service with her book. By detailing the classical grounding of Shakespeare’s writing she shows us the great tradition of which we are a part; a tradition that expands in its inclusivity as the world changes and evolves. This tradition is the "fertile soil" that contributed to the brilliance of Shakespeare’s generation and lights a path for our own. It is truly an "education for the benefit of the commonwealth," which we perhaps need now more than ever.''

    Louis Fantasia, Artistic Associate, Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles

    ''Lithgow’s book reanimates the Erasmian spirit of teaching in all the best ways: it’s artfully copious, humanely conversational, and models throughout a witty flair for drama. Her students were fortunate; now we are, too.''

    Scott Newstok, author of How to Think like Shakespeare