Shakespeare's Heartbeat : Drama games for children with autism book cover
1st Edition

Shakespeare's Heartbeat
Drama games for children with autism

ISBN 9781138016972
Published November 30, 2014 by Routledge
270 Pages

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Book Description

Children on the autistic spectrum experience varying degrees of difficulties; all of which can be understood as a disassociation of mind and body. Expressing feelings, making eye contact, keeping a steady heartbeat and recognizing faces are all part of the autism dilemma which can be poetically explored by Shakespeare.

Over ten years, Hunter worked with children on all points of the spectrum, developing drama games for the specific purpose of combatting autism. These unique games, derived from specific moments in the plays, shed new light on how to teach Shakespeare to children, using the drama as an exploration of how it feels to be alive.

Shakespeare’s Heartbeat is a step-by-step guide, detailing how to demonstrate, play and share these sensory games. The book includes:

  • Games based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Games based on The Tempest
  • Tips and advice for playing one-on-one with the children
  • An afterword describing Hunter’s journey from performer and practitioner to creator of this work.

Shakespeare’s poetic definitions of seeing, thinking and loving reveal the very processes that children with autism find so difficult to achieve. This book provides an indispensable learning tool for those wishing to encourage children’s eye contact and facial expression, improve their spatial awareness and language skills and introduce them to imaginative play.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Robin Post


Playing the games/Using the book

Part one A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Chapter 1 Games to begin

Chapter 2 Fairyland

Chapter 3 Dreams

Chapter 4 The Mechanicals

Chapter 5 The Lovers

Chapter 6 Darkness of night

Part two The Tempest

Chapter 7 Caliban

Chapter 8 Ariel

Chapter 9 Miranda and Ferdinand

Chapter 10 The clowns

Chapter 11 Magic

Chapter 12 Resource for playing with the children


Epilogue by Marc Tasse

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Kelly Hunter is an award-winning actor, director, and educator. As a performer she has worked for over thirty years, notably with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the highly-acclaimed Vesturport. In 2001 she created her own company - Touchstone Shakespeare Theatre - to bring Shakespeare to children with little or no access to the arts. She ran the company for four years, during which time she directed Dreams and Voices, a film which documents her work with autistic children and is available on the Routledge Performance Archive. In 2014 she directed a production of The Tempest for children with autism, which performed in Stratford upon Avon and Columbus Ohio. The show was a co-production between the Royal Shakespeare Company and Ohio State University, where her work forms the basis of a longitudinal research study. This research engages the question of whether drama – particularly Shakespeare - can break through the communicative blocks of autism and in particular whether these sensory drama games, known collectively as the Hunter Heartbeat Method can produce long term benefits for children with ASD.

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"For me – working in a special school – there is so much material here that is of huge benefit to children who struggle with social interaction. This should be on the shelf of every SEN teacher as there are activities here that would work on many levels for children both verbal and non-verbal, ASD or not." - Lucy Ellen Rix, Teaching Drama