It is my absolute pleasure to introduce you to Susanna Shakespeare.
Elizabeth Robinson, my Capital-G-Girlfriend, has imagined, written, and produced her own one-woman show based on the life of William Shakespeare’s eldest daughter, Susanna. Geared toward middle- and high-school grade levels, the performance brings some of the bard’s most popular works to life through the eyes of his daughter.
Susanna is a headstrong, thoughtful young woman who relates her father’s writings to herself and her family in a way that almost every teenager – or anyone who’s ever BEEN a teenager – can recognize. She aptly quotes passages from As You Like It, Hamlet, and Othello – along with passages from several other plays and sonnets – and interprets them through the lenses of family life and personal creative struggles. She tells stories about her father’s relationships with her and her mother, about how she runs away to see him at the Globe theatre (and how he sends her right back home), and about the enormous impact his work had, both in her personal world and to the world at large.
When it’s all over, students are given the opportunity to talk to Ms. Robinson and to ask questions about Susanna’s life and her father’s plays and poetry – all of which are skillfully answered with a depth of understanding that comes from Ms. Robinson’s long and careful study of Shakespeare. Students walk away from the experience feeling far less intimidated by the Bard’s language, and understanding much more about the personal life of the man than they could learn from most high school text books. The character of Susanna is accessible and sympathetic; she makes a perfect gateway to an initial study of Shakespeare.
I invited Ms. Robinson to my classrooms to do a workshop when I was teaching high school, and every single student – even my most rambunctious or apathetic – was completely engaged. She interacts exceedingly well with young adults, and challenges them to read, think, and interpret passages for themselves. She takes the material apart such that students can parse out the language and see what’s really being said, and the success students feel after having correctly interpreted a passage they didn’t immediately understand leaves them excited and willing to venture further into the work. That, alone, is worth the price of admission.
Ms. Robinson takes her show to schools, community centers and other venues. I am writing this shameless plug in the hopes that you teachers, administrators, tutors, or church or community center coordinators will contact her to see about booking a show for your students. She currently tours the Northeast region of the US, but is willing to travel if enough bookings are made to make it financially feasible. If you’re teaching anything having to do with our boy William, I urge you to click on the “contact us for booking” link on Susanna’s homepage. You – and your students – will be very glad you did.