Activities For Students and Teachers: “The Comedy Of Errors.”

On this page, I’ll be posting resources, games, humor, and advice to children, teachers and parents on how to help Shakespeare come alive in the classroom. I’ve taught students ages 8-18 about Shakespeare and I can say confidently that Shakespeare can be enjoyed by anyone.

The Comedy Of Errors: Activities for Teachers

Learning Goals:

  • Engage the visual and kinesthetic intelligences of each student
  • Explore the comedic possibilities of twins.
  • Explore the concepts of stock characters and apply them in an improv environment

Activity 1: Pre-K to 5th : Mirror activity

  • Objective: To engage the children’s minds and encourage cooperation and participation, as they attempt to mirror each other’s behavior.
  • Materials needed: 
    1. pairs of volunteers.
  • Setup
    1. Break students into pairs.
    2. Give each pair a simple task and see if they can mirror the task effectively.
      • Intro: “Since the main characters of this play are all twins, we’re going to see how easy or how hard it is for two people to look and move like the same person.”
      • Ask the students to try to move at the same time, as if one of them were each other’s reflection in the mirror. For a good example of this, check out this clip from the Marx Brother’s classic, “Duck Soup:”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VKTT-sy0aLg
      • Try and imitate your “Twin” doing a series of easy movements like waving, walking, or sitting down.
      • After a few minutes practicing, have each pair perform for the class. The class will try and figure out who is leading and who is following. The best mirror pair will baffle the class as to who is the follower and who is the leader!
  • Activity 2: High School grades 9-12: 
  • Objective: To explore the relationship between cunning servants and masters in “The Comedy Of Errors”
  • Materials needed: Two volunteers and a large open space to move around.
  • Description:

Part I- The Comic Walk

  1. Explain that characters like Dromio are basically clowns, and clowns need to react to the people around them, and exaggerate their own physical characteristics.
  2. Break up everyone into pairs, and have one pair be master and one be servant.
  3. The Servant follows the Master, and exaggerates the leader’s walk, but needs to be careful not to let the master see. If the Master catches the servant, he or she can clap their hands or do a fake slap, then the servant is out of the game.
  4. The Masters can interact with other Masters, which allows the Servants even more opportunities to mock the Master.

Part II- Mistaken Identity

  • The point of this game is to re-create a lazzi, or comic bit that would be found in all Italian and most ancient Greek/Roman comedies.
  1. Pick 2 Masters and 2 Servants
  2. Give the Masters an object to hold, like a soft ball.
  3. Tell the Masters to keep the ball hidden behind their backs, or some other place the Servants won’t see it.
  4. Tell the Masters to secretly pass the ball between them. They can hide it, toss it (as long as it won’t hurt anyone), and they can take it anywhere.
  5. Tell the Servants to follow the Masters with their comic walk, and try to figure out which Master has the ball. To make this extra difficult, you can have the entire class walk around the classroom, and have the Masters periodically give the ball to them. Now the Servants don’t know which Master has the ball, or where the ball is!
  6. Ask the kids:
    1. Did they learn about clowning by performing this?
    2. Is it exciting to covertly mock another person?

Activity 3: College to Adult: Commedia Scene Project

  • Objective: Like the improv-based comedy show Who’s Line Is It Anyway, the point of this game will be to create a scene with improvised dialogue, using some basic suggestions to get it going. The difference is that the scene will contain suggestions from Commedia Del Arte, the rich Italian improv theater that influenced all of Shakespeare’s comedies.

Setup- Distribute handouts on commedia characters among the actors

  • Description 
  1. Explain that in Commedia plays the actors would play the same character type their entire lives. They knew each character’s lazzi or comic bit and worked them into every scene, (sort of like how Bugs Bunny is always dressing like a girl and Homer Simpson strangles his son when he gets mad).
  2. Explain that they are going to choose a character, choose a Lazzi for that character to perform, then pick a scene from a hat, and act it out, making sure that they use the Lazzi in the scene.
  3. Have the students look at their handout as they pick a character like the wily Arelechinno, the pompous Dottore, or the bumbling lover Silvio
  4. Divide the class into 2 or 3 person scenes.
  5. Let the students choose a lazzi to use in their scene using this website. An example of such a lazzi is the following:Barber’s Water Lazzo Disguised as a barber, Arlecchino pours the dirty and soapy water into the Doctor’s drinking glass as he shaves him.You can choose the scene first, but I find it more exciting to pick a lazzi for the scene, without knowing what the scene is, thus encouraging the students to work hard to integrate it.
  6. Choose a scene from a hat for each pair or trio of actors. Remind the actors to bear the characteristics of each character in mind when designing the scene. Are they tall or short? Are they hungry, greedy, constantly angry? Do they like each other? Also remind them to use at least one lazzi for each character for the scene.
  7. Limit each scene to about 4 minutes and make sure each one has a beginning, middle, and end.

Commedia Resources

Lesson Plans from the Web

  1. Drama Teachers.net: 11 Devising And Performance Ideas For Commedia Del Arte: https://dramateachersnetwork.wordpress.com/2012/09/21/11-devising-and-performance-ideas-for-commedia-dell-arte/
  2. Faction of Fools Commedia Del Arte Curriculum Guide: http://www.factionoffools.org/includes/Curriculum%20Guide%202011.pdf 
  3. Folger Shakespeare Library Lesson Plans: The Comedy of Errors http://pages.simonandschuster.com/images/ckfinder/26/pdfs/Folger%20Curriculum%20Guides/comedyoferrors.pdf
  4. Orlando Shakespeare Festival Learning Guide: The Comedy Of Errors http://www.orlandoshakes.org/pdfs/curriculum-guides/ComedyOfErrors_SG.pdf
  5. Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey Play Guide: http://www.shakespearenj.org/Education/LIVE/documents/COE%202013%20Study%20Guide.pdf
  6. Web English Teacher.com- The Comedy of Errors: http://www.webenglishteacher.com/ce.html

If you’d like to suggest other Shakespearean educational resources, please click the “Ask the Shakespeare Guru” page and send me a message!

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