College of Arts and Sciences

Shakespeare in the Classroom and Community

Each year, Niamh O’Leary, Associate Professor of English, teaches a course on Shakespeare. Her course explores different text and performances of the famous playwright.

This year, O’Leary decided to take a new approach. Following extensive research, O’Leary determined the “performance study approach” would be the most effective way to help her students engage with these popular texts. This approach allows students to think about the nature of performance in collaboration with the text – proving to be best for students who elect to study Shakespeare.

Additionally, O’Leary saw this new approach to teaching Shakespeare as a way to connect students with the incredible local art community in Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (Cincy Shakes) performs multiple plays each year. As a part of the syllabus, students are required to attend two of the plays put on by Cincy Shakes, in addition to studying the text.

The focus on connecting students to local art community is especially crucial to this course. As O’Leary explains, “from a Jesuit ethics perspective, it is so important for us all to better understand what art can do for the community around us.” By incorporating performance study to this Shakespeare course, students in O’Leary’s class not only have more tools to better understand difficult text, but are given a more far-reaching understanding of how art impacts the community around them. Beyond seeing the plays, actors (and Xavier alumni) from Cincy Shakes spoke to her course, offering yet another perspective on the text they perform.

Thanks to the generous funding from a Wheeler Grant, O’Leary’s students (along with all faculty, staff and students at the university) have free access to the Bloomsbury’s Drama Online database. This online database holds more than Shakespeare – the unique resource contains hundreds of plays, filmed productions, scholarly commentary, and more. The addition of this database was not only helpful in providing additional resources to understand the text, but also helped offset the price of play tickets from the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company.

Niamh O’Leary encourages all faculty, staff, and students to explore the exceptional resources provided through the online database. Further, she expresses gratitude for the strong community partnership with Cincy Shakes and the amazing impact it’s had on her students and the Cincinnati community.