Bullying prevention through Shakespeare

Colorado Shakespeare Festival actors performed a 17th century play in more than 25 schools from Fort Collins to Trinidad last fall to set the stage for modern-day discussions about school bullying. 

The three-person theater troupe performed a 50-minute abridged version of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" as part of a collaboration between the festival and the University of Colorado Boulder's Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence. Each show was followed by a talk and classroom workshop centered on bullying prevention. Participating elementary, middle and high schools received a study guide about the play's contemporary relevance and proven anti-bullying interventions and information from the center.

"Live theater is a powerful way to get kids and teens thinking about human behavior," said Amanda Giguere, literary manager for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. "Shakespeare was a master of humanity, and he understood how people behaved. The characters in Shakespeare are very similar to people we know today."

In "Twelfth Night," a character named Malvolio treats his fellow servants poorly so several characters decide to play a trick on him. They forge a letter in the heroine's handwriting suggesting she is in love with Malvolio. As a result, Malvolio begins to behave in a crazed manner and becomes the laughingstock of the household. When he has hit bottom, the other characters decide to end the cruel joke. Malvolio's final line of the play is: "I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you."

Following each performance, "Twelfth Night" actors led discussions about bullying, power and the cycle of violence.

"The Malvolio story line, along with the letter the characters plant for him to find, gives us great ways to talk about contemporary issues like cyberbullying," Giguere said. "Kids and teens will relate to this story because they've probably witnessed something similar in school."

The project was funded in part by a CU-Boulder Outreach Award and the Arts and Sciences Community Involvement Fund. The Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence is part of the CU-Boulder Institute of Behavioral Science (IBS).