List of Shakespeare reading groups
The main purpose of this page is to show the wide variety of forms that a Shakespeare reading circle can take. We hope you are inspired by these forward-thinking groups and start one of your own! Please let us know if you have a reading group that you’d like to add to this page.
If there is no web site link or email contact info for a group, that means it's private. To find (or start) a public group in your area, also check Meetup.com.
San Jose • California • San Jose Shakespeare Read Aloud Group
Our group is based on the Michigan Shakespeare read-aloud group I ran for many years. We follow Professor Gareth Morgan's casting system and read an entire play in a sitting. We meet once a month, and the group is public. Join us! Feel free to email me. —Prashant
San Diego • California • San Diego Shakespeare Society
The San Diego Shakespeare Society sponsors three readings a month at three different locations: They are all free.
- Upstart Crow Bookstore and Coffee Shop in Seaport Village
- La Jolla Riford Library
- San Diego Central Library downtown
Join us for an informal time with the Bard, starring you! All welcome. Anyone can join in the reading or just come along to listen. Parts are re-assigned before each scene so everyone who wants to read has a chance to read.
These popular readings are fun, interactive, creative, and great public speaking and acting practice. They are also a good way to meet other people who are interested in literature and Shakespeare and his work. Check the web site for all the details! —Alex
San Francisco • California • Drunk-Speare San Francisco
Do you like drinking? Do like beer and wine? Do—or might you—like Shakespeare? Some are born drunk, some achieve drunkenness, and some have drunkenness thrust upon 'em—it is Drunk-Speare. We are going to put the Ham back in Hamlet. We will get together, drink, and read a Shakespeare play. The parts will be passed around to the people there, everyone will play along. Over-acting is encouraged. Bonus points for playing up the d**k and fart jokes (hint: there are plenty of these in Shakespeare). Come by for two or three hours of drinking, and hopefully get through a new Shakespeare play each meeting. —Douglas
Jacksonville • Florida • Shakespeare reading Group
We started our Shakespeare Reading Group (SRG) in 2014 and we're going strong. Our Episcopal Cathedral supports our efforts mightily. By advertising in the Cathedral’s bulletins, an invitation goes out to the congregation that all are welcome to our sessions: “just come and relax and listen to the Bard’s great words—which are so relevant to today’s world.”
We meet weekly for two hours. A few days before a reading, I send out role assignmentsand a literary description of what we will be reading. The atmosphere is relaxed and fun. Our group of 12 to 15 sits at a conference table and we read while sitting; we study only one act at a session, by scene, with discussion afterwards led by me, the moderator, with some sessions devoted to the Sonnets.
Incidentally, several members of our group expressed interest in starting a Poetry Reading Group, so such a group we started two weeks ago. We devote one hour to reading the works of classic poets and one hour to reading our own poetry. So far, the Poetry Reading Group is enthusiastic as it spreads its poetic wings. And it came about because of our Shakespeare Reading Group. —Peter
Harrisburg • Illinois • Shakespeare Reading Group
I used to teach English part-time at a local community college and Hamlet was on the curriculum. I bought a dozen or so copies of the Dover Thrift editions for a dollar each and if any student forgot a book, I had one on the ready! When I left teaching, I still had these Dover Thrifts in my office just lying on their side. One day, I decided to post on Facebook, “Would anyone care to read Hamlet with me?" We met for the first time in September 2010. Four people attended. From that month on, we have met at least once a month somewhere.
We currently have groups in the public libraries in Harrisburg, Eldorado, and Carterville. We also meet in the high school in McLeansboro, Illinois. We have met in the past at the public libraries of McLeansboro, Grayville, Dahlgren, and Benton. We have met more than 200 times in our almost six years of existence.
At a meeting, we sit around a table, take parts, and read through the play. We take time to discuss the play and if any one member doesn't understand something, perhaps someone else does. Even though we read to learn, we still try to keep laughter and fun close to the surface. Sometimes, a reader or myself will bring props to lighten the mood. For example, at the conclusion of the first Hamlet, I brought in Mr. Potato Head to play the part of Yorick's skull. From that point on, my readers expect me to find parts for Mr. Potato Head.
Most plays take two sessions of two hours to read. I wish there were more plays that we could read in one night. If we end early, sometimes we read sonnets. In my format, it usually is best to have groups of eight to twelve readers. If you can get to eight readers, parts kind of fall into place and double easily. After twelve, it is more difficult to keep people reading. In my groups, I typically assign parts.
My groups typically run from seven to twelve people. Sometimes I have more, but that seems to be where the groups settle. The bulk of what we do is sit around a table, take parts, read, discuss the plays, and have fun. —Ryan
Lafayette • Indiana • Shakespeare Read-Aloud
After introductions, we briefly introduce the play we’re going to read from by going through two summaries: one written by a meetup member, and one taken from the Shakespeare Resource Center at BardWeb.net. This helps orient us to the plot and characters. Then we choose excerpts to read aloud, usually going through the play sequentially; e.g., we’ll read something from Act I, something from Act II, etc. We usually read the final scene as our final excerpt, just to give a sense of completion. I should mention that in between readings we discuss what is happening, a character’s motivation, etc. Basically anything that people have questions about or would like to discuss. But the bulk of our time is spent reading aloud. I wouldn’t characterize our readings as “close” readings by any stretch. Rather, we approach it more like an actors’ read-through.
Regarding assigning characters, I write the character names on a whiteboard and ask who would like to read which character. If no one volunteers for a particular character, I just assign someone. We often have to double up, but that’s okay—it can lead to some humorous situations. :-)
We usually meet three weeks apart, sometimes four. I try to set up a “Coffee & Chat” meetup in the interim, just to keep folks connected and do something fun. —Stephen
boston • massachussets •shakespeare discussion group at the boston athenaeum
Generally we spend two months on a play; notable exceptions have been Hamlet and Lear which took up three meetings. Meetings consist of straight readings of selected scenes with pauses for discussion usually at scene closings. If we have a small enough group we will assign parts, but generally we read around the table. While some individuals are clearly more talented readers than others, I try to emphasize as many voices as possible and include everyone, and this gets everyone comfortable making themselves heard and therefore more willing to contribute to the discussions.
I do not have many set agendas (besides the scene selections), but make sure I have read enough pertinent criticism to keep the discussion going if I need to. Garber, Asimov, Bloom, Frye, and the various critics and authors from the Riverside and Pelican editions are my go-tos for this and if I have time I will look at other collections of critical essays and pass on my favorite ideas or bring up provocative ideas that have plenty to both recommend and discredit them. Notable discussions in the group have come from general impressions of Falstaff and Caliban, for instance.
We also convene every now and then outside of the Athenaeum for an annual picnic, Shakespeare on the Common, and have staged several readings (where parts are assigned) of other playwrights at member’s homes. —Philip
Albuquerque • New Mexico: Albuquerque Shakespeare Lovers
We meet weekly for an hour and a half, and the group is open to the public. We run a close-reading group, as well as announce all events related to Shakespeare in the Albuquerque area. —Tabitha
Roswell • New Mexico • Roswell Shakespeare Club
This club is for lovers of the plays attributed to William Shakespeare and was founded in 1902. It is the oldest club in the state. The club did pause during WWII, but that was the only hiatus.
We limit our active membership to twenty. The club meets five times (five acts in a play) in the fall and five times in the spring, with an annual meeting in January where lunch is provided by members who have missed a meeting and to honor those who have perfect attendance. If space is available in the membership, invitations are issued for prospective new members to join us. That voting is by secret ballot. This is also when new officers and directors are elected. By “director" I mean the member who chooses what will be studied and leads the membership in that study. We try not to repeat a play for ten years so all are covered.
We answer roll call with a quote from the appropriate act (being careful not to use the one chosen by the director) and it is a sort of game to not use one already used. A short “take care of business" meeting follows the reading of the minutes from the previous meeting and then the floor is turned over to the director. Since so many lectures and videos are available, we usually view one after the play study. Historically parts were assigned and the play was read aloud. Occasionally sections of a play are read even with the professional videos.
The meeting begins promptly at 2:30 p.m. and ends at 4:00. No refreshments are served save water is provided to the director. I guess the most important thing is we love the plays and have all found our circle of friends expanded with the study. —Margy
This is an excerpt from The Roswell Daily Record “Vistas” section, Sunday, March 17, 2002, to honor the 100th anniversary of the club:
When William Shakespeare penned the line, “If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak then to me,” it’s safe to say he had no idea of the future significance of those words. Who knew that nearly 100 years after its inception the Shakespeare Club would be the “grain” that not only grew, but, amazingly, flourished in the sometimes harsh climate of southeast New Mexico.
When the club formed March 21, 1902, it was an auxiliary of the Roswell Woman’s Club. What kept the Shakespeare Club going strong was, and still is, an absolute devotion to the works of William Shakespeare. To honor him, club members meet eleven times a year—five times in the fall, five times in the spring, and once to discuss the club’s yearly agenda.
Everyone is supposed to study the selected play in depth. Traditionally we study a history or a tragedy in the fall and a comedy in the spring. Each meeting starts with a roll call, but instead of the typical response of “here” or “present,” club members answer with a quote from the act currently being studied. The club allows only twenty active members, with a few “life” members.
Santa Fe • New Mexico: Shakespeare Close Readers
We meet every Sunday for two hours. The group is open to the public. We post all the parts for that day on sticky-notes on the wall and as readers come in, they choose the parts they want to read that day.
Over the years we have evolved into close reading the plays, in which we go through a line or two at a time and make sure we understand it, we talk about the implications and reverberations, we uncover layers; it took six months to get through Othello and a year to get through Hamlet. At the end, we read straight through the entire play, now that we have such a deeper understanding, and then we view a film or live performance. After finishing Hamlet, we rented a local theater and had a marathon day of watching four different film versions, during which people could come and go as they pleased. Amazing!
Here is a great story in a local magazine about our group; see page 36: Local Flavor —Robin and Edie
Santa Fe • New Mexico: first Friday club
This is a private reading group that meets once a month on the First Friday; we've been meeting since 2002. It's named after Ben Jonson's group of writers and thinkers that met in the Mermaid Tavern in London in the early 1600s; the tavern was situated on the corner of Bread and Friday Streets, just east of St. Paul's, and Jonson called his group the First Friday Club. So I named my home The Mermaid Tavern and our reading group the First Friday Club.
We read an entire play aloud in an evening, which often makes for late nights! About ten days before the First Friday, I send out a Call for Readers and get commitments from the people on my list. Then I divvy up the parts and send them out to everyone (I usually read the stage directions). The only homework involved is that I ask people to mark their parts so when we get to, say, Second Lord, we don't waste time wondering who is supposed to read it. We take time to discuss along the way, although there are times we say something like, “Gosh, too bad we don't have time to figure out what that means."
Everyone brings food to share and I provide wine, juices, kombucha, tea, coffee, etc. We eat before we begin, but we're not allowed to have dessert until the end of Act 3 (any chocolates that appear before Act 3 are fair game). —Robin
Santa Fe • New Mexico: Tuesday afternoon Shakespeare readers
This is a private reading group, only eight of us, that meets every other Tuesday at my home. We started off reading King Lear in a fairly close read. Since there are so few of us, someone writes out the roles on sticky notes and we just grab them when we come in. It's been great fun and we all learn so much from each other. —Mary Lou
New York City • New York • NY Shakespeare Reading Group
This Meetup is for people who are interested in getting together to read Shakespeare's plays out loud. Each person will take one (or more!) parts and we will act them out. At each meetup, we'll take one of his plays (chosen at the previous meetup and announced on the Meetup's website), assign parts and run with it. Be funny, be dramatic, have fun! This is how we organize things:
- All the roles are written out on slips of paper according to act and scene and apportioned out; the roles are gender-neutral.
- If people want to engage in discussion of any type, we stop and talk among ourselves until we mutually agree to continue reading. Stage directions are rotated among readers.
- We generally stop if we hit a particularly noteworthy monologue or dialogue and let everybody who wants to have a go at it.
- If people want to get up and move in relation to the lines, that’s fine—it’s a free space and we can do what we want. People are free to come and leave any time they want—this is NYC and everybody has a busy life.
- Everyone brings food and drink to share with others; when reading the longer plays, we take breaks.
- Everyone is asked to bring a copy of the play and donate $1 to the group.
We always have fun doing this and the more the merrier. If we get too many folks at one time, we can always divide into smaller groups; we have done that with Hamlet several times. —Jim
Cleveland • Ohio • open mic shakespeare
We meet monthly (check our website for location and schedule of readings). Roles are distributed randomly and re-selected at each act break to allow everybody a chance to read large and small roles alike. We welcome new members. Contact by email at CleveShakes. —Brian
west Philadelphia • Pennsylvania • Shakespeare reading group
Readers attend the weekly, informal group in my living room. We are working our way through the canon based on thematic relationships among the plays. We read the plays aloud, pausing to discuss as we go. Group members contribute their insights and we try to answer each other's questions. My background is as a theater actress and I started the group because I was curious what impact Shakespeare might have as literature today. I'm also interested in the act of bringing words off the page without pressure to perform, without a director's vision to narrow the plays into a given interpretation. I provide as much historical context as possible, and our major discussion them is the radical humanism of Shakespeare's work. The group is open to the public and we welcome new members! Feel free to email me. —Molly
bristol • Rhode island • Shakespeare in the bristol art museum
We began in February 2015 with nine members, and several more have joined since then. We meet once per week from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Our approach is relaxed and meant to purely enjoy the beautiful language and its often profound messages. Prior to each meeting we place character names in a hat from which members draw. Between scenes we switch around so that people who had drawn minor characters have a more extensive reading opportunity. We frequently stop to discuss profound expressions, moral revelations, lines that relate to contemporary issues, humor, and the beautiful phrases and imagery of the language. Any member can ask questions and comment at appropriate moments twixt lines using their judgment regarding when to do so. It has worked well for us. The discussions have been excellent, and some general member feedback on the experience is “beautiful and so refreshing . . . it takes us away from the mundane and troublesome aspects of the day . . . fills us with art and enlivens us." —Ray
Our group is public and we welcome new members. Feel free to contact Ray Edler.
rapid city • south Dakota • the Shakespeare group
We've been meeting since 2012. At first we met once a month to discuss a play, and maybe it took a few months to get through it. Then some of us wanted to move faster, to cover more plays, so we decided to cover a different play each month. Some people wanted to watch a performance of the play, and some did not. So we added a meeting each month to watch a DVD, either of a feature film version or a film of a theatrical production of the play we read each month. We've recently added a “host” feature—a member will volunteer to choose a play and then lead the discussion. This can take any format the host chooses. Some hosts include time/theme appropriate food or music. Our elementary school teacher often includes word games. Some hosts stage readings aloud or review the play scene by scene. One host brought a DVD of a production he acted in and incorporated a scene into his presentation. Another showed two different film versions of the same play so we could compare the interpretations.
We usually meet at the Rapid City Public Library, and the group is open to the public. —Deborah
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Stratford • Ontario • The Festival Ushers' Study Group
This is a very informal group and we've had some wonderful times together—learned more about any given play, had warm fellowship and gotten to know one another better, and enjoyed great guest speakers. We all think it really enriches our experience with the plays to delve down a couple of layers through our discussion and study.
The first three years we just had an afternoon group that met for two hours four weeks in a row. Week one was an overview, a closer look at the characters in the play and how they related to one another, a good look at the plot/story, and we would share stories and memories about previous performances we'd seen. Week two: we'd watch a movie version of the play, usually one of the BBC versions. Week three: we’d delve more deeply into the themes and motifs of the play. Week four: we'd invite a guest speaker from the Stratford play. It has evolved due to needs and time, and this past winter was squeezed down to two weeks.
It's a very unstructured group—inevitably not everyone can make every gathering; we don't even insist that everyone reads the play beforehand! I have noticed, happily, that after a couple of years the quiet ones found their voices, and we now have lively discussions.
We usually meet in February or March; the side benefit is the whetting of the appetite to get back to the Festival in April! —Marlene
London • England • Sunday Shakespeare Society
Help us keep the flame alive! Our Sunday Shakespeare Society was founded in 1874. We meet on the third Sunday of every month in a pub in London called the Round Table, and we read a Shakespeare play in full. Plays are cast in advance so we have a chance to rehearse at home, and we get up and semi-perform the plays. As we have more women than men, we ladies get to read some of the great male parts! I also produce a monthly newsletter, with details of productions, articles, etc. We are a friendly group of like-minded people with a keen interest in the Bard's life and works. —Sue
The Sunday Shakespeare Society was founded in 1874 by Dr. F. J. Furnivall in cooperation with the National Sunday League to enable its members to devote their Sunday leisure to the study of Shakespeare.
The Society devotes itself mainly to dramatic readings of the plays by its own members. The readings are planned so as to ensure that each of the plays is read at least once within a given period, which is usually about six years. The readings are supplemented from time to time by lectures, discussions, and other items of interest or entertainment. One play by a contemporary of Shakespeare is sometimes included in the programme for each year.
Readings are normally unrehearsed, but members are notified in advance of the parts they are asked to read. A caster is appointed for each play and parts are allocated by the caster in consultation with the Honorable Secretary to secure a fair distribution of parts amongst reading members. Every effort is made to meet the wishes of members in the allocation of parts, and members who desire to read particular parts are asked to notify the committee.
For particulars of membership, please apply to the Honorable Secretary. The annual subscription is currently £20.00, payable to the Honorable Treasurer. A newsletter is sent out monthly.
Villa Sant’ Annina • Puglia, Italy • Shakespeare in italy
I run a Shakespeare retreat in Italy each year. It is a reading group, essentially, although it concentrates on an in-depth study within a set period of a week or ten days in a villa in southern Italy. We get people coming from all over the world and there is plenty of spare time to enjoy the varied delights of southern Italy. Please check out the web site and join like-minded Shakespeare readers to revel in these remarkable works—together. —Philip Marvin
Tokyo • japan • shakespeare in tokyo
Before each scene I describe whether it’s a big or small part, and ask for volunteers. Then after the scene that role switches to somebody else. That way everybody who wants to can read a major role, and nobody gets stuck with a difficult role all night. Lately one member has been arriving thirty minutes early and showing the BBC video of the scenes we will read.
We meet once a month in the evening at Temple University in Azabu-Juban, Tokyo, for informal reading and discussion. It is open to the public. —Richard
Seoul • south Korea • hacking Shakespeare
The primary aim of our group is to understand clearly why so many scholars have claimed Shakespeare's texts as context for modern thoughts and conventions, and, as some dare say, for modern humanity itself. The challenge is not only to understand the literature critically, but also to think creatively by exploring connections within the world of a single play, between the plays in the collection, and between the collection and the worlds outside of it.
We meet weekly and we're open to the public. All interested in the Bard and his canon—ladies, lords, players, free men, free women, married men and/or married women, teachers, tyrants, thinkers, students, scientists, believers, atheists, mortals, fools—ALL are most welcome. —Marissa