We ran our first sub-plot playreading using the Twelfth Night Playreading Guide last week in Edinburgh.
There was a smaller group of readers than usual – six in total (four professional actors and two amateurs). I didn’t read as I wanted to listen to the reading to see how it went. We read two sub-plots from Twelfth Night, using the Twelfth Night Playreading Guide for the subplot scripts and castcards. This Playreading Guide provides scripts for four sub-plots of Twelfth Night:
The separation and reunification of the twins
The love triangle (Orsino loves Olivia loves Viola / Cesario loves Orsino)
The gulling of Malvolio
The gulling of Sir Andrew
It also provides cast lists and castcards for each subplot, so you can cast the subplot one part per reader, or cast the subplot for a smaller number of readers, with parts shared across the readers in the usual manner.
You can download the Playreading Guide from Twelfth Night Playreading Guide for Apple iPads / iPhones; Android Tablets and Smartphones (and other epub e-readers) or as a pdf for reading using Adobe Reader or printing in US letter format or European A4.
The subplots we read were:
The love triangle subplot (Orsino loves Olivia, loves Viola, loves Orsino) – reading time 47 minutes
The gulling of Malvolio – reading time 42 minutes
Overall impression of using sub-plots:
The consensus of the readers was that this would be a very useful approach for a group putting on a production of the play to take for the initial readings of a play, allowing members of the cast to get ‘up to speed’ with their parts much more quickly than usual. That was how we first developed the idea of sub-plot scripts, using it as the initial playreadings for a play production by a community theatre group.
Some felt it might also be useful for students studying the play. Subplot readings have a few advantages over full readings in such a situation:
Reading individual subplots allows students unfamiliar with the play to focus on one of the stories in the play at one time
The reading time for each sub-plot (around 45 minutes) was more likely to fit with study periods than trying to read the whole play.
Sub-plot readings require fewer readers than a full play. Both subplots could be read with five readers, whereas a full play is usually best with 8 – 10 readers. (With a large class, one could run different sub-plots with different groups of students, and then bring all the sub-plots together so the class experiences the whole play).
On the whole, the division of the text into sub-plots was nearly perfect. Nearly, but there was a need for one change:
In ‘The Love Triangle’ Sebastian and Antonio are a bit of a surprise when they enter the sub-plot. It might be an idea to include A2S1 (Sebastian and Antonio saved from the shipwreck) and A3S3 (Sebastian and Antonio in town) so that readers know who they are.
One idea was to reduce the number of sub-plots to 2: The love triangle + the twins; and The gulling of Malvolio and Sir Andrew. We’re still thinking of doing this.
If anyone out there would like that, please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or using the Feedback form on the web-site.
One thing I had found interesting when creating the sub-plots was the difference in style between sub-plots. For example:
The ‘Love Triangle’ sub-plot has a high proportion of verse, and most scenes tend to be between two characters.
The ‘Gulling of Malvolio’ is mostly in prose, and there are far more complicated scene settings with more characters in some scenes.
However, these stylistic differences were only commented on by one of the participants of the readings.
The response of the readers to the two sub-plot readings was mixed:
The love triangle subplot reading:
All the readers were excited by this reading. Everyone felt that it brought out aspects of the story which they had not been aware of in previous readings of the whole play.
The gulling of Malvolio:
There were some reservations about the second sub-plot reading. ‘The gulling of Malvolio’ is, of course, a comic sub-plot. We were reading both subplots without preparation, and some felt that, for the comic subplot, it might have been good to have prepared for the reading – where the comic emphasis should fall wasn’t necessarily obvious at first read, and sometimes readers got it wrong.
It was also the second sub-plot reading of the evening, and maybe tiredness was beginning to set in.
Conclusions and What’s Next:
On the whole, we’re encouraged. We’ve started work on breaking King Lear down into sub-plots and are in the process of generating a play-reading guide which will include those sub-plots.
We plan to do it for at least one more play (perhaps Henry IV Part I or The Merchant of Venice) before deciding whether to make it a regular feature of the MFFE (Modern First Folio Edition – see the plays already published at:
We’d be very interested in feedback from theatre groups, playreading groups and students of the plays, on the need or otherwise for subplots, would be much appreciated.