English in Action: The English-Speaking Union

National Shakespeare Competition

How It Works

NotE On The 2018-2019 Season

All National Shakespeare Competition Teacher, Student, Judge and Branch Handbooks will be updated for the 2018-2019 season by early fall. Until then, use materials from 2018 as a resource, with the knowledge that they are subject to change.


High school students read, analyze, perform and recite Shakespearean monologues and sonnets in three qualifying stages: at the school, community and national levels.


Fall/early Winter (School level)

The program begins in classrooms nationwide each fall, culminating in school-wide competitions in early winter where students memorize and perform a monologue.

Winter (Community level)

The school competition winner advances to a community ESU branch competition, usually held between January and March. Here students perform their monologue and a Shakespeare sonnet. The winner advances to the national competition held in New York City.

Spring (National Level): 

At the ESU National Shakespeare Competition (held in late April near Shakespeare's birthday on April 23), students perform their monologues and sonnets in New York City before a distinguished panel of judges as well as their fellow contestants from across the country. Based on their performances, seven to ten students advance to the final round. Finalists, performing their selections along with a cold reading of a monologue, compete for cash prizes and the opportunity to attend a summer drama program.


Community Branch Awards:

Each ESU branch community winner receives an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City to compete in the national competition.

Additional prizes for branch winners vary. Some branches also provide awards for the winners' teachers.

National Awards:  

First Prize:  Scholarship and airfare to attend Royal Academy of Dramatic Art Young Actors' Summer School
Note: If the winner of the national competition will be under the age of 16 at the start of the course in July, they will receive scholarship and airfare to attend the American Shakespeare Center Theatre Camp.

Second Prize:  Scholarship and airfare to attend American Shakespeare Center Theatre Camp

Third Prize:  $500