The English-Speaking Union of the United States: Education. Scholarship. Understanding.

National Shakespeare Competition

Rules and Eligibility


In order for a school to participate in The English-Speaking Union National Shakespeare Competition, it must meet the criteria listed below. Only those schools whose competitions meet these criteria will be eligible to send contestants to their local ESU Branch Competition.

  • The school must register with their local English-Speaking Union Branch Shakespeare Coordinator.
  • The school competition must be open to all students enrolled in the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grades or an equivalent (for home school students).
  • The school competition must involve a minimum of three (3) students. Home school participants must also emerge from a competition of three or more students.
  • School and home school competitions must be judged by a panel of at least three (3) individuals familiar with Shakespeare's works.  We also recommend that a school representative be present during the judges' deliberations (if not already part of the judging panel).

All students in the Competition should meet the following criteria. The school should ensure that the students participating in their competition are eligible for the program.

  • Contestants must be enrolled in the 9th, 10th, 11th or 12th grade or an equivalent (for home school students).
  • Contestants cannot act for pay on television, the stage or in film during the 2016-2017 school year.
  • Contestants should be available to represent their school at the local ESU Branch Competition. If, for any reason, the school winner is unable to fully participate, the school should send the runner-up from their school competition to advance to the next level. NOTE: This rule applies to all level of the competition (school, ESU Branch and National).

The selections that contestants present should meet the following criteria. The School Competition Coordinator should check that contestants' selections meet these guidelines.


  • The monologue must come from one of Shakespeare's 38 plays.
NOTE:  Students can pick any role regardless of their gender (i.e. females can play male roles and vice versa).

  • The monologue must be no more than twenty lines (verse or prose). Length is determined according to the Folger Shakespeare Library editions of the plays (Simon & Schuster, 2003-2013). Students performing longer monologues will be disqualified
NOTE: Editing of the piece (i.e. cutting of lines) is allowed, but make sure the piece still makes logical sense. 



All competitions must adhere to the following rules. These rules are consistent throughout all levels of competition (school, ESU Branch and National).
  • Each student must select, memorize and perform one (1) monologue from a Shakespeare play.
  • Students' order of performance should be determined by lot.
  • Students should introduce themselves only by name. 
  • Students should identify their selection before they begin their presentation.
  • Students cannot wear costumes or use props of any kind (including chairs, jewelry, items of clothing and hair/hair clips).
  • Students should speak naturally in their own voice (rather than affect a British accent).
  • Students are expected to memorize their pieces. If necessary, however, prompting is allowed. If students require prompting, they must say "Line."
  • In addition to their monologue, each student must select, memorize and present one (1) sonnet.
  • Students may perform their pieces (monologue and sonnet) in whatever order they prefer.

Return to How It Works