English in Action: The English-Speaking Union

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 (deadlines vary by Branch; this form is forwarded to your local ESU 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 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 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 2017-2018 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).
  • Previous school and/or branch winners may participate each year they are eligible (despite results in past competitions).  Past school winners are eligible to continue to the Branch Competition; past branch winners are eligible to continue to the National Competition.  Schools and/or branches may not limit student participation except for the above mentioned eligibility requirements.

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


Students must select their monologue from the 2018 Monologue Selection Packet, provided by the ESU.  No additional cuts may be made to the monologues.  They must be performed as written in the packet.

The selections offer a variety of monologues, up to twenty-two lines, from a number of plays; students may select whichever monologue they prefer, regardless of gender.  Selections have been taken from the Folger Digital Texts resource (folgerdigitaltexts.org).


The sonnet must come from Shakespeare's 154 sonnet cycle, which can all be found in the 2018 Sonnet Packet.  Students must perform the complete sonnet; no cutting of lines is allowed.  Sonnets are optional at the school level but are required at the branch and national levels.


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 monologue from a Shakespeare play (from the 2018 Monologue Selection Packet).
  • Students' order of performance should be randomly assigned.
  • 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."
    • A prompter must be available to students during the competition.  Another student (not participating in the competition) may fulfill this role.
  • In addition to their monologue, each student must select, memorize, and present one sonnet.
  • Students may perform their pieces (monologue and sonnet) in whatever order they prefer.
  • If the student has documented hearing, learning, physical, and/or visual disabilities, advice the local ESU Branch prior to the Branch Competition, so that appropriate accommodations can be made.


  • Branch Competition (optional):  Some ESU Branches with large numbers of participants also include a cold reading of a monologue in the final round of their Branch Competitions.  Cold reading options are chosen by ESU Branch representatives.
  • National Competition:  If a student is selected for the final round of competition at the National Competition in New York City, they perform a monologue, sonnet, and a cold reading of a monologue.  Cold reading options are chosen by ESU Education staff and assigned at random.

Return to How It Works