Using Shakespeare to Inspire Growth and Conversation

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

Acclaimed Director Iqbal Khan, most recently known for his production of Macbeth for Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, visited Michigan State University last week and spoke to English and Theatre classes, taught workshops, and delivered the Leading Voices Series lecture at the Wharton Center for Performing Arts.

Each morning during his trip, Khan met with a combined group of student actors and designers to give them a sense of what collaborating with a director might entail. He also met with a Department of English graduate seminar to discuss his most controversial project, a 2015 production of Othello for the Royal Shakespeare Company which, for the first time in history, cast a black actor as Iago.

a man with facial hair wearing a grey shirt and blue scarf talking

“He is very admirable in his ability to embrace challenge and to not shy away from them,” said Justin Wigard, a graduate student who attended Khan’s seminar. “He’s not afraid of generating discussion and creating controversy at times in the name of inspiring conversation.”

Khan came to Michigan State University with the goal of using Shakespeare to inspire growth and conversation among students. Following the recent presidential election, discussions focused on how he incorporates the heavy topics of race, religion and politics into his adaptations of Shakespearean theatre.

“Growth comes from leaping from our known position to a collective unknown position,” he said. “The world is a stronger place, a safer place, a richer place if you’re engaging in dialogue rather than excluding that which contradicts it. If I can excite these students about a playwright like Shakespeare, whose work represents one of the most significant humanistic thinking that I’ve encountered in my life, I will be happy.”

Growth comes from leaping from our known position to a collective unknown position.


Khan’s question and answer sessions throughout the week also allowed students to connect in a personal manner to some of the literary works that have shaped their educations.

group of people taking a photo

“There’s something to reading about works from 500 years ago, or watchinga film adaptation, but to be able to talk with a creator and intellectual who is doing all of these amazing things that we as students hope to be doing ourselves someday is a very powerful opportunity at MSU,” Wigard said.

One of Khan’s favorite parts of working with students is using his role as a teacher to learn from his pupils, and the students at Michigan State University did not disappoint.

“The students are very courteous, very polite, very respectful, but that’s not to say they’ve been passive. The students have not been afraid to challenge me, and that’s absolutely wonderful,” he said. “What I have found are hungry minds, passionate minds, and vital minds. It’s been a real pleasure and a privilege to encounter them.”

On Friday, Khan spoke on-air with WKAR’s Current State.

Khan’s visit to MSU was facilitated by the Departments of English and Theatre (Professor Jyotsna G. Singh and Professor Kirk Domer).

Written by Alexandria Drzazgowski, Professional Writing Major