Rigoletto Teaching Resources

English Key Stage 4

Rigoletto English Key Stage 4

Lesson one

Theme/ Activity headline: What’s the Worst Curse?

Curriculum attainment targets: Years 10-11: Reading: read and appreciate the depth and power of English literary heritage, identifying and interpreting themes, ideas and information.

Starter activity

The Worst Curse

The opera Rigoletto contains all these ingredients (show Rig_makingpredictions.pptx or Rigoletto_plotelements.pptx):

  • a father
  • a daughter
  • a Duke
  • revenge
  • a curse
  • a jester
  • a kidnap
  • a knife

Push yourself! In five minutes, write a 150 word story containing all these elements!

Main activity


In ‘home’ groups of three, pupils research one of the following curse stories together. Resources are suggested. This could also be a library lesson:

  • The Myth of Prometheus
  • The Lady of Shalott
  • Mercutio’s curse in Romeo and Juliet

Pupils should make notes because they will have to explain their ‘curse’ to someone else. Next, pupils go into ‘rainbow’ groups where they will present the information about their curse to two other pupils.

When everyone has presented, the class should discuss together: which curse would be the worst to fall victim to? Why? Pupils must explain their opinions. Then take a vote: which ‘curse’ is the worst?


Write a comparison of two of the ‘curses’ you have already researched, plus one more that you have found out about yourself. Compare:

Who is cursed? How? What are the curse’s effects? Could they be undone?

Is the curse effective within the story? What’s the effect on the reader/audience?

Lesson two

Theme/ Activity headline: Why is that so funny?

Curriculum attainment targets: Years 10-11: write accurately, fluently, effectively and at length for pleasure and revise, edit and proof-read, reflecting on whether their draft achieves the intended impact.

Starter activity

Jokes and Consequences

Rigoletto is a jester for the Duke. This means his job is to make jokes for the Duke’s entertainment.

What’s the difference between these types of ‘joke’? Can you write a definition for each of them?

  • prank
  • one-liner
  • pun
  • slapstick
  • roast

Use dictionary-style language, including word-class, and an example.

Main activity

Rigoletto’s jokes mainly ‘roast’ or make fun of the other people in the Duke’s household. This means (unsurprisingly!) they do not like him very much.

To punish Rigoletto, one of the victims of his jokes places a ‘curse’ on him.

Watch an example of a ‘roast’.

Discuss: what are the rules that make a ‘roast’ funny rather than upsetting?

(The subject’s consent is given; the subject usually has a right of reply; comedians often make fun of themselves first).

In a circle, hold a ‘philosophical enquiry’ stemming from the subject of comedy and offence, following the guidelines suggested.


Write a ‘roast’ about your home town. List the things you could make fun of. Remember to make fun of yourself as well.

Lesson three

Theme/ Activity headline: Building character and situation

Curriculum attainment targets: Years 10-11: Reading: explore aspects of plot, characterisation, events and settings, the relationships between them and their effects.

Starter activity


The name Rigoletto comes from the Italian word for ‘laugh’. Our word ‘ridiculous’ comes from the same origin. It’s a clever name for a character whose job is to be a joker.

How many synonyms for ‘laugh’ in English can you find? (E.g chuckle, snigger, giggle, howl, cackle, chortle, roar, hoot, be in stitches, crease up, crack up, guffaw)

If you had to invent a character whose job was to make fun of people what would you call him or her?

Main activity

Write a narrative about someone who makes fun of other people.

Plan carefully. Answer the following questions.

  • Why is your character motivated to make fun of others?
  • Has something happened to him or her in the past?
  • Does he or she make jokes as a distraction from something else?
  • Put your character in a situation where the joke goes wrong? What happens?
  • What will you decide should happen to them in the end?
  • What will the theme or message of your work be?


Create a character based on a different trait. E.g. Someone who is always melancholy; a very angry person; a character who falls in love too easily.

Lesson four

Theme/ Activity headline: Crime and punishment

Curriculum attainment targets: Years 10-11: Spoken English: speak confidently, audibly and effectively, including listening to and building on the contributions of others, asking questions to clarify and inform, and challenging courteously when necessary.

Starter activity

A philosophical enquiry about comedy and punishment.

Rigoletto is a jester for the Duke. This means his job is to make jokes for the Duke’s entertainment.

Rigoletto’s jokes are a problem because they are mean. They cause the members of the Duke’s household to dislike him and want revenge. He gets cursed and his daughter is kidnapped.

Have you ever been in a situation where a joke has gone wrong?

Watch David Baddiel discussing Jo Brand’s joke.

Main activity

Students sit in a circle. In trios, think of three possible questions you’d like to ask on this subject.

Share your best question. Take a class vote to choose which question you will discuss. Remember, a good philosophical question does not need ‘facts’ to answer it, and often begins with Can we ever. . . Should we ever. . . Is it possible to. . . How far should we go to. . .?

Around the circle, everyone shares their ‘first thoughts’ on the question. Students can pass but make sure you return and give these students a chance to say something before closing the first thoughts round.

Discussion building: now students debate in ‘basketball talk’ across the circle, picking up on, building or challenging each other’s ideas. (You could display some useful sentence starters to help them with this).

Take a round of final thoughts in answer to the question.


Write an opinion piece on the subject: Should comedians be allowed to make jokes about anything?

Image credits: Rigoletto, Festival 2019, artwork by Shadric Toop

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