April 23rd is the birthday of William Shakespeare, arguably one of the greatest writers and playwrights of all time. Born in 1564, his plays still speak to what makes us human: love, war, fear, hope, jealousy, magnanimity, courage, and moral virtue. These themes remain popular even today, four centuries later.
Yet, some homeschooling parents groan when his name is mentioned? Why?
It is usually because they haven’t been introduced in the right way. They have been given the tasty morsels that make them hungry for more.
Shakespeare’s plays are a glorious feast for the soul no matter the age. Learning to enjoy his plays is easy. But, like anything worthwhile, it takes preparation to fully appreciate. Here are the four “ingredients” necessary to truly enjoy Shakespeare’s incomparable plays.
Recipe for Enjoying Shakespeare
1. Choose a story version of the play
2. Choose a play
3. Use a Shakespearean dictionary
4. Use narration in many forms
Choose a story version of the play
Shakespeare's language is surprisingly modern, but because of the length of some of the passages and the frequent use of Elizabethan English, students can find the language a barrier. The best way to get into the Bard's work is to learn the story line. There are many ways to do this. The best is to read a retelling of the play in story form. Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare by Edith Nesbit is a wonderful place to start. There are also summaries online and in text format, and parallel versions in which the original and a contemporary translation are presented side by side. You can find these easily by Googling.
Choose a play of Shakespeare’s
Selecting a play is easy. There are three kinds: comedies, histories, tragedies. For young children the best place to begin is with the comedies. As You Like It or A Midsummer's Night's Dream are a good choice. As a next step, consider one of the tragedies, Hamlet, for example. I find that children understand the tragedies equally as well as the comedies. The histories, however, require more background information and can be part of a history curriculum (e.g. a study of Rome and Julius Caesar).
Use a Shakespearean dictionary
Students may lose sight of the "what-happens-next" because of unfamiliar language. A dictionary can be a great help. A good "regular" dictionary will do. However, a Shakespearean dictionary can become a valued resource.
Use narration in many forms
Narration is a key tool in remembering the plays. Have your child narrate the story versions, such as in Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare. Verbal narration is to be encouraged because it builds expressive language and clear thinking. However, use short sequences for narration.
When narrating the play be creative in your use of different forms. Many children enjoy other forms if narration. Here are a few suggestions:
- Transcribe your child's narration word for word. Read it back for any additions (remember, no helping)
- Create a poster (large sheet of paper) with characters and setting, then have your child retell from the poster.Make a story streamer (cut a sheet of paper 5"X25", then fold in equal sections according to number of parts of the story).
- Have child draw pictures from the story in sequence—older ones can add text—then retell the story from the pictures)
- Act out part of the story with your child
- Make a timeline, and then retell the story.
- Research the geography of the play and have child tell about it
- Make a diorama.
- Record your child's narration, and then replay so your child can hear.