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Struggling with and Saving Shakespeare (with Links to Resources)

This is an expanded version of the original Instagram post found here.

If you are like me, who grew up in a traditional Filipino school setting, chances are you’ve never covered Shakespeare in any of your classes. My husband, however, who was educated in an exclusive Jesuit school for boys, had his share of Shakespeare in school. Aside from a vague recollection about the story of Romeo & Juliet, thanks to Leonardo Di Caprio and Claire Danes, I have no clue about the life and works of William Shakespeare. Oh yes, there is that non-canonical movie in the 90s called Shakespeare in Love, featuring Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow, too. I must admit that I feel like an “uncultured swine” as I ventured into Shakespeare for the first time. Thus, retrieving the classical tradition remains a herculean task. There is also that rumor in the classical education world where you either love Shakespeare or pretend to like him. Perhaps, I find comfort in knowing that I am not alone in this challenge, just as Cindy Rollins recounts:

My children have not all been enthusiastic Shakespeareans. They often groan and question why we read some of the plays but there is a method to my madness. I always tell new students of the Bard that if they do not like Shakespeare that is fine but it is the height of ignorance to conclude that it is the Bard’s fault rather than something lacking within themselves. Harsh, I know.

Truth be told, I almost gave up when we tried to dive into Midsummer Night’s Dream in the first quarter of Year 1. My children and I were not too keen on learning about the lovers’ drama and dilemma. Shakespeare does build some moral imagination in children. Apparently, that part of the imagination has already been strongly embedded in my children’s minds. We chimed with Puck when he said, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” Looking back, it may not have been the best choice for our family’s first Shakespeare play.

We have tried Edith Nesbit, Charles and Mary Lamb, and even Leon Garfield‘s rendition. But the story just didn’t stick to my dyslexic student’s memory.

Shakespeare introduces too many characters at the same time, so we shelved him for a while and resorted to memorizing lines from the play as suggested in Ken Ludwig’s book, How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare. Mr. Ludwig’s website, with the same namesake as his book, offers a range of printables containing the suggested lines which are also found in the book. What is more, there are excellent audio clip recordings of these lines spoken by actual actors which help a great deal with the enunciation and tone. Shakespeare’s works are memorable, not only because they rhyme, but they also have rhythm.

However, in the middle of the homeschool year, we decided to give it another go and try working with William again. This time with a bright new book and a brand new play called The Tempest.

It also helped that the book we used this time around, A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories, included an illustrated cast of characters to aid in our short term memory problems for narration. The rest of the pages include a couple more illustrations weaved within the story.

Needless to say, our attempt at saving Shakespeare with The Tempest in our homeschool worked wonders! The play had the right amount of romance, adventure, and magic that concluded with a hopeful message of forgiveness. And it is only fitting to reboot our Shakespeare studies with one of the bard’s very last plays. We have since covered The Tempest, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet. We have also utilized the beautiful KinderGuides Early Learning Guide to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to our advantage in studying the last play.

More recently, we have acquired The Usborne Complete Shakespeare which includes the stories from all the plays. The book also features colorful illustrations displaying the characters before you get to the story. However, you will find that the rest of the pages only provide text without any illustrations. You can see a flip-through of the book below provided by Books for Kids:

We purchased our Usborne book from Happy Spines PH, who conveniently makes Usborne materials available to the Philippine market.

I also read from a reputable source that Stories from Shakespeare by Marchette Chute would also be a good resource to keep in a library. Our copy is still on its way, as of this writing. And perhaps, once we get that copy we can toss the Usborne book, or keep it for a while in order to use it as a reference for remembering the characters.

Resources on Teaching Shakespeare at Home

Podcast Episode Guides on Teaching Shakespeare

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