Right up front I will tell you that for all of our reading of Shakespeare my children do not love him as I do. That is OK. This is another instance where I am counting on the long haul and in this case it is the extra long haul. I say that so that you don't think that the value of reading Shakespeare is an immediate reward or based on what the children enjoy. Even though education is the training of the affections, it is often a future hope. Some of you will have a certain temperament of child who will revel in Shakespeare. Great. But if reading Shakespeare is good, and it is, then you can afford to read it even when it is unappreciated, just keep it short. Do not weary the children with pushing through too much material.
I read Shakespeare and/or Plutarch immediately after our initial prayer, singing, and part of our Bible time. I do this for the upper high school students who may leave after that. I am not sure what I am going to do with Andrew in 11th grade. MT is now geared to Andrew and Alex and it has been rich and rewarding. I have tailored his schedule to Morning Time this year and I am hoping he can stay for the vast majority of it next year but we shall see.
My system for reading Shakespeare is quite simple. I usually read a synopsis or story form of the play from either Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb or Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children by E. Nesbit. This may take between one and three Morning Times.
I usually then spend one day reading through the cast of characters. This is very helpful as we start reading. I may, more often with the historical plays, pull out a reference book and read more for my own benefit. That way I can pass on tidbits of information as we go. By far my favorite Shakespeare reference is: Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare. This book is so well-written you can read it for pleasure. Asimov is opinionated but I am guessing that is what makes the book so fascinating.
At this point I begin reading the play with Act I, Scene I and almost always just read one scene a day even if it is just a tiny scene. Sometimes if the scene is super-short or we are almost finished with the play, I will read two but that is rare. Some plays have extra long scenes that are best broken up into two readings. Antony and Cleopatra is Shakespeare's longest play and it shows in the scenes.
Being a minimalist for years I read the plays aloud by either pausing and changing voices slightly between speakers or deadpanning the name of the speaker before saying the part. Each way depended on the scene. It is easy to do separate voices if the scene is between a man and a woman. My accents are so bad I get into trouble very quickly if I try to give each character a separate accent. At the end of this post I will describe my new way of reading the plays.
As we are getting into the play I begin thinking about watching a version of it. There are many ways to approach this.
*You can watch one version of the play before you read it and a different version afterwards. This works well with plays which have many movies such as Hamlet or Julius Caesar.
*You watch the play midway through the reading which is often the best way. Then you get the benefit of some familiarity and the movie and the reading begin to work symbiotically.
*You can cap off your reading of the play with a movie.
When you do watch a production you may want to just use up a whole MT for that purpose. I have found that in a busy family, it is hard to carve out time to watch something together. Skipping a regular MT to watch Shakespeare is a good compromise. Depending on the ages of your children and the quality of the movie, you may want to break up the movie into two days. Yay for intermissions!!
It is also valuable to watch plays randomly, plays you haven't gotten to yet or plays you would like to review. Some Shakespearean movies are so well-done they are enjoyable as entertainment and there are many plays which have quirky but fun adaptations. Some plays will be shot as stage productions and some as regular movies.
Warning: Do your research before turning on the movie. I turned on a 1960s BBC production of A Midsummer Night's Dream once only to find none of the fairies wore shirts and then there was our famous King Lear fiasco. I haven't had the heart to read Lear again since that gruesome movie. Often theater companies will take a stance on interpreting every innuendo with zeal. This is frustrating so read reviews!!
Some day I hope to compile my own list of favorite movies.
The New Deal:
I recently blogged about our new way of reading Shakespeare. I now try to buy an audio version of the play we will be reading. I prefer the Arkangel Productions and hope to collect them all someday. I download the play to my computer and then hook the computer up to our TV via an HDMI connection. We then listen to the play while reading along on the screen. For instance for Macbeth I go to this site: Macbeth Scenes.
The downside of this is that if we want to discuss as we go I have to pause the CD. When reading Shakespeare I will often ask the kids what they think something means especially metaphors. I don't do this for every metaphor but once a day I will usually ask a question as we read. If a scene is especially confusing I will stop explain what just happened and then read it again. Once again, I don't do this for every confusing scene. The kids quickly pick that Shakespeare uses nuances of language and they begin to stretch for them which is one of the reasons Shakespeare is so valuable.
There is one other aspect to reading Shakespeare with children that I will cover tomorrow and tomorrow...oops, that is memorizing Shakespeare.
Suggestion of the Day for Morning Time Memory:
When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.