As a kid, Shakespeare was always this big scary thing you weren’t allowed to read until high school. I remember being insanely jealous some friends of mine were allowed to read/act out scenes of Hamlet in 8th grade. I don’t know why it never occurred to me I could read Shakespeare on my own, I guess I thought it was too difficult to teach Shakespeare to myself, it certainly wasn’t covered in my reading lessons.
Then I got to high school and we started with Romeo and Juliet. If you want to kill someone’s interest in Shakespeare, start with that play. Next year we read Julius Caesar, again everyone dies. Finally, as a Senior, we read Hamlet and Macbeth, and I had a teacher who loved Shakespeare.
She said, “If you really want to get the feel for the first act of Hamlet, read it outside at night by candlelight. That’s the feel you should get, it’s spooky and scary.” And I did, and I about jumped out of my skin when my Mom came onto the back porch and called out my name.
I was hooked by the magic of his language.
I was also hooked when I saw Kenneth Branaugh’s Much Ado About Nothing. There’s a reason people put on Shakespeare’s comedies so often. They’re still hilarious 500 years later.
One of my goals this year was to teach my kids Shakespeare, not just have them watch a few plays, which we’ve done, but actually, learn Shakespeare. I had grand plans of putting on our own personal plays of Midsummer Night’s Dream, and then reality hit.
Our family does not have 30 people in it. And some of his plays have 30 players. That was not going to happen, even with doubling up.
So, my plan languished last semester.
Then I got How to Teach Shakespeare to Your Children.
(This post is sponsored by How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, all opinions are mine, and quite honestly I was about to buy this book anyway)
I saw it last year on a few blogs, and went “I’ll buy it when we start Shakespeare.” However, as evidenced by my complete lack of Shakespeare teaching last fall, that did not happen. I forgot.
This November I picked up a copy, and I sat down to read it. I quickly figured out two things.
- This man is brilliant in how he’s teaching Shakespeare, and
- You can’t read this book straight through. You need to read the section on the play you’re studying and then reread it as you work on it. After skimming the other plays, I went back to my favorite.
How to teach Midsummer Night’s Dream
I’ll actually write a full post on what we did after we’re done, but it made my heart immensely happy to see this is the first play he suggests learning. It also happens to be my favorite play. I was in a production in high school as a random fairy, and I love the story. The love for it increased when the great/terrible movie version came out with Michelle Pfeiffer and about a million other big names (it’s wonderful, except it cuts some of my favorite lines, I actually started yelling at the screen in the movie theater when it cut Puck’s final monologue. YELLING at the screen).
Ken Ludwig recommends memorizing several different monologs (huh, I just learned from spellcheck, the way I’ve been spelling monologue is the British spelling, I guess my British theater teacher rubbed off on me) from the play, so you can learn Shakespeare’s language. You start off with Oberon’s monolog discussing his plans to make Titania fall in love with a monster. How do you like Princess’ monolog with my interpretation?
Next, you go to a hilarious monolog by Puck. It’s half the length, and my kids are excited by that alone. But, the big deal thing is Princess came to me after reading it the first time and said, “Mom, this speech is hilarious!” I’ve promised the boys once they’ve memorized it, we’ll do a Facebook live video and they can put hats on people. They think that’s hilarious.
I call that a win.
Sadly, he left out my two favorite monologs for memorization, but they are included in his extra monolog selections (I am having my kids memorize Puck’s final monolog as well as the “Previously in Midsummer Night’s Dream” monolog, though you notice I did not include the clip from the butchered version of Midsummer Night’s Dream*, this is from Dead Poet’s Society*).
On the How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare website, he has printables of the main suggested monologs to help your children memorize the lines.
The way it’s printed out there probably doesn’t make much sense, but once you read the book, it’ll make perfect sense, I promise.
Why I’m loving How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare
There’s a lot of reasons I could give, but here are my big reasons for this.
- He recommends teaching Shakespeare at a young age. Start with the fun plays, then teach the tragedies.
- He gives specific things to notice for each of the plays he lists (There are no real suggestions for Timon of Athens or Titus Andronicus, but let’s be honest, who wants to read/watch those?).
- He explains how and why to teach Shakespeare in a step by step manner.
- He makes iambic pentameter less scary.
- He makes Shakespeare fun.