I have talked about the ways we cover Shakespeare several times before, but I decided to make an official post for Charlotte Mason Monday. I am *trying* to post something very CM worthy each Monday, but sometimes life gets in the way!
If you were to ask my children about William Shakespeare, you would find that they are very well-informed little aficionados. We have covered a number of plays over the years and Shakespeare has become one of their favorite subjects of study. Cole will begin reading the actual plays this year as a “middle school” student, but the girls will continue reading the children’s versions with me, either from Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare, Tales from Shakespeare, or the Bruce Coville books when we can find them.
As we read the plays, we always act them out with toys or paper dolls. I printed out some simple paper dolls during our first year of homeschooling, glued them to recycled cereal boxes to make them stronger, and then glued them to crafts sticks. They have worked well over the years to help us keep the characters and action straight while reading. We have also been known to use Barbie dolls or Lego people when the mood strikes.
When we have finished, we act out the plays ourselves as well. It’s SO much fun! “King Lear” was the best, as we all ended up dead on the floor at the end. Hee, hee.
If you are concerned that your children will not understand Shakespeare yet, consider what Charlotte had to say:
Their power to understand, visualize, and ‘tell’ a play of Shakespeare from nine years old and onwards is very surprising. They put in nothing that is not there, but they miss nothing, and display a passage or a scene in a sort of curious relief. Vol. 6, 182
The children read their ‘Shakespeare play’ in character. Vol. 6, 182
She had children as young as nine years old reading the full plays and they even read them “in character.” I often marvel at what children used to learn and know 100 years ago. Have you ever seen the popular email about what 8th grade students used to learn? Shocking, isn’t it? I am trying to remember to set the academic bar higher in my home. I believe human beings rise to expectations and children seem especially capable of meeting standards that will surprise us. I try to never underestimate what they are capable of learning.
After reading and acting out the play in some way, we usually watch a performance. I love to see a real play when we can, but we are happy with movies as well. Shakespeare the Animated Tales are amazing! I have said that a million times, but it’s true! I love them! Netflix carries that series, and some lucky folks can find them at the library. If you can afford to buy the set, please do; they are worth every penny. If you are strapped for cash and can’t find them anywhere else, many of them are on YouTube.
It’s hard to define why I love Shakespeare so much. I took a Shakespeare class twice when I was in high school because I loved it so much! That might have had something to do with a very passionate teacher, but I fell in love with the plays themselves, too. The character portrayals, the witty dialogue, the sneaky humor…it’s all just fabulous! Will had an insight into human nature that is really unparalleled. Charlotte agreed:
This is what Shakespeare, as great a philosopher as a poet, set himself to teach us, line upon line, precept upon precept. His ‘Leontes,’ ‘Othello,’ ‘Lear,’ ‘Prospero,’ ‘Brutus,’ preach on the one text––that a man’s reason brings certain infallible proofs of any notions he has willfully chosen to take up. There is no escape for us, no short cut; art is long, especially the art of living. Vol. 6, 315
Children can easily discern the flaws of humanity, and the ability of certain characters to rise above those flaws and do the right thing. My kids have learned so much from these plays, and they recognize the familiar story lines in many movies and are able to trace them back to Shakespeare.
I believe that if you approach Shakespeare with passion, if YOU love it, your kids will learn to love it as well. What student isn’t inspired by a passionate teacher? Just something to think about…