I don’t know about you guys, but we’ve had a lot to do this week. We already have a 1/2 eaten apple pie & two partially made pumpkin pies for Pi Day & Einstein’s birthday on the 14th, we had to “ask Google” (while driving – the wonder of modern technology!) why Julius Caesar was assassinated (History is NOT my strong-point) for the Ides of March (15th). And let’s not even get into the whole St.-Patrick’s-Day-is -a-family-holiday I married into….
By the way, Google did not have a good answer on the killing of Caesar, but I did still manage to teach my children the phrase “Et tu, Brute?” Little did I realize how prophetic this was, because that phrase is famous because of its inclusion in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, and I just found out today it is ALSO Shakespeare Week!
Et tu, Shakespeare?!?
Now, I have been mulling/gathering for a “doing some Shakespeare” with my children for awhile. However, with my children ranging in age from 8 down to 3, we certainly aren’t ready to deal with all of the “themes” found in Shakespeare’s plays.
Renowned playwright and Shakespeare scholar/actor, Ken Ludwig, wrote a very practical guidebook for starting young children on a diet of beautiful words by introducing Shakespeare, in pieces, to littles.
The book does a nice job of suggesting an order to introduce Shakespeare’s plays (starting with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night, etc.), providing some lovely excerpts to memorize, and some helpful information on the background and “lingo” to be able to better understand and appreciate the pieces. There is also an accompanying website (www.howtoteachyourchildrenshakespeare.com) which has large-type printables of the recommended excerpts, and audio recordings of renowned Shakespearean actors performing them.
The Read Aloud Revival Podcast (which I love) also did a great interview with Ken Ludwig, which is filled with more tips for getting your children started with Shakespeare. They also have an interesting discussion about the value of having children memorize. I admit, since listening to that, I have definitely been aware of how much my children ARE memorizing things, and at least trying to guide some of that to things of worth and beauty, rather than just the “Wild Kratts” theme song. 😉
Another common recommendation when “starting them young” on a diet of Shakespeare is to make the bites a little easier to manage- by the judicious use of “retellings” (that retain some of the original language) and/or illustrated versions.
Some “retellings” I found recommended by all sorts of folks (Ambleside Online, Ken Ludwig, …..) are the classics Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare or Shakespeare’s Stories for Young Readers by Edith Nesbit & Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb. The versions by Edith Nesbit seem to be for the very youngest, with the stories simplified to only about 10 pages each, with very limited use of Shakespeare’s actual words. The versions by the Lambs are a bit longer (20 or so pages?), with much more of Shakespeare’s actual words woven into the narrative. I purchased old, used copies, but here are some Amazon (affiliate) links below to help you find them:
https://librivox.org/tales-from-shakespeare-by-charles-and-mary-lamb/ – Read by Karen Savage, a well-loved Librivox reader
https://librivox.org/beautiful-stories-from-shakespeare-by-edith-nesbit/ – Read by different volunteers for each story
Or here is a highly recommended more modern, illustrated retelling of 10 of Shakespeare’s plays:
This picture book biography of Shakespeare also comes well-recommended:
For an early reader, we’ve found the “Who was…?” series to be a pretty great option:
Mystie Winckler at Simply Convivial offers a 5 Step plan for introducing Shakespeare to Children.
For the more visual child, here is a link to video of the reconstruction of the Globe Theater:
And for your kinetic child, a link for a printable paper model of the Globe Theater, along with a little history:
I ‘m leaving my 8-year old with the printout, some fine-tipped glue, and my mother. We’ll see if she still loves me by the time I get home from work….
My son was highly amused by the story that the previous theater Shakespeare’s troupe had performed on lost the lease on their land, and, while the landlord was away, secretly dismantled the theater, hid the wood, and then used the wood to build the new Globe theater, almost directly across the river Thames from the prior site!
As we’ll probably start with the recommended Midsummer Night’s Dream, I’m excited we can use some beautiful paper puppets to recreate our own version of the play (I’ve mentioned before how much I LOVE Sarah Jane’s printable puppets):
For the musical-humor inclined, I have also been playing the soundtrack from the current Broadway show, Something Rotten to my munchkins. It is a pretty silly musical, that dances around (pun intended!) Shakespearean/Renaissance history, Shakespeare and rumors of his plagiarism, the play Hamlet, and musical theater.
I was lucky enough to see the play live this winter during a trip with my beloved mother-in-law. I actually bought the soundtrack that night, specifically with the thought if the kids memorized the opening number,”Welcome to the Renaissance“, they would already have a decent handle on some of the most famous things to know about the Renaissance! The fact that my boys spontaneously do “jazz hands” and break into a kick line when I play this is just gravy…. There also happens to be a song with some of what I consider the most lovely lines of Hamlet, To Thine Own Self, to a rather catchy tune. But I have boys, so the most common phrase I hear them sing is “This Bottom’s Gonna Be on Top!”….
Hopefully this gets us both well on our way to adding a little Shakespeare to our kids lives. If you find have any other great Shakespeare resources, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!
In the meantime, a merry Shakespeare-ing to you, and (how can I resist…) Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow….