Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Hard Life of a Shakespearean Reader

This year as part of our homeschooling I decided that it was a great time to introduce my children to Shakespeare.  In the beginning I was struggling to figure out why I would want to torture myself since it was the bane of my high school experience.

I still have very clear memories of English teachers who made us pick apart and analyze each scene as we read them.  I also remember trying to read "Julius Caesar" and deciding by act two that I was done and I would just fake it on the tests.  I still feel a bit ashamed that I never finished it.  "Macbeth" was about some lady who went crazy.  I never finished act one of that play.  And I am sure everyone can remember the groans that came with the writing assignment that required a teenager to discuss the motivations behind Hamlet's actions.

Fortunately I had an Honors English teacher who read "The Merchant of Venice" with us.  She didn't expect us to pick it apart and justify every characters action.  We weren't expected to pass judgement on each event of every scene.  She just read it a little bit in every class out loud.  At the end we watched a Black and White movie production and then she wanted us to write about it.  Write about what you learned, what you liked or what you didn't like and then tell me why.  This sounds a bit like Charlotte Mason's written narration, doesn't it?  I am so grateful to this woman.  She gave me the one good memory I have with Shakespeare.  This memory has given me the courage to dip my toes into the waters of Shakespeare with my own children.

So here I am trying to tweak our homeschooling experience to spread a wide feast of learning before my children as I begin to learn about classical and Charlotte Mason principles of education.  Part of that feast is Shakespeare.  My twelve and eleven year old girls are hosting a Shakespeare Read-Aloud group one day each week this fall.  We are closing in on the halfway point of our very first play "Twelfth Night".

I had all the hopes of starting with Lamb's "Tales from Shakespeare".  Thinking it would give the girls an overview of the play we would be reading.  But although I wanted to do this I still felt intimidated by it.  And I continued to put it off.  Fortunately I scheduled the Read-Aloud group before I started feeling super intimidated and it was too late to back out and cancel.  So we began our weekly reading club without getting to Lamb's version of Shakespeare.  Even without the children's version my girls are learning to enjoy it.  We have girls doing voices and being silly as they sing the songs the Fool performs.  Now we are reading Lamb's version a little at a time throughout the week as a way to make sure we understood what happened in the reading we did as a group.  Hopefully in this fun way I can give my children a better appreciation of Shakespeare than I had growing up.

I am currently reading a book which brings up teaching Shakespeare and sums up my thoughts so precisely I just can't resist sharing it with you.

"I always tell students they do not have to love Shakespeare. It is understandable. The real sin is assuming that because you do not like his plays there is something lacking in them."

Thank goodness for this clear wisdom shared by Cindy Rollins.  Just because I didn't like my first experiences with Shakespeare and it still wouldn't be something I would pick up to read just for fun, doesn't mean that I can't learn to appreciate his work and learn something from them.

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