That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Three years ago, I had no Shakespeare under my belt. None. Nada. Since then, Levi and I have read or listened to many retellings, watched a handful of movies, memorized a monologue or two, and attended 11 live plays! (Six of those plays were thoughtfully abridged and presented as double features.) Though I am nowhere near an expert on the subject, I thought it might be helpful to share with you some of the simple steps my family has taken to make Shakespeare an exciting part of our education and enjoyment.
1. Meet William Shakespeare.
We enjoyed Bard of Avon: The Story of William Shakespeare by Diane Stanley, which contains a generous amount of biographical information paired with beautiful illustrations.
2. Hear the sounds of Shakespeare's language.
The Young Person's Guide to Shakespeare contains a biographical sketch, information about the Globe, and brief introductions to his major works and most famous characters, but the real gem is the accompanying CD. It includes recordings of actors performing a few of Shakespeare's most famous speeches. We have listened to this CD over and over again in the car and even memorized King Harry's speech from Henry V, Act III, sc. 1. It is very rewarding (for child and parent) to speak it along with the actor! (More about memorizing later.)
Then imitate the action of the tiger,
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favours rage.
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let it pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swilled with the wild and wasteful ocean.
3. Read or listen to retellings of Shakespeare's plays.
There are many picture books and story collections available. Bruce Coville has authored several retellings in picture book format. We've used Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare by E. Nesbit to prepare us for each live performance we've attended. With twenty plays, this is a handy book to have on hand. Charles and Mary Lamb's Shakespeare for Children on audio CD has been played often in the car along with Shakespeare for Children by master storyteller, Jim Weiss. Shakespeare Stories by Leon Garfield is just one of many other options. Check your library to see what is available!
4. Watch recorded versions of the plays.
Parental previewing is recommended, as most of the plays have some scenes or innuendo that might not be appropriate for all ages. I've found, however, that fast-forwarding occasionally works well for us.
5. Attend live performances.Again, you may need to check ahead of time to find out of specific performances are family-friendly. We've been to both kinds. My personal favorites have been the performances put on by a local homeschooling group. The plays are classically interpreted, appropriate for all ages, and slightly abridged (with narrations to help keep the flow) which makes them easier to sit through for younger children. Each year, they perform one tragedy or history and one comedy.
The local college also puts on spectacular performances with interesting interpretations, fabulous costuming and choreography, excellent actors, and a beautiful setting. The downside is that the content tends to be less appropriate for kids.
6. Memorize speeches and quotes.
Start small, and let Shakespeare roll off your tongue! Be thoughtful or witty. (Need ideas? Browse here.) Then move on to slightly longer speeches, such as the one above.
I feel within me a peace above all earthly dignities,
a still and quiet conscience.
This one is fairly self-explanatory. Try reading the plays aloud, taking turns with other family members. The plays are also available online.
8. Imagine being there!
The Shakespeare Stealer is an entertaining historical fiction series for children. I must not be entirely grown up, as I was also entertained.
9. Learn more!
Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson has lately been calling my name from its home on my nightstand. I finally unearthed it from the towering stack and started in.
The boys and I have only scratched the surface in the past 3 years. I'm so glad I have the rest of my life to discover, learn, see, read, watch, participate in, explore, memorize, and enjoy new things.