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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Homeschooling Shakespeare

We are lucky enough to live near a college town.. The school started as an agricultural school, but has grown into a full fledged university, complete with a theatre department that does an annual outdoor production of Shakespeare. This year the production is a comedy, "Twelfth Night". Yea for us!

I used this as an excuse to start Shakespeare with the kids. Yes, they're just 13, 10 & 6. Yes, some of it is over their heads. (Less than you'd think!) The hardest part is that the tragedies are, well, tragic. My young kids have challenges around anything to do with suspense, people getting into trouble, or getting hurt. That kinda puts a dent in how we can approach Hamlet and Macbeth, ya know? That's why I was so glad to find a comedy being produced this year.

So, for those who have asked "How do you do it?" regarding homeschooling in general, this is an example of how I throw something at the kids.

First of all it helped that I had a goal. By the end of June I wanted the kids and I to be comfortable with Shakespeare's language, the plot and characters of Twelfth Night, and have some understanding of the historical context of Shakespearean times. Why the end of June? That's when we get to go see the live performance!

First I did a little poking around. I found Twelfth Night, by Leon Garfield, illustrated by Ksenia Prytkova at the library. It was a fantastic introduction to the play - a much abbreviated cartoon book that gave us the gist of the plot and characters with lots of visuals to grab the kids attention.

I also found the much touted Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb on audio at NetLibrary. Now this was a lucky find for us, but not in the way I expected. I found the stories to be watered down and almost boring. It left out the witches' "Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble " verses in Macbeth. That's a terrible oversight. It's worth the whole bloody play just for that scene. In addition, the language was archaic (having been written at the turn of the 19th century) yet had little to no Shakespearean phrasing or flow. For my (over) sensitive kids though, this was perfect! The tragedies were so watered down that nearly all the emotion was taken out and the kids could get through the stories. By the end of the book the boys were predicting whether it was a tragedy or a comedy within the first few scenes of each story. "It's a tragedy. There's a character with ambition." or "This must be a comedy Mom! It's got twins and women cross dressing."

Next we listened to a Recorded Books "Shakespeare Appreciated Production of Twelfth Night" downloaded from Netlibrary. This was fantastic. It had a woman narrating, with actors playing each role. The narrator set the scene as if we were watching the play in Shakespearean times and interrupts the play to explain word uses and historical context. Now, if you want a watered down version, this isn't for you. Shakespeare was rather bawdy. If you object to an explanation of how "my golden rod" really means penis, or how one character was really calling another character "urine face", or how a male sea captain falls in love with a rescued boy, then you should probably skip this. I have 3 UU boys though, and they thought all this quite hilarious. In addition, since the actors were really saying the lines as written, the kids got a taste of Shakespeare's true genius. As my 10 yo said, "He uses a lot of the same stories, but he says it different every time"

Now I could stop there. We are ready to see the play and enjoy it without getting too lost. But I still have some resources I haven't gotten around to yet. There's the audio of Edith Nesbit's "Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare" we got off of Librivox. There's "Shakespeare's Greatest Hit's" by Bruce Coville from the library. There's "Shakespeare Stories" by Leon Garfield, illustrated by Micheal Foreman. There are all the books about Shakespeare himself, about the Globe Theatre, about the Elizabethan era .... Well, you get the idea. We might take a break, but we will never be done with Shakespeare!

1 comment:

April said...

Follow up on Twelfth Night -
It was great! All 3 boys laughed out loud in places, totally got the innuendo (not sure that's totally a good thing...)and told me after that they were glad to have seen it, and when can they see Shakespeare performed again? Yea!