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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Gateway to Shakespeare

Schooling does nothing for Shakespeare. The system most of us were taught under has turned the works of the Bard into something that is, at best, to be yawned at, at worst, to be avoided like the plague!

We may even feign to be interested, or even well-versed in his plays in order to impress others, or at least so as not to appear "ignorant." Yet we would never spend our spare time engaged in reading plays that put us to sleep!

I remember reading Julius Caesar in class, along with Romeo and Juliet, and feeling as lost as lost can be. Teachers raved, and quoted, and forced us to memorize, but there were so many other things I would rather have been doing!

It is a sad thing that two of the most tragic of Shakespeare's works were forced upon me and my classmates, and that they were presented in such horrid ways. How awful it was to be placed in a circle and hear his words murdered in a thousand different ways as we attempted to read his plays out loud!

Here at home we have watched various renditions of his works, with varied results. The Hamlet we viewed the other day, starring Sir Lawrence Olivier, was received with indifference, as was Julius Caesar (and older version, I have to admit) when we watched it some months ago (my favorite Hamlet is the one with Mel Gibson).

But there is one movie that always captures the attention of my children; The Taming of the Shrew, with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Now, I know this would never fly in a politically-correct public schoolroom, but the laughter it renders here makes the rafters shake!

After the movie was over, I dug out our own copies of the play and began reading the familiar lines out loud, which led to rounds of even more laughter, and the children walked around for the next few days with pithy quotes flowing from their lips.

Why study Shakespeare, you might ask?

Here are some of the reasons why we study the Bard's works:

  • Besides the Bible, his works are the bestsellers of the Western world
  • The plots are timeless, and you will see them repeated often in modern literature, plays, movies, etc.
  • Shakespeare knew human nature well, and his plays are often instructive
  • One of our favorite Christian writers and teachers, A. W. Tozer, studied Shakespeare, always beginning on his knees and asking the Holy Spirit to teach him how to communicate better through his studies.
  • Shakespeare had a way with words, and so studying his ways helps us to become better with our own English language.
  • We will come across quotes from Shakespeare in numerous places in our lives, so it is good to be at least familiar with where they have come from
  • McGuffey thought them worthy enough to be included in his readers
  • Charlotte Mason recommended them

Of course, the archaic language can be confusing and our lack of understanding can bar us from the many benefits we may gain. This is why a good synopsis of the different plots can be immensely helpful. For this purpose we have the book, Tales of Shakespeare, by Charles and Mary Lamb. These condensed stories are short, so that even young children may find them interesting. My daughter, Sarah, naturally picked up this book in her free time, and there is a waiting list of children who want to read it next.

Children who are allowed to read Shakespeare for pure enjoyment find it very pleasing. When my older children were little we sat around and read The Taming of the Shrew together a few times, before we ever saw the movie, and my older daughters left with stacks of paper-back copies of his plays which they purchased with their own money.


  1. I love "The Taming of the Shrew!" It is so hilarious! I never realized that it had been made in to a movie. I'll have to look at that for my kids :)

    1. This particular play is so lively that they did very little to in the film adaptation, but the actors did such a superb job of "hamming it up", that it is even funnier!

  2. Totally agree - and I love you clearly but simply explain the value of studying Shakespeare.

    1. Thanks, Tina, I didn't realize how very many reasons there were until I began typing them!