Shakespeare for the Younger Crowd: Part I

Note: Last week, while surveying North African history, we read a children’s version of Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra.” I was reminded of a post I wrote (but never ran) last year telling how we studied several Shakespeare’s plays. I decided to pull that post out of my dead blog post file, so here it is, slightly edited.

One of our most enjoyable school periods last year was our weekly “Shakespeare Hour.” Each Thursday afternoon we gathered to read the tales of kings, murderers, fairies, and mixed up suitors. My goal for this year was to gently introduce a number of Shakespeare’s plays to my younger children. (Though by the end of the year, we were having so much fun that even the oldest girls joined in, Kara teaching!)

You might be asking, “Why Shakespeare for elementary children?” That’s a good question! First, I believe that introducing material in the early years lays a strong foundation to build on in later years. For example, I teach our young ones chemistry, even though they do not know enough math to get into the seriously fun aspects. But by laying a foundation of chemistry concepts and vocabulary, when we get to “real” chemistry in high school, it will not all be brand new. My hope is that by exposing them to many of Shakespeare’s stories, reading the full plays in high school and beyond will be a joy and not intimidating. This has proven true for our oldest daughters.

Second, William Shakespeare’s inventive way with words ought not to be missed. “The bard” created nearly 2000 words, many of them now integral parts of our language like leapfrog excellent, gloomy and hint. Picturesque phrases of his we commonly use include “tongue-tied”, “green-eyed jealousy”, “suspected foul play”, “dead as a doornail”, “slept not one wink” and many, many more.

And then, Shakespeare was a master storyteller. He was equally skilled at writing comedy (gotta’ love those mixed up identities and misunderstood characters!), tragedy, and history. Some of the later plays are mixtures of these, creating comic-tragedies or “problem plays.”

But of all the reasons to teach Shakespeare, probably the best is because he was an excellent student of human nature. As Caesar says of Cassius, he was “a great observer.” Shakespeare offers a glimpse into the heart and motivations of man. Reading and discussing literature, and holding the heroes’ and heroines’ actions up to the looking glass of Scripture is the best way to teach worldview. Shakespeare, whose tales deal with jealousy, revenge, and ambition, love, friendship, and family, offers uncountable opportunities to dialog with your children about these matters, and elementary kids are up to beginning this task!

"One secret resource at a mother’s disposal for instructing a child’s conscience with ideas of goodness, pity, generosity, courage, and love (distinguishing frivolous whispers of love from true love, which labors long) is the plays of William Shakespeare. In the lines of his plays he metes our morsels of proverbs spoken by his characters, who entertain us thoroughly.”Karen Andreola, “Shakespeare – a Mother’s Secret Resource” – in A Charlotte Mason Companion
In my next post I’ll give you some ideas and tools for familiarizing young children with Shakespeare


Anna said…
Interesting....I'm looking forward to the next posts!

I've always hated Shakespeare, but you've definitely got me intrigued :)
Anne said…
Hi Anna -

Well, I for one, hate Romeo and Juliet, and I certainly prefer some of the plays over others.
Also, having studied little Shakespeare in high school and none in college, I've come to it pretty much with a blank slate, which in some twisted way could help.

Popular Posts