Things I Love: Shakespeare

I've loved Shakespeare's comedies for a long time. I remember watching my first Shakespeare play with my aunt, uncle and grandmother when I was twelve years old (Twelfth Night with Helen Hunt on PBS) and thinking it was awesome. My mother took me to a local college's production of that same play a year or two later and it was just as funny. One summer my best friend and I watching the Kenneth Branaugh version of Much Ado about Nothing several dozen times (No, I'm not exaggerating. We watched it several times a week all summer until we could recite almost the whole thing along with the actors...and started using code names for people around us based on the characters in the show. And yes, I was clearly a nerd but I don't attempt to deny it.)

I didn't think I'd like the tragedies. Or I didn't think I did. I'd heard too many high school peers complain about Romeo and Juliet and the idea of watching or reading about a story where everyone dies was not appealing. Then last year, I read Macbeth with a group and actually liked it. This year, we read Hamlet and I adored it (I also adored David Tennant as Hamlet but that's a different nerdy story). So I would have felt comfortable saying I love Shakespeare a couple months ago.

Early exposure is good but you can take this too far. Here Norah Jane demonstrates that 3 months is too early for Hamlet by sleeping right through it. 

But I think you don't truly know how much you like something until you get the opportunity to teach it, to your own kids or others. I was so excited about experience Lucy's first encounter with Shakespeare together. SO EXCITED! And that enthusiasm paid off I think.

I started us off by adding a passage of A Midsummer Night's Dream into our recitation (memory work). I won't lie, this part didn't go well at the very beginning. She's a perfectionist and ran from the room crying. And I had only read three lines! But I neglected a very important step with Lucy. When I say she's a perfectionist, I mean she is so to the 100th degree. I wish I could add that I don't know where she gets that trait because it is ALL ME. Sorry my child, if I could have picked a trait of mine to shield you from, that would have ranked way up there but alas, it is what it is. So whenever we do ANYTHING that she won't immediately be able to do (like every time we turn the page in our piano book, every time I introduce a new topic in math, etc), I have to do "the speech."

"The Speech" is my going over 1) what is the point of this? To learn! I don't expect you to know it now or we wouldn't have to take time to LEARN it. 2) Am I going to get mad if you don't do it right? NO! We just need to stay calm and be patient with ourselves so we can have fun and LEARN. I can say this speech now without even thinking about it. So can she :-) But it works.

So I went back, did "the speech" and she came back to the table. We talked a bit more about how people love how Shakespeare used words and that he did a really good job at using them to make his plays interesting and fun and to make you think but that they were like poems. And what do we know about poems? Lucy: "We sometimes have to listen to them more than once to understand!" (The poetry version of the "speech" that I have given her more than once as well). After that, things went just fine. We added a line every few days and I explained what it meant (with some help from How to Teach Your Child Shakespeare - a good resource although I don't follow his plan exactly). And whenever we started table time, she'd tell me, "Oh, can't we do Shakespeare before Bible? How about before our song?" while Jonah fussed - "No, we have to do them in the right order! That's not the right order!"

The next week, we started learning the story. AO Year 1 officially recommends Lambs or Nesbit's but our library has several of Bruce Coville's picture book versions of Shakespeare plays that I've heard at least one AO auxiliary member recommend so we will be using those when we can. Both kids enjoyed it a lot.

We also mixed up narrations a bit and had Lucy make paper dolls for each character. She colored them just like the picture book and I wrote the names on the back which helped us a lot when we were trying to figure out who was who (hermia vs. helena confused even me at times). So the first few days of reading, we only got one or two pages done because we'd stop with each description and make the doll. But after that it sped up and she was able to narrate quite well. I did insist that she not take the dolls away to play with until after we finished the book (they are currently on her bedside rain gutter bookshelf, right by her head).

That all would have been fun by itself but as luck would have it, Craig noticed that one of the library's in the city was having a showing of A Midsummer Night's Dream as a family event! So last Saturday, off we went.

Getting excited! No really, I know it doesn't really look like it but we are all really excited. 

I wasn't sure what to expect, quality-wise, but it turned out to be the educational tour of Shakespeare Festival St. Louis and it was really great. I knew they were putting on A Midsummer Night's Dream for their summer's Shakespeare in the Park event and I had planned for us to go but had no idea they had an educational troupe that puts on a shortened kid friendly version of the year's play. I hope this can become a yearly event for us. We were all laughing out loud. Even Norah did pretty well. They kept the house lights on so she had lots of people to watch although she did cry at Bottom once. He was loud and a bit ass-like so it's only to be expected for her to be afraid. But the actors did a great job engaging the kid. At one point, a little boy in the back yelled out to Puck "That's the wrong guy!"

Lucy's reciting her second favorite Shakespeare memory selection

Lucy's already asked if we can go see it again - and I said, "Yes! This summer at the park!" And while she was doing her math this morning, I overheard her whispering to herself, "Lord, what fools these mortals be." Perhaps she was having trouble with her addition? And she's asked for a Shakespeare birthday party. I had already told her we weren't having a friends party this year but she told me she'd wait until she turned 7. I'm thinking maybe we could have a little celebration on April 23 to celebrate dear old William's birthday although I'm still racking my brain for what ti actually do for a children's Shakespeare party. But it sounds fun!

Getting to share something I love with my kids and seeing them love it too is one of my absolute favorite parts of homeschooling and parenting. Hmm, I guess this post is really about two things I love! We start our second play/story next week and I can't wait.

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