How to Teach your Children Shakespeare: A Review

IF there were a Hitchhiker’s Guide to Teaching Shakespeare, this would be it. And on the cover, in big, friendly letters it would read “NO EMBARRASSMENT.”

How to Teach your Children Shakespeare is written by Ken Ludwig, a man with fantastic writing credits to his name (Lend Me A TenorTwentieth Century, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Game’s Afoot, etc. ), fantastic awards given for his success ( two Laurence Olivier Awards, two Helen Hayes Awards, the Edgar Award, the SETC Distinguished Career Award, the Edwin Forrest Award for Services to the Theatre) and an attachment to Shakespeare that reaches clear back to childhood. Yet, while reading How to Teach your Children Shakespeare, you would not think it was work of a man virtually pickled in all things Shakespeare and theatre. Ludwig’s approach to teaching Shakespeare is casual, informal and comforting and the reading experience is a sheer joy. Attempting to learn from it will not make you feel as though you’re going to have your knuckles rapped or your dessert with-held if you don’t get it right the first time.

Ludwig’s method is based on memorization of  Shakespeare. His goal is to create a familiarity with Shakespeare’s work and allow your child, or yourself, to have a mental library of quotes  at your disposal. As Mr. Ludwig says, “[t]o know some Shakespeare gives you a headstart in life.” The book itself is broken down into three parts, each part covering twenty-five different passages from Shakespeare’s work, explanations of characters, context and language. Ludwig instructs his readers to take the passages slowly, breaking each line into halves and gradually building the passage up from there, making certain you understand each word being spoken. As the book progresses, Ludwig holds your hand a little less and a little less assuming that, by the time you have reached the end of the book, you understand his method and the process you are to undertake in understanding and teaching.

Not only is the book a manual on teaching Shakespeare, it is also a resource for extra teaching materials. On top of the teaching aids he provides at, Ludwig includes lists of books, films, and audio recordings all suitable for deepening your understanding of Shakespeare. And while I cannot argue with what he has included in his lists (including Kenneth Branagh’s adaptations of Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing as well as Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet) I was a little disappointed by what he did not include. For example, in the category of films I would have definitely included Looking for Richard, the 1996 documentary film by Al Pacino that not only discusses Shakespeare’s  Richard III, but how we relate to Shakespeare today and how, specifically, Americans relate to it (or are allowed to relate to it) as a society. I would have also included My Own Private Idaho (a movie that is something of an interpretation of Henry IV which would be suitable for older children) and maybe, but just maybe, 10 Things I Hate About You (The Taming of the Shrew).

As a child of informal teachers, I appreciate Mr. Ludwig’s approach. It is not one of fear or forced reverence, but one of joy, confidence and exploration. He takes the time to explain the meanings of words, phrases, and passages that may be difficult to understand and never assumes a pedantic or tone. Quite simply, this book is made to teach and to encourage understanding , not to prove it’s authors credentials as a scholar or a writer.

So, what would I recommend?  Definitely read it. If you are even vaguely interested in Shakespeare, read it. Read it for pleasure even. If you find your summer beach reading a little too stuff-and-fluffy, but don’t necessarily want to weigh yourself down with The Complete Works of Shakespeare, take this lovely, wonderful, enjoyable light (and educational) read with you. Smile. Indulge. Wallow in the sweet joy that is Shakespeare’s work while you take in the sun and do a little good for your brain as well.

But, whatever you do, when the sun is gone and colder weather has set in, do yourself a favor and try his method out. Take the time to speak the passages out loud, to understand them, to learn them (NO EMBARRASSMENT, remember?). It may make Shakespeare a passion.


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*I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.