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 howtoteachyourchildrenshakespeare.com, 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.

 

Learn More: Here and Here

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

Doran’s Talent

First order of business: The office has changed its name, but I am keeping my desk.

Don’t touch it. The desk is mine.

Second order of business, as promised, this week’s post is Part Two of a two part series on the effects of inspiration (or lack of it) on writing. Last week’s piece was an example of poetry written through inspiration. Today’s piece is an example of prose written without it.

This story was written for a competition and I went into it grumbling and arguing with myself, convinced I could make nothing of the writing prompt I was given. When I began, the first few lines I wrote were angry ones, petulant ones; they were the writing equivalent of throwing a fit. But as I stubbornly continued to write, even through the fit, I began to find satisfaction in creating it.

I apologize for it being so long, I understand what time means in the digital world. However, I wished to present you with what amounts to the director’s cut, what it was before I had to edit it down to meet the terms of the prompt.

Ladies and gentlemen, for your entirely objective and scientific (not really) reading pleasure: a piece born without inspiration…

Doran’s Talent

He rolled up his sleeves and dipped his arms into a cardboard box of hardback books, his eyes flashing to a 19th century painting titled “The Witch’s Daughter” inset into one of the covers

It was Samhuinn-an important night for his family-but he wasn’t going to join the festivities. He was busy, he told himself, unpacking in his new apartment. He had a lot of work to do and there was no way he could go to the festival now, especially after he said no. Especially after the conversation he had with his great aunt on the phone…

She had told him not to worry, that even though Colleen was coming to town and bringing her coven of dozens along with her, he was still needed. He was still missed. And what about what he needed and would miss, she asked? He had planned to come before Colleen announced her visit…

But no-he was busy. He had a lot to do…This is what he told himself to drown out the October wind and everything it said to him louder than his own thoughts or his Aunt’s words. And it was saying it louder and louder as the hours progressed.

Doran dropped the stack of books on his desk and leaned with his fists on either side of them. If he was going to get through the night, he was going to have to stop thinking about the festival. And he had to stop listening to the wind.

He took a deep breath and lightly tapped one of the crystal orbs that sat supported by candlesticks and bookends all around his desk to ground him. While he had never shown any talent for scrying, he had an attraction to the tools. He found comfort in the glowing orbs and their shining surfaces, liked how the world looked through them and how light slid over them. It was a comfort to have them on his desk in this town where he had no family and where he was the only one to hear the wind call.

Doran sat down in his squeaky leather swivel chair and opened the first book on the stack he had removed from the box, planning to bury his mind in the antique type and engravings, but the words and pictures couldn’t penetrate the constant murmur that was the wind. Stubbornly, he kept staring at the book, his leg bobbing up and down with nervous energy like a needle on a sewing machine as he tried to ignore the wind.

He clapped the book shut. It was no use.

The wind hushed and whispered like a hundred barely audible radios all around him.

Doran raised his eyes and tried changing his focus to the newest addition to his collection of shining orbs. It was a clock captured in glass and suspended from a delicate chain, the whirring and twisting of its gears magnified and warped by their housing and he wondered: does light bend time?

Thankful for the distraction, he let the thought roll through his mind: Does light bend time…does light bend time…does light bend time…

“IT’S TIME.”

The October wind cut right through his thoughts, blowing in his room under his front door and raking through his hair with cold, incorporeal fingers.

He closed his eyes and let his head drop back on his chair. He knew it was time, yes, of course he knew it. But he wasn’t coming, couldn’t face his great aunt’s sister and her swooning followers appropriating his family’s tiny, heartfelt festival with their superficial revelries and showy outfits. He couldn’t do it…

“IT’S TIME.”

The smell of the cold in the breeze tugged at his heart and he sighed, turning his head to the door as if he expected the wind to step in. For a while, the only sound was the ticking of Doran’s sphere-clock counting the seconds he stared into the invisible air.

Doran stood and crossed the room.

The French doors to his narrow balcony rattled as he lifted the latch and stepped out, the light of a waning quarter moon pouring over him. The wind pushed at his back, rushing at him through his room because the wind knew what was next.

Doran lifted one foot and then the other up to the inch-wide metal banister around his balcony and stood on top of it. The metal pressed through his shoes and into the place where his heels ended and arches began; It was all that supported him as he balanced a hundred feet above earth, the city even further below him, spread out in a field of star-like orange lights in the valley.

“Ooo, it’s time,” the wind whispered as it rushed past him into the night, drawing part of the breath from his lungs as it went.

From his perch, Doran looked once more at the city with the eyes of man obeying the rules of science. He withdrew his hands from his waistcoat pockets, letting them fall to his sides. He closed his eyes and exhaled pointing his chin sky-ward. He forgot everything about his body as the air rushed past his ears and let himself remember what it was to be part of the October wind.

The tips of his toes left the railing last as he rose towards the moon.

So, fellow pseudo-scientists, I turn to you. At the end of our first experiment, how does it measure up? Is the absence of inspiration tangible? Or are the results inconclusive?

In lieu of an answer, I say we strip off our goggles, turn on the black lights, throw on some Bach, and watch the specimens glow.