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.


Learn More: Here and Here

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


X, Y and V: is for Vampire

“I am not the spirit of any age, I am at war with everything.”
-Louis, Interview with the Vampire 1994

“It’s gonna be the kinda thing to infect a generation.”
-Jason Dean, Heathers

They call it a Generation Gap, the time between one generation and the generation it gives birth to which is presumably just enough room to make sure the birthing generation has no hope of ever understanding the generation it fosters. I am generation Y…I watched my compatriots fall to the lure of Napolean Dynamite and saw the end of the apostraphe (it’s a “high comma” now, for those of you not in the know) for the youngest Millenials. I have never known a time without computers, televisions, scrunchies or cars and I have to wonder what effect that will have on my art.

My mother has a way of elucidating things. Freakonomics is a primer for the shit she could tell you, the connections she could make and I have a thing for vampires. Before you blow the whistle on my grammar, understand that this is relevant.

If you want to be a successful teacher, you must teach in a way your pupil understands. It won’t do you any good to jump up and down screaming at your class in German if all they know now is Swahili (lovely language, by the way)…you will never successfully communicate. The key is context, relevance, and interest (and this does NOT mean showing Casino to a classroom full of Hospitality students. I am not giving you permission to show movies in class, or to have your students build a pyramid out of sugar cubes when you’re lecturing about the Middle Kingdom). My mother understands this and has often used relevant moments as an opportunity to teach.

Now for the relevance, the example, and the vampires…

The Lost Boys  is one of my favorite movies. One evening, it was on TV and prompted a discussion.

“See,” my mother says to me and my brother “this is the eighties, but these are fifties kids.”

And I look at her blankly and nod, assuring her that I am listening, but not that I understand. And she explains.

“These aren’t 80’s kids, this isn’t how we were,” she says waving her hand at David and co. “The leather jackets, the motorcycles, the secret hangout, this is  The fucking Wild One. This script was written by some kid who was little in the fifties and to whom Marlon Brando was the coolest thing. So when he tries to write about the cool kids of the 80’s, the edgy, dangerous, lawless, godless, lost boys, you get The Wild One. But they aren’t entirely godless,” she says. “Who is their god?”

She puts the question to us, looking to each one of her children, creating the peculiar sensation that we are in the most amazing and agreeable Sunday school ever. “Whose picture is hanging in the Lost Boys’ Batcave?” My brother and I are too stunned to remember, let alone answer. “Jim Morrison.” She nods once for emphasis and then shakes here head in disbelief. “Jim Morrison was not the role model of 80’s kids. He was associated with everything we hated about the 70’s, with Vietnam. No. Jim Morrison wasn’t in the pantheon.

This isn’t the eighties you’re seeing here, children,” she said nodding at the screen “this is the 50’s with late 60’s heroes and an 80’s soundtrack.”

And the conversation continued. “Now, there is Lost Boys 2. It is a terrible movie, but there’s your 80’s kids. Destruction of themselves and of their friends…they’re convinced they have no future because either the bomb or HIV is going to get them, but for some reason they’re still alive. They fear death but don’t want to die so they fucking cut their friends’ guts open and don’t blink when they get it back in spades. That’s 80’s kids. And they write it, the 80’s kid writes it, sets it in the Now and it has no-fucking-thing to do with the new audience. It has nothing to do with your people.”

My mother shakes her head at the television screen and I watch as a commercial for Portlandia drifts by reflected in her eyes.

My mind was blown. Through my mother’s analyzation of Pop culture vampires, I have just learned about the Generation Gap and how the values of the previous generation effect the newest one. Not that she hadn’t tried to explain it before, but this time, because it matched my interests, the concept clicked.

And I had a question. Considering the time it takes for the youngest generation to mature, inherit the earth, and start putting their own damage on it, twenty years from now what will the vampires produced by Generation Y look like? What tripe will they be passing off on generation, what, Z? ZPlus ?

“I know what your people eat up now,” she says in response to my question about the people I share a generation with. “Twilight. It’s not about family or friendship or camaraderie. It’s not even the gang/tribe mentality of Lost Boys. No one earns anything. Everyone is all powerful. Everyone thinks she’s (Bella) fabulous, everyone provides for her, everyone makes her decisions for her, she’s selfish and entitled. No sex before marriage, money is the measure of your value, creepy vampiric Mormonism. And that is what your generation has latched onto. But as to what your vampires will look like, what the vampires of your generation will be…”

The Three Dots filed in, the elipses, the “What”, the future…

“I don’t know,” she said after biting her lip in thought. “What is important to you? What is it that your generation doesn’t have that it wishes it could? What has scarred you? What’s lacking in your brand of humanity that vampirism might offer? And what have you been told is cool? What was cool when you were kids? All of this is going to determine how Gen Y vampires look, and god knows what that will be like.” She stopped talking and stared through the TV to the wall, but breathed in deeply when she remembered another contributing factor. “Oh god, and their parents!”

My mother made the delineation between my fellow Millenial’s parents and her children’s parents for more reason than the obvious. My schoolmates’ parents were Boomers, big time. The generation gap between them and their children was well-established, more of a chasm really. But that wasn’t true of my brother, myself and my parents. If you’ve been keeping track, you’ll remember I said my Mum is an 80’s kid, she found her double-digits between  Empire Strikes Back and The Little Mermaid. In short, she and my father are good, sturdy, fucked up, world-ruining, apocalypse-surviving, anarchy-supporting, death-of-the-future-bringing Generation X-ers (and I will forever be envious). They are the generation of Hackers, Reality Bites, Trainspotting, and Foxfire.

I’m Gen Y, they’re Gen X and there is no gap. We’re all children of the great big scary internet-based modern age.

So, what will that do to my vampires? My work?

I have some faith in the part of me that is Y and a little, not much, hope for my comrades. Discussions between my brother and I have proved that, even between grade levels, the mentality of Millenials differ. And there must be a few of us who reject the idea that we’re all soulless, self-centered gamers and walk the talk too. After all, while large groups present statistical certainties, “the individual man is an insoluble puzzle.”

So, to measure the difference in the generations, I for one will be looking for the teeth marks they leave on the world. What will give the next brood of vampires a fang-on, as my mother says? What will they sink their teeth into, what passion will inspire them? Or will it be passionless and tepid stuff?

I guess we’ll have to wait and see; time heals all wounds, but it’s the ones my creatures will make that I’m more concerned with.