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.

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Date Someone Who Reads

Date Someone Who Reads

“Finding someone who reads is like dating a thousand souls.”
Yeah, but when I look in your eyes I feel my souls scatter
Like marbles
Running away from unsupportive hands
You couldn’t possibly catch me
My souls, my drift, my hint, the line I’m dropping or what I’m thinking
Too confused by the thousand souls speaking to “catch the nearest way”

“Finding someone who reads is like dating a thousand souls.”
But can you handle each one of them staring at you
Well aware that you dont understand their thousand and one mouths?

It Takes One to Know One

I have discussed the ways I’ve met inspiration before. How I’ve seen it tipping its hat to me in a back alley, or had it wait patiently outside my door while I pile books and boxes and sticks and cats up to keep it out, or smiling at me while it kept one finger on my writing hand. But I’ve never discussed what it feels like to run headlong into someone else’s moment of inspiration.

Anyone who has written fiction themselves can  probably can recognize the moment where inspiration steps in and asks them to write something outrageous. It’s those instances where inspiration tells a writer to make their staid and reserved lead character break out into song in the middle of a boardroom meeting or to spontaneously begin speaking French without prior reference to them being bilingual. And while I have had those moments myself, it is interesting to get a taste of another writer’s strange moment.

The best example I have of peaking in on someone else’s inspiration detour comes from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The moment comes  at the end of the confrontation at the hotel and contains a subtle sort of disturbance in the flow of the story-one I could neither say was wrong or right, but had to pay attention to.

“After a moment Tom got up and began wrapping the unopened bottle of whiskey in the towel.

‘Want any of this stuff? Jordan?…Nick?’

I didn’t answer.

‘Nick?’ He asked again.

‘What?’

‘Want any?’

‘No…I just remembered that today’s my birthday.’”

When I read this for first time, I remember literally dropping the book, folding my arms and waiting for the text to explain to me why we had taken this turn.  And I may be wrong, but I believe this is a moment the author was not expecting.

I believe this is a situation where the character, Nick Carraway, had something to say that even his creator, F. Scott Fitzgerald, hadn’t been aware of. It is a sense of honest revelation to both the characters and the writer that makes it the perfect candidate for a creation of inspiration.

Now, that does not mean that my opinion is at all truth. I have never done any research into the matter and am not sure if Fitzgerald would have admitted it if he had been surprised by his own writing. But I do know that sometimes one recognizes “the glance of a curious sort of  bird” because they themselves have been that bird. And it’s in those incredible moments that a writer can find solace in the midst of the eternal struggle between what wants to be said versus what needs saying.

 

Fairy Tales

“I guess no one cares for fairy tales,”
said Little Red to her wolfy friend.

And The Wolf said “I guess they think there’s no need. They have what the movies said.”

And Little Red put her hand on his back and ruffled it through his fur.
“If they’d get to know us, they’d see it’s different,” she said with a tear in her voice.
“It’s not all sugar and music.
Even the Mermaid plunged to her death
First with a knife like Juliet and then to the sea.”

“And nevermind what the hunter does to me…”

Red patted his head and gave him a look of apology. “If people would only look us up they’d see we have a bit more meat.”

The Wolf licked her face and crossed his front paws.
“Perhaps that is the problem,”
said he.

The Case of the Half-Completed Canon

So, I recently finished the last of the only four Sherlock Holmes novels. And while I still have something like 60 short stories to catch up on, I think four books worth of reading counts as half the canon.  After all of this reading, I am amazed at how much time Doyle spends in America. When you’re looking forward to adventures in a country that is not your own, you feel a bit cheated when you think you’ve bought a ticket for a foreign place and the plane drops you off at home. But, being that Doyle wasn’t really writing for an American audience, it makes sense. America was, at one time, considered as wild and exotic as any other place on Earth, even in the eyes of its own people. And though not fraught with tigers, fictional America was apparently simply riddled with gun-toting murderers and men with incredible personal histories who, after their grand and sordid American adventures, somehow found themselves in England.

Below is a very short list of things I found notable or interesting, all entirely subjective.

Most memorable moment which occurred while reading the books: My mother calling Sherlock Holmes a bastard.

Most memorable moment which occurred within the books: Can’t say without spoiling the story for other people, but it was in Baskervilles.

Favorite of the four novels: The Hound of the Baskervilles
So far, this story is unrivaled by any of the other Holmes stories. It is a delightful walk along the border of the supernatural and the mundane. It more satisfying than some Gothic novels for ambiance and horror and also adequately detective-y. And it’s an intriguing story when you take Conan Doyle’s relationship with the supernatural into account; it makes you wonder how much of the story is an argument between his personal beliefs and the reason-bound character he created.

Second favorite book: The Sign of the Four
It’s a good old-fashioned adventure. Mystery, romance, and a brief cameo by a slow-worm. Who can say no to that?