Shakespeare entered my children’s lives completely by accident. As I browsed through videos on demand, I came across “Shakespeare in Love”. Since I hadn’t heard of it, I paused to read a brief synopsis. My then 5-year-old walked in and tried to read the very funny word on the screen. When she finally managed, she asked what the word “Shakespeare” meant. Delighted, I dropped what I was doing and gave her a 10 minute lecture on who Shakespeare was. She smiled, nodded and walked away. Days later she recognized the funny name on one of our bookshelves.
Excited, she brought Julius Cesar and asked me to read it as she climbed on my lap. “I can’t” I told her, “you’re too little, and it’s far too complicated for you to understand, it will bore you!” But she insisted.
A little annoyed, I opened the book, and proceeded to summarize the story. She quickly jumped off my lap, and announced she would go back out to play, since I didn’t want to read to her.
That evening, as I recalled what had transpired, I felt like I had snuffed that little flame of excitement, and completely missed an opportunity to introduce her to someone who could one day become a great friend.
1. Shakespeare cannot be studied and understood in a year.
Many of Shakespeare’s themes are not exactly appropriate for children. The plots and language are complex. Most of us would never consider discussing either the themes or Shakespeare with a five-year-old.
I had dismissed my little girl’s interest, based on a personal bias that Shakespeare was not intended for children. Based on my belief that her little mind was not smart enough to analyze, disect and understand the context.
However, the idea of interpreting every word of the text is idiotic. Mason believed each individual would digest what he could, when he could.
“Shakespeare is not to be studied in a year; he is to be read continuously throughout life, from ten years old and onwards. But a child of ten cannot understand Shakespeare. No; but can a man of fifty? Is not our great poet rather an ample feast of which every one takes according to his needs, and leaves what he has no stomach for?” (Vol. 5, p. 226).
2. Shakespeare’s characters teach empathy, confidence and strength.
Charlotte Mason spoke about living books. Literature full of characters that came alive, written by authors who were passionate about their subject, and promoted living ideas.
Through the years we have laughed and sympathized with characters like Henry V, Brutus, Cinna the Poet, Olivia, Portia and so many others.
“We probably read Shakespeare in the first place for his stories, afterwards for his characters, the multitude of delightful persons with whom he makes us so intimate that afterwards, in fiction or in fact, we say, ‘She is another Jessica,’ and ‘That dear girl is a Miranda’; ‘She is a Cordelia to her father,’ and, such a figure in history, ‘a base Iago.’ To become intimate with Shakespeare in this way is a great enrichment of mind and instruction of conscience. Then, by degrees, as we go on reading this world-teacher, lines of insight and beauty take possession of us, and unconsciously mould our judgments of men and things and of the great issues of life” (Vol. 4, Book 2, p. 72).
Shakespeare, and his characters are a perfect illustration of what Charlotte Mason meant.
3. Shakespeare’s complex language calls for a new way of thinking.
In the beginning, we read Shakespeare in modern language, which made it easy for everyone to understand. However the beauty of the meaning was lost in translation.
Per many Charlotte Mason experts recommendations, we eventually switched our reading to the original language, which took months to learn and get used to, but we would never go back.
Furthermore, as Mason’s principle number 11 states:
“…the normal child has powers of mind which fit him to deal with all knowledge proper to him, give him a full and generous curriculum; taking care only that all knowledge offered him is vital, that is, that facts are not presented without their informing ideas.”
Shakespeare’s language expresses the character’s deep feelings and emotions.Since each of us sometimes has a handful of characters to portray, the tone implied by the language allows each one to become that character.
Also, like all great literature, Shakespeare’s playful use of language can inspire future writers.
How We Incorporate Shakespeare in Our Homeschool
We’ve implemented the Simply Charlotte Mason method of Shakespeare in 3 steps:
- Read the story.
- Hear the script.
- Watch the play.
By the time we’ve reached the last step, we know exactly what to expect and what to look for. This semester we are reading The Tempest and Macbeth, which will be performed at a nearby university over the summer (step 3).
You can check out some of our favorite Shakespeare resources, by clicking here.
Have you introduced Shakespeare to your children yet? Why or why not?
Don’t miss the rest of the Charlotte Mason Homeschooling series. Click here for a list of this month’s contributors.