Thursday, June 6, 2019

My Year with Shakespeare

This is not my first experience with Shakespeare, but I have only ever read children's versions. However, this is my first experience with Shakespeare in its original language and format. To complicate matters...I read it with my children, ages 14, 11, and 10. These are the plays we read for the school year. By the way, we assigned ourselves characters and read our lines accordingly, sometimes willingly, sometimes under duress. 

Macbeth
Published 1623

So Macbeth was absolutely too violent for young ears; said child did not even watch a film edition with us when we were done reading the play. She is exceptionally sensitive to these issues, and that is understandable. The other two enjoyed the story of Macbeth, once it started to make sense. For my own sanity, I often used a resource to help us comprehend what we read. 

Obviously violence is a theme of Macbeth, and so is fate. Sadly, the main character Macbeth started off as a good general, but he became zealous when he heard a prophecy about his future that he would be rewarded a title and power; thereafter, he schemed with his wife to take control of his own fate and force the result, getting so caught up in their selfish desire, creating such terror and permitting the prophecy to come true after all, though not as they had expected. 

I have to be frank: it really was frightening to see the evil scheme unravel and cause so many others dread and fear. But in the end Macbeth and his wife received their rightful payment for their plot and restitution was given to the one Macbeth owed. 


Twelfth Night
Published 1623

Twelfth Night was not murderous or violent, but extremely confusing and meant to be silly. And the silliest character of them all, the clown, is also the wisest. Pay attention to him whenever he joins the set. Characters in this play are not who you think they are, unless you follow easily; there is a lot of cross dressing and name changing. It was like doing algebra...my brain hurt. 

Although Shakespeare broke a lot of protocol for playwrights in his day, he cleverly cleaned up the confusion in the end. But over all, he is no different than artists today who pressure the status quo, provoke thoughts, and influence the culture.

We watched a film edition of this play, and it was really weird. Not surprised at all.


Othello
Published 1622

Finally, we read Othello, and I knew this was one of the more controversial plays to read with young children. We skimmed over the disputable sections, though much of the context went over their heads. Whew. 

A major theme of this play is envy and jealousy. One man, Iago, ruins so many lives because of his greedy desire to be more important than everyone else. Though Othello is the object of his hate, Iago spreads lies and defames anyone involved with Othello. The frustrating thing is that we are not sure why he hates Othello, who is a righteous man. Is he motivated by racism, envy, jealousy, or even lust? We never find out. But like Macbeth, the evil scheme spreads like cancer and causes such horrible results. Unfortunately, there is no retribution here. It was literally a mess.

Aside from the mess, I found this play easy to read and understand. Reading aloud was smoother than the previous two plays. And no, we did not watch a film version of this play. Of course.


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So...why read Shakespeare in the original format and language? Because it is like learning a new language, such as Latin. It is like physical exercise for your cranium. It is challenging, and young people should be challenged. It is too bad Shakespeare is not required reading in grade school. 

For fun, here is a skit from Kiss Me Kate, called "Brush up Your Shakespeare." 

21 comments:

Laurie @ RelevantObscurity said...

Twelfth Night is one of my favorites and I agree that reading and acting in the original is the way to go. With an annotated text it is interesting to see how English words and their meanings have changed over the centuries. Are you still doing this project? As you Like It is really good (and my very favorite)!

Ruth said...

Yes, next year we are planning to read A Midsummer Night's Dream and Hamlet, but I will take a look at As You Like It. Hamlet is really long, and it will take us two terms to get through.

Ruth said...

Laurie, so I took a look at the summary of As You Like It, and while it is at least 100 pages shorter than Hamlet, it seems similar to Twelfth Night. My kids and I were so absolutely confused keeping everyone straight with all of their name changes and cross dressing. So I think we'll have to put that one off for a few years. :D

Laurie @ RelevantObscurity said...

That totally makes sense.

If a live production ever comes your way, As You Like It is really fun to see in person. Seeing it live would help keep characters straight, too!

Hamlette said...

Ahhhh, Shakespeare. I don't read as much of him as I ought to. Somehow, I just get sucked back into Hamlet over and over and over, heh. I can't wait for my kids to be old enough that we can do table reads of his works together!

Ruth said...

That would be great! I would love it.

Ruth said...

Do you guys read children's versions? We've read so many kid's versions already. There are even fun picture books w/ beautiful illustrations that soften Shakespeare's stories. They are still fun to read. But, yeah, reading the play format is not easy, nor is his language.

Paula Vince said...

I haven't read Shakespeare since school and Uni, but do remember how rewarding the plots are, after making the effort to get my head around the original language. Good on your kids for having a go! So well worth it.

Ruth said...

Right. It's like exercise. Exhausting during; rewarding afterward. : P

Hamlette said...

Yes, a friend gave us a perfectly marvelous boxed set of retellings of I think 20 of his plays a couple years ago. My two older kids have read all of those. I think I might have my son try the Charles & Mary Lamb retellings for 6th grade.

Ruth said...

We have those, too, (Charles and Mary Lamb) and another author of retellings. My kids love them, too.

Anonymous said...

Greetings and Salutations Ruth,
It's Dean again. Heavens! You and me are so much alike...apart from the female/male thing of course. We could even be twins! It sounds as if our sense of humor, our patience with stupid, and our dismay with the culture are exactly alike. It would be such a blessing if you guys lived next door to us. I think I've read everything related to the Holocaust, I find it such interesting reading. As far as The Count Of Monte Cristo; I've read it three times and love it more with every read! This particular novel was not daunting to me, unlike Middlemarch or War and Peace, although I'm glad I read them too. Our house also reads Shakespeare for homeschool with mixed reviews from the kids. We try to use the original language but oft times resort to easier reading. We also read the Red Badge Of Courage. I too had to read this when I was in school during the Jurassic period! I still like it very much! I'll be reading Don Quixote for the FIRST TIME in about two weeks! I've been meaning to read it for years. It makes me happy that you're planning to tackle A Midsummer Night's Dream. That is my very favorite of the Shakespeare offerings. I'll be interested to hear if you liked it. You didn't know this...well how could you, we never really talk about these things: but my youngest little guy, he's 11. He is also an excellent classical pianist! He recently just finshed his first guild, we haven't gotten their feed back yet, but scholarships are possible. This too you'll absolutely love! Our oldest daughter, born January 1999 is a professional ballerina! She's been dancing since she was 5. She just finished up the ballet season with the Cincinnati Ballet. She's home for the summer teaching dance and Pilates and then perhaps next season she'll be on to Chicago to a Christian Ballet Co. called Ballet 5:8 https://www.ballet58.org/ She's not sure if she'll accept the position yet, but at least it's an option. I'm not sure we're ready for her to move away for good, but her dream has always been to dance. I think I already told you this but we too have 5 children! See, twins! It's good to read your words. If you'd like you can delete this long message, I won't be offended. If I started a blog on Blogspot, would you read it? Have a lovely week!

Ruth said...

Hi, Dean,

It is amazing how many things our families have in common.

I looked into that Ballet Co., and passed it on to my 14-year old who definitely wants to be a professional ballet dancer or teacher. That's very exciting for your daughter. I hope my daughter has similar opportunities. She started rather late (age 8) and she didn't begin with very good instruction until we moved to a better school.

My kids did a Midsummer Night's Dream performance a few years ago w/ our homeschool group. It was hysterical. We had to adjust it for our group and kept it under 30 minutes; it was so much fun. But it will be our first time reading it in the original language.

I'll be interested to see what you think about Don Quixote, if you do start a book blog and review it. Let me know if you do!

Joseph said...

Some wonderful works here....kudos for sharing em with the kiddos. And Oh My Goodness....thanks for the marvelous video from Kiss me Kate.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Joseph...this year we'll be reading A Midsummer Night's Dream and Hamlet. My 10-yr old is really protesting already! It's going to be a challenge.

And you're welcome. Every time I watch the video I crack up, but I don't think I should be laughing. Then again, Kiss Me Kate is a little racy.

Anonymous said...

Hello Ruth,
Well I've managed to start another blog. We'll see how it goes this time. I'm not going to pressure myself unduly with this site. It's just a place to pen my thoughts and perhaps my drawings and paintings with no unrealistic posting schedule. In fact, unless someone sees this comment, no one will even know my blog exists. There's a strange sort-of solace in that. Please feel free to visit and comment as you see fit, no pressure on you either. Here's the link.
https://frequentlyoverbooked.weebly.com/

Anonymous said...

By the way, I forgot to tell you that I really like your new blog header!
Dean

Ruth said...

Great name! Aren't we all "overbooked?" I can't wait to read your first post. (After I make pancakes for breakfast. It's our last day of individual freedom before we start our new school year on Monday. And as it is...I'm already running late!) : D

Ruth said...


Thank you! I had a lot of fun designing it.

Amy Aline said...

I also highly suggest As You Like It! I really liked Twelfth Night as well. I'm, personally, not a huge fan of either A Midsummer Night's Dream nor The Taming of the Shrew. I read all four the back to the classics challenge! It's been fun reading other people's reviews on Shakespeare.

Ruth said...

Hi, Amy, We did Twelfth Night, but not As You Like It. Right now we are doing A Midsummer Night's Dream, and we are almost done reading it. A long time ago, we did a kid's version for the play and they had so much fun with it. I do need to read the Taming of the Shrew.