Last month I wrote about a 5-step plan for introducing Shakespeare to my kids. It’s what we did last year with three plays and what we’re doing again this year.
Just today I heard my 9-year-old wandering around the house muttering, “murder most foul” and “O, my prophetic soul” to himself – Shakespeare has great mouth-feel.
In my original Shakespeare for Kids post, I wrote:
Shakespeare was written in order to be seen, scripted in order to be performed. Shakespeare wrote popular entertainment, not philosophical treatise. We can draw out deep themes and discuss grand philosophy using monologues and plots we find in Shakespeare, but we should never study Shakespeare to the exclusion of simply enjoying the fun of Shakespeare – Shakespeare was meant to be fun.
So this is my plan to introduce Shakespeare simply as great stories. In the elementary grades we don’t delve into themes and tropes and grand discussions, we just enjoy Shakespeare for the stories and the spectacles.
So far, this approach is working.
This week I’ll lay out what exactly we used for the plays we have done so far, and after we do other plays as the years go on, I will add them to the collection.
Shakespeare for Kids: Taming of the Shrew
I think Taming of the Shrew makes a great first play to introduce Shakespeare to Kids. It’s not a weird or convoluted story; there’s plenty of slap-stick humor and superficial interpersonal conflict that kids completely understand; and the grownups behave outrageously, which seems to amuse children.
Step 1: Introduce Taming of the Shrew
If you want to start of with a brief biography of Shakespeare and his historical setting, Bard of Avon by Diane Stanley is a great one.
It was rather difficult finding a good picture book version of Taming of the Shrew, but this comic book style rendition fit the bill: Taming of the Shrew (Shakespeare for Everyone)
Step 2: Memorize Taming of the Shrew Famous Lines
For Taming of the Shrew, I picked Kate’s speech:
The more my wrong, the more his spite appears.
What, did he marry me to famish me?
Beggars that come unto my father’s door
Upon entreaty have a present alms;
If not, elsewhere they meet with charity;
But I, who never knew how to entreat,
Nor never needed that I should entreat,
Am starv’d for meat, giddy for lack of sleep;
With oaths kept waking, and with brawling fed;
And that which spites me more than all these wants-
He does it under name of perfect love;
As who should say, if I should sleep or eat,
‘Twere deadly sickness or else present death.
I prithee go and get me some repast;
I care not what, so it be wholesome food.
I’ll attend her here,
And woo her with some spirit when she comes.
Say that she rail; why, then I’ll tell her plain
She sings as sweetly as a nightingale.
Say that she frown; I’ll say she looks as clear
As morning roses newly wash’d with dew.
Say she be mute, and will not speak a word;
Then I’ll commend her volubility,
And say she uttereth piercing eloquence.
If she do bid me pack, I’ll give her thanks,
As though she bid me stay by her a week;
If she deny to wed, I’ll crave the day
When I shall ask the banns, and when be married.
For 5-6 weeks with one play, two selections is plenty. We don’t practice any phrases or one-liners systematically, but generally a few will stand out in the natural course of events and I’ll try to bring them up again in an inside-joke sort of way – because the point isn’t really to memorize Shakespeare, but to love him.
For my part, I love the line “I come to wive it wealthily in Padua; If wealthily, then happily in Padua.” So I often used that quote when transitioning to our Shakespeare portion when we were doing Taming of the Shrew.