We studied Hamlet in our homeschool last year – over 6 months ago – and the quotes still linger as part of our family culture.
Last month I was headed out the door with friends to spend a weekend away (hooray!) and the kids all started waving limply and wailing, “Adieu! Adieu! Remember me!”
Their new favorite answer to the question, “What are you reading?” is now, “Words, words, words, words.”
If you want quotable Shakespeare, Hamlet is your best bet. It is full of pithy one-liners and common phrases that have entered English parlance.
In my original Shakespeare for Kids post, I wrote:
You don’t have to wait for high school to do Shakespeare with your kids, and you don’t need to be homeschooling to study Shakespeare together. If you do any reading aloud or movie watching together, you can do Shakespeare together.
And even if all you want to do is read a picture book version and learn a line or two – that counts as introducing Shakespeare!
Step 1: Introduce Hamlet
If you want to begin first by introducing Shakespeare and his time and his theatre, William Shakespeare and the Globe by Aliki is a beautiful narrative book that makes a great read aloud in its own right.
For the “picture book” introduction, my absolute favorite is the version by Bruce Coville. It captures the essence of Hamlet, weaves in direct quotes, and is beautifully illustrated.
Step 2: Memorize Hamlet Famous Lines
Or, at least a handful. Hamlet reads nearly like a play of cliches, so many of the lines are famous.
We chose these two selections:
GHOST: I am thy father’s spirit,
Doomed for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away. But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison house,
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes like stars start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combinèd locks to part,
And each particular hair to stand an end
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine.
But this eternal blazon must not be
To ears of flesh and blood. List, list, O, list!
and Polonius’ lecture to his son:
Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledged comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!
Yes, there is the famous “to be or not to be” monologue in Hamlet, but it didn’t seem right to have 8-year-olds memorizing a contemplation of suicide. A ghost scaring us about purgatory, perhaps, but not suicide thoughts with knife in hand.