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  • Writer's pictureMelina Meador

Watching Shakespeare Plays With Children

This current school year I've been watching Shakespeare with our three children - ages 8, 6, and 4. It is selfish in some ways because I want to learn more about the plays themselves, and it's a thing that is easy to slip through cracks of days never to be recovered. It doesn't seem that important. So I added them to school to see if that made a difference.


It's been thoroughly enchanting and a surprise to see how much we are remembering them, talking about them, laughing and cringing over them together - it has made our Circle Time gathering quite zesty (more so at times than I ever hope for but watching Shakespeare is not without its hazards, more to come on this topic). We are just watching bits at a time as part of our school time that includes many subjects - history, art appreciation, geography, Spanish, science, literature and amazingly more - and we are wrapping up our 14th play. I had hopes to maybe hit 8 but we have been way more into it than I ever thought possible.


14!


That blows my mind truly. I hope I don't sound all self satisfactorily smug over here. "Oh yes, Shakespeare...we are just devouring Shakespeare in OUR homeschool!" Part of it has to be that it's on a screen, which is of course mesmerizing for the children, and also...well, Shakespeare's stories, even when you are not quite sure what is happening, are just so captivating. So it's a very easy part of school to enjoy.


Here are some helpful things I've learned that may help you if you so desire to have more Shakespeare in your life:


  1. Read a synopsis first. This way we at least have an idea of the main story. I primarily used Edith Nesbit's Shakespeare for Children.

  2. Choose a stage not a movie version. BBC has been the best quality but I have a couple of other productions that I enjoyed. The movie versions can make the horrific parts truly nightmare inducing. With the play there's a level of removal between the audience and the action.

  3. Tragedies are not for the faint of heart. The histories are superb, and the comedies laugh out loud. Even the four year old was laughing at times! And he's a normal guy. The tragedies are quite, er, um, tragic.


Our first play was King Lear. Not sure why but what a doozy to begin with. This is where I learned to preview a bit (though I didn't always and occasionally was terrified by what was happening onscreen.) At one point in this famous play (which again, I'd never seen or read all the way through) King Lear is tied up by his daughter and son-in-law who pop out his eyes. One can't really unsee the horror, though very fortunately the violence happens off camera but you still know what's happening and the rest of the play the poor guy wanders around blind with bloodstained cheeks.


I'm not proud of that but we soldiered on. It is a great story. Worth it to the end.



And on the school year rolled. We got to see Sean Connery play MacBeth, and a very young, very nearly nude (!) Judi Dench play Titania, Helen Mirren in several roles, Laurence Olivier as a young Henry the 5th, and an old, grey man with no eyeballs. The acting really has been superb.


Why Shakespeare? I've been influenced by Ken Ludwig's How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare so that's a read I'd recommend if you're on the fence. If you want to give your children big ideas, this is a great way. The conversations!!! I'm also being challenged and inspired by the language and thoughts. It's moving. Shakespeare reaches back to earlier literature and is referenced so often in everything after him that his work is a reliable bridge to the great conversations between books across millennia.


Before the school year ends I plan to go over each one with the children and recollect the details then we'll pick our favorite and watch it with my husband, who has endured many a dinnertime with us recounting scenes. We owe him that much. He's going to love it, I keep telling him.


If you're interested, here's our 2023-24 list - the ones with a star I'd have skipped (too scary):


*King Lear (Laurence Olivier, BBC)


Henry 5th (also Laurence Olivier, BBC, colorized. Beautiful action scenes - definitely more like a movie in some sections, lots of horses.)


The Taming of the Shrew


*MacBeth


Julius Caesar (Marlon Brando, Deborah Kerr, a stellar cast!)


A Midsummer Night's Dream (Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, set in the 60's...quite strange)


As You Like It (Laurence Olivier, from the late '30's, very fun)


Anthony and Cleopatra (Charlton Heston, very movie-like, gorgeous settings on location, quite sexy)


Twelfth Night (BBC, one of our top favorites, so funny, BBC from the '80's)


Much Ado About Nothing (also a favorite, Beatrice is just amazing in this one - BBC, the '80's)


*The Winter's Tale


Romeo and Juliet


A Comedy of Errors


*Cymbeline (terribly tragic...yikes. But so good. But still too scary.)


Hope this is helpful. We'll do this again next year, it's been a blast. And there are so many versions to enjoy! Do you have any favorites? And do you think Shakespeare is valuable in 2024? I'd enjoy hearing your thoughts.






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