How to introduce Shakespeare in your homeschool ~
Written by Melissa Camara Wilkins
Fun fact: the people in my household have a whole variety of opinions about Shakespeare.
Some of my kids love reading Shakespeare’s plays. (One of our teenagers has a goal of reading them all before the end of this year!) Others prefer to watch the productions, but have yet to fall in love with the language.
Either way, Shakespeare’s work is one of those things I’ll keep inviting my kids into year after year.
Well, the plays are funny, witty, and emotional. They make you think about love and friendship, fate and choice, power and family, consequences and betrayal, and morality and responsibility, as well as invite you to form your own opinions.
The language is playful and sometimes surprising.
The stories have been around for hundreds of years (most are older than Shakespeare himself!) and have inspired tons of retellings. The characters, lines, and plots are referenced all over the place in our culture. And being familiar with the source material gives you the tools to make connections yourself.
Plus, reading Shakespeare gives us a chance to talk about issues in the texts. Reading these plays helps us to see how the concerns we have with our world today, issues like racism, misogyny, antisemitism, and xenophobia, have very old roots, and we can see how some things have changed, while others haven’t changed nearly enough.
One quick note…
My goal is for my kids to be familiar with Shakespeare, not to require them to become Shakespearean scholars who’ve read and dissected every word. Some of my kids will have read tons of Shakespeare before they graduate from high school, and others just one or two plays.
And all of my kids have seen (lots) more plays than they’ve read. Shakespeare didn’t write his plays to be read, after all! They’re meant to be performed.
Okay, with that caveat out of the way, here’s how to introduce Shakespeare in your homeschool.
1. Start with the story.
Once you know what’s happening and who the characters are, plays are much easier to follow—even with unfamiliar language.
Some of the story books that have helped our kids get into Shakespeare include Bruce Coville’s Hamlet, (afflinks) Macbeth, The Winter’s Tale, and Romeo and Juliet picture books (Coville’s versions of The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream are great too, but out of print); Marcia Williams’s Mr. William Shakespeare’s Plays and Bravo Mr. William Shakespeare; and Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare.
2. See the play performed.
It’s easier to follow the action if you’ve already read (and understood) the text, but a great production helps you understand what’s going on even if you don’t catch every word.
Between youth theater, community theater, community college productions, and nearby university student productions, we can find inexpensive live performances several times a year.
Not every production is kid-friendly (and not every family agrees on what that means!), but you can always ask at the box office to see what ages the production is meant for.
When we can’t get to a live performance, the Royal Shakespeare Company has lots of filmed stage shows available through various streaming apps. You can find BBC productions streaming, too, including the Hollow Crown series. MIT’s Global Shakespeare site collects links to filmed versions of Shakespearean productions from around the world.
And there are movie adaptations of the most popular plays, with varying degrees of faithfulness to the original text. (I like to check Common Sense Media to get an idea of what to expect before we dive in.)
3. Read aloud, or read and listen.
When our kids start reading Shakespeare on their own, we have them follow the text while listening to the play being read. If reading Shakespeare aloud isn’t your thing, no problem—kids can follow along to an audiobook recording checked out from the library through the Libby app.
4. Find a modern translation if anyone is confused.
We sometimes consult SparkNotes’s No Fear Shakespeare when we find confusing language. There are lots of other modern translation options out there, too.
If you’re lucky enough to live near a Shakespeare festival, or to see Shakespeare in the park summer performances, or to take Shakespeare-related field trips—go for it!
But for the rest of us, no worries. There are lots of ways to invite kids to get excited about Shakespearean plays right at home when you introduce Shakespeare in your homeschool.
- Get your kids hooked on Shakespeare with 5 easy steps (written by Jamie)