Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Bard?

by Debi Taylor-Hough

A number of years ago (I think it was more than ten), we added Shakespeare to our family’s educational activities for the first time. My daughter loved our field trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, and I don’t think I ever would have thought of introducing my children to The Bard at such a young age if it weren’t for the inspiration of Charlotte Mason, a British educator from the late 1800’s.

First, we read through Charles and Mary Lamb’s story version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the book Tales from Shakespeare just to enjoy the plot and make sure we understood the basic story line before attempting to wade through the Elizabethan English of the play itself.

Then we read “Dream” aloud together. It was amazing how quickly we began reading the original work with ease. The first scene or two was a struggle for me to read aloud since I hadn’t had much personal experience with Shakespeare other than a class in high school and seeing several plays. But before long, I found myself not only reading the language fluently, but also starting to think in Shakespearean-type phrases. It really grows on you!

After we read through the play itself (twice), we went to the local library’s inter-library loan system and checked out a video of the New York Shakespeare Festival’s production of “Dream.” Seeing William Hurt as Oberon, King of the Fairies was interesting — a very unusual rendering of the part. We watched the video several times, and even my eight-year-old son enjoyed it tremendously.

Then for the grand finale of our study, my daughter and I saw “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” performed live during our trip to Ashland. It was all-in-all a wonderful experience.

When preparing for “A Comedy of Errors,” we weren’t able to locate a video of the play, and the audio tape we found wasn’t very high quality, so we sufficed with reading the play itself several times and then seeing it performed live.

Personally, there’s nothing quite like seeing a live production of Shakespeare. His plays were intended to be seen performed on the stage with live actors — not read from a book with all the stage directions, etc.

If you don’t have a professional Shakespearean company close by, don’t despair. Check for local high school and college productions of Shakespeare’s plays (these are often very good productions and not nearly as expensive as seeing a professional Shakespearean company).

Also, I regularly check through our local “What’s Happening” guide in the newspaper and frequently find Shakespeare being offered in nearby towns and with local production companies.

I was interviewed several years ago about studying Shakespeare with children by Mike Farris (Chairman of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association) on the Homeschool Heartbeat radio program.  To access their archives, read transcripts, and listen to the audio versions of the interview, click here.

My children are now much older (23, 20 & 15), but they still request every couple of years that we take a family vacation to Ashland to immerse ourselves in Shakespeare (and the great Southern Oregon weather!). So even as adults, their love of Shakespeare is still strong. I think it must have merged into their DNA. lol 😉

~Debi


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Deborah Taylor-Hough (freelance writer and longtime homeschooling mother of three) is the editor of the Charlotte Mason Monthly and Simple Times e-newsletters. She’s also the author of A Simple Choice: A Practical Guide to Saving Your Time, Money and Sanity, Frugal Living For Dummies(r), and Frozen Assets: How to Cook for a Day and Eat for a Month. Visit Debi online at: http://thesimplemom.wordpress.com/

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