Recently, we spent time reading Macbeth (not for the faint of heart!). For days my kids–especially seven-year-old Pea Pod–were dancing around the house saying “Eye of newt and toe of frog . . .”
Over the years, I’ve developed a non-threatening way to help introduce my kids to each Shakespeare play. I try to do one or two plays per year.
I always start by helping my kids learn the basic plot and characters.
My favorite way to do this is using Bruce Coville’s picture book retellings. He currently has finished seven titles, which are all available at my local library. The illustrator is not the same for each play, but the pictures always do an amazing job of enhancing what I consider to be spot-on retellings. He does a great job of condensing the plot, without losing the flavor of the story, characters, and language. Often, he’ll include just enough of the actual dialog to move the story along without getting bogged down.
When we finish the picture book, or if there isn’t a picture book available, we then move on to reading the same play in a longer prose retelling. I’ve previewed several different versions, including the much acclaimed “Tales from Shakespeare” by Charles Lamb, and some are much better and more accessible than others.
I finally settled on the two volume set, “Shakespeare Stories” by Leon Garfield. I like his retellings because the prose language isn’t watered down–and often includes words and phrases from the actual script. But the cadance of the language and the word choice, while difficult at times, is still readily accessible even for my six year old.
Once we have the plot and characters down, we then will pull out the full script and find one of our favorite scenes. Each kid will take a character and while I narrate, we’ll act out the scene together–with me giving dialog to each kid in turn. Often we find or make simple props from around the house to enhance our impromptu play. And if certain characters have become the favorite, we’ll act out the scenes several times, so that everyone gets a chance to play the good guy.
Then, if we’re lucky, we’ll go see a local high school, university, or traveling troupe that’s putting on a production of the play. By this time, my kids have spent so much time with the play, that they can thoroughly enjoy a full production without any confusion.
If there’s no live production, I’ll try to find a movie production at the library or on Netflix. I don’t think this is as rich an experience as seeing a live production, but it still is a fun way to spend the afternoon together.
While we don’t use them all the time, here’s a few other Shakespeare resources that we’ve enjoyed.
Now you know. When I pose the question “to Shakespeare or Not to Shakespeare?” at our house, the answer is always “TO SHAKESPEARE!”