Why Study Shakespeare?
This is a question your children may ask when they are faced with a play written in English, they struggle to understand. Yes, it will require effort to read Shakespeare’s plays – and poetry – but it is a very rewarding experience.
Shakespeare was a master storyteller, and that alone is a good reason to read his plays. This is why there are so many modern retellings of his stories.
He also covers universal themes that touch everyone’s lives – love and jealousy, hunger for power, loyalty, guilt, etc. Although the plays were written 400 years ago, these are topics teens can identify with.
So many books and movies draw their inspiration from Shakespeare, and knowing the original plays helps us enjoy a richer experience as we read books influenced by him.
Your children may never know how many common phrases originate from Shakespeare! “All the glitters isn’t gold” (Merchant of Venice), “green-eyed monster (Othello), “wild goose chase” (Romeo and Juliet), and “you’ve got to be cruel to be kind” (Hamlet) are just a few. You can find more here.
If you are now convinced you should be adding Shakespeare to what your teens are reading, here are 7 tips on how to enjoy Shakespeare with your teen and unlock those benefits.
Provide context for the time Shakespeare lived
To understand Shakespeare’s plays, students need to understand the time Shakespeare lived, how the theatre was performed then (only male actors, for instance), and who went to the theater.
A fun way to do this would be to read a book like The Shakespeare Stealer (aimed at middle school students so it will be a quick read for high schoolers) or watch a movie or documentary (we watched and enjoyed In Search of Shakespeare)
You could also challenge your child to do the research and then create a poster, video or infographic, or slideshow to explain what they have learned.
Provide context for the specific play you will study
Be sure your students understand the type of play it is: tragedy, history, or comedy.
Study the setting and, if relevant, the history that is depicted in the play. If your children understand the background of what they are reading, it will help them understand what is happening in the play.
You can easily find help if you do a quick internet search on whatever you are studying.
Choose a good version of the play
The versions that I think are most helpful have the play on the right-hand side, with notes on the left. You don’t want ones that have the full play in modern English on the left, as students will just be lazy and read modern English instead of the original.
And I find it is easier to just look to the left when you are reading and don’t understand something than to look at the footnotes below.
So, if possible, go into a bookstore and look at the different options.
Read the play aloud
Remember, Shakespeare’s plays were written to be watched and heard. If you have a few children studying Shakespeare together, it is fun to take different parts, but even if it is just two of you, reading it aloud together will help to make sense of the words.
Watch the play performed
If you can select a play that is being performed near you, that would work really well. But if you can’t catch a live performance, at least find the best film version to watch. All the ones with Kenneth Brannagh in them are great!
Be sure you have already read the play BEFORE you watch it. Knowing the basic storyline will mean you and your children can focus on things you may have missed. And, of course, watching the action as well as reading the words will add an extra layer of meaning to the play.
In addition, you could watch a modernized version of the play (eg “West Side Story” when you study Romeo and Juliet) and discuss the differences between the original and the adaptation.
Discuss the themes of the play
There is plenty to discuss in any Shakespeare play. Once you are sure your teen has understood the content of the play, it is time to go a little deeper. I highly recommend Brightest Heaven of Invention by Peter J. Leithart if you are studying any of the 6 plays he analyzes. This book also contains discussion questions.
It would be great to have discussions with a few teens at a time, but even if it is just you and your teen, it will be valuable.
After you have explored various themes together, your high schooler should be ready to tackle a short paper on a theme of their choosing that you didn’t cover in detail.
Play Shakespeare games!
Playing games always helps make learning fun, and there are plenty of options to choose from. Brainbox – Shakespeare will get your children learning quotations from Shakespeare, The Play’s the Thing will get students more familiar with 3 of his plays, and Top Trumps Shakespeare’s Plays introduce students to many characters in the plays.
Or you can buy playing cards with Shakespearean quotes or insults on them!
I hope these 7 tips will help make Shakespeare more accessible to your teen and you will have fun studying some of his works.
This class is an incredible chance for your student to know Shakespeare too. This course will walk through 6 of Shakespeare’s most profound works: including Romeo & Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth., Henry V, The Merchant of Venice
Along with walking through each play at face value, we will be using Harold Bloom’s enlightening text Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human to take a deep dive into characterization and why Shakespearean plays have stood the test of time. As it is impossible to remove literature out of context from history, we will be analyzing the literature for its place in time and impact it had.
Contributed by Meryl van der Merwe. She homeschooled her 4 children and during that time started teaching at the local homeschool co-op. She still teaches there – as well as online at FundaFunda Academy. In addition, she coaches homeschool Science Olympiad and Quiz Bowl teams. She believes education should be engaging, relevant and challenging. Meryl hosts the Homeschooling with Technology podcast where she shares tips on how to integrate tech in your homeschool. In her spare time, she loves reading and traveling. Follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram,