Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Shakespeare As It's Meant to Be: In Real Life

On Sunday evening, we visited a Shakespeare playhouse in our town to see Macbeth (that is, the Scottish Play). This was a first-time event for all of us in one way or another. Himself and I had never seen this particular play, and the girls had never seen Shakespeare on stage. So we were all excited. Plus, this theatre serves food -- really good food, as we discovered -- so we were extra excited.

I'm of the mind that Shakespeare should be seen and experienced, not read. Reading Shakespeare plays is boring. I know; I've read more than my fair share. And there's a perfectly good reason that the plays are boring to read: they are plays. Shakespeare wrote them to be performed on the stage. That's the whole point.

Shakespeare comes to life on stage. The actors of course give life to a mere character. But in an even greater sense, the words come alive. What looks archaic and foreign and impenetrable on the page becomes clear in real life.

We talked about the story on our drive home, and I was greatly pleased by how much the girls understood. But if I'd read the play aloud to them or, worse yet, handed it to them and said, "Read Act One, Scene One, and get back to me," the results would have been far worse. Never mind the huge resistance I would have faced!

That being said, once you've seen the play, it might interest you to read it. Now you have a "movie in your mind" to go along with the words on the play. When you read "Exeunt," you'll recall that the players thundered off the stage, swords glinting, in that particular scene. Or you may remember Lady Macbeth speaking the phrase "the milk of human kindness," and, since you recognize it as an idiom, you can read her soliloquy and further explore its use.

On the flip side, you might want to read a play to prepare yourself for seeing it. Shakespeare's minor characters are often not named in the play itself. To keep yourself from wondering, "Now who's this guy?" during the play, bone up a bit first. But even in this case, I advise reading a No Fear Shakespeare version (or another modern English translation) or even a story version, such as Edith Nesbit's or the Lambs' adaptations.

We all had a fabulous time. The girls are still talking about their favorite parts. They can't wait to see another Shakespeare play and are already planning which to see. Much Ado About Nothing and The Tempest are high on the list.

How great is that?

P.S. Jimmie has written a most wonderful Squidoo lens, Shakespeare for Children, packed with tons of resources and ideas. Don't miss it.

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  1. We love Shakespeare. We were fortunate to see Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and Merry Wives of Windsor this summer. I just found a production of The Tempest in NYC running until November 3rd. I am trying to squeeze it in but it may not be possible.

    There is nothing like a live Shakespeare production. I hope it sparked a love that lasts a lifetime!

  2. I am reading Bill Bryson Shakespeare, which is making me love Shakespeare. After my idea was to read Lamb's book, and then Shakespeare. But I am reconsidering and I think I am going to try to watch his plays, if no life, at least a play on dvd, tape, youtube... anything I can spot.

    I still remember a life play of Midsummer NIght's Dream in Madrid, by a British company, and though at the time I knew no English and I could not really understand much, I still LOVED IT.

  3. Silvia, I loved Bryson's book! And I think that watching a play on DVD is a good alternative to a live play. The girls have seen Mickey Rooney play Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream on DVD!

  4. What age are your children that you took them to see the Shakespeare play?

    I'd love to take my children to see Shakespeare but I fear that the actors talking too fast would mean my children wouldn't be able to follow along. Reading bits of some of Shakespeare's plays is allowing me to get them more accustom to the language without throwing them in completely.

  5. I don't know. I worry that if my children saw a Shakespeare play before reading it, they wouldn't be able to understand much. Reading parts of it together (not the whole thing, but selected parts) and talking about the story lots I can get them used to the language more.

  6. I'm doing a whole year of Shakespeare next year. We live near London and will hopefully be visiting the Globe on a regular basis. I've been collecting resources for years and am really looking forward to learning more with my guys!

  7. Hi Christy! You brought up some good points. Age and maturity will make a difference. My girls are in the sixth and seventh grades; we use Ambleside Online for our basic curriculum, which relies heavily on literature of an earlier era. My dc are used to complex language and sentence structure. Plus, we've been reading Shakespeare stories for years now, so they know the basic storyline of many Shakespearean plays (though not Macbeth).

    As far as not being able to follow along, the idea is the same as reading a book to a child that's too complex for him to read on his own. It's amazing what kids can understand when the material is read aloud! With Macbeth, the girls understood the gist of the story without any prior experience except the write-up in the playbill. And honestly, I didn't understand every word, myself!

    I think reading parts of the play to introduce children to Shakespeare's language is a fine idea, if that's a concern. My main argument here is that Shakespeare did not write his plays to be read; he wrote them for the theatre. And that's the best place to experience them.

    Thanks for your comments! I hope this helps.

  8. It's great that your daughters enjoyed themselves so much. Shakespeare is amazing, poetry as well as plays.

    Thank you also, Ellen, for your very kind comment on my blog. I very much appreciate it.

  9. I despise Shakespeare! For the main reason that it feels like drudgery to read! But I LOVE the theater and can only hope to find experiences like yours for my children to be exposed to. We have watched some animated Shakespeare, and read some children's version because getting the jist of the story can help. I am hoping to hit an outdoor performance this summer!


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