Wednesday, May 19, 2010
For the Love of Shakespeare
Shakespeare is another language. There is no use pretending otherwise. When I was in college (I know that was light years away), I took a semester course on Shakespeare. Because I knew we were studying plays, I recognized that I needed to watch, or at least, listen to them. That is what I did "right." With every play that I read, I listened to it at the same time. The text sprang to life and it made what could have been a dreadful experience absolutely wonderful.
To Use Notes or Not
At the same time, what I did "wrong" is that I did not know about Cliffs Notes or Spark Notes. Now there are plenty of students who read these instead of the actual plays in order to short cut their way to the answers, but they end up short cutting themselves by not using them as additional notes and skipping the required texts. However, since I did not know about them, I more or less muddled my way through the course. I survived, but I could have gained more from the course.
These Notes include the life of the author, characters, a brief plot synopsis, critical essays, suggested essay topics, and more. The analysis notes vary from play to play and also differ from the versions on the internet. They are designed for students in high school or beyond.
A Better Edition
When I studied Shakespeare, we used the Signet Classic editions. There are many fine points about these editions. They include many helpful notes and additional information. However, they could have been more thorough. Since that time, I have discovered the Folger Shakespeare Library. I especially like the more recent editions, since they include larger print and are easier to hold. What makes these editions better? Lots!
Shakespeare for Children
Still yet another children's version, which has received positive reviews, is Shakespeare Stories by Leon Garfield. Garfield's presents 12 selected retellings of Shakespeare in modern prose with illustrations by Michael Foreman. There is a second volume of 9 retellings. The first volume covers the more familiar plays. Although written in modern prose, these stories contain a beautiful lyrical quality. Garfield, a masterful storyteller, strives to keep the essence of the original language. Absorbing to read from start to finish, the stories are far more developed and detailed than Chute's version. Foreman's vibrant watercolor and pen and ink illustrations elicit mixed emotions. For the most part, Foreman's illustrations are evocative and lovely. Some may object to a few of them. While the publisher recommends ages 9-12, I would prefer 13 and above, because of the inclusion of some of Shakespeare's "mature" humor and the illustrations.
To Produce or Not
Our homeschool group has produced more than one scaled down version of Shakespeare's plays. Which play and how elaborate would depend on a number of factors: age of players, number of players, length of play, etc. For those who are not able or interested in performing in a play, a student could still memorize portions of the play. For example, Mother of Divine Grace 8th grade syllabus has the student, after reading Lambs' Macbeth, memorize and recite Act V, scene v.
Last, but not Least
There are plenty of essays on why to study Shakespeare. The internet is brimming with them. Certainly, he appeals more to the mature student. After 400 years, Shakespeare is still around because he offers a glimpse into the human heart. Shakespeare, with all his odd language, will probably be around in another 400 years because of this. To understand Shakespeare is to catch a glimpse into the human heart.
Parts of this post were published in the reviews section of mater et magistra's issue on Shakespeare.