Review of “How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare” by Ken Ludwig

I had so much fun reading this book. If you always have loved Shakespeare, or, better yet, wanted to love it but just didn’t get it, this is the book for you!

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How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare is by an acclaimed playwright who hopes to provide you with the tools to help you and your children make Shakespeare a part of your lives. He shows you how to make Shakespeare both informative and fun. He writes:

Shakespeare should not be an occasional visitor. He should be a permanent houseguest, living in that spare room down the hall, ready to join you for a meal or an evening whenever you crave his company. Better yet, he should feel like a part of your family…”

With passion and enthusiasm, he sets out to convince you how to do just that, with plenty of guidance.

I don’t know how well this book would work on kids, but it certainly helped me to understand Shakespeare better than I ever did, and I studied Shakespeare extensively in college.

He goes through many passages adding “translations,” as in this example:

I have of late [recently],
but wherefore [why] I know not,
lost all my mirth [cheerfulness]”

If the speech might be particularly abstruse for modern audiences, he uses two columns, with Shakespeare’s words on the left, and a summary of their meaning on the right. He also explains the imagery and importance of the passages, and why they are considered so masterful. For example, in discussing Hamlet, he observes:

The Ghost fills Hamlet’s ear with the details of his own murder the way Claudius filled Kim Hamlet’s ear with poison. This paradox underscores an important question: Is the Ghost lying or telling the truth? Are his words reliable or poisonous? This is something that Hamlet will spend the next two acts of the play trying to find out.”

Kenneth Branaugh in the 1996 movie of Hamlet

Kenneth Branaugh in the 1996 movie of Hamlet

I loved too how he demonstrates the way in which Shakespeare manipulated word length and alliteration to slow down or speed up delivery of lines for dramatic effect.

He even provides ideas for entertaining ways to encourage your children to incorporate some of Shakespeare’s bot mots into your own lives. For example, to echo Falstaff from Henry IV, Part I:

Our daughter, Olivia, stays up past her bedtime and her mother catches her in bed with her computer.

Mom

Olivia, what do you think you’re doing?

Olivia

Why, Mom, ‘tis my vocation, Mom. ‘Tis no sin for a girl to labor in her vocation.’”

Simon Russell Beale as Falstaff and Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal in the 2012 BBC production of Henry IV Pt 1

Simon Russell Beale as Falstaff and Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal in the 2012 BBC production of Henry IV Pt 1

As he explains at the outset, in answer to the question “Why Shakespeare?”:

…Shakespeare isn’t just one of the many great authors in the English language; Shakespeare is, indisputably, one of the two great bedrocks of Western civilization in English. (The other is the King James translation of the Bible.) Not only do Shakespeare’s plays themselves contain the finest writing of the past 450 years, but most of the best novels, plays, poetry, and films in the English language produced since Shakespeare’s death in 1616 – from Jane Austen to Charles Dickens, from Ulysses to The Godfather – are heavily influenced by Shakespeare’s stories, characters, language, and themes.”

Evaluation: I truly enjoyed this book; it gave me so many new insights into the wonderful world of Shakespeare, and allowed me to enjoy his work in an entirely new way. Highly recommended even without any potential pupils besides yourself!

Rating: 4.5/5

Published by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., 2013

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13 Responses

  1. I could have benefited by this year’s ago. Never felt a pull to Shakespeare:)

  2. Love the sound of this…. I’ve always struggled with Shakespeare!

  3. Vance enjoys Shakespeare; I’m the one who struggles with his work. I probably need this book for me.

  4. I wonder if it would work on me. I’ve never quite got Shakespeare. I like the plots of his stories, but just can’t handle the language. My daughter, on the other hands, LOVES Shakespeare. This kid…

  5. I love Shakespeare but need time, that precious commodity of which I have too little, to read it. It requires thought, unlike modern fiction where you can just read without straining too many brain cells. This could be a valuable book for most people who would like to understand Shakespeare.

  6. I struggle with Shakespeare. This sounds like an interesting read, maybe I should give it a try. I don’t think we focused a lot on Shakespeare in school.

  7. I’m totally going to find myself a copy of this one even though I already love Shakespeare, you’ve made it sound so much fun!

  8. I already love Shakespeare but this does sound fun. My parents didn’t have Shakespeare as a constant presence in the house, but we started watching Shakespeare plays when we were fairly small. I never feel sure, though, how much little me actually loved Shakespeare vs. how much I just liked feeling clever and impressive for loving Shakespeare.

  9. What a fantastic idea for a book. Booking Daughter had her first experience with Shakespeare last year and I don’t think she was entirely thrilled.

  10. The first book I ever bought was Shakespeare — Macbeth! I was too young to understand half of what I read, but I really love Shakespeare and this sounds like the perfect book for me.

  11. The pictures you used to accompany your post were a little tough on this man’s eyes! However, the book does sound interesting. Not sure I’ve seen Jane Austen and The Godfather mentioned in the same sentence before, so that was kind of amusing in and of itself methinks. :D

  12. I need this one for sure!

  13. Someday I will thrust Shakespeare on Gage, but not quite yet. This book looks like loads of fun anyway – for me!

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