"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Review: How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig

Months ago, on a quick trip to the public library, I picked up and checked out How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig. I didn't go into the library to get this book. I was picking up a book on hold for my book club. At the moment before seeing this book I was thinking how reading was becoming a drudgery because I always have to read books for a purpose (ie., book club) and never because I just want to read them without any other purpose. I selected this one off the Lucky Day kiosk thinking it would be fun to thumb through it for an hour or so.

Little did I know that this book would become my new obsession. I renewed it three times because I was reading it so slowly and carefully. I was savoring every word. It took time to let everything sink in. Then the library wouldn't allow any more renewals, so I bought a copy for my own library, which I promptly checked out to myself.

Ken Ludwig is both an acclaimed playwright and an actor. He used several simple tools outlined here with his own children.
[He] used the simple methods in How to Teach your Children Shakespeare while teaching his own children how to understand, and love, the works of the Bard. Beginning with memorization of short, specific passages from Shakespeare's plays--it is easier than your kids think--Ludwig's approach then illustrates how Shakespeare's plots, characters, language, and themes continue to resonate today. ---From the book jacket
Before you stop reading because you have no children or your children are grown and out of the house, so are mine! I wish that I'd had this book when they were young but I got a ton out of the book anyway. Now I am pushing it on all my friends with young children so they can benefit from it. And I think this book would be a wonderful resource for any English teacher at the secondary level. As I read the book I couldn't help myself. I had to tag favorite phrases, tidbits about Shakespeare and pieces of advise from Ludwig. Look at the hilarious number of tags I placed in the book before I was done. Ha!

Post-it note tags on just about every page. How will I remember all that I want to save?
 Let me give you some examples of the type of stuff I tagged:

Ludwig talks about the value of viewing different movies of the same Shakespeare plays and noting the evolution of his works over time:
First, Shakespeare's plays, like all great works of art, are open to interpretation. That is the hallmark of art that has real value. If a work is static and never changes, then it can never tell us much about how we change over our lifetimes, and how mankind changes over time. As Hamlet says, it is the artist's job to hold the mirror up to nature.
Second, Shakespeare's work is particularly susceptible to this openness of interpretation, more than the work of other dramatists. The critic Stanley Wells calls this a 'self-renewing quality' of Shakespeare's work 'as if [Shakespeare] himself had had the wisdom to leave his plays slightly unfinished, to hold back from final decisions so that future ages could read into them preoccupations of their own times...Perhaps there is, somehow, a more mythic quality about Shakespeare that enables his plays to speak to generation after generation.'
Ludwig offers his paraphrases for Shakespeare's line to assist understanding for young learners. I really appreciated this part of the book since I have never studied Shakespeare and sometimes feel so lost when I read words and phrases I don't understand. Here is one paraphrase he provided for Henry's battle cry during the battle to conquer the city of Harfleur in Henry V:

Shakespeare’s lines
Ludwig’s paraphrase
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,     Disguise fair nature with hard-favored rage…  
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide, 
Hold hard the breath, and bend up every spirit  
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English! ... Be copy now to men of grosser blood.            
And teach them how to war.
Stiffen your muscles and disguise your peaceful natures with looks of rage so you can frighten the enemy. Bare your teeth and stretch your nostrils, hold your breaths and raise your spirits to their full height. On you noble Englishmen! Show lesser men how to fight.

Stories of how Ludwig's children personalized Shakespeare into their own lives were both funny and poignant. I've decided it is not too late for us. I'm grabbing some of Shakespeare's funniest and loveliest lines and will incorporate them into my speech and life. Maybe they will catch on. I hope so. Here are a few lines his family was able to personalize (and I hope to copy):
  • As an excuse for slacking off, insert family member's name for Hal...
"Why Hal, 'tis my vocation, Hal. 'Tis no sin for a man to labor in his vocation."
 ---Falstaff in Henry IV, Part 1
  • Or the ultimate insult, best if said in a loving, teasing way...
"Sell when you can; you are not for all markets."
 ---Rosalind in As You Like It

I close this review with one more quote from Ludwig:
Shakespeare should not be an occasional visitor. He should be a permanent house guest, living in your spare room down the hall, ready to join you for a meal or an evening whenever you crave his company...
He goes on to say that he wants Shakespeare to be an inspiration to our children so they know that can do anything if they work hard. He wants them to eventually recognize his genius and to find consolation in him in their old age.

Be sure to visit the How to Teach Your Child Shakespeare website.

1 comment:

  1. I had never heard of this book, but as soon as I saw it on your Sunday post where you listed books you are reading, I looked at it on Amazon and downloaded it to my kindle. Now I just have to find time to read it - preferably before my children graduate!


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