To study, or not to study Shakespeare: that is the question:

When I first read Charlotte Mason’s writings I was thoroughly blessed. The CM series gave me some valuable tools that I could use to enrich our home and family life. I had never read or viewed any Shakespeare play until about eight years ago! We didn’t read or study any when I was at school and I confess I thought it was very outdated. However, once I became a parent and desired that my children learn to speak well and appreciate books of a good literary standard I knew that at some point, I would like to introduce them to Shakespeare. When and how were what I didn’t know. But the CM series taught me how I could introduce my children to the world of Shakespeare.

The girls and I shared a few Shakespeare stories. First, we read the version by Arthur Mee, then the next week I’d read another story version by Charles and Mary Lamb and then Edith Nesbit but our favourite retellings are those by Leon Garfield.

I would have the girls write out a few paragraphs of the story for copy work. Then, I’d also have them write out a few selections from the play. We would use narration as well as paper cut out figures to keep the characters straight in our minds. Eventually, we would tackle the play in its entirety. Oh! the fun we would have by taking a part each and reciting in our most dramatic voices! 😀 We watched a few of the plays that have been made into good movies (but be very selective). Some of our favourites were with Kenneth Branagh and /or Emma Thompson.

However, I have decided not to introduce my boys to Shakespeare at the same ages as the girls. I will at a later stage but not yet…I don’t think it is necessary. Why, I hear you ask? I’m happy to tell you why not…but before I do I would like to say that this is my conviction, this is something that I believe was right for our family and I wouldn’t like to tell anyone else what to do. Now having said that (my disclaimer) I would also say that I don’t believe your children will be missing out by not covering or learning of Shakespeare while in the primary years. There, I’ve said it! (I know there will be some that will disagree)

As I said, we read the story versions so that the girls would have an overview…a basic understanding of the plot. However, if we weren’t going to continue and read the original play I don’t see what value there was in starting to learn Shakspeare at such a young age. I do know that it felt good to be able to say to other homeshool mums, to non homeshcooling friends, that we were learning Shakespeare. Oh, some looked at us in admiration or with a stare of incredulity. Over time though, I was convicted of my motives. I was feeling homeschool pride! I felt that we were doing something that typical primary/middle schools didn’t cover- yet we could! Oh, to have the girls run around quoting a few lines of Shakespeare certainly did my homeschooling ego good. (I’m sure that none of the readers to this blog have ever felt such a thing as homeschool mama pride eh? 😉 ) Oi voi! God had other plans. He picked me up and gave me a solid talking to!

Shakespeare is fairly intense. The characters and the plot are complex. The original language certainly is beautiful and rich yet the story versions seemed so watered down. In fact, the story versions are almost twaddle, in my opinion. Twaddle that sees some characters blaspheme or joke about sin. As an adult or young adult, we can learn to discern these things. In fact, Shakespeare can be like a spotlight shining into our lives, revealing sin. Black is not always evil and white is not always pure with Shakespeare, which is how it is in real life but I wonder if it is too confusing for a younger child is who still in the process of learning basic Biblical doctrine.

I don’t want my young children hearing or learning about the racism and prejudice of the Jews. I want them to hear God’s side of the story first. I want them to learn about the history of Israel first. Of course, they will learn of bigotry and racism and hatred, but it won’t be dressed as humour or satire or with cynicism that can be difficult for a young child to discern. I firmly believe there is a time to teach Shakespeare. And the process is still the same: introduce via story versions, mind map the plot and characters, watch a good movie version and study the original play. I just don’t believe it is necessary with younger children. How much better to fill their young minds with Bible stories, stories of nature, stories of heroism, fairy tales, poems, stories that inspire? The time will come when they will need to know about Shakespeare and it is then that we, as parents, need to seize the moment and teach with discernment.

Yes, I have read all the benefits for reading Shakespeare. (Here and here are two well articulated arguments) My girls have already studied many of his plays. Yet I have chosen a different path for the boys (currently aged 10 and 12). Why? I think it is all part of an Identity Directed education…being able to tailor the curriculum…being Spirit Led in the education of each individual child. God knows these boys intimately. He knows the plans he has for them. So I seek Him for the educational direction of each child. This is how He is leading me with my boys. It may not be for you. It may be. What is important is that you, and me, individually seek God for direction of our family and homeschool, that we rely upon Him to meet the needs of our families.

What do you think? Do you teach Shakespeare to your young children? If so, why? If you don’t, why not? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

(No condemnation, I promise ;))