Hear my name and tremble! Thou villain!
It's 10:30 pm on a Thursday night and I've just come downstairs from putting the two littles to sleep. It was hard to get them to settle as we overheard frequent outbursts of shouting and laughter and I kept wondering what on earth was such a hoot down there. And now I know - it's my five older children having an impromptu Shakespeare reading.
They've all taken parts and are doing a very dramatic rendition of one of their favorite scenes from Cymbeline. They proceed to draft Michael and me to join in, and then switch gears from swords and battles to dreamy summer love and Cupid's potions. We do our best at Pyramus and Thisbe, the play within the play, including my most masterful performance of Wall. (ha)
We are having a Shakespeare summer, though it's been as impromptu as that reading I mentioned. We started out with high hopes of going out to see the world famous Front Lawn Players in May for their performance of As You Like It, so we naturally read the play. It turned out we couldn't get up to Long Island for either show due to other obligations, but our appetites for Shakespeare were set off nevertheless.
From there we moved on to Cymbeline, as a free outdoor performance was available as part of a local festival. The children enjoyed the show so much they insisted we go back and see it again for the final performance.
We've since read Cymbeline again, along with Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth, and we're currently on Twelfth Night. I read the plays out loud during our daily tea time, and the rest just happens. When I can't find my big girls and I go knocking on closed bedroom doors, I invariably open the door and find them each with a hefty tome 'doing scenes'. Or they'll be sprawled on the couches in the living room, each with her own copy of the collected works, reading in parts. They pore over the pictures in the enormous illustrated edition I've had since high school, playing at guess the character and laughing uproariously at some of the unlikely depictions. The guys amuse each other with quotes and quips sprinkled throughout their day. The younger girls dress up and act out scenes; even the little ones like to be 'show people' and do their part. They particularly enjoy being Celia and Rosalind, and it's quite charming to hear Eliza telling Kateri, I pray thee Rosalind, sweet my coz, be merry! Mary Rose walks through the grocery reciting her Phebe lines she taught herself for fun. Josiah naturally runs to put on the Mendelssohn while we're reading. And on and on it goes - you know what homeschool kids are like. Shakespeare is really unlike any other author - the language and the characters and the plots just naturally draw us in and we get swallowed up whole by the delightfulness of it all.
It's been lots of fun to just sit back and watch them run with it, soaking it in and savoring it all. We have the Charles and Mary Lamb book which really has lovely retellings, but they want none of it. They complain if I try to read it out loud for a bit of clarification - they apparently just want the real thing. Jonathan did go to the library to get The Quest for Shakespeare which he promptly devoured as well as Lear to go with it. Josiah has also enjoyed an online course in Macbeth, and it's handy tthe classes are recorded for later listening by the rest of the family.
As for the real thing, we did get to see a recording of the Front Lawn Players' performance of As You Like It and those kids are the real thing! They did an outstanding job of putting on the full length unabridged play and the children's performances were superb. What a wonderful experience for all of those involved! We also watched an old black and white movie version (1936) of As You Like it starring a very young Laurence Olivier and the charming Elisabeth Bergner. We all greatly enjoyed it, laughing and laughing at the old fashioned costumes and filming techniques and overly theatrical acting - we found it highly entertaining and we watched it twice before returning it to the library. Good stuff.
And finally if you're looking for more Shakespeare resources, the spring issue of Mater et Magistra is entirely devoted to Shakespeare. I picked up a copy at the FCL conference last weekend but I haven't gotten a chance to read it yet - it looks chock full of wonderful ideas. I've also heard tell that Elizabeth has posted some Shakespeare lesson plans as well, but I haven't gotten to peruse them yet either. For now, I'm just reading the plays as long as they keep asking for them. That's fine with me as of course, All the world's a stage...