The Teaching of Shakespeare

Shakespeare's Birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon, England; watercolor copyright Beth S.

To become intimate with Shakespeare in this way is a great enrichment of mind and instruction of conscience. Then, by degrees, as we go on reading this world – teacher, lines of insight and beauty take possession of us, and unconsciously mould our judgments of men and things and of the great issues of life.

Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, Book 2, page 72


In Towards a Philosophy of Education, Miss Mason talks of choosing to fill the imagination daily with images of beauty, Shakespeare, great art, etc. rather than with evil, horrors, ‘shocking’ art, etc. (p. 55); the importance of great English literature (not taking second place to Latin & Greek) by “Milton, Gibbon, Shakespeare, Bacon, and a multitude of great thinkers who are therefore great writers” (p. 124); Shakespeare instructing in human nature (p. 143); the richness of his references in verse to Christ (p. 166-167); the importance of learning the lessons of history in his historical plays & applying them to one’s self & times (p.170); Shakespeare as a banquet for all abilities (p. 245); how he showed that human reason is faulty & the need for knowledge to make just decisions (p. 314-315); and the need for using whole books such as the Old Testament and Shakespeare for history studies, being careful to edit out passages not appropriate for children or occasional obscenities (p.341). From what I can tell, the PNEU schools read aloud from the Lambs’ Tales from Shakespeare to ages 6 – 9. Twelth Night was read aloud to 10-year-olds and narrated by them. Ages 11 – 12 started reading the plays ‘in character.’ Ages 12 – 14 read Shakespeare’s histories. Karen Andreola recommends for grades 1 – 8 to experience one play per year (start with a comedy, read story version, watch video, and listen to professional actors on cassette, covering one act per day). For grades 9 – 12, study two plays a year from the histories & tragedies using same sequence, adding the student’s reading of the play in the original language. Can also memorize speeches and recite in a group study or perhaps do a full production. New Folger Library paperback editions have helpful notes and definitions.


Living Books about Shakespeare and Elizabethan England:

  • Will’s Quill by Don Freeman, Gr. 1-4, picture book
  • Bard of Avon: The Story of William Shakespeare1564-1616 by Diane Stanley & Peter Vennema, Gr. 2-7 (may wish to edit)
  • Good Queen Bess: The Story of Elizabeth I of England 1533-1603 by Diane Stanley & Peter Vennema, Gr. 2-7
  • William Shakespeare and the Globe by Aliki, Gr. 3-7, very good with lots of quotes!
  • Poetry for Young People: William Shakespeare edited by David Scott Kasten & Marina Kastan, Gr. 3-7
  • Great Scenes from Shakespeare’s Plays edited by Paul Negri, illustrated by John Green, Dover Coloring Book, Gr. 3-7
  • Will Shakespeare and the Globe Theater by Anne Terry White (World Landmark), Gr. 5-9
  • William Shakespeare by Iris Noble (Messner Biography), Gr. 6-12
  • Shakespeare of London by Marchette Chute, Gr. 7-12
  • Invitation to the Classics by Louise Cowan & Os Guinness, pp. 149-154, Gr. 8-12
  • The Complete Works of William Shakespeare including poems, sonnets, plays, Gr. 9-12

In The Saturdays and The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright, the eldest daughter, Mona, frequently quotes Shakespeare. These are fun family stories from the 1940’s and are available on CD at the Monroe Library. May spark a dramatic child’s interest in Shakespeare. Listening ages about 8 & up.


Narrative Retellings of Shakespeare’s Plays:
The following are known for their literary quality and for retaining much of the original language. These are good to cultivate interest and familiarize children with Shakespeare’s work. Also useful as an introduction before attending a play.

  • Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children by Edith Nesbit, Gr. 1-9, 1907, 2002 Barnes & Noble hardback bargain book
  • Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb, Gr. 5-12, 1807, 1986/1999 Children’s Classics, Random House
  • Shakespeare Stories, vol. 1 & 2 by Leon Garfield, Gr. 7-12, 1985/1991/1994 Houghton Mifflin Company
  • Historical Tales from Shakespeare by A. T. Quiller-Couch, Gr. 7-12, 1900 Charles Scribner’s Sons
  • Carole Seid recommends Shakespeare’s Stories: Histories by Beverly Birch, age 9-12, 1990 School Specialty Children’s Publishing. TruthQuest also lists Stories from Shakespeare by Marchette Chute, Gr. 6-12, 1956 Penguin Group. These may be available in libraries and there are new retellings being published.


Using Shakespearean Plays with History Studies:
Ancient Egypt: Anthony & Cleopatra (Garfield vol. 2, Birch)
Ancient Greece: Pericles, Prince of Tyre (Nesbit, Lamb)
Ancient Rome: Coriolanus (Quiller-Couch)
                             Julius Caesar (Garfield vol. 2, Birch, Quiller-Couch)
Middle Ages: Macbeth (Nesbit, Lamb, Chute, Garfield vol. 1)
                         King John (Quiller-Couch)
                         King Richard the Second (Garfield vol. 1, Quiller-Couch)
                         King Henry the Fourth (Garfield vol. 1, Quiller-Couch)
                         King Henry the Fifth; King Henry the Sixth (Quiller-Couch)
Renaissance: King Richard the Third (Garfield vol. 2, Quiller-Couch)
Remember his comedies and tragedies too; they were written in Renaissance England!

Compiled by Beth S., February 2006


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