“‘May God thy gold refine.’ That must be from the Bible.”
“Shakespeare,” Turtle replied. “All quotations are either from the Bible or Shakespeare.”
~ The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
For a couple of years, I’ve had this grand idea to do a Shakespeare unit with my girls over the summer. This year, we’re finally doing it. We have a simple kid-friendly biography of his life, and a collection of his plays in story form. I plan for us to read some of them, learn about Elizabethan England, do some language activities, and write our own sonnets. I also thought we’d go visit the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., and maybe take a tour. But when I went to its website, I learned that they not only offer tours, but also family programs. On the first Saturday of each month is a different, free 1-1.5 hour program for children ages 6-12 and their families. I could hardly believe our luck, and registered for the June session.
The Folger Library also has a museum gallery, with regularly changing exhibits. The current exhibit, a collaboration with the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, is called “Ships, Clocks & Stars: The Quest for Longitude.” The family programs tie in with the exhibit. For example, our class focused on ships. We met in the Folger Theatre and took a tour of the stage set for the current production, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, looking for ship-related items. Then we were given a list of interesting words from “The Tempest.” We discussed boatswain (pronounced BOH-sun), bestir, cheerly, topsail, mar, and yare – what they mean and how they are used in a sailing setting. Then the talented ladies and gent leading our troupe got us up and acting Shakespeare onstage. Children – and some parents – were assigned parts from Act I, Scene I. Others were placed around the stage with aluminum foil (for thunder), long yellow ribbons (for lightning), and lengths of sparkly blue mesh (for waves). We ran our lines a few times, then performed the abbreviated scene with gusto. What nerve of Alonso and friends, to bother the mariners at their stations while they try to save the ship from sinking! I was into it, and I wasn’t the only one. Inhibitions faded as focus and understanding evolved. By the end of the hour, we all wished we could keep going.
Next month, the program focuses on clocks – how Shakespeare uses time in his plays. In August, stars – the way they give light and show the way in Shakespeare’s world. My hope is that as our Shakespearean explorations proceed this summer, we will glean even more appreciation and understanding from these amazing sessions. And if we don’t, they’re still super fun.
As a culmination of our studies, I’ve marked my calendar for The Shakespeare Company’s Free For All in September, a Washington tradition of free public Shakespeare performances, tickets by lottery. This year it’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, which is a great one for kids (with a little prep work).
Do your kids know Shakespeare? There’s never been a better time to expose them to this king of quotes. Check your local library, theater, or festivals, and see what they offer for a kid-friendly Shakespeare experience. Or better yet, throw on some dress-ups and try acting out a scene as a family.
Shakespeare Uncovered (PBS) – Guest hosts explore each play in depth, through interviews, film clips, and visits to key locations.
Iambic Pentameter – Watch a live lesson on Shakespeare’s signature rhythm.
Shakespeare for Kids (Folger Shakespeare Library) – Learn about Queen Elizabeth, play with words, or find Shakespeare coloring pages and games.
Shakespeare Insult Generator – Sound smarter than all your friends with these insults they won’t understand!
Shakespeare Directory – Find a Shakespeare theater or festival in your part of the world.
Shakespeare Can Be Fun! – Childrens’ book series of Shakespeare’s plays, written in rhyming couplets and illustrated by children, for children.