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William Shakespeare

Shakespeare was a celebrated playwright, poet and actor. He was born in the city of Stratford-upon-Avon in England, in the year 1564.  


Shakespeare wrote 37 plays in his lifetime. Some of his most famous works are Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Merchant of Venice and Julius Caesar.


To this day, Hamlet is probably his most quoted and reproduced tragedy. It is also Shakespeare’s longest play.

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"And Shakespeare?    He, indeed, is not to be classed, and timed, and treated as one amongst others,--he, who might well be the daily bread of the intellectual life; Shakespeare is not to be studied in a year; he is to be read continuously throughout life, from ten years old and onwards. But a child of ten cannot understand Shakespeare. No; but can a man of fifty? Is not our great poet rather an ample feast of which every one takes according to his needs, and leaves what he has no stomach for? A little girl of nine said to me the other day that she had only read one play of Shakespeare's through, and that was A Midsummer Night's Dream. She did not understand the play, of course, but she must have found enough to amuse and interest her. How would it be to have a monthly reading of Shakespeare--a play, to be read in character, and continued for two or three evenings until it is finished? The Shakespeare evening would come to be looked on as a family festa; and the plays, read again and again, year after year, would yield more at each reading, and would leave behind in the end rich deposits of wisdom.


We probably read Shakespeare in the first place for his stories, afterwards for his characters, the multitude of delightful persons with whom he makes us so intimate that afterwards, in fiction or in fact, we say, 'She is another Jessica,' and 'That dear girl is a Miranda'; 'She is a Cordelia to her father,' and, such a figure in history, 'a base lago.' 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

Classical Charlotte Mason recommends the whole family study three Shakespeare plays every year in story form.   Should you choose to study the actual play, we suggest one play per year.  The plays listed below are the plays we recommend and the youngest grade levels for which we recommend them. Some of the plays we feel are simply too intense or inappropriate for younger children, but you know your student best!  So select an appropriate play based on the ages of your students and enjoy it as a group.

Grades 2 - 12

A Midsummer Night's Dream - Humorous play about several couples, magic spells,  fairies , and a bumbling troupe of would-be actors.


The Comedy of Errors - Humorous play about the confusing adventures of identical twins and how they eventually save their father 's  life.


As You Like It - Humorous play about two girls, one posing as a shepherd boy, w ho find a banished  father  and  loving husbands  in the  forest.

Twelfth Night - Humorous play about a girl, posing as page to a duke, who finds her identical twin  brother  and  wins her true  love  amid  a  series  of  confusing events .


Grade 6 - 12

Romeo and Juliet - The classic play of forbidden love and its tragic end. Young people from rivaling families pledge love to each other and choose rather to die together than to betray that love.


The Taming of the Shrew - Humorous play of how a belligerent woman becomes a submissive wife.


Julius Caesar - Tragedy  about the death  of Julius  Caesar  on the Ides  of  March.

Grades 8 - 12

Hamlet - Tragedy of the prince of Denmark who is doomed by his father's murder to plot a bloody revenge.


Macbeth - Tragedy of an ambitious nobleman who is driven by an evil wife to murder his king.



Notes on Shakespeare

It's easy to do Shakespeare  with  a three-step  approach :

1.  Read the play in story form to get familiar with the characters and plot. A few great  books  for  this  step  are:                 


Beautiful  Stories  from Shakespeare for Children  by E. Nesbit 

Tales from Shakespeare  by Charles and Mary Lamb

Shakespeare Stories by Leon Garfield


2.  After that introduction, assign various people the roles in the play to read or dramatize . Concentrate on one Act or Scene at a time, and spread out the reading over several days.


3.  Last, watch a recorded or live performance of the play you're reading. (Be sure to do your research and preview to avoid any unpleasant surprises when watching with your children.)

Shakespeare: The Animated Tales DVD Winner of 3 Emmy Awards these exceptional animated stories have been designed to introduce children and young adults to some Shakespeare's most popular works.

BBC Shakespeare Comedies DVD

As You Like It Shakespeare at his sunniest, posing serious questions in the most lighthearted tone. Is there a natural difference between a Duke's daughter and a commoner? Are men really stronger than women? Or is it just society's role? Some of these characters briefly discard the roles they've played, while others adopt new one. All learn something about themselves. Stars Helen Mirren, Brian Stirner and Richard Pasco. 

The Taming of the Shrew This comic confrontation between the sexes is one of the most frequently-staged plays. Its sparkling wit and rich characterization are matched with an outstanding cast. John Cleese, of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers gives a portrayal of Petruchio that wins unanimous critical acclaim, praised an object lesson in serving Shakespeare to a present-day audience.¨ 

The Tempest  A dramatic romance, weaving fancy and realism into a plot that speaks to audiences today. This timeless stage is set on an enchanted island, where an exiled Duke and two young lovers encounter the occult, finding good and evil in their own natures. Starring Christopher Guard, Michael Hordern and more. 

A Midsummer Night's Dream  Three plots intertwine: the entangled love affairs of Demetrius and Helena, Lysander and Hermia, the comic performance of a play within a play by the tradesmen of Athens and the antics in fairyland of King Oberon and Queen Titania. The strong cast features Helen Mirren and Peter McEnery, Pippa Sward, Brian Clover and Phil Daniel. As the New York Times states they are all accomplished performers, but the director has given the extra dimension of using them brilliantly in terms of television. 

The Merchant of Venice The Merchant of Venice is one of Shakespeare's most famous comedies. It has become most celebrated for its captivating villain, Shylock. Blending tragedy and comedy, this play presents contrasts and ambiguities. The complexity lies in the character Shylock. Is he a villain, a buffoon or tragic hero? Starring: Warren Mitchell, Gemma Jones.


BBC Shakespeare Tragedies DVD 

Romeo and Juliet One of the great love stories of all time and a hit for over 400 years. Full of passion and exquisite language, it expresses love in its infinite variety more than any other work in the English language. Stars Sir John Gielgud, Rebecca Saire, Patrick Ryecart. 

Hamlet The greatest tragedy ever written maintains all the tension of a murder mystery as it examines the fundamental issues of justice, guilt and death. Hamlet, the most complex of all Shakespeare's characters is considered the greatest challenge for an actor. Derek Jacobi is a superb choice in the rigorous tradition of Shakespearian acting. Stars Derek Jacobi, Patrick Stewart, Eric Porter and Claire Bloom. 

Macbeth This savage tragedy is one of Shakespeare's most enduringly popular. Told by a trio of witches that he is fated to become King of Scotland, the warrior Macbeth, aided by his wife, in his quest for power murders his king and assumes the throne. Starring Nicol Williamson and Jane Lapotire.

Julius Caesar Breaking all conventional rules of drama, Shakespeare creates neither a clear-cut hero nor a Villain. Instead, this great tragedy presents complicated human beings in agonizing conflict with one another, and themselves. Starring Richard Pasco, Keith Michell and Charles Gray as Caesar. 

Othello When the evil Iago plants the seeds of doubt in Othello's mind about Desdemona's fidelity, audiences around the world have been held spellbound. Starring Anthony Hopkins as Othello and Bob Hoskins as Iago. 


BBC Shakespeare Histories DVD 

Henry V, Richard II, Richard III, Henry IV, Part I and Henry IV, Part II  

Shakespeare is rightly considered the world's greatest playwright for the soaring beauty of his language, for his profound insight into human nature, for truths he dramatized and for the realism of the characters he created. He was, and remains, a superb entertainer.

Featuring some of Britain's most distinguished theatrical talent: Derek Jacobi, Sir John Gielgud, Charles Gray, Jon Finch, Martin Shaw, David Gwillim and Anthony Quayle, and many more. DVD brings out the rich beauty in the acting and sound. The English language subtitles allow viewers to correctly understand the rapid fire of the beautiful language of William Shakespeare.

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