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Shakespeare for tweens: need fun AND depth


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Seeking ideas! Please brainstorm with me!


Background: this is for my 9yo who loves classics, reads deeply (almost always unabridged) likes challenging vocabulary and has had good but fleeting exposure to Shakespeare over the years either by watching dramatizations, acting in one himself at age 5 (with original but slightly abridged dialogue), watching documentaries/ movies or just discussing some aspect of Shakespeare in everyday conversation when we have the chance. We have also read the Leon Garfield versions and one or two other children's versions (Nesbitt, Lamb) when he was younger.


What won't work: Lightning Lit or Online G3 or more of the abridged, children's versions (due to schedule conflicts, curriculum-commitment issues and dislike of watered-down stories). LL could work as a spine though. He dislikes notebooking and lapbooking. He doesn't mind writing but is not yet ready for essays.


What might work: about a para or two of writing per play. I'm basically looking for something close to high school level but not necessarily writing heavy...not interested in learning for credit etc. We want to have fun and enjoy this as much as we can. Learning for the love of learning!


What will work for sure: humor (low on the bawdy side if possible although he really liked one of the The Reduced Shakespeare Co. videos we watched), and visual appeal like movies, animations and games.


What I have (and trying not to spend too much on other things):



  • Folger editions of several comedies: off hand without checking my shelves: Twelfth Night, As You Like It, Midsummer Night's Dream, Merchant of Venice.
  • Folger/ other editions of tragedies: Julius Caesar, Macbeth, R&J.
  • One of the Great Courses on Shakespeare's comedies and tragedies (just ordered)
  • Planning to try Shakespeare in Bits: http://www.mindconnex.com
  • We have access to Netflix but not a very good library
  • We may not use audiobooks due to poor library access, can't afford to buy them right now
  • Might try pulling a small group together to read plays aloud or might just do it on our own


I've read a few of the full plays myself but thought I would ask for ideas.


I plan to start with a comedy, maybe Midsummer Night's Dream because there is a Shakespeare in Bits version too for supplementing. Which tragedy do you suggest I move on to? I'm considering Macbeth or Caesar (I read MacB ages ago but haven't read JulC yet). I have heard that R&J can be overly suggestive for younger audiences. I know he's mature enough to work on "lighter" tragedies so I have decided not to focus on only comedies for now. Besides, I think we will enjoy the variety.


Any ideas to make this a very memorable study? :bigear: :001_smile:

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Not much to offer you except that your plan sounds fantastic. Watching the plays 'live' at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland was a real treat for our family. We plan to visit OSF again soon. I have a few ideas here although my girls were much younger when we did this.


I'll be :bigear: as you receive more ideas.



ETA: When my dd15 was a tween we watched every Hollywood production of her favorite plays. She would follow along with our giant book of Shakespeare plays on her lap. I noticed on our Netflix history that she's been watching her old favorites again. Most have Kenneth Branagh whom we adore. We own Merchant with Al Pacino. Seriously, we love the modern Hollywood versions. My little girls are OBSESSED with Taming Of The Shrew with Elizabeth Taylor. Whatever works. :)

Edited by Beth in SW WA
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Do you have access to a group of fellow HSers? I have had great, great luck in doing a simple Shakespeare reading class, starting with kids just a little older than yours. It is a great way to introduce the Bard to younger people, and by doing it in a group, you get to trade off parts, practice reading aloud, practice dramatic voices and accents, discuss interesting themes you notice, etc. For us, it has lead to four years of Shakespeare camp, where we stage the whole play in a week. I cannot recommend a group study, preferably fairly informal, highly enough. Best luck to you! :001_smile:

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I have no idea if they would appeal to a younger student (even if advanced), but my then 12 yod dd absolutely LOVED Michael Woods "In Search of Shakespeare"(available from Netflix) followed by Quest for Shakespeare http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/seriessearchprog.asp?seriesID=7136&T1=shakespeare


Pearce also has courses available here (this page has a coupon for free downloads until the 12th https://catholiccourses.benedictpress.com/ ) I'm not sure if this Shakespeare download is different from the radio series on EWTN. https://CatholicCourses.BenedictPress.com/index.php/CC-Shakespeares-Catholicism


If you want to get together w/a group of kids to act things out, the American Shakespeare Center has teacher guide downloads available for cheap. The guides also spend quite a bit of time on the poetic meter/form of his writing. (too much so for my dd.....it wasn't the focus we wanted to make) So, for me these weren't very helpful.


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I've found that my experience in PS was unique, but my English class started reading Shakespeare in 8th grade (so slightly older than your son) and read a play or more a year. If you are reading the original plays, many of the comedies and some of the tragedies IMO are inappropriate for the under high school crowd because of the adult themes. The first play I read in school was Taming of The Shrew. I thought it was a great one to start off with. We did a readers' theater in class and then watched the Elizabeth Taylor version of the play afterwards. We had several project choices afterwards; make a travel brochure of the citiy where Kate lived, make a diorama of a scene in the play, make up an extra scene between characters in the play, that kind of stuff. We also had to memorized a famous speech from each play. I also like Twelfth Night as a starting comedy. As for histories, I really liked Richard III or Henry V. Macbeth or Julius Caesar are good starting tragedies. My favorite tragedy, with some really great themes is King Lear, but your choice of video to go with it is very limited.


In high school I read A Midsummer Night's Dream twice, once in English class and once in Drama class. It was really neat getting two perspectives on it. In drama we also watched Dead Poet Society not only because it is a great movie BUT also to look at how a speech can be used to mean many different things depending on the audience. We focused on Puck's last speech in the play where the character in Dead Poet Society is using the speech to apologize to his father. We all memorized the speech and I still remember it to this day (one of the few things I memorized and can recall at a moment's notice). I don't think I would suggest Dead Poet Society for the average 9 year old because of the adult themes, but the play would be fine and then you could revisit the play when he was older.


In my college Shakespeare class, we read Harold Bloom's book of essays, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. I thought it gave interesting insights to many of the plays and think it could be something good for YOU to read and include in discussions as you think appropriate. The essays are relatively short and reasonably easy to read as far as critical lit essays go.



I plan on doing this when my own dd gets a bit older. If we are by ourselves, we will read a scene or act and then watch it using the best video version I can come up with. Then I will give her a choice of projects to complete to show/ extend her understanding. Doing it in a co-op setting would be even more fun. I hope you and your son have a great time this year.

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Thanks so much for all the great replies!


Jen, we listened to many Greathall Productions audiobooks when he was 5-6 -- the Shakespeare one was among his faves -- and that began his love of audiobooks. I readily recommend Greathall to all my friends with younger kids!


Caitlin, I think that's just what we'll do too. He's an only child, all the more reason why I'm sure he'd love to do it in a group vs. just with mom. We might already have a group forming (fingers crossed).


8, thank you! I'll check out the bookmarks right after this. :)


RachelFlores, thank you for sharing your experience. I'll look into those ideas for sure. I read Lear as a high schooler and it near broke my heart. It might be an interesting one to read with kiddo when he's a bit older.


Here are some ideas from brainstorming and googling and also from this book, just in case anyone else is following this thread:

- make character cards, include details like name, a memorable quote, a memorable behavior quirk (kiddo likes analyzing the psychology of characters)

- if doing this in a group, have each character attend a "talk show" and discuss how they felt when something happened

- rank all the good characters from a few plays from a scale of 1-10, (who's the best of them all?) similarly, rank all the bad guys (who's the most evil one of all?)

- 20 questions games

- alternate endings

- Dear Abby style letters -- e.g. Juliet writes to Dear Abby about the boy her parents will refuse to allow her to marry

- Shakespeare mad libs

- cool witches' stew recipes


Would love more out-of-the-box ideas! :001_smile:

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At the end of 6th grade, we did a Shakespeare unit with the Michael Woods documentaries, a documentary series called "Playing Shakespeare," Standard Deviants Shakespeare Tragedies, "Shakespeare's Women and Claire Bloom," "Macbeth" with Patrick Stewart----all from Netflix. My daughter was very familiar with the comedies, but we started the tragedies this time. Her favorite "Hamlet" is the one with David Tennant, as she is a Dr. Who fanatic. I started with the Michael Woods, interspersed the actual plays with the Standard Deviants episodes (we did skip Titus Andronicus), and did the other documentaries as they seemed to fit.

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In high school we ran a trial for Hamlet. He was on trial for the death of Polonius and was pleading insanity. There was a prosecution and defense and the rest of the class were characters from the play. It was a lot of fun and you really had to know the play and the character you were playing and how they would react.


-You could make/ design a costume for a character based on time period and the charcter.

-Write a scene from a "therapy session" for a character

-Create a Coat of Arms or a Flag for a character

-Make a puppet show out of one scene

-Illustrate a set of scenes from one of the plays

-Make a travel brochure for the place where the play took place


Just some ideas, hth :)

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