"How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare" by Ken Ludwig

How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare - Ken Ludwig

“If we can’t all be Shakespeares, it doesn’t make us less in the world; the understanding makes us more.”


“I want your children to be inspired by Shakespeare for the many years to come when they believe that they can do anything as long as they work hard enough at it”.


The above quotes are both from the epilogue, and they both fitting conclusions to an extraordinary book. Ludwig’s love of Shakespeare is evident and he makes us want to learn more and to develop a deeper understanding of Shakespeare’s works. I feel myself more knowledgeable in terms of Shakespeareana after having read it. 


Personally, I adore Shakespeare.


Thanks to my British Council's teachers for forcing it upon me, but in a way that made it relevant and meaningful to my teen life. I had a passionate teacher, Vicky Hartnack (vide her paper “Hamlet, Wounded Knee, The Atomic Bomb and the Future English Teacher”), that brought out the essence of Shakespeare's plays, the themes, the emotions and things that I could connect to, with less emphasis on the English text itself, but rather the meaning. I still fondly remember my "first contact" with Shakespeare. It comprised a multitude of woes of love, hate, despair, jealousy, greed, and so on.


I've always compared Shakespeare to foreign language learning (which I can relate to, because I always aspired to be quadrilingual in English, German, my native tongue, and Shakespeare...).


When I was at the British Council I thought Shakespeare used many words that were really hard to understand. It was really complicated for those of us that didn't have strong English skills. I remember a friend that used to complain that Shakespeare used Old English...! (Gasp) Not so. Shakespeare used Early Modern English to write his plays. Middle (old) English was essentially gone by 1485. Old English is more German than English, and I wouldn't be able to understand it without taking a foreign language class (which I did).


For me, the beauty of Shakespeare was not so much the content in the British Council curriculum, but rather, how it was delivered (I once had a teacher that made me fall in love with Physics...). When the passion is there, even the most antiquated, disliked and old fashioned subject can be brought to life and spark an interest in us. 


In this book, Ken Ludwig’s assertion for learning Shakespeare is that he is "The bedrock of Western Civilization in English.”  By exposing our children to Shakespeare, Ludwig asserts that we're providing them with a head start in life.  I couldn't agree more. Too bad I didn't find this book when my children were born, but it's never too late to start...I quite understand Ludwig’s purpose for exposing our own children to Shakespeare. It's to give them the tools to comprehend Shakespeare's works for the rest of their lives, to appreciate literature and the arts.  


Parents are given quotations pages (also available online), which have the text divided up into small chunks, making it more accessible to children and parents.


I've just downloaded all the passages for future reference.


Another added bonus emanating from the book were Ludwig’s paraphrases of some of Shakespeare’s most difficult snippets:

To be or not to be – that is the question:

Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles

And, by opposing, end them.

To live or not to live.

Is it more honorable to live or to end one’s life? Is it nobler to suffer by living through all of the slings and arrows that life shoots at you, or is it better to fight against that sea of troubles by ending your life?


The real magic of Shakespeare is his insight into human nature, and that much can learned by each generation that studies him. I know I did learn a lot.


My last Shakespeare binge undertaken in concentrated form filled a summer. It's about time I embark again on a Shakespeare binge by re-reading (and watching) my favourite plays: Hamlet (Branagh), Macbeth (Branagh), Twelfth Night, and Henry V (Branagh).


NB: Just a personal note on one of Hamlet’s most known aphorisms: "To thine own self be true"- NOT! (Polonius said it, but it was heavily laden with irony. I always thought Polonius was a self-serving prick…)