Saturday, February 4, 2012

Teaching Shakespeare

Elizabethan England.  A study of it would be incomplete and well, soul-less, without The Bard.......We have had a flavorful two weeks learning about Elizabeth I, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.  Talk about bad behavior!  Those Tudors were shameless.  But Elizabeth, aka "Good Queen Bess" loved the theatre, especially Shakespeare.  Who wouldn't?  History, Comedy, Tragedy......Murder, Mistaken Identity, Men Dressed As Women Dressed As Men (Twelfth Night), and of course, lots of dueling.

I started with a read-aloud selection, "William Shakespeare & The Globe" by Aliki.  Don't you just love Aliki?  I grew up seeing her books featured on Reading Rainbow nearly every week.  This book introduces Shakespeare and tells about his youth and the early days of the travelling theatres, which eventually led to a permanent theatre being built to perform his plays. 

I had also purchased "Who Was William Shakespeare?" from the "Who Was?" series of childrens' biographies.  Once we read the Aliki selection, it seems we had covered the material pretty well. 

We used Lois Burdett's "Shakespeare Can Be Fun!" series as we dove right into MacBeth.  Lois Burdett teaches Shakespeare to children as young as 2nd grade and has them illustrate and summarize the play in their own words throughout the book.  The play is condensed to its essence and retold in an appealing rhyming verse, while retaining some of the most famous phrases from the original play.  Macbeth is the perfect selection to make Shakespeare seem "cool" to boys.  It's easy to identify with Macbeth.  He already had some power, but when presented with the idea that he could have more, he became prideful.  It didn't help that he had married someone even more greedy and self-righteous than himself.  Between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, there weren't many people left in Scotland that they hadn't killed or plotted to have killed and in the end....well, you'll have to read it.

I found this really cute summarization of Hamlet for kids.  It pretty much says it all, but there's no way we're going to miss watching the Mel Gibson/Glenn Close version, which came in the mail today in a little red envelope!  Hurray!  Watch this clip and see what you think.  It piqued the interest of both of my boys.  They begged me to order the movie so they could see the exciting swordfighting/poison wine scene in the end!

If you live in Britain, you are lucky enough to have the series, Horrible Histories!  They have a humorous video clip on nearly every stage of European history, including The Plague, Henry VIII (divorced, beheaded, and died, divorced, beheaded, survived....I'm Henry VIII, I had six sorry wives....some would say I ruined their lives..).  For the rest of us, we have grainy, somewhat shaky recorded versions of the series on YouTube.  Still, they are so good, I've used them for our Middle Ages/Renaissance studies.  You can't even purchase them in the U.S. and if you go straight to the Horrible Histories website, you are unable to view the videos if you live outside Britain.  I'm not happy about this.  Someone please fix it. 

For their final Shakespeare project, the kids are developing an elaborate stagefighting video, complete with fake blood, daggers and choreographed fencing.  Stay tuned for the video!  Of course, they can't rightly stagefight in camo shorts and a t-shirt, so I may be breaking out the sewing machine and fashioning some Elizabethan duds.


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