See that picture of my Riverside Shakespeare? I read it in college at the University of Minnesota many years ago. I didn’t enjoy it and plowed through it for the grade. Almost entire plays have pink highlighter throughout as I grappled with each play at breakneck speed. Thank goodness Charlotte Mason entered my life a few years later! Thanks to her, my children have had a very different experience with Shakespeare.
Having read all his plays – most of them more than once – I want to share with you my top resources for teaching Shakespeare. I am writing this from a distinctly Charlotte Mason perspective as I have been teaching Shakespeare for 25 years while steeped in her writings, but these recommendations are timeless for everyone wanting to enjoy Shakespeare with their students.
There are thousands of Shakespeare helps out there; my bookshelves attest to that! But these are the things that I used the most. I have other play-specific recommendations and some of those can be found in the co-op posts I share at the end. In a living education, enjoying Shakespeare should be a simple and straightforward process but everyone needs a little help. (Including this English major!)
#1 – Teacher Prep
–Shakespeare After All by Marjorie Garber
I like to take my time and read her chapter on the play we are about to read. This is an academic book, taken from her popular lectures at Harvard and Yale. Brilliant. She explains the Christian/Hebraic/Hellenistic distinctions so well.
–Stories From Shakespeare by Marchette Chute
This book is unique in that it takes you through the play with an overview and also gives you a bit of direction and commentary. This book might be all the prep you need before reading a play. I have also started out a play by reading and having the students narrate beginning parts of her chapter on the play we are reading.
#2 – Retellings
-Lamb’s Tales From Shakespeare
The classic and original retellings for children. Read my article to see if Charlotte Mason actually used Lamb’s or not!
-Bruce Coville’s picture books
Well done, beautifully illustrated, and lots of actual words from Shakespeare make these seven retellings of popular Shakespeare plays a delight for everyone. Get them all so your younger children can become familiar with the stories.
-Leon Garfield’s Shakespeare Stories Vol. 1 and 2
These are modern retellings done in excellent prose and very dramatic! Perfect to begin a play with by reading and narrating. These will definitely grab their attention.
#3 – The Plays
–Folger Shakespeare Library editions
These are portable and inexpensive so everyone can have their own copy. My graduates ask for their colorfully coordinated “Shakespeare Library” after they’ve left home. Yes, there are notes but they are not intrusive and actually very helpful to read a definition quickly. We’ve also found the drawings great for our Book of Centuries entries. Essays before and after the play can be quite helpful for the teacher.
We started using these when they were on cassettes! These can be so helpful in learning how to read Shakespeare and they include light dramatization.
#4 – Recitation Helps
You can sort the top monologues by play, then men or women. Very helpful when looking for the top speeches in the play for your students to choose from if they don’t already have a favorite selection for recitation.
-Folger Shakespeare Library editions of the plays
In the back of the book for every play is a “Famous Lines and Phrases” section that can point you to the best speeches.
#5 – Miscellaneous
–Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare
For the maps! Yes! Simple and beautifully drawn maps for each play. Stop your searching and just use these. Also excellent for commentary.
–Shakespeare’s Storybook – Folk Tales that Inspired the Bard by Ryan and Mayhew
Eventually you will share with your children that Shakespeare borrowed most of his stories from others. This book and audio is excellent for introducing this idea. It covers seven popular plays. We often begin a reading of a play with this background information.
Those are my basic and best recommendations! There are really so many more like Leland Ryken’s guides to Hamlet and Macbeth or Peter Leithart’s 2 books, Brightest Heaven of Invention and Great Stage of Fools, that pay close attention to the biblical imagery and theological themes. But keep it simple and enjoy Shakespeare first and foremost. I hope some of these resources will help with that.
INTERESTING AND HELPFUL POSTS ABOUT SHAKESPEARE
I wrote these articles because I love Shakespeare and I wanted to dig deeper!
Why We Read Shakespeare in a Living Education – the rationale for teaching Shakespeare in a Charlotte Mason Education
The Joy of Shakespeare – how Shakespeare was taught in Charlotte Mason’s schools
A Programme For Shakespeare – my findings after researching which plays Charlotte Mason had her students read
Shakespeare Enjoyment – why it doesn’t matter if your students don’t understand it all
Tales From Shakespeare – looks at whether or not Charlotte Mason assigned this book and a bit about the interesting siblings who wrote it
Shakespeare and the Starlings – about those pesky birds and Shakespeare
SHAKESPEARE IN OUR TRUTH, BEAUTY, GOODNESS COMMUNITY
Enjoy reading these posts about Shakespeare in our co-op! Many posts have play-specific resources not mentioned in the above list.
-Narrating Our Way Through Julius Caesar (Julius Caesar)
-Mistaken Identities and Mistaken Assessments (The Comedy of Errors)
-The Bard’s Birthday (The Winter’s Tale)
-The Green-eyed Monster (The Winter’s Tale)
-The Point Hath Gone Missing (The Winter’s Tale)
-Grace to Boot (The Winter’s Tale)
-Shakespeare Resources (Romeo and Juliet)
-The Rarer Action – Resources for The Tempest (The Tempest)
–The Triumph of Grace – Resources for Macbeth (Macbeth)
-Sermons in Stones – Resources for As You Like It (And a Warning)
-Grapple Them to Thy Soul: Resources for Hamlet
-How Far the Little Candle Throws His Beams: Resources for The Merchant of Venice
-A Horse! A Horse! My kingdom for a horse! – Resources for Richard III
-Wheeling Worlds of the Winter Firmament (King Henry VI Pt. 3)