Today is Shakespeare’s birthday (and his death day). I adore Shakespeare but I know not everyone feels the same, and some parents may still be carrying scars from their school days when it comes to supporting their children with Shakespeare. So here are a few tips on how you can help your child get to grips with any Shakespeare play he/she is studying, from learning about the story to getting deeper into the nuances of the play.
Get the story first
Shakespeare can feel overwhelming at first, but underneath the tricky language there are great stories that appeal to audiences time and time again. Understanding the story can really help students to engage with the play, and get a sense of characters and plot before they try and tackle language. Here are a few suggestions about resources you can use to help your child grasp the story first:
Animated tales – These are quite old now, and some of them have aged better than others, but these are a concise way to introduce your child to the story of the play, as they are only half an hour each. I would particularly recommend these for Yr7 and 8, older ones may find them a bit too babyish.
Graphic novels – These are definitely an under-used resource with students. They are comic books but some can contain quite advanced vocabulary, and there are many versions of key school texts available. The use of images will help students who feel lost when it comes to the language, and help them to piece together the story.
Film adaptations – These are a great way to help your child get the feel for the story, and arguably if Shakespeare were around today he would be more likely to write for the cinema than the stage. Teenagers respond well to the energy and the visual nature of film, and it tends to hold their focus for longer. The only thing to be wary of is that film adaptations can vary in terms of how faithful they are to the source material. Some versions may omit large chunks, make changes or even add in speeches that were not there in the stage play. So ensure your child is aware that when they come to look at the play more closely, they may well encounter differences. However, a faster pace may help to create that initial engagement.
Play versions – Once your child is feeling more confident with the story, the next step could be to get them to see it as it was intended, on the stage. Pre-Covid, this could have meant taking them to a production, but there are also ways to see a play from the comfort of your own home. The Globe Theatre has its own Globe Player where you can rent and buy productions, and there are also sometimes productions streamed for free via YouTube. The RSC also has production recordings that are available for purchase.
Moving on to the text
Once your child knows the story of the play, then it is time to introduce him/her to the language. Here are some tips on how to do that!
Shakespearean insults – This is a simple and fun activity to help your child engage with the language. There are different insult generators available online, and students can use these to come up with their own insults and have some fun playing around with Shakespearean language.
For a free template for this activity, click here: https://www.dropbox.com/scl/fi/e06mo6njre1kcqbg3kv8l/Surviving-Shakespeare.docx?dl=0&rlkey=eu3v92yluy096ucr6o8hzry17
No Fear Shakespeare – Another great resource for coping with Shakespeare is this series, available online and in print. The copy gives both the original Shakespeare version and a modern day translation side by side, and is a brilliant way to build up students’ confidence.
For the more advanced
When you are more confident with the story, characters and some of the language, there are other techniques your child can use to help them go deeper. One of the issues with Shakespeare is that grammar rules were not as fixed in his day, so some of his sentence structures look very odd in comparison with modern writing. However, identifying the subject, verb and object can help students to uncover the meaning. Take this example:
“So foul and fair a day (object) I (subject) have not seen (verb)”
In modern English, we would order the sentence like this:
I have never seen a day that was so foul and fair.
Become a metaphor spotter
Shakespeare’s writing is full of metaphor, and spotting these in his writing can help students get closer to what he is trying to say.
Another good tip could be to draw out the metaphor, as visualising what he is saying can help get closer to meaning. For example, “O beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green–eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”
Get your child to actually draw out a green-eyed monster, and perhaps think about what “mock the meat it feeds on” would actually look like. Even if he/she says they do not understand, drawing out key words in the phrase, such as “mock” and “meat” may help them get closer to uncovering the meaning.
Look up allusions
If your child is at GCSE level or above, make sure you have a good quality edition of the play. This will enable him/her to look up allusions that are tricky for a modern audience to uncover. Some references in Shakespeare are simply too old for us to understand without a little help, and even the most experienced academics have to make use of footnotes from time to time.
Still looking for further support with English? Bright Sky Tutoring offers one to one and small group sessions for KS2, KS3, KS4 and KS5. To find out more, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.