Read How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare Online

Authors: Ken Ludwig

Tags: #Education, #Teaching Methods & Materials, #Arts & Humanities, #Literary Criticism, #Shakespeare, #Language Arts & Disciplines, #General

How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare


Copyright © 2013 by Ken Ludwig

Introduction Copyright © 2013 by John Lithgow

All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

CROWN and the Crown colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data is available upon request.

eBook ISBN: 978-0-30795151-9
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-307-95149-6

Photo credits appear on
this page

this page
as an extension of the copyright page.

Book design by Jennifer Daddio/Bookmark Design & Media Inc.
Jacket design by Christopher Brand



Olivia and Jack Ludwig,



Barbara Mowat,



Please bear in mind that this book is intended for teachers of all kinds, not just parents. I developed the techniques in this book by teaching Shakespeare to my children, hence the title of the book. But as I can attest from the teaching I’ve done over the years at various schools and universities, these techniques work just as well in the classroom as they do in the living room.


The quotations and line numberings in this book are based on the Folger Shakespeare Library edition of Shakespeare’s plays, edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. Editions of Shakespeare differ from each other in a number of respects. First, editors must choose which underlying printings of the plays to use as their source material. Second, editors edit their source material for punctuation, spelling, missing words, etc., bringing to bear their wealth of scholarship, endeavoring to present the most accurate text possible to the reader. Finally, editors provide secondary materials to enhance the text, such as definitions of words, explanatory notes, and accompanying essays. There are many fine editions of Shakespeare’s plays on the market, each with its own advantages and level of detail, but I personally prefer the Folger Shakespeare Library edition for scholarship, ease of use, clarity, and price. Also, I urge readers of this book, when they want to consult one of the plays, to use individual copies—one play per book—and not a
Complete Works
as are often used in colleges. Those can be difficult to read and difficult to handle physically, which can be off-putting, especially for children.



Title Page



Introduction by John Lithgow


A Midsummer Night’s Dream

1. Passage 1: Learning the First Line
2. The Reason for the Book
3. The Plan of the Book
4. Passage 1, Continued: Imagery and Rhythm
5. The Final Six Lines
6. Passage 2: Puck’s Announcement and the Story of
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
7. Digging Deeper into
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
8. Passage 3: Bottom’s Dream
9. Passage 4: Theseus and Hippolyta
10. Poetry Versus Prose: How Does Poetry Work?

Twelfth Night

11. Passage 5: Cesario’s Willow Cabin
12. The Viola Plot
13. Passage 6: Orsino’s Heart
14. Passage 7: The Nature of Shakespearean Comedy
15. Passage 8:
Cakes and Ale
16. The Malvolio Plot
17. Passage 9: Carpe Diem
18. Passage 10: Sisters and Brothers
19. Passage 11:
Do Not Embrace Me

Romeo and Juliet

20. Passage 12: Juliet in Love


21. Shakespeare’s Life and an Overview of His Work



22. Passage 13: Macbeth’s Conscience
23. Passage 14: Lady Macbeth and the Imagery of Evil

Henry IV, Part 1

24. Passage 15: The World of Falstaff
25. Passage 16: Falstaff’s Voice

As You Like It

26. Passage 17: Rosalind
27. Passage 18:
This Wide and Universal Theatre
28. Passage 18, Continued: The World as a Stage

Henry V

29. Passage 19:
O, for a Muse of Fire!
30. Henry the Patriot


31. Hooray for Heminges and Condell



32. Passage 20:
What a Piece of Work Is a Man
33. Passage 21:
Who’s There?
34. Passage 22: The Advice of Polonius
35. Hamlet’s Soliloquies
36. Passage 23:
O, What a Rogue and Peasant Slave Am I!
37. The End of the Story
38. Passage 24: The Most Famous Words in the World
39. Hamlet and the Theater

The Tempest

40. Passage 25: A Summation


Appendix 1.
A Chronological List of Shakespeare’s Plays
Appendix 2.
Five Additional Longer Passages
Appendix 3.
Fifty-five Additional Passages to Teach Your Children If They Want to Continue
Appendix 4.
A List of Favorite Epigrams
Appendix 5.
Sample Quotation Pages


Books for Children
Books for Parents, Teachers, and Advanced Students
Audio Recordings


About the Author

Photo Credits

By John Lithgow

hen it came to Shakespeare, I was a lucky boy. My childhood was full of Shakespeare. My father, you see, was an itinerant regional theater producer. He ran four outdoor summer Shakespeare festivals out in Ohio when I was a kid. In the decade of the 1950s alone, he presented every single one of the Bard’s plays, many of them more than once. I knew Shakespearean characters the way my schoolmates knew big league ballplayers: Trinculo, Charmian, Hotspur, Osric, Celia, Benvolio, Froth.

My three siblings and I spent our summers hanging around rehearsals and precociously befriending the actors. When we reached our teens, we provided my father with cheap labor. We built props, stitched costumes, operated light boards, ran concession stands, and mopped the stage. And the background music of our lives in those days was the sound of Shakespearean verse, spoken out loud.

Best of all, we got to play the parts of various children in the plays. My brother was a servant in
Julius Caesar
. My sister was a murdered prince in
Richard III
. And in one of the happiest moments of my boyhood, I was cast as Mustardseed, one of the fairies waiting on Titania, in
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
. This meant that I got to prance around onstage night after night, a seven-year-old in a leotard, fairy wings, and pointy yellow fake fur hat, lit up by silvery stage lights and bathed in Shakespeare’s gorgeous language.

For me the highlight of every performance was the first encounter between Oberon and Titania, the estranged king and queen of the Fairies. In this scene, the two carry on an angry marital squabble, all of it expressed in exquisitely poetic phrases and images. It is as if, when he wrote their dialogue, Shakespeare had been intoxicated by the heady pleasure of writing for fairy royalty. To be honest, at seven years old I had no idea what the couple was fighting about—who knew that the argument was an ugly Elizabethan custody dispute? But every night I was dizzy with the beauty of their glorious speeches.

My favorite involved a young woman who had served Titania, a mortal who had died in childbirth, whose child the Fairy Queen had raised as her own son. The speech begins:

His mother was a vot’ress of my order
And in the spiced Indian air by night
Full often hath she gossiped by my side…

Each night I sat onstage in the spiced air of Yellow Springs, Ohio, and memorized a few more words.

So imagine my delight when, halfway through this marvelous book, I came upon a page that was entirely devoted to this very passage and read Ken Ludwig’s description of it as “one of the most beautiful speeches in all of Shakespeare.” That was the moment when I knew that Ludwig and I, to an uncanny degree, had Shakespeare in common.

Ken Ludwig is not a scholar by profession. He is a playwright and a man of the theater. To him, Shakespeare is primarily a storyteller, an entertainer, and the ultimate authority on the craft of playwriting. Hence, Ludwig’s approach to the plays is more passionate than academic. His enthusiasm bubbles over on every page of his book and makes you want to track down whatever Shakespeare play is being performed nearby and rush off to see it.

Ludwig is also a father. He discovered early on that his love of Shakespeare was something that he could share with his children. In hours of reading and reciting with them, he learned a surprising truth: that children are ready, willing, and able to master these four-hundred-year-old plays. Give them the opportunity and they will hungrily devour them. Children, after all, are like sponges. Their young minds are in a constant state of verbal absorption. They are far better students of language than we adults are. Every day they are digesting scores of new words and phrases. What better time to feed them a rich diet of Shakespeare’s poetry and prose?

This book is a teaching primer for parents and a manual for making Shakespeare manageable and fun for kids. On these terms alone, it succeeds splendidly. But it has an extraordinary hidden virtue. It is equally informative, readable, and fun for
. It is essential reading for anyone who has grown to adulthood with the misfortune of missing out on Shakespeare. And it is just as rich for those of us with a long history with the Bard. Shakespeare’s mind is so limitless and Ludwig is so knowledgeable that we discover little gems on every page. And for parents, making such discoveries in the company of their children is especially precious.

Not every child gets to play Mustardseed. Few sit onstage nightly and hear Oberon quarrel with Titania. But
How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare
is a pretty good substitute. In many ways it’s even better. You will recall that, at seven years old, I didn’t understand a word that Titania was saying. Ludwig explains
. So by way of introduction, let me invite you to dive into his book. Read it with your child at your side or in the privacy of your own receptive thoughts. Through Ken Ludwig’s good offices, William Shakespeare will speak “with most miraculous organ,” to you and to your children, from across the ages.

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