During my time with Ambleside Homeschool, we have had the opportunity to read several Shakespeare plays in story form. These readings come from well-written story versions for children. Now, my Ambleside mentor tells me, we are ready to engage in reading Shakespeare in the original. How exciting! As our school day is full of many other engaging subjects, that I did not want to eliminate, I decided to add Shakespeare into our family time after dinner. This new ritual has become a fount of delight. Let me explain.
First, I purchased five full Hamlet texts, one for each of us. Next, we set aside time in the evening, about 3-4 times per week, to read one scene per night. Our first night, we reviewed the story of Hamlet and I printed out a Hamlet ‘family tree’ to help us keep the characters straight. Before we began the first act, I asked, “Who wants to be Claudius? Who wants to be Gertrude, the ghost, Horatio?” Great enthusiasm was evoked as there was a chorus of “I do, I do”. After we all settled on our characters for the night, I told them that they had 3 minutes to go and get any prop they wanted for their character. My youngest daughter quickly found the ballet tiara for Gertrude, my husband seemed to form a crown for Claudius by turning my sunhat inside-out, Horatio donned a scarf from the coat closet, I was given a ski hat, apparently to endure the weather in Denmark, and the ghost, was covered in the family room throw blanket. Even our Spaniel played the part of the Guard, a non-speaking role. Yes, we were now ready to begin. It was then pure delight to see this thespian experience unfold as each of us, comfortable in familial safety, fully became our character. Lines were read with great enthusiasm and the beautiful language was accessed with ease. What joy! After our reading and amateur acting of Act 1 Scene 1 we sat down together as a family and discussed the ideas, characters, set-up, etc. Each family member lit up with something to say about our reading, something they noticed that touched upon their soul. Well, it is Shakespeare after all.
Every family Shakespeare evening since has produced more of the same delight, enthusiasm and intellectual challenge. It continues to surprise me as to how personal this play has become to our family, the resulting dinnertime conversations and the continued enthusiasm to read and act out the next scene. Children thrive on great literature and great ideas, just as adults, and this has been a wonderful way to bring the two together. I attribute this to another one of the blessings that flow from a living education.