by Ken Ludwig, author of How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare (Broadway Books, July 2014)
Since my early teens, I’ve felt strongly about the value of Shakespeare, but it wasn’t until I became a father that I figured out how to share my passion with the people I love. One day, my daughter came home from first grade spouting a line of Shakespeare—“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream—and at that moment, a light bulb went off in my head.
Starting that weekend, I set up a routine. My daughter and I would spend two hours each week memorizing speeches from Shakespeare’s plays. We started with short passages from the comedies and, gradually, increased the length and complexity of the passages we studied. To my delight, my daughter took to it immediately, and the hours we spent learning Shakespeare together were some of the best family times of our lives.
What I have tried to do in How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare is to offer parents and educators the techniques I developed over the years for my own children. So, for example, I explain the difficult words in each passage; I explain how to use the rhythm of the poetry to make learning easier; and I use the passages in each case as a window into the stories, characters and moral lessons in Shakespeare’s plays.
There is no doubt in my mind that knowing Shakespeare will make our children better readers and better writers. It will introduce them to the rich world of great literature, and it will give them academic confidence which they will use the rest of their lives. On a practical level, this will help them on tests and essays for school. More importantly, it will make them more moral human beings as they begin to see the world through a Shakespearean lens. To quote Hamlet, this is “a consummation devoutly to be wished.”
Ken Ludwig is an internationally acclaimed playwright who has had numerous hits on Broadway, in London’s West End, and throughout the world. He has won two Laurence Olivier Awards (England’s highest theater honor), received three Tony Award nominations, and won two Helen Hayes Awards and the Edgar Award. His work has been commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company and has been performed in at least thirty countries in over twenty languages. Some of his Broadway and West End shows include Crazy for You, Lend Me a Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo, Twentieth Century, and adaptations of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Treasure Island. He studied music at Harvard with Leonard Bernstein and theater history at Cambridge University in England. Visit him at www.kenludwig.com.
Note to Educators: Visit the website HowtoTeachYourChildrenShakespeare.com which has downloadable quotation sheets to aid in memorizing the passages, beautiful audio recordings of the passages in the book by actors Derek Jacobi, Richard Clifford, and Frances Barber, posters, and a book excerpt.