Yelling Shakespeare

Several years ago while reading When Children Love to Learn, I remember coming across the words of Marion Berry. It was like a gust of fresh wind blowing into our homeschool when I came across her particular slant on Charlotte’s method. I felt I could trust Marion’s words, because they described in real life what Charlotte was attempting to convey to us mothers throughout her writing. It helped that Marion was trained at Scale How (Charlotte Mason’s teacher training college) and was able to have actual experience with Charlotte!

Last year I had the chance to read Marion Berry’s book I Buy a School. I wish it was in print again so that all of us using Charlotte’s method could be encouraged by that book. Again, Marion’s writing was a breath of fresh air. I had many additions to my commonplace book, and from there into my soul. The forward of her book will help you understand why:

“In a PNEU school we do expect and attain a high standard of reasonable behavior and conscientious work, but it is not achieved by a scheme of rewards and punishments. It owes much to the atmosphere of strenuous happiness which pervades the place, and perhaps most of all to what a very sympathetic and appreciative mother meant when she said to me ‘You really do give the children something to live by’.”

I was particularly struck by her description of their Shakespeare time at her school. Of course, I saved it to think about later. I am quoting at length, because as you will see, there are many other things to think about in addition to how she enjoyed Shakespeare with the children:

“…this time I was in charge of the II Form, twenty-nine lively nine to ten year olds, and here it was that the children themselves opened my eyes to the tremendous potential of the termly Shakespeare play. Dean Colet’s ‘Let the children prosper in good life and good literature’ was one of Charlotte Mason’s maxims. Her belief in the eager intellectual life of quite young children was amply justified in my forty years of experiencing the impact of Shakespeare in Junior Schools.

I approached my first lesson in some trepidation. There had been some parental opposition – ridiculous starting them so young – spoil it for later on. The play was The Tempest and I buoyed myself up the the thought that they’d soon know what ‘Yarely – Yarely’ meant if they shouted it loud enough. There was about ten square feet of empty space in the corner and I said we’d have it for the shipwreck, and who wanted to be on board? An enthusiastic uprising left just one boy, crimson with embarrassment, sitting stolidly at his desk. I felt I had betrayed him, but it was only a temporary set-back. He soon became a fanatical devotee and bought himself a Complete Works (five shillings in those days) which he ranked with his stamp album. He was only eight and a half years old.

 

Confusion reigned one day because the school dinner had not been cleared away from our classroom when we came flocking back for afternoon school. The headmistress’s elderly mother was fussing round saying ‘Can’t they stand in a line and answer some questions?’, when this David Lissaman saved the day by shouting out ‘Can’t we do our Shakespeare?’. In a twinkle, Trinculo and Caliban were stretched out on the floor under someone’s man, to the huge delight of all the children and utter bewilderment of the the table-clearing girls.

 

For the end of term entertainment for the parents, in a church hall, we put on a scene with Ferdinand and Miranda, and I had the gratification of fathers following every word, almost ready to be the prompters, and a mother exclaiming ‘These children are doing Shakespeare as if it was “Alice in Wonderland”!’ In the summer we were on to ‘As you Like it’, and when I arrived in the morning I’d find a bunch out in the garden taking it in turns with ‘Here I lie down and measure out my grave’. It was like a phrase of music to them. They called it ‘When Adam was tired’. Coriolanus came round (a new play to me) and was tackled enthusiastically. The day we finished reading it was a bad one for me, being in a daze with a wisdom tooth, but I got them into the gym saying cheerfully ‘Now we’ll choose the bits we like for acting’. The response was uproar, everyone shouting out their favourite scene, showing an amazing grasp of the play as a whole. I parcelled them out in scenes and groups as quickly as I could, and as the noise subsided two little boys were left shouting ‘Have you got a two-er?” Of course I had. The two sentries, and they set happily to work learning the words. To give everyone a chance to get going, the classroom, the gym and the garden had to be used. Finding some of them down the passage by the dustbins, I expressed my displeasure rather forcibly. ‘It’s the road to Rome,’ they explain, and I retreated, abashed, thinking ‘I don’t deserve to have such children’.”

-Marion Berry

Wow.

That quote brought me so much hope and joy as I read it. (And again now, as I write it for you!)

I felt inspired to try for a happier time with Shakespeare. Although we have had good experiences with it over the years, I felt it could be a more enjoyable part of our day. My personality often causes me to get mired in how I think it “must be done”. This can cause me to never try in the first place! I wanted to incorporate more ages into our Shakespeare reading, but wasn’t sure how to achieve that, due to the difficulty we were having just getting the basics done.

And then one day, I’d had enough stressing over it. After I had everyone set up for lunch, I just grabbed the pile of Shakespeare books and mentioned that we would all be reading it together…right now. Of course no one was really surprised. They are used to me and my crazy ways. I had people read parts, and I fed lines to the people who couldn’t yet read. As luck would have it, there was a wrestling match involved in those lines, which added to the general hilarity.

It was a fantastic start.

I wish I could say it is always a smashing success when I grab the books and we read our lines. It is almost never simple. There are so many of us, of course there will be some sort of attitude, or problem, or something. Always. But we push on.

“…I venture to suggest, not what is practicable in any household, but what seems to me absolutely best for the children; and that in the faith that mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them.”

 

-Charlotte Mason  (emphasis hers)

For some reason the last few times we have read Shakespeare, people feel compelled to yell their lines. (I was glad to see from Marion’s writing that we were not alone in yelling our Shakespeare!) This adds a certain flare to things. It brings on mispronunciation like nobody’s business. It almost always makes me laugh. This yelling can also push a child who is wobbling on the edge of a bad attitude to just go flailing over the edge into complete insanity. You just never know. It’s all part of life. The good, the bad, the yelling.

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One of my favorite things about the Charlotte Mason method is the way Charlotte valued all children; rich, poor, strong, weak, bright and dull. She believed in what she called “spreading the feast” for all children: reading the same rich books, studying the same art, enjoying Shakespeare, history, studying nature and science – all the goodness with each child, and letting them take what they could get!  Read More

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School started last week. As usual, it was a bumpy start. I wasn’t intending to write about it due to the horrifying nature of the entire week. But when I spent a few minutes writing notes about it (to make myself feel better about worse weeks in the future? To comfort myself that it couldn’t get worse than that? I don’t know. I just write about things.), I decided to share. Maybe you can laugh at me. If nothing else, it might make you feel very, very good about your last school week…   Read More

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As I read a William Blake biography this week, I was struck by a tiny quote of Blake’s. Because of the wider truth of it, I have spent some time pondering. Thought I’d share.

“Without Unceasing Practice nothing can be done. Practice is Art. If you leave off you are Lost.”

 

-William Blake

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Last week I had the privilege of flying hundreds of miles away to Iowa to attend the Living Education Retreat. (Yes, my husband is amazing for staying home with crazy people.) I knew it was going to be a relaxing trip when I got to the airport early, was the first in line at security, was massively complemented by the inspector, did not have my bags or myself searched, and found that my gate was a few hundred yards from the security checkpoint. Can I mention that NEVER in my life (with a fair amount of flights), have things gone that smoothly?  Read More

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Some books change you, and you can never go back to who you were.

L’Abri was one of those books for me.

By the time I was finished with it, I had a fresh understanding of the power of God, His faithfulness, and His love for me. I was humbled and grateful to have been able to read that story of God’s glory. I had a sense of the reality of God’s provision and strength in our average, daily, somewhat monotonous lives. I had a new confidence in the work of the Holy Spirit.

I couldn’t wait to share it with everyone who would listen. Read More

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The longer I use the Charlotte Mason method, the more I love it. I think many of my Charlotte Mason friends feel similarly. This is truly an amazing method that just keeps on giving.

And yet. There’s a little issue that creeps up now and then in my life, and by what I observe around the internet, maybe you’ve experienced this too: The case of the Charlotte Mason husband.

The Charlotte Mason husband is one who loves his wife and children, is supportive, hardworking, and intelligent; and yet he does not gain the respect of his wife, because he has failed to read and narrate six pink volumesRead More

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Have you read Charlotte Mason’s Second Volume, Parents and Children?  Each time I begin a new book by Charlotte, I feel like I’m in for a big surprise! I began reading it with some friends last year, and we made it halfway through before taking a break. I picked it up again this fall, and as I flipped through the chapters, I was struck again by profound truth and wisdom. This is an amazing book.

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Sometimes I want to demystify the Charlotte Mason method for people who are curious! But there is so much here. How can I summarize this way of life into a short explanation?!

I can’t. It wouldn’t do it justice.  Read More