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.

4 Comments on “Yelling Shakespeare

  1. “Screw your courage to the sticking place” is what my 6 yo shouted as he jumped off the arm of the couch with a sword one day after a Shakespeare lesson with tbg. Yelling and Shakespeare is like pb&j?

  2. Love this, Mary! Do you own I Buy A School? I’ve been wanting to read it for awhile. Maybe someone who I know owns it and can lend it. 🙂 I can identify with so much that you said here and the beauty that comes out of JUST DOING IT. Not getting bogged down in the many ways, specifics, and how-to’s, but just enjoying it with the children.

    • Thank you Amy! Unfortunately it was borrowed. I’d really like to get it reprinted. Not sure how that all works…

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