Thursday, June 22, 2017

Shakespeare on the Range: Romeo and Juliet

Last year, we reached Passage 12 in How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet.

Just to give an idea of Shakespeare on the Range, here's what our study looked like for this play.

First, First Son and First Daughter read retellings of the play. They read independently and narrated them to me.

First Son (7th grade) read from Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb. We have the version illustrated by Leonard Weisgard. I like this version. The illustrations are fine, the pages are nice, and it smells properly of old book. I think I bought ours used on Cathswap.

First Daughter (4th grade) read from Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare by Edith Nesbit. We have the Wilder Publications version which is merely adequate. There's no Table of Contents, which can be annoying. I also bought this version used.

I read the chapter in How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare aloud. Sometimes I have to change the wording a bit as I read to address the children directly rather than the parent, but it's usually not a problem. Then, over the course of a few weeks, we memorized the passage in the book. Only First Son and First Daughter have to memorize it, but the younger two often know all or most of it by the time we're done. We try to have Shakespeare twice a week. Once we review only the few most recent passages as well as the current one and one day a week we review all of our Shakespeare. (It takes about ten minutes to review the twelve passages plus a few bonus passages.)

After we had the passage memorized, we spent one day a week reading aloud an act of the play, continuing to review all our passages on the other day. First Son did not want to do this at all, mostly I think because it was Romeo and Juliet. I agreed to read Romeo's part so he wouldn't have to read it. We also decided to use their Star Wars and Disney Infinity characters to play the parts on our table. First Son even did their voices: Lego Batman played Capulet, for example. You haven't seen Romeo and Juliet until you've seen Princess Leia as Juliet and Jabba the Hut as the nurse. Just what I should have expected.

For our readings, I used Shakespeare Made Easy for my copy. It shows Shakespeare's text on one page with a modern translation on the facing page. I find this helpful in understanding the text more fully and following the action, but don't recommend it for students because sometimes the translations are a bit too graphic. I got my copy from

The kids both used the older version of Cambridge School Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. This is one series recommended in How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare. It has the play's text on one side and literary, dramatic, and historical notes on the facing page. We didn't specifically read any of these as my children are young and I wanted them merely to enjoy the play (as long as they could follow the main plot). It also includes photographs from actual productions, which I liked. I found, however, that some of the text was a little too explicit for little eyes. I used a post-it note to cover the top of page 74 and another one to cover pretty much all of page 50. When we came to those pages, I told the kids I didn't want them to see those pages just yet. I requested both of these copies from

Finally, after finishing the play, we watched the movie version with Olivia Hussey, which was available at our library. Warning: Romeo and Juliet are naked in bed together and Romeo even gets up while we can see his backside.

I also always make our Masterpuppet Theater available for them once a new passage is memorized. It comes with a book of scenes as well as some creative additional puppets like Shakespeare himself, a robot, and a bear. Every time we get this out, the kids spend extra time playing with the puppets.

One thing I forgot to do was make a character map with the kids. I find these helpful to have in front of us while reading the play because we can quickly see who a character is and all the relationships he or she has with other characters.

With a few breaks and missed days in the spring (when we were also working on a homeschool play with our drama club), we spent twelve weeks studying Romeo and Juliet. Next up: Macbeth.

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