~by Ken Ludwig
Today is the publication date of my new book, How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare (Random House Publishing), and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to share this book with you as parents and educators, arts advocates and fellow Shakespeare fanatics.
I’ve spent my career in the arts, and I have staked my life as a writer on the proposition that the arts make a difference in how we see the world and how we conduct our lives – how we view charity to our neighbors and justice in our communities.
For me, Shakespeare, towering as he does above all other writers, has always been central to this vision. And because I’m such a lover of Shakespeare, I’ve been teaching my children how to read and memorize passages from Shakespeare since they were six years old. The purpose of How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare is to pass on the torch and create a whole new generation of Shakespeare lovers.
I’ve based the book on four very simple premises: (1) in order to be an educated, literate member of our society, you have to know some Shakespeare; (2) reading Shakespeare’s plays is daunting for everyone, adults and children alike, because his language is so complex; (3) it isn’t hard to crack the code of Shakespeare if you treat it like a foreign language and learn a few simple rules; and (4) the best time to learn Shakespeare is when you’re young because then you aren’t afraid of him. Children are sponges.
This fourth premise is key to my book. I’ve had several recent opportunities to teach Shakespeare workshops to youngsters using the methods described in the book and I’ve realized more clearly than ever how eager children are to learn about Shakespeare, especially when they’re young enough to be unafraid of him. Children naturally have open minds, and their brains really are like sponges. Duke Orsino in Twelfth Night says that his love is “as hungry as the sea and can digest as much.” A child’s curiosity is the same: it is hungry, limitless, and can digest anything and everything we have to offer.
While teaching one of these workshops, I had a very personal realization (perhaps epiphany is not too strong a word in this case): For me, memorizing a passage from Shakespeare is like giving myself a present. Every time I say the passage aloud, it’s like taking in a breath of fresh air. It’s like creating a moment of pure joy whenever I need it.
The quotation that comes to mind as I write this is from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act II, Scene 1: the moment when Oberon calls to Puck and orders him to fetch the magic flower. Reciting it from memory is like putting a little Mozart on my iPod. It refreshes my spirit in the same way. But it does so more profoundly, with even more joy and with deeper meaning.
My gentle Puck, come hither. Thou rememb’rest
Since once I sat upon a promontory
And heard a mermaid on a dolphin’s back
Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath
That the rude sea grew civil at her song
And certain stars shot madly from their spheres
To hear the sea-maid’s music.
Even as I type these words, they make me happy. Is there a better present we can give our children than teaching them how to recite Shakespeare from memory? If there is, I’ve never heard of it.
Ken Ludwig is an author, theatre educator, and award-winning playwright of Lend Me a Tenor and Crazy for You. Ken will give the keynote address at our Conference for Teaching Shakespeare in the Elementary Classroom on June 24 (registration is still open!) and a demonstration from How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare. Copies will be available for signing after the session. Find out more about his work and new book at www.kenludwig.com.