Why You Should Read Shakespeare This Summer

It has come to my attention that Shakespeare has been “cancelled.” But I’m not so sure of that. After all, his plays have survived multiple wars, famines, plagues, world conquerors, fascism, communism and just about everything in-between. Like it or not, they are here to stay. In fact, thinking about the constancy of God’s truth expressed in these plays can give us much hope. Actually, there are many reasons you should read Shakespeare with your family this summer.

1.

As stated above, it has become politically incorrect.

I am tired of the kill-joys trying to take everything good away from us by smacking some evil label on it. So, we are reading Shakespeare as our own protest against tyranny.

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

Hamlet

2.

It is excellent for honing one’s speaking and reading aloud skills.

Funny, but the same children who have a rough time reading other things aloud will strain to do their very best when it comes to doing a play, and Shakespeare gives them a chance to practice reading with swashbuckling flair!

All the world ‘s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.

As You Like it

3.

It teaches us about our English language.

Shakespeare often wrote in “iambic pentameter.” So, “though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” He also used other language vehicles and some unfamiliar syntax that will stretch us to gain a broader understanding of our mother tongue.

If you struggle (like we do) to know how to read the Bard correctly, here is a very helpful link:

How to Read Shakespeare

4.

It teaches us about life and morality.

The subjects of his plays are all about the human condition; our foibles and our triumphs. Reading them aloud allows us to take the time to explore deeper themes with our children (something that is harder to do when watching a movie). Of course, there are bawdy references throughout, but there are also Biblical references and moral themes. We read Hamlet to help us explore sin and guilt. Julius Caesar helps us face the possibility that well-meaning people can be duped into committing crimes thinking they are doing the right thing (and could we find ourselves unwittingly committing the same sin?). The Taming of the Shrew helps us understand what a pain an argumentative woman can be!

As usual, the secular world claims Shakespeare as its own, and there are definitely some off-color elements in these plays, but these are not humanistic in nature. Consider the following quote:

If we ask what counts as evidence for claiming the Christian allegiance for Shakespeare’s plays, the answer is the same as with any other author. I propose that the following is a reliable grid for identifying points at which Shakespeare’s plays intersect with the Christian faith:
1. Explicit allusions to the Bible or Christian documents like the Book of Common Prayer
2. Congruence of ideas in a play with Christian doctrines
3. Correspondence of the view of reality embodied in the plays with the biblical view of reality
4. Portrayal of Christian experiences (e.g., forgiveness, repentance, guilt) in the plays
5. The presence of Christian archetypes and symbols (such as the saint, the sinner, and the penitent)

Leland Ryken who served as professor of English at Wheaton College for nearly fifty years.

Read the rest of this essay on the Christianity of Shakespeare here:

Was Shakespeare a Christian Writer?

5.

It helps us read the Bible more easily.

Why? Because the Authorized King James Bible was published in 1611, and The Bard (as Shakespeare is often called) died in 1616. This means the language of the most quoted English Bible is the language of Shakespeare.

What Bible version would Shakespeare have read? The Geneva translation. Learn more here:

Shakespeare and the Bible

6.

It’s fun!

We sometimes get into ruts in our family relationships, but when we sit down to read a play together, we see different sides of the same people. It energizes us and causes us to appreciate each other anew.

Besides, most of the humor in Shakespeare’s comedies is understandable to us today. Actually, after you’ve read a play or two you will notice that not a few modern comedies have borrowed his themes. There is a reason for that–they are funny!

On that note, here is a quiz you might find fun to take:

Quiz: Bible or Bard?

If you are new to Shakespeare, there are ways to ease-in.

One way is to read “>The Taming of the Shrew With Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton–classic and hysterical!

“>Romeo and Juliet Although this is not my favorite play (see below), it is still a good one to be familiar with, and this movie makes it painless.

Try the comedies first.

In school we were forced to read Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, and Hamlet, and these are all great ones, but they can be a bit morose in places.

Much better to have a great time laughing at the antics in something like The Taming of the Shrew or The Comedy of Errors.

TIP: As you are reading, note how modern movies have borrowed a lot of themes and plots from Shakespeare.

The wonderful thing is that there are so many, many free resources to study Shakespeare! Here is a site where you can download and print the plays for free (which is great if you plan on having a number of readers):

The Folger Shakespeare

Tips for Reading the Plays

  • Younger kids can like these, too! Even beginning readers can read some parts. You can even whisper the lines in a little person’s ear so they can repeat them and feel very big, indeed!
  • Don’t let the fact that you only have two or three readers dissuade you. You can either grab some other relatives, friends, or neighbors to help, or just the few of you can read multiple parts by changing your voice (this only adds to the fun).
  • You don’t have to have one copy of the play for each person. It is just as fun to share as you read.
  • A great way to bind a printed out play is with a three-pronged folder (this is what we use).
  • It’s also great fun to memorize famous lines. Here are some interesting ones:

The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. 

The Merchant of Venice

O thou invisible spirit of wine, if thou hast no name to be known by, let us call thee devil.

Othello

These, however, and not the most quoted. Here is a link where you will find those:

More Fun Links:

Free Printable Paper Model of the Globe Theater

Shakespeare Cryptogram

Shakespeare Code Sheet from free-for-kids.com

Any other hints and helps for enjoying Shakespeare? Make sure and share them below.

P.S. I am an Amazon Associate, so I may benefit from some of the links to Amazon products included in this post.

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3 thoughts on “Why You Should Read Shakespeare This Summer”

  1. My favorite Shakespeare play to watch on film is Much Ado About Nothing with Emma Thompson, Kenneth Braugh, Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves, and a few other well known actors. It seems odd to have Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves in Shakespeare—but MANNN it’s well done! (Just be warned—you’ll want to skip past some of the opening scenes…)
    They do such a good job of portraying the parts that you almost seem to forget that they aren’t talking in modern English. HIGHLY recommend. Another one done with Kenneth Braugh and Emma Thompson is Henry V. Very good, too.

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  2. My teens love Shakespeare. FAVORITE part of school. We read Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb first, then Stories from Shakespeare by Marchette Chute. They are both quite different but we really get a good idea of the story. I bought the Folger paperbacks as they have really great notes and the kids love them. We listen to the audio and read along. We like Arkangel Shakespeare for the audio and sometimes can get a copy of The New Cambridge Shakespeare cds. That’s what we just got for Hamlet and it is amazing…my kids are crazy for it.
    Twelfth Night was our first play and we watched the movie with Joan Plowright and Alec Guinness. It was hilarious!
    Marva Collins used, Favourite Tales from Shakespeare by Bernard Miles in her school and the book, How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig helps with memorizing.
    Have the kids act out scenes, memorize favorite parts and perform for the family, incorporate phrases into everyday speech, there are so many ways to enjoy it. Have fun!

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