". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Music to My Ears

Since September, I have been teaching a literature class to a small group of home educated students (my two oldest children plus three others). The students, two boys and three girls ranging in age from 12 to 15 years, read and work independently during the week and gather at my house each Wednesday morning for group instruction and discussion. They are a delight to teach, and my time with them marks one of the more relaxing and enjoyable parts of my weekly routine.

Recently we began a study of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. We are using the Barron's Shakespeare Made Easy edition, which includes a side-by-side layout that pairs Shakespeare's original text with a paraphrased modern English "translation." I chose this edition knowing that several of the students in the class had not read Shakespearean English and would in their independent study need the assistance provided by such a format. However, I have recommended that the best approach would be to read the paraphrased version first so as to gain an understanding of the characters and plot but then to follow up with a reading of the original text with as little reliance as possible on the paraphrase. I think that reading the play this way on an act by act basis is a better strategy than constantly switching back and forth between the two, interrupting the experience of being immersed in Shakespearean English.

Several days ago as my 12-year-old daughter was reading, she looked up at me and spoke this beautiful sentence: "Mom, I think Shakespeare's actual words are a lot better than the paraphrased version." I could have hugged her. I asked her to provide an example of what she was talking about, and she referred me to Act I, scene ii, in which Cassius is planting the seeds of treachery in the mind of Brutus. Brutus has agreed to meet with Cassius at a later time to further hear his concerns about Caesar and to consider what might be done, to which Cassius replies, "I am glad / That my weak words have struck but thus much show / Of fire from Brutus" (I.ii.173-75). The paraphrase reads, "I'm glad that my little speech has sparked off such a show of spirit in you, Brutus."

Better indeed. And my sixth grade daughter sees it and gets it. It's moments like these that I think we're doing something right.


Melody said...

Isn't it the most wonderful thing when our kids appreciate the Bard? We've had lots of discussion about him through the years, and we've come to the decision that WHOEVER he really was doesn't matter in the least to us. Those words, those words...
I am taking EP to see Twelfth Night this week in Milwaukee. Have I ever told you about Milwaukee Shakespeare? They have a terrific education dept. with $6!!! student matinees, including talk-backs from actors. We've been going 3 times a year for about 4 years. We don't do a lot of analysis, we just e-n-j-o-y!! We're going to see Cymbeline in April, and I think there are still tickets...I'm just sayin.
And your lit discussion group sounds like something I'd DRIVE for. How long will it last?

elephantschild said...

The Elizabethan scales fell from my eyes the first time I heard Shakespeare being performed. Previously, as a high-schooler, I'd found reading the plays to be a bit of a hard slog. I still don't care to read them.

But HEARING! Oh, yes. Shakespeare is meant to be HEARD.

Marie N. said...

How wonderful! Your class sounds terrific. My local library is planning a home school teen book discussion group. I read their letter with mild interest and rampant skepticism. I don't know what books the librarian has in mind -- if only they would read Shakespeare!