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.