The Importance of Context

Often, when people approach learning the work of Shakespeare, they look at it in isolation. “Let’s look at the imagery” or “What does the character mean?”. Although, of course, these things are important, it is also important to remember that Shakespeare, as all other writers, is a product of his time. When we seek to understand his plays and poems, we also must study the Renaissance in England. I truly believe that you cannot understand HENRY IV without the study of the English monarchy. You should not read Macbeth without a study of how the people of the Renaissance felt about ghosts and magic.

TIME TO PLAY: Make a timeline of the Renaissance. Do an internet search for “homemade timelines” and you will see a million creative ideas. On the timeline add political figures, events, artists, scientists and any other people of interest. Read a bit about the person or event when you add it to the timeline. Then, overlay the works of Shakespeare and draw conclusions about why he may have created that play at that time!

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin

My kids and I watched a hawk yesterday. It had stopped in a tree after circling over our heads for several minutes and diving low in front of us. It was beautiful and I am sure you would have thought so as well. It reminded me of this quote from Shakespeare. "We are kin when we are in nature." Why are we all moved by nature? Why do all humans love to watch sunrises, sunsets, animals in their natural habitats? Why are nature documentaries so popular? I contend that it is because being in touch with nature makes us all kin.

TIME TO PLAY: Get in touch with nature. Feel kin to the whole world. Take a walk, go feed some ducks at the park, find a body of water in which to splash, watch some birds! Connect with nature… then fill in a journal page with your thoughts and drawings!

Slow down and Shakespeare....

The gift of Shakespeare is open for everyone! However, contrary to our rushing, media driven modern life, he demands that you slow down to fully understand and appreciate his work! 

"Time's the king of men; he's both their parent, and he is their grave, and gives them what he will, not what they crave." W. Shakespeare

My grandmother has a small plaque with this phrase, "Don't hurry, don't worry and don't forget to smell the flowers!" Seems a quaint notion of years gone by but maybe a message we desperately need to hear. So, how are you spending your precious time? Why not take a few minutes less online and spend a few more reading through some Shakespeare. Slow down. Start easy. Choose a famous monologue and begin... maybe in a field of flowers! (Or, at least a small pot on the back porch!) 

Shakespeare: Rules For Life “To Thine Own Self be True”

So, yes, Polonius was a sneaky guy who lorded over his daughter and spied on his son but…He did give some good advice! Before his son left for France, Polonius tells him “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” Shakespeare has it right! When you are true to your own nature, listen to what your heart tells you is right, you will make the right decision. When you follow your heart you can never prove false to anyone. You can never be accused of lying when you tell the truth. Well, you can be accused but they will be hollow accusations because you have always been true to your nature. Shakespeare did get it right! So, know who you are and wear who you are with pride! Stay true to yourself and never try to be anything but you are awesome!

Hamlet's sililoqouy...sort of

Green Eggs and Hamlet
I ask to be or not to be.
That is the question I ask of me.
This sullied life, it makes me shudder.
My uncle's boffing dear sweet mother.
Would I, could I take me life?
Could I, should I end this strife?
Should I jump out of a plane?
Or throw myself before a train?
Should I from a cliff just leap?
Could I put myself to sleep?
Shoot myself or take some poison?
Maybe try self immolation?
To shudder off this mortal coil,
I could stab myself with a fencing foil.
Slash my wrists while in the bath?
Would it end my angst and wrath?
To sleep, to dream, now there's the rub.
I could drop a toaster in my tub.
Would all be glad if I were dead?
Could I perhaps kill them instead?

This line of thought takes consideration- For I'm the king of procrastination.

There is no legacy so rich as honesty...

I have a hard time finding a more important characteristic to teach a child than honesty. Not being an honest person (internally and externally) sets one up for failure in life. But what did Shakespeare say about this quality in a human being? “If thou be honest and fair your honesty should admit no discourse to your beauty.” (Hamlet). Honesty and beauty go hand in hand. Over and again in Shakespeare’s writings honesty is cherished. In tragedy, as well as comedy, Shakespeare emphasizes the importance of honesty. Touchstone, in As You Like It, offers this wisdom “Rich honesty dwells like a miser, sir, in a poor house.” Honesty is wealth and should be guarded in “unfriendly” territory! Honesty is a gift, as Katherine says “A beard, fair health and honesty. With three fold love I wish you all these three” (Love’s Labors Lost). And so that is my wish for you…fair health and honesty, with or without the beard!

TIME TO PLAY: Play a theatre game! “Two Truths, One lie”. This game is played with 2 or more people. One player tells the others two things that are true about himself and one thing that is untrue. The others have to guess which statement is the lie. Statements might be something like “My favorite color is blue. I own two cats. I have a scar on my leg.” If you are playing this with people who know you well, try picking another subject, like an historical event. Give two things that are true about the event and one thing that is a lie. If you play with younger kids, provide them with statements about a subject they are studying or a book they have read. Let them guess which is the lie!

Shakespeare and education


It seems only right to begin a discussion of the importance of learning about William Shakespeare, his writings and philosophies, with the subject of education. What did Shakespeare say on this topic? The opening scene of the comedy LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST, begins with several characters discussing the creation of an academy and the rules that should cover the education within. “O, these are barren tasks, too hard to keep,
Not to see ladies, study, fast, not sleep!” Should a good education consist of no food or sleep…just hours devoted to study? Perhaps not for Shakespeare also says “Is not birth, beauty, good shape, discourse, manhood, learning, gentleness, virtue, youth, liberality and such like the spice and salt that can season a man?” (Troilus and Cressida). Education, then, I would say, according to Shakespeare should carry with it some moderation. Not everything you learn in life comes out of a book! The old proverb “All work and no play makes Jack (or anyone) a dull boy” rings true even today!

But when we study, what should we study? What did Shakespeare say? Perhaps the broad knowledge of the liberal arts? In Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare writes “And toward the education of your daughters, I here bestow a simple instrument. And this small packet of Greek and Latin books. If you accept them, then their worth is great.”  Perhaps, Shakespeare, as many of his contemporaries, believed in a classical approach to education. Whatever his personal beliefs, Shakespeare did give good advice on the subject. “No profit grows where no pleasure ta’en” (Taming of the Shrew). Whatever you choose to study (or teach)…take pleasure in it! Relish the time and the privilege afforded to you! Stolen moments to increase your mind! And above all – remember: set a good example for others! “It is good divine that follows his own instructions. I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done, than be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching” (Merchant of Venice).

What will you learn today?