The King of Cats

One of the best things about homeschooling is that you get to teach your kids the things you feel are really important. For me, that definitely includes Shakespeare, and not just in high school English class, either. I start exposing them to Shakespeare from the time they’re little. To start off with, we have this prettily illustrated book:

It’s a retelling of six plays, which Axa used to often request as a bedtime story when she was three and four. I was initially put off by the fact that it’s written entirely in present tense, but I suppose the author may have done it on purpose, to convey something of the immediacy of seeing a play. She does include frequent quotes taken straight from the text of the plays, which gives a nice feel to the story. And the illustrations really are nice.

While it’s not one my children are old enough to read, my latest favorite book about Shakespeare is Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare. Yes, it’s by the same Isaac Asimov of science fiction fame.  He was a professor of biochemistry, and wrote hundreds of books about popular science, but his interests extended in many directions. In an age of increasing specialization, especially by academics, it is refreshing to read a book by a biochemist about Shakespeare. One of the things I love about his guide is that it focuses on analyzing the plays within their historical setting. Since, like many homeschoolers, I like to build our curriculum loosely around historical time periods, it’s very handy to know how to order Shakespeare’s plays, and which incidents and people Shakespeare borrowed (and manipulated) out of history.

Once we start formal “school” at age six, there are two Shakespeare books popular with Charlotte Mason homeschoolers. I started out with Tales from Shakespeare, by Charles and Mary Lamb. But Axa just found it boring (and that’s the last thing I want to happen to Shakespeare). So we switched to Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare, which is written for a slightly younger audience by Edith Nesbit, the celebrated author of such books as The Railway Children and Five Children and It, both beloved at our house.

With Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare, things went much better, and Axa produced lovely narrations of the couple of stories I scheduled for her to listen to last term. This term, in keeping with Charlotte Mason’s counsel against “gobbling” books, we were to have read only Two Gentlemen of Verona and Romeo and Juliet. However, in a fit of desperation one day when Axa told me she had no audio books to listen to, I caved and gave her the whole CD with the librivox recording of Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare. Initially, she listened to it rather grumpily, since she had nothing else to listen to, but it quickly became a favorite of both her and Raj. Soon they were vying for who would listen to it at bedtime, and randomly telling me funny anecdotes from Shakespeare.

But Axa really fell in love with Shakespeare when I found her a Romeo and Juliet graphic novel with accompanying audio CD at the library a couple of weeks ago. She listened to it over and over again, talked about it every day, and was devastated when it accidentally got taken back to the library (don’t worry, we’ll check it out again when we go back this week).

So last week when Tony and I attended “An Evening With the Bard” at Daytona State College on our date, we determined to take the kids back with us the next night. The performance featured an assortment of monologues and scenes from Shakespeare’s plays, including several from Romeo and Juliet. Axa was entranced, and drank in every minute of it with shining eyes, although she did tell me she doesn’t like Macbeth at all. Even four-year-old Raj enjoyed at least the fencing scenes. As Mercutio was insulting Tybalt as “the King of Cats,” and they were going at it with the rapiers despite the protests of the horrified Romeo, he leaned over to me and whispered excitedly, “Mommy, I know this one!”

So my next order of business is to find a play that we can go to, hopefully Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, since those are the children’s favorites. Anyone know of anything playing in the Orlando/Volusia County Florida area?

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One thought on “The King of Cats

  • May 10, 2012 at 12:07 am

    So cool. I love this. I learn from you so much.


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