I attended a discussion with Playwright Ken Ludwig at the Folger Theater yesterday, followed by a book-signing for his new book: How to teach Your Children Shakespeare.
He began the discussion by quoting Henry James:
"The flower of art blooms where the soil is deep."
Then he pointed out that WE can make the soil deep by studying Shakespeare.
He "studied" with his children! His daughter, Olivia, came home from 1st grade one day and stated: "I know a bank the wild thyme blows", a line from A Midsummer Night's Dream and Ken decided he could teach his daughter and later his son more of this beautiful 450 year old language.
He follows these guidelines:
1. make the words accessible - he reprints the lines in bigger font and just a few at a time
2. treat it as a foriegn language - explain what each word means in the context and the time period so the vocabulary is understood and also understand that the syntax is different from how we speak today
3. realize that Shakespeare is always talking in metaphors so be aware of the comparisons.
Then over the hour discussion, he helped the audience to memorize this passage from 12th Night:
Make me a willow cabin at your gate
And call upon my soul within the house,
Write loyal cantons of contemned love'
And sing them loud even in the dead of night;
Halloo your name to the reverberate hills,
And make the babbling gossip of the air
Cry out "Olivia!"
He explained what was occurring just before these lines occur in the play.
To help make it clearer for the audience, he had a girl stand to represent Olivia and Viola and a boy to represent the Count. This "acting out" of the play aided our understanding.
Then we went line by line and we discussed what the words meant.
I learned that willow is the symbol for grief.
Then we repeated after Ken, saying the line over and over aloud.
We left the discussion having memoried this Shakespeare passage!
I understood how I could repeat this process with other lines from Shakespeare.
While signing my book, I explained that I was a 4th grade teacher.
He wrote in my book "4th grade?! A perfect time to learn Shakespeare."