24 Aug 2013

The Feast that is Shakespeare

The Dromios. Frontispiece from "Tales from Shakespeare," McLoughlin Brothers, 1890
We probably read Shakespeare in the first place for his stories, afterwards for his characters, the multitude of delightful persons with whom he makes us so intimate that afterwards, in fiction or in fact, we say, 'She is another Jessica,' and 'That dear girl is a Miranda'; 'She is a Cordelia to her father,' and, such a figure in history, 'a base lago.' To become intimate with Shakespeare in this way is a great enrichment of mind and instruction of conscience. Then, by degrees, as we go on reading this world-teacher, lines of insight and beauty take possession of us, and unconsciously mould our judgments of men and things and of the great issues of life

Charlotte Mason Ourselves p72. 
We're going to see The Comedy of Errors tonight at The Art Centre.  It's possibly Jemimah's favourite Shakespeare play, although it's hard to say which one of the Bard's plays is the most popular around here. I know that in Jemimah's case, enjoyment is directly proportional to the number of laughs.  If it's funny, and if it's Shakespeare, I know she'll love it.  For Jemimah, certainly, Shakespeare is all about the stories. The fact that she is being gently moulded in other ways just makes all the better.  Just imagine what's happening to her judgement of men and things and the great issues of life. And don't get me started on the benefits relating tot language and oral comprehension.
And Shakespeare? He, indeed, is not to be classed, and timed, and treated as one amongst others,––he, who might well be the daily bread of the intellectual life; Shakespeare is not to be studied in a year; he is to be read continuously throughout life, from ten years old and onwards. But a child of ten cannot understand Shakespeare. No; but can a man of fifty? Is not our great poet rather an ample feast of which every one takes according to his needs, and leaves what he has no stomach for? A little girl of nine said to me the other day that she had only read one play of Shakespeare's through, and that was A Midsummer Night's Dream. She did not understand the play, of course, but she must have found enough to amuse and interest her.

Charlotte Mason Formation of Character p.226
Even back in Charlotte Mason's day, people were asserting that a child of ten could not understand Shakespeare, but I hazard a guess that Jemimah at 11 understands his work every bit as well as this woman of 50 (minus some very, very important months. I am still only in my forties. Yup.) Sure, I get more of the subtleties - and more of the bawdy undertones.  My naive daughter misses much of the stuff that makes Shakespeare inappropriate to some families.  On the other hand, I do think she will learn a bit about identity in the play tonight.  What makes us us?  Would we mistake our husband's twin for our husband?  Even at first glance, but especially over a meal?  Would would give them away?  She will have something to say about Adriana's possessive love and jealousy, and about Antipholous's behaviour with the courtesan, and his marital obligations.

Each of my family will get something different from tonight's play.  Each of us is looking forward to different things.  Shakespeare is, as Charlotte Mason asserts, "an ample feast of which every one takes according to his needs and leaves what he has no stomach for".  I am quite confident that each of us will find something to amuse and interest us.  Even the eleven year old.

In fact, especially the eleven year old, given the comedy plot of The Comedy of Errors. Despite my best efforts, she has an excessively developed funniness gene, that girl.  Sigh.  I, on the other hand, have no sense of humour at all.  None.  Just ask my family.  They know.


  1. Well, have a fabulous evening! You do have a sense of humour!!!! Every time we get together, there is always laughter. :)

  2. Great post, Jeanne!!! Makes me so excited to continue diving into Shakespeare with my little family more and more...I hope you have a delightful time tonight!! I LOVE plays!!!

  3. I love that she loves Shakespeare at 11! We will hopefully see a Midsummer Night's Dream next week - I will be interested to see how much my 12 and 14 year "get", given they haven't studied it in the slightest (yet).

  4. We saw last year how accessible Shakespeare was to the little ones. I am so excited to introduce the kids at our school to Henry the Fift (not a spelling error according to Olivier).


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