“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” —Julius Caesar
Born more than four and a half centuries ago, William Shakespeare (1564–1616) is generally acknowledged as the greatest imaginative writer in the English language. With nearly 40 plays, 2 narrative poems, and 154 sonnets that have endured the centuries, it’s no wonder why. Far from dwindling with the passage of time, his reputation and influence have grown from year to year.
However, it’s rare to find a student who doesn’t struggle to understand the grandiose language and plot details of Shakespearean literature. The Shakespeare Book, part of our award-winning Big Ideas Simply Explained series, covers his entire canon and breaks down all these complexities with its visual format. Plus, for all you teachers out there, we have a handy guide for use alongside our book. Here are our top tips for helping students understand Shakespeare within the classroom:
Recognize themes. Have students choose a theme before reading a play and jot down examples as they read, noting the act, scene, and line numbers.
Research time and place. Using the synopses in The Shakespeare Book as a launching point, instruct students to conduct a research project on the play’s setting to learn about the laws and customs of the time period. This will help them put the story into context.
Recite Shakespeare. Assign each student a different monologue or sonnet to prepare for recitation to the class. Reciting Shakespeare is a time-honored way to study his work and appreciate its complexity.
Read the play, see the movie. Refer to the “Legacy” sidebar in The Shakespeare Book for productions of plays and films since the days of the Bard. Evaluating a Shakespeare play in a live or recorded production is part of the Common Core reading standard for 11th and 12th graders, and holding a discussion about its particular interpretation can help students better understand what they have read.
Plot time, compare characters. Prompt students to regularly refer to the plot timelines and relationship trees in The Shakespeare Book as they read. They can create similar graphic representations to compare two or more characters, either from the same play or across different plays.