AmblesideOnline Shakespeare Rotation Schedule
* Term 1: Sep-Nov
** Term 2: Jan-Mar
*** Term 3: Apr-Jun
We encourage AmblesideOnline members to follow the schedule as a group for Artists, Composers, Plutarch, Shakespeare, Folk Songs, Hymns, and Nature Study. Staying on schedule together for these subjects enriches our studies as we share resources and experiences.
This rotation is for students in Years 4-12. In Years 1-3, retellings of specific Shakespeare plays are scheduled in each year to develop familiarity with the stories and themes.
2021-2022 School Year
* Julius Caesar
** The Two Gentlemen of Verona
*** Romeo and Juliet
Notes on Shakespeare
Arkangel does quality audio versions of Shakespeare's plays with a full cast of professional actors. These are excellent to listen to as your students read along, but they will need the text in front of them to know, in some cases, who's speaking. They're available for free download at https://shakespearenetwork.net/. The Arkangel recordings are available under the Media Room tab: Audiobooks > Complete Works > Podcasts. Free pdf files of Shakespeare's works can be found under the same tab: Complete Works > Free e-texts > PDF.
Shakespeare SparkNotes offers study guides and "No Fear Shakespeare" parallel translations, with Shakespeare's original old English on one side, and modern English on the other. You can read them online, or purchase a hard copy. ($). In translating to modern English, sometimes vague references that are merely alluded to in the original are translated explicitly, so these are suggested only as a parent resource; do not hand these to your children!
Shakespeare Resource Center History Glossary, grammar and language information.
Absolute Shakespeare - the essential resource for William Shakespeare's plays, sonnets, poems, quotes, biography and the legendary Globe Theatre.
Stories from Shakespeare by Marchette Chute gives brief (8-10 pages) but well done summaries of the plays. ($) Leon Garfield's Shakespeare Stories are well told, but too long to serve as a preliminary summary.
eNotes has Shakespeare Guides and modern translations of 8 plays (we haven't checked these out yet). YouTube also has some eNotes courses (I know they have Hamlet).
Higher Up and Further In - blog post list of family-friendly Shakespeare movies
Brightest Heaven of Invention by Peter J. Leithart (a Christian study of six Shakespeare plays, aimed at high schoolers) includes Henry V, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Macbeth, Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing.
These plays, which are among Shakespeare's more popular, repeat in AO's rotation every five or six years:
The Merchant of Venice
Measure for Measure
As You Like It
The Taming of the Shrew
Midsummer Night's Dream
Hamlet Prince of Denmark
Much Ado About Nothing
Synopses of Shakespeare Plays
These are extremely brief snippets that open each chapter of Marchette Chute's book Stories from Shakespeare. Her book offers nice summaries of the plays that are brief enough to serve as an introduction while not replacing the actual play. Amazon's review of the book says, "Her retellings of all thirty-six First Folio plays are superbly lucid. It is not Ms. Chute's purpose to provide a substitute for these immortal comedies, tragedies, and histories; rather she seeks to provide the modern reader with essential insight into Shakespeare's narrative genius, clarifying the intricacies of plot and sharply delineating a host of characters, major and minor alike." ($)
"The Winter's Tale is set in the land of fairy stories, where kings are cruel without cause and bears roam conveniently and sixteen years can be passed over as lightly as drawing breath. The story was popular when Shakespeare was a young man, and in his hands it becomes for the first time worth telling. For some of the people are enchanting and so is the poetry--harsh and strong as winter in the first part of the play, and then as lovely and flowerlike as spring." (Marchette Chute) A "NoFear" parallel version of The Winter's Tale is not available.
"Henry V tells the story of Prince Hal as king of England and deals especially with his military expedition to France. It is a study in patriotism, and Henry is pictured as the most heroic of monarchs, with a nature as simple and as stirring as a trumpet call." (Marchette Chute)
"The Merchant of Venice is a romantic comedy, but of a most unusual kind. For the theme is money, and the climax tells of an attempted murder." (Marchette Chute)
"Richard III continues the account of the Wars of the Roses that was begun in the three parts of Henry VII. Richard, the evil hunchback who has been looming larger and larger in the last two plays of the series, now suddenly towers above the action and dominates it. Since there is now a single focus, the result is a much better play, and Richard III is a melodrama of glitter and violence, as vigorous and bloody as its chief character." (Marchette Chute)
"The Comedy of Errors takes place in a Greek seaport of Asia Minor, and the joke on which the story is based is one that used to be popular with the playwrights of Ancient Greece. Nevertheless . . . The Comedy of Errors reflects the spirit he found in Italian romances. . . It would have quite impossible to find a lady abbess in the real city of Ephesus, Shakespeare was working in the world of make-believe and had no interest in exact realism." (Marchette Chute) Download a text copy of the play divided into 12 weeks.
"King Henry VIII is the last of the ten history plays, and also the last play Shakespeare wrote. It is also more of a pageant than a play, and its chief purpose is to describe the events that led up to the birth of King Henry's daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth." (Marchette Chute)
"Twelfth Night is perhaps the loveliest of Shakespeare's romantic comedies. . . It is one of the most light-hearted of the plays, and the only character who disapproves of laughter--Malvolio--becomes a joke himself. (Marchette Chute)
"Measure for Measure is one of the most brilliant of Shakespeare's comedies, but the laughter is bitter. It does not deal with people as they would like to be as too many of them are . . ." (Marchette Chute) Note: This play is about Isabella remaining true to her honor and virtue even when compromising could save the life of her beloved brother. Lamb's and Nesbit's versions sanitize the circumstances, and even Shakespeare himself manages to be a bit vague, but you won't want to read your children online summaries that graphically spell out what's going on. Some parents may wish to use AO's slightly expurgated version, or just read the Lamb's or Nesbit's version.
"As You Like It is a romantic comedy. It belongs to a long literary tradition of escape from city life, back to a carefree existence in woods and fields." (Marchette Chute)
"Love's Labour Lost is laid in Navarre . . . The young lords and ladies are storybook versions of the some of the men and women who could be seen around the English court, and the country people are cheerful parodies of types Shakespeare could have met in his native Warwickshire." (Marchette Chute)
"Macbeth is one of the greatest of the tragedies, swift as night and dark as spilt blood, with death and witchcraft bound together in wonderful poetry to tell the story of a man and woman who destroyed themselves." (Marchette Chute)
"The Taming of the Shrew tells a story within a story, a device that Shakespeare tried only once . . . " (Marchette Chute)
"A Midsummer Night's Dream is one of the most magical plays ever writte. It is the story of flowers and young lovers and dreams, and of the fairies who lives in an enchanted wood near Athens in the days when Theseus came back as a conqueror. Most of it is played by moonlight, and anyone who has been outdoors on a moonlit night knows how changed and how lovely the world can be." (Marchette Chute)
"Hamlet is perhaps the most famous of all Shakespeare's tragedies, for it is known all over the world and has exerted a compelling fascination wherever it goes. The hero is so real and his dilemma is so basic to human living that the people of every country recognize him . . . " (Marchette Chute)
"Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy of courtship and a marriage, of a quick courtship that nearly comes to disaster and of a slow- reluctant one that is a complete success. The reluctant wooers are Beatrice and Benedick, two of the most delightful people in the history of comedy, and since they are the stage most of the time they brighten the first courtship along with their own and transform what might have been a melancholy plot into a complete delight." (Marchette Chute)
"Othello is a melodrama that is exalted into tragedy through the brilliance of its characterization and the magnificence of its poetry." (Marchette Chute)
Note: Parents should read ahead for references to an affair. If you use SparkNotes No Fear Shakespeare, be aware that they translate some vague references to unfaithfulness more explicitly than Shakespeare's text does. You will not want to hand your child this guide to read unsupervised!
Advice on Shakespeare from the AO Advisory
Question: What is the purpose for using Shakespeare? What are the educational benefits? What about some of the questionable situations in his plays?
First of all, the decision about whether or not you feel God wants you to read Shakespeare's plays with your children, in original or story form, has to be your own. You are the best judge of what is right for your family.
On that one particular problem of "lover", it's sometimes just a question of Shakespeare's vocabulary: "lovers" can often mean sweethearts, unless it's stated otherwise.
On the more general question of Shakespeare's value for Christian readers, Terry W. Glaspey wrote (in Great Books of the Christian Tradition) "Whatever the circumstances of his personal life, it is unquestionably true that Shakespeare wrote from a Christian worldview. His insights on human will, guilt, forgiveness, and the search for truth should be required reading for every believer. His grasp of the human condition is perhaps unmatched in literature."
Several users, including some on the Advisory, have found that Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare is actually easier to follow in many instances than Nesbit's Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children, even though Lamb's is a bit more advanced. Nesbit's is very good, no question - and you will not err in choosing to continue using it. But we did side-by-side comparisons and found that Nesbit's often simplifies a story to the point that it is actually harder to follow - you miss some plot twists and turns that help it all make sense.
If you're unsure, you might check out Lamb's from your library and give it a try. A few years ago, I thought my then-second grade child would do better with Nesbit's, but when I read a tale to her from both versions as a test, she preferred Lamb's, which surprised me. Despite the more difficult language, she narrated from it better because the story was more thoroughly presented. But if Nesbit's works better for you, please feel free to stick with it.
Another mom blogged about her experience with Shakespeare.