An Introduction to Shakespeare

(photo by Katie Claypool)

My fellow blogger, Mental Multivitamin, introduced me to Harold Bloom’s term “bardalotry:”

…the worship of Shakespeare, ought to be even more a secular religion than it already is. The plays remain the outward limit of human achievement: aesthetically, cognitively, in certain ways morally, even spiritually. They abide beyond the end of the mind’s reach; we cannot catch up to them. Shakespeare will go on explaining us, in part because he invented us….

So, as one who practices bardalotry … I’m always looking for good books on Shakespeare, and also for good books to introduce Shakespeare to young people, and I recently stumbled across a very nice series. I was slightly familiar with author, Marchette Chute, because my second grade students memorize and recite one of her little poems as one of their monthly poem projects. But as I was looking for books to choose for Historia’s 2009 Shakespeare Reading Challenge, I ran into her again. Her series is very nice, for young and old alike, introducing them to Shakespeare, his worlds, and his plays! While snowbound last week, I read her book, An Introduction to Shakespeare, and enjoyed it. It’s an old Scholastic paperback, geared for middle school and above, and the blurp on the back cover made me chuckle. It says the book is “A great grade booster you’ll really enjoy. Score some extra points in class — and add new meaning and excitement to your assigned reading. Journey back in time with this lively book that brings to life the world of William Shakespeare — the greatest playwright who ever lived!”

I didn’t find it lively, but I was very interested in all the information she packed into this small volume, and how easy it was to read and understand. She was very respectful of her audience, and wrote with great warmth. I learned a lot about Shakespeare that I didn’t previously know, and I think this would be an excellent book to use as part of an introductory class. She wrote numerous other books, two of which I now plan to read for Historia’s reading challenge:

*The Worlds of Shakespeare
*Stories From Shakespeare

From the ending to An Introduction to Shakespeare:

Among all Shakespeare’s contemporaries, it was John Heminges and Henry Condell who had the greatest faith in the future. They were convinced that the reputation of their “friend and fellow” would be safe if only his work could be made available to the ordinary reading public.

It is not our province, who only gather his works and give them to you, to praise him. It is yours that read him … Read him, therefore; and again and again; and if then you do not like him, surely you are in manifest danger not to understand him. And so we leave him to other of his friends, whom, if you need, can be your guides; if you need them not, you can lead yourselves and
others. And such readers we wish him.
–John Heminges and Henry Condell

Their wish was answered. It was such readers he got, and no other writer in the world’s history has been loved by so many people or has given so much happiness.

This was a very nice book to read to begin my Shakespeare Reading Challenge.

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12 thoughts on “An Introduction to Shakespeare

  1. Molly

    Thank you so much for the great suggestion. I am always on the lookout for books about Shakespeare – both for my own enjoyment and to hopefully glean information to pass along to my students. I have already put a hold on it at the library!

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  2. Petunia

    Last summer, for the Shakespeare Challenge, I listened to the audio book of Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson. I recommend it, either the book or the audio. I learned a lot.

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  3. Robin

    You’re welcome, Molly. I’m always on the lookout, too. I’m going to enjoy this Challenge and seeing the variety of Shakespeare books people read and review.

    Thanks, Petunia! You know I love to listen to audio books while I knit, and this one sounds like a very enjoyable read/listen. I’ll add it to my list.

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  4. Kailana

    Sounds like an interesting series! I really should read the Shakespeare plays that I haven’t got to before one of these days…

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  5. Nymeth

    It sounds like a very interesting book! I’m still a Shakespeare newbie. I’ve always wanted to read a book about me because I thought it’d add to my enjoyment and understanding of his work, but it’s hard to pick which. There are so many!

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  6. Robin

    Bookfool, isn’t that great. I got a big kick out of the term.

    Kailana, I find it hard to just sit down and read the plays (even though I need to do that). I love watching them, though!

    Nymeth, I know what you mean…too many choices! That’s why I enjoyed following the Shakespeare Challenge and reading all those reviews last year, and am looking forward to that again this year.

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  7. bkclubcare

    This is an excellent post! I’m going to look for Chute for my poetry challenge, too. And I love that you give 2nd graders a monthly poetry project.

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  8. Robin

    Thanks, Bkclubcare! You can find a lot of her poems online. The second graders do a nice job of reciting a poem a month. I started it last year, and was very impressed at the end of the year, (as we were reviewing what we had learned throughout the year) when they wanted to recite them all (nine poems!) as a whole class one after the other. They remembered them all! So I know it’s a very powerful experience for them, and I think that’s important.

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  9. J.Danger

    There is an entire series called “Shakespeare Can Be Fun” and it is all of his work pegged for younger children. I love it for my kids!

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  10. Robin

    Thanks for the info, J.Danger! I’ll check at the library and see if I can find them.

    Thanks, Gentle Reader. I have a long way to go with reading Shakespeare, too!

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