I wrote that while we were enjoying the content of Charlotte Mason education (which really is just living books), the idea of stretching it out over the term was bogging us down. I set the boys free with their independent reading and lo and behold both of them are finished with Pride and Prejudice and are ready to move on to The Count of Monte Cristo, which was supposed to be our book for the next term, but why hold back?
They finished reading Hamlet and this week we discussed what a soliloquy is and the function it serves, and now they are memorizing part of Hamlet's famous To be or not to be soliloquy.
Papa asked about Shakespeare and the significance still placed on him today. It was a fair question; not everyone enjoys Shakespeare and I did get far more from studying him in an upper division university course than I did studying his plays in high school (we tried to do the math and we think we read 6 - 8 Shakespearean plays in high school, being honor students).
But spending just a few weeks with Hamlet this term shows me how very influential Shakespeare was on our culture and language. How often do we hear someone spout the advice of Polonius to Laertes? Neither a borrower not a lender be, clothes make the man, to thine own self be true ... these have become tenants of our culture (although we often ignore the advice on borrowing and lending).
To me, Shakespeare serves the function in the high school years that fairy tales served in grade 1, trickster tales served in grade 2, and origin stories served in grade 3. These are stories of humanity, interesting stories about characters, to be sure, but in each character there is something that is also in all of us. We have all of us the potential to share Hamlet's indecision, Romeo and Juliet's passion, Lady Macbeth's scheming for power, or Lear's pride and deterioration.
The question remains as to how to bring Shakespeare to young people. The language is difficult to understand, whether we are reading it or hearing it performed. Modern translations lose the beauty of the language in an attempt to convey meaning. In and of themselves, plays are meant to be performed and watched, not read.
We also imbue Shakespeare with the status of Very Important Person in the English literature.