Engaging pupils through Shakespeare’s history

Adele Devine

Special needs teacher Adele Devine co-founder of Early Shakespeare and is also the author of Literacy for Visual Learners and Colour Coding for Learners with Autism. She is also the managing director and co-founder of the award-winning SEN Assist. Adele has over a decade of experience teaching children on the autistic spectrum and worked as an ABA home tutor before qualifying as a teacher in 2004. She lives with her husband and three children in Surrey, UK.

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What can you say about a 52 year old man who died? That he loved theatre. That he was a poet, a playwright. That he wrote Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth. That he is still living, speaking, breathing and directing…

Speak the speech I pray you as I pronounced it to you,
trippingly on the tongue.
(Hamlet Act 3, Scene 2)

Shakespeare’s speeches (once learnt) remain in our heads forever. We recite them, relish them, relive and love them…

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.
(A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 2, Scene 1)

Be our guest…

Which historic figure would you like to share a meal with? Again and again people answer Shakespeare.

We love the puzzles linked to the Bard, but we are even more curious about Shakespeare the man.

Shakespeare - The Son

Shakespeare had seven siblings, but John and Mary Shakespeare lost three of their four daughters during childhood. Joan and Margaret died when they were still babies and Anne, who was born when Shakespeare was seven, died when he was in his teens. She was just eight. We know that larger families were commonplace due to high rates of child mortality, but imagine the devastating affect these deaths would have on the family. Imagine seeing your parents suffering the loss of a third daughter…

Death lies on her like an untimely frost
Romeo & Juliet

Another telling glimpse into the relationship between father and son happens later in Shakespeare’s life. John Shakespeare was unsuccessful in his application to become a gentleman, but in 1596 father and son went together to the College of Arms to secure a coat of arms. The application would have cost 30 guineas. Having the coat of arms would allow the Shakespeares to be called ‘Gentleman’.

Shakespeare - The Learner

Imagine teaching the man, who would one day use 17,677 words in his plays and sonnets and, of those words, invent 1,700 of them! Who sparked young Will’s creativity? Who inspired him to want to tell stories? Who helped him believe in his ambitions?

What would Shakespeare think about how his plays are taught today? What would Will the student have made of Shakespeare ’the set text’?

Shakespeare is likely to have finished his education early, as his family struggled with finances. But Shakespeare did not stop learning. He would be reading, writing and studying people - family friends, the young, the old. He would be observing actions, reactions and interactions.

Shakespeare - The Husband

Did Shakespeare love Anne Hathaway or was he forced into marriage because she was carrying his child?

Love goes by haps; Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps
(Much Ado About Nothing – Act 3, Scene )

Why did he leave Anne his ‘second best bed’ in his will? That ‘second best bed’ has been interpreted as an insult, but those who look further uncover the fact that the ‘second best bed’ was probably the marital bed. In Shakespeare’s day the majority of inheritance usually went to the children… Anne remained in their home, probably sleeping in that good bed until her own death.

There is a reoccurring theme in Shakespeare’s plays of arranged marriages, parental interference, but then there are also the murderous plots and those thirteen suicides.

We know that Shakespeare ‘the spouse’ continually returned to Stratford, that he was building quite a property portfolio providing financial security for his family and that before his death he retired back to Stratford, to ‘New Place’, to his family and to his wife Anne.

Doubt that the stars are fire, Doubt that the sun doth move his aides,
Doubt truth to be a liar, But never doubt I love.
(Hamlet – Act 2, Scene 2)

Shakespeare - The Father

What sort of Dad was Shakespeare? Is there evidence in his writing? Think of the relationship between Capulet and Juliet. The loving father, the controlling father, the angry father, the loving, adoring, sorrowful father… Where do the echoes stem from? Are they the reflections of a son or the personal experience of a father? But then it’s clear from Shakespeare’s speeches that he could see all sides.

One fairer than my love? The all-seeing sun
Ne'er saw her match since first the world begun.
(Romeo and Juliet)

Two years after the birth of their first child, Susanna, Anne gave birth to twins (Hamnet and Judith).

We know that tragedy struck when their only son Hamnet, died when he was just eleven (most likely from the plague). Shakespeare returned to London, where he continued writing, but we know that the same year Hamnet died Shakespeare purchased an impressive house for his family - ‘New Place’.

Shakespeare – The Success

Shakespeare’s life was often based away from his family in London, where he was writing, directing, performing and winning the favour of the king. He was building a profile and he was money-savvy, ensuring that he got a fee for writing his plays and also a percentage from the takings. He was also building a property portfolio, ensuring that his family was well provided for. Does this relate back to the financial hardship Shakespeare witnessed as a child? Some echo the mistakes of their parents, while others learn from them…

Our ‘Living Shakespeare’

This year we will celebrate our ‘Living Shakespeare’. The man from Stratford, England, who a staggering 400 years after his death is still the most quoted, most performed, most studied playwright in the world. We celebrate the man who can still ‘speak the speech’ direct to our hearts.

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And summer's lease hath all too short a date.
(Sonnet 18)

How do you convey the importance of Shakespeare? Let us know in the comments below.

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