One thing that makes Shakespeare accessible to our students is immersion. The language is stiff, but they do not have to know the definition of every single word in order to understand what is happening. They can catch the gist of it, and they are able to narrate events very well. Of course, as they hear the language more and more, they understand it much easier. It also helps that, rather than reading silently or aloud, tripping over the verbiage, we watch productions by the BBC. At first, I thought this might be cheating, but then a friend reminded me that they were, after all, plays, and that a play was not meant to be read; it was meant to be viewed. So we watch a scene each week (with appropriate omissions--it is Shakespeare, after all!) during the term. Students also sometimes use Shakespeare for copywork or recitation. And they love it. In fact, they loved Julius Caesar so much that they begged to be able to put on their own production after we finished the play. We decided together that learning an entire play in a couple of weeks might be a bit too ambitious, so we chose one scene (the killing scene, of course!) to practice. They brought in sheets for togas, daggers, fake blood, and other props, and we invited the parents to come and listen. The children did not memorize their lines. Instead, they practiced reading with fluency and expression for two weeks, and their performances showed a great deal of comprehension and interpretation.
"Cassius and Metellus Cimber and Trebonius and a couple other of his friends were throwing letters to Brutus to try to get Brutus to help kill Caesar at the Senate. And they had planned to kill Caesar on the Ides of March at the Senate House. And Brutus finally told Cassius that he would help them kill Caesar, so on the Ides of March they were trying to get Caesar to come to the Senate House and then when they got to the Senate House, Metellus Cimber said, 'Most high, most mighty, most puissant Caesar, I lay before thee my humble suit.' And then Caesar said, 'What? Is this man mad?' And then one of Caius Cassius's friends was behind Caesar and he stuck his dagger on the top on his shoulder. And then all the other ones started stabbing Caesar and Caesar fell against a statue and Brutus walked up to him and stuck him in the heart, and Caesar died. And then Mark Antony's servant came in and told Brutus that Antony would like to come into this place and be untouched, and Brutus said, 'Antony shall come untouched and leave untouched.' And then when Antony came in, he saw Caesar, and he was talking to himself and then he was talking to the gentlemen, and he said, 'I know not why you attended this deed, gentlemen, but I see not why Caesar was dangerous.' And he was begging his death of the people, and Brutus said, "Oh, Antony, beg not your death of us.' And then Antony went out with Caesar's body to the pulpit and was praying over him after Brutus had talked at the pulpit to the people. And then Brutus went out and Antony's servant boy came in and his servant said--I think it was that someone had the same name as one of the people that helped kill Caesar, and Antony had roused the people and they got angry, and since he had the same name as the person that had helped kill Caesar, they were going to kill him because they thought he had helped kill Caesar, but it wasn't. And then the war of Mark Antony and Brutus and Caius Cassius started right then. When Mark Antony was carrying Caesar's body to the marketplace, he said, 'Let slip the dogs of war!"
The students have already asked if we can perform part of As You Like It when we finish that play, so this may become a regular occurrence. And we look forward to it, "as they like" The Bard very, very much.