For some reason, the man behind some of the steamiest, most adventurous, thought-provoking, exciting, scariest and even funniest literary situations is looked at by many as boring, pretentious and hard to understand.
Shakespeare was not only a great playwright, but also a prolific inventor of words. In the Elizabethan era, where there were no dictionaries, the English language was (believe it or not) considerably simpler. Shakespeare took it upon himself to create new words when he couldn’t find just the right word he wanted. Many of these words, phrases and expressions stuck, and are still used today, even by people who have no clue they are making a reference to Shakespeare (puking, zany, moonbeam and nearly 2,000 others).
Even so, getting kids, teens, and oftentimes adults, excited about the language, stories and legacy of the world’s greatest playwright isn’t always easy. Thankfully, not all the of resources for parents, teachers and student have to be stuffy and dry.
Here are a few of the more clever books that help sneak a little Bard into your child’s, teen’s or your own, life:
How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig (Crown). Ken Ludwig, may be a successful playwright and author in his own right, but his book How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare, celebrates Shakespeare with contagious enthusiasm. Rather than the dry interpretation of many of Shakespeare’s classics like “Romeo and Juliet” and “The Tempest,” Ludwig makes the stories — and The Bard’s writing style — adventurous and fun. Readers are challenged, in Ludwig’s friendly, witty and conversational style, to read passages aloud for themselves, then with their kids. Parents will also find themselves learning a bit more about Shakespeare in the process. Although the primary focus of this book is the appreciation and interpretation of Shakespeare, its memory exercises can also help the mind stay fresh for other subjects and tasks.
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars trilogy by Ian Doescher (Quirk Books). When Doescher’s first volume of this Shakespearean-language Stars Wars retelling, “Verily A New Hope,” was published, several Star Wars fans purchased it for the novelty, but critics, readers, teachers and even Shakespeare-lovers were surprised with the research, thoughtfulness and attention to language and staging these stories contained. The addictive wordplay is sometimes poetic, other times laugh-out-loud funny, but always clever and natural feeling. Readers will find themselves reciting these books out loud before they finish, whether they want to or not.
I couldn’t wait to complete this trilogy since picking up the first book a couple of years ago (see my post The Unintended Side Effects from Reading William Shakespeare’s Star Wars), and I haven’t been disappointed with either follow-up, William Shakespeare’ The Empire Striketh Back and William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return.
To Be or Not to Be: A Chooseable-Path Shakespeare Adventure by Ryan North (BreadPig). The concept of an interactive “choose-your-own-path” book is nothing new, but creating one based on a familiar Shakespeare tragedy is. Best-selling author Ryan North’s retelling — or retellings, actually — of Hamlet allow the reader to stick to the storyline or go “off-script” at several points along the way for new puzzles, stories and plot twists. Readers can even chose which character they want to “play” during the story. The resulting in 65 possible endings makes it worth taking the journey through the story many times over, something not every book on Shakespeare can boast.
Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Notebooks by Justin Richards (Harper Design). These “rediscovered” long lost notebooks compiled by Shakespeare indicate at The Doctor had long been an influential role in his creative life. Some of the Bard-Meets-The Doctor crossovers include “original notes” from Hamlet, and notes on the origin of the faeries in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This interesting twist on both history and literature, in the spirit of popular “altered classics” like Seth Grahame-Smith’s (and Jane Austen’s) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, or Ben H. Winters’ Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. The lost works of Shakespeare stay true enough to the original source to encourage readers to dig out the original Shakespeare works as basis for comparison. If anyone can bring a reluctant reader to Shakespeare, it’s The Doctor.
Shakespeare Insult Generator, created by Barry Kraft (Chronicle). This book is a simple premise with big potential. Every word in this flipbook-style word game has been used at least one time in a work of Shakespeare. On the back of each word is the definition, so this not only does it create more than 150,000 insults, it builds one’s word power in the snarkiest way imaginable.
This is great for teens, because name-calling has become such a vile, bland, brainless practice today. This book teaches people there are better, more clever ways to express themselves, not to mention baffle the “sneaping hollow-eyed ingested-lump” for whom the insult is intended in the process.
Teens hooked on their smart phones can download a free iTunes app, Shakespeare Insults by Dos Gatos Negros, LLC. Although not associated with the book, it works in the same mix-and-match method, sort of like a little pocket-sized barb-slinging slot machine.
These books may not make an Shakespearean scholar out of every reader or student, but they should at least make most every one an admirer of his work and the influence he had — and still has — on literature, cinema, and the English language today.