Studying Shakespeare Tragedy-Free

Written by Debi Polen (Originally published May 31, 2012)

Republished in Honor of Shakespeare’s Birthday

This article has been republished in honor of William Shakespeare’s birthday, which tradition places on April 23, 1564. This date is based on the tradition that parents would wait three days before baptizing their newborn and records show that William was baptized on April 26, 1564. William died on his 52nd birthday, April 23, 1616.

How We Studied Shakespeare

Portrait of William ShakespeareI have to admit that I was both surprised and overwhelmed when my son asked—yes, he actually asked—to study Shakespeare when he was entering the 9th Grade. When I was in school, I studied Macbeth and even had to memorize the “Is this a dagger which I see before me…” monologue, but when it came to my having to teach it, let’s just say that I got a bit flustered. Admittedly, I was no fan of Shakespeare after my monologue-memorizing experience.

As my husband wrote in his article on getting to know both your child’s and your own learning styles to make things easier for you in your home school, I had to figure out a way to make this study enjoyable and productive for both my son and myself, two individuals who most assuredly did not share the same dominant learning style.

I’ve heard it said that Shakespeare is meant to be watched, not read. His plays were, after all, plays! The optimal Shakespeare-studying experience is to attend a play as Shakespeare himself intended, but what if they aren’t available in your area or they’ve been “updated” or otherwise modified?

Our Solution Was Tragedy-Free, Enjoyable, and Memorable

After reviewing our local library’s online catalog, I found videos of real Shakespearean actors doing Shakespeare as it was written. We followed along with a printed copy while playing the videos, which, according to Barnes & Noble, are the “most popular and widely used versions of Shakespeare’s plays” and are “word for word as written by William Shakespeare.”

These videos can be rewound and paused if you missed something, or need to look something up, or wish to discuss a scene. Another great feature to aid the visual and auditory learning styles is the option of displaying the English subtitles. For those whose ears are not yet attuned to certain British accents, the subtitles along with the audio help “train the ear.”

We studied Hamlet, Twelfth Night, The Taming of the Shrew, and Othello. It was a treat to see popular actors, such as Sir Anthony Hopkins and Sir Patrick Stewart, interpreting their Shakespearean characters. I must admit thoroughly enjoying Bob Hoskins’ portrayal of Iago in Othello. As a student of fencing, my son enjoyed critiquing the actors’ swordsmanship and augmented his critique with demonstrations (that’s the mark of a kinesthetic learner)!

Watching these videos helped us get as actively involved with the stories as we could without actually producing them ourselves (which is another great way to study Shakespeare, by the way). Although we studied two tragedies, our experience was by no means tragic. We carried away a deeper understanding of the plays and wonderful memories of spending time together watching, reading, and discussing them.

Share Your Shakespeare Experience

Did you do something fun and different that helped your children understand and remember Shakespeare’s works? We’d love to hear from you. Please use the comment form below to share your Shakespeare experiences.

Titles Related to William Shakespeare in Our Online Store

Below is a mini-catalog of the titles related to William Shakespeare that we have in our online store. Expect this list to change as our catalog changes. If there are no products listed, that means we’ve sold out! If you have materials related to the study of Shakespeare, please consider consigning with us to have them listed.

William Shakespeare Mini-Catalog



  • Magic Tree House #25 - Stage Fright on a Summer Night (Paperback)

    Magic Tree House #25 - Stage Fright on a Summer Night (Paperback)

    $2.49

    The long running Magic Tree House series written by Mary Pope Osborne began publication July 28, 1992. The series stars Jack and Annie, two children from the town of Fog Creek, Pennsylvania, as they use the Magic Tree House to travel through time on quest adventures posed first by Morgan le Faye, and later by Merlin, in an effort to restore the kingdom of Camelot to its glory.

  • The Arden Shakespeare: King Richard III (Paperback)

    The Arden Shakespeare: King Richard III (Paperback)

    $5.49

    "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!" — King Richard III, Act V, Scene IV

  • The Taming of the Shrew (Paperback) + CliffsNotes

    The Taming of the Shrew (Paperback) + CliffsNotes

    $1.49

    "...The Taming of the Shrew has been persistently popular since Shakespeare's day, for it is a boisterous and amusing farce on a theme that has entertained both men and women since the beginning of time: the conflict between the sexes and the comic situations that this eternal warfare begets." — From "War of the Sexes" (page viii)

  • The Tempest (Paperback) + CliffsNotes

    The Tempest (Paperback) + CliffsNotes

    $1.49

    "The Tempest was the last entire play that Shakespeare wrote before he left London to lead the life of a man of property in Stratford." — From "Island of Magic" (page vii)

  • Romeo and Juliet (Paperback) + CliffsNotes

    Romeo and Juliet (Paperback) + CliffsNotes

    $1.49

    "Shakespeare achieved a new success in Romeo and Juliet, which was immediately popular on its first appearance; from that day to this it has been seen constantly in the theatre, though not always in the precise form in which Shakespeare wrote it." — From "The Popularity of the Play" (page xiii)

  • Antony and Cleopatra (Paperback) + CliffsNotes

    Antony and Cleopatra (Paperback) + CliffsNotes

    $1.49

    "In Antony and Cleopatra Shakespeare put behind him idyllic love, which he had treated more than a dozen years before in Romeo and Juliet, and turned his attention to the consuming passion of two characters who had already run the gamut of human emotion." — From "Egyptian Enchantress" (page ix)

  • Shakespeare\'s Sonnets (Paperback)

    Shakespeare's Sonnets (Paperback)

    $1.95

    All 154 sonnets written by William Shakespeare are contained in this Folger Library Collection edition.

  • Shakespeare: Four Tragedies (Paperback)

    Shakespeare: Four Tragedies (Paperback)

    $3.99

    "The four tragedies in this volume are linked in a number of thematic ways. They all confront the nature of evil, as Shakespeare's classical tragedies generally do not. Human failure is often measured in terms of good and evil." — David Bevington, Editor

  • Signet Classic Shakespeare: Four Great Comedies (Paperback

    Signet Classic Shakespeare: Four Great Comedies (Paperback)

    $3.99

    "'Comedies,' as one of Shakespeare's contemporaries wrote, 'begin in trouble and end in peace.' This is certainly true of the four masterworks selected for this collection." — From the back cover

  • The New Penguin Shakespeare: Henry V (Paperback)

    The New Penguin Shakespeare: Henry V (Paperback)

    $2.46

    "The popularity of the subject hardly needs explaining. Not only did Henry's reign stand out to later generations by contrast with the preceding troubles of Richard II and Henry IV, and the succeeding disasters of Henry VI, but Henry's almost miraculous conversion from wild youth to ideal king was an article of faith going back to chronicles contemporary with Henry himself. The king reborn from evil to good, and leading a heroic campaign to a famous victory, was irresistibly attractive." — A. R. Humphreys, Editor, in the Introduction

  • Shakespeare: Richard II (Paperback)

    Shakespeare: Richard II (Paperback)

    $3.85

    "Although Shakespeare lived and wrote hundreds of years ago, his name rolls off my tongue as if he were my brother. As a producer and director, I feel that there is a professional relationship between us that spans the centuries. As a human being, I feel that Shakespeare has enriched my understanding of life immeasurably. I hope you'll let him do the same for you." — Joseph Papp in the Foreword

  • Famous Men of the Middle Ages (Paperback: Greenleaf Guide, Text, Timechart Set)

    Famous Men of the Middle Ages (Paperback: Greenleaf Guide, Text, Timechart Set)

    $25.48

    "The study of history, like the study of a landscape, should begin with the most conspicuous features. Not until these have been fixed in memory will the lesser features fall into their appropriate places and assume the right proportions." — John H. Haaren, LL.D. and A.B. Poland, Ph.D., Authors of 1904 edition of Famous Men of the Middle Ages

  • The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

    The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Hardback)

    $19.95

    "Not marble, nor the gilded monuments / Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme." — William Shakespeare, "Sonnet 55"

  • CliffsNotes: Merchant of Venice [Shakespeare] (Paperback)

    CliffsNotes: Merchant of Venice [Shakespeare] (Paperback)

    $0.95

    Founded in 1958, CliffsNotes (originally Cliff's Notes) provides useful summaries for hundreds of items from classical literature to science and math. Although a helpful staple for the interpretation of literature for over 50 years, they are no substitute for reading the real book.

  • CliffsNotes: Measure for Measure [Shakespeare] (Paperback)

    CliffsNotes: Measure for Measure [Shakespeare] (Paperback)

    $0.95

    Founded in 1958, CliffsNotes (originally Cliff's Notes) provides useful summaries for hundreds of items from classical literature to science and math. Although a helpful staple for the interpretation of literature for over 50 years, they are no substitute for reading the real book.

  • CliffsNotes: Macbeth [Shakespeare] (Paperback) [920]

    CliffsNotes: Macbeth [Shakespeare] (Paperback) [920]

    $1.45

    Founded in 1958, CliffsNotes (originally Cliff's Notes) provides useful summaries for hundreds of items from classical literature to science and math. Although a helpful staple for the interpretation of literature for over 50 years, they are no substitute for reading the real book.

  • CliffsNotes: Hamlet [Shakespeare] (Paperback)

    CliffsNotes: Hamlet [Shakespeare] (Paperback)

    $0.95

    Founded in 1958, CliffsNotes (originally Cliff's Notes) provides useful summaries for hundreds of items from classical literature to science and math. Although a helpful staple for the interpretation of literature for over 50 years, they are no substitute for reading the real book.

  • CliffsNotes: As You Like It [Shakespeare] (Paperback) [918]

    CliffsNotes: As You Like It [Shakespeare] (Paperback) [918]

    $0.95

    Founded in 1958, CliffsNotes (originally Cliff's Notes) provides useful summaries for hundreds of items from classical literature to science and math. Although a helpful staple for the interpretation of literature for over 50 years, they are no substitute for reading the real book.

  • CliffsNotes: As You Like It [Shakespeare] (Paperback) [917]

    CliffsNotes: As You Like It [Shakespeare] (Paperback) [917]

    $0.95

    Founded in 1958, CliffsNotes (originally Cliff's Notes) provides useful summaries for hundreds of items from classical literature to science and math. Although a helpful staple for the interpretation of literature for over 50 years, they are no substitute for reading the real book.

  • CliffsNotes: Othello [Shakespeare] (Paperback)

    CliffsNotes: Othello [Shakespeare] (Paperback)

    $1.45

    Founded in 1958, CliffsNotes (originally Cliff's Notes) provides useful summaries for hundreds of items from classical literature to science and math. Although a helpful staple for the interpretation of literature for over 50 years, they are no substitute for reading the real book.

  • CliffsNotes: Macbeth [Shakespeare] (Paperback) [906]

    CliffsNotes: Macbeth [Shakespeare] (Paperback) [906]

    $0.95

    Founded in 1958, CliffsNotes (originally Cliff's Notes) provides useful summaries for hundreds of items from classical literature to science and math. Although a helpful staple for the interpretation of literature for over 50 years, they are no substitute for reading the real book.

  • CliffsNotes: Macbeth [Shakespeare] (Paperback) [905]

    CliffsNotes: Macbeth [Shakespeare] (Paperback) [905]

    $1.45

    Founded in 1958, CliffsNotes (originally Cliff's Notes) provides useful summaries for hundreds of items from classical literature to science and math. Although a helpful staple for the interpretation of literature for over 50 years, they are no substitute for reading the real book.

  • The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child, Volume 2: The Middle Ages: From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of the Renaissance (Paperback Book/Activity Book Set)

    The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child, Volume 2: The Middle Ages: From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of the Renaissance (Paperback Book/Activity Book Set)

    $29.99

    "The hardest part of writing a word history is deciding what to leave out. In The Story of the Word, I have tried to keep history simple and straightforward by highlighting the major events, personalities, and national stories of the world's cultures, in (more or less) chronological order." — Susan Wise Bauer, Author


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