If you’re ready to launch into a study of Shakespeare with your high school student but not quite ready to fly by the seat of your pants, there are some resources that will give you room to be creative while offering assistance with the more arcane matters. Done properly, a study of Shakespeare will include opportunity to see the plays in performance either live or on video. If you live in a community that has a Shakespeare festival or theater group that regularly includes Shakespeare, you’ll want to make the most of it. There are many productions of Shakespeare’s plays available on DVD from traditional performances to highly stylized performances or adaptations. You can work your way through many of Shakespeare’s plays by watching these video productions. You will want to read at least one of the plays. Doing so offers challenges from unfamiliar vocabulary to an understanding of the meter and rhyme used by Shakespeare. There are essential resources that will help you, as well as extra, sugar-on-top resources that can make your study that much more enriching.
First on our list of essential resources is a means of obtaining video productions of Shakespeare’s plays. You can hope that your local library will offer the videos you need, but if you want a full range of options a DVD rental club such as Blockbuster or Netflix is a must. Both offer plans allowing you from 1 to 3 DVD rentals at a time for a price between $10 and $18 a month. For $24 Netflix will let you check out 4 DVDs at a time or for $5 check out 1 DVD at a time but only 2 per month. Our family uses Blockbuster and we have never been dissatisfied with their service. DVDs that have arrived broken or simply never arrived are quickly replaced. If the wrong DVD is sent, they send the correct DVD before you even send the incorrect one back. Now with the ability to exchange DVDs at their local stores, the service is exceptional.
Once you have a means of obtaining video productions of the plays, you need something to help you decide which version to view, although, if there are several excellent versions, you may want to view more than one. Reviews of many movies are available at the Internet Movie Database. Searching on Shakespeare or a particular play's title, should give you relevant information such as the year the movie was produced, the actors, a plot description, and sometimes reviews from site visitors. I’d also recommend searching the DVD section at Amazon for additional reviews that will add to your understanding of the quality of the movie and give you more details like the state of undress of Judi Dench’s Titania in the 1968 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. PluggedIn offers reviews of newer productions. Although there are far fewer reviews of Shakespearean productions at this site, the reviews are much more thorough. The search tool didn’t function well, but the alphabetical index worked well.
How do you go about selecting the plays you prefer to study? You might want to visit the 60 Second Shakespeare site, which offers information in a newspaper format about 14 of Shakespeare’s plays best known plays, although they leave out one of my favorites Henry V. The plays most commonly studied in high school include Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet, and Julius Caesar. You’ll also find synopses of all the plays at Shakespeare Resources. These synopses contain links to additional resources and commentaries on each play.
Before viewing a production, you may want to read a synopsis or prose version of the story. Tales from Shakespeare, by Charles and Mary Lamb gives prose versions of twenty of Shakespeare’s plays. It is available for just $5 from the EHO Resource Center or you can find them online at Mr. William Shakespeare and the Internet.
Individual editions of Shakespeare’s plays are available from many publishers. The series I recommend for the high school reader are the Cambridge School Shakespeare editions. These editions of the play are based on an active approach to studying the play including activities for students to act out portions of the play. They also include a wealth of helpful information including language glosses to help with unfamiliar words, character studies, and summaries. You can purchase these through EHO’s Resource Center. Sparks Notes also has a No Fear Shakespeare website that offers two versions of Shakespeare’s plays in a side-by-side layout. The left side offering the original play and the right side offering the play in Modern English. Eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays and his sonnets are all provided.
There are a number of study guides available for in-depth study of particular plays. I recommend Progeny Press’s study guides for those looking for a more advanced guide from a Christian perspective. They offer guides for the following plays: Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice, and Romeo and Juliet. I’ve written a review of the Hamlet study guide available at EHO Reviews. All the Progeny Press study guides are available in the EHO Resource Center. If you prefer a secular guide, you can purchase a book notes study guide from your local bookstore. Several book note publishers offer their study guides free online. These include Cliff’s Notes, Pink Monkey and Barron’s Book Notes, and Sparks Notes.
Most of these resources have been left off the essential list primarily due to cost. If they were less expensive, I’d put them the essential list. Others appear here because they are extra goodies that you don’t really need to study Shakespeare, but would make your studies more fun.
The Teaching Company offers two courses on Shakespeare. Peter Saccio teaches both. The longer course, Shakespeare: Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies, has 36 lectures and after two introductory lectures focuses in two or three lectures each on the following plays: Twelfth Night, The Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice, Measure for Measure, Richard III, Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Romeo and Juliet, Troilus and Cressida, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth. These lectures require the reader to have familiarity with the plays. You should have read the play or watche a performance of the play before viewing these lectures. An EHO Review is available of the course. The shorter course, Shakespeare: The Word and the Action, has 16 lectures including two on Shakespeare’s sonnets. This is a topical course with Professor Saccio looking at themes like love and action in history in a variety of plays. In all he discusses 14 plays. These courses are available on sale once year for up to 75% off the list price.
If you’d like to study the poetry of Shakespeare, I recommend the following picture book William Shakespeare: Poetry for Young People. The text of three of Shakespeare’s sonnets and portions from a number of his plays are included with full color illustrations. The illustrations are beautiful. If your high schooler isn’t bothered by reading a book that might be perceived as written for younger children, they should find the poetry more enjoyable to read in this format.
The Playmaker by J.B. Cheaney is an historical novel that is set at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in 1597.
Publisher’s Book Description:
The year is 1597. Elizabeth is queen. Shakespeare and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men are packing London’s Globe Theatre. And the severed heads of Catholic insurgents are impaled on the Tower’s gates. One 14-year-old boy should arouse no one’s interest.
But within a week of his arrival, Richard Malory is robbed, beaten, and threatened at knifepoint. Someone wants him to leave London, and Richard is determined to find out why. There’s only one place he’ll be safe: as an actor on the stage. As he begins to unravel the traitorous plot that has ensnared him, Richard must make a difficult decision. Will he play the part set out for him—or can he become the playmaker of his own life?
Additional Online Resources
This site provides a look at Shakespeare’s grammar including syntax, rhetorical devices, usage shifts, and a glossary of words from Shakespeare.
Shakespeare in Education
The courses and articles section of this site includes links to online study guides and additional teaching resources.
Shakespeare High: Your Shakespeare Classroom on the Internet!
Includes student and teacher’s zones with a Shakespeare 101 student guide, play guides, lesson plans and many more resources to make studying Shakespeare fun and far simpler.
The Globe Theatre in London is offering an Adopt and Actor program for the 2007 season, “an interactive distance learning project that enables students to follow an actor's progress from the 2007 season's first rehearsal right through to the final performance.”
Browse listings for important monologues by men or women in each of Shakespeare’s plays. You can download a pdf version of the monologue or visit a page with the full text from the scene that contains the monologue.
Concordance of Shakespeare's complete works
If you’re looking for a particular line of phrase from Shakespeare, this site allows you to search or to browse its alphabetical listings.