Or how my eight year old is learning Shakespeare while she plays.

On Sunday Father began his homily: “In Hamlet it says, ‘To thine own self be true’.”

Gemma-Rose dug me in the side and whispered loudly, her eyes wide with excitement, “Hamlet!” We are halfway through reading this Shakespeare play and Gemma-Rose couldn’t believe Father knew about Hamlet too.

Later around the table, while we ate our Sunday cereal and crumpets, we had a good discussion:

“Which character said, ‘To thine own self be true’?”


“I wouldn’t agree with anything Polonius said. I don’t think he was very wise at all.”

“Father wasn’t agreeing with the words…”

“He was saying that’s what the world thinks. But we have to be true to God.”

And so the discussion continued.

The other day I overheard the following conversation:

Sophie: “What are you reading, Gemma-Rose?”

Gemma-Rose with a gleam in her eye: “Words, words, words.” She looked so pleased with herself.

Sophie recognising this quote from Hamlet replied: “What is the matter, my lord?”

Me (joining in): “Between who?”

Sophie: “I mean the matter you read, my lord.”

Gemma-Rose: “That’s Polonius’ speech. You know, Ophelia’s father. He’s talking to Hamlet.”

Imogen, Charlotte, Sophie and I are reading Hamlet out loud together, at the girls’ request. They love taking parts and pretending. We sit in our family room but we’re not really there at all. We’re in a castle at Elsinore.

I hadn’t planned to involve Gemma-Rose. At eight, her reading isn’t quite up to the task of reading Shakespeare’s complex speeches quickly. I had this vague idea of reading her a children’s version instead. But it seems I don’t need to. Gemma-Rose sits in the same room as us, playing or drawing… and listening. She’s also transported into that other world at Elsinore. Occasionally I notice she puts down her pencil or her toy. She’s thinking about something she's heard. Sometimes she even has her say when we’re discussing the play. And when we turn on the DVD to find out how the experts act out Shakespeare’s words, Gemma-Rose makes sure she gets a good seat. She is just as eager to watch as any of us. She doesn’t want to go off and play by herself. This is all much too interesting.

We have already read Hamlet a number of times, and I guess we will read it together a few more times before my career as a homeschooling mother is over. Each time we come back to it, we all understand just a bit more than we did last time. There is always something new to discuss, a new DVD version to watch, another Shakespeare book we have found to share. What we can learn from Shakespeare’s plays seems to be endless.

I guess when Gemma-Rose’s turn comes to read Hamlet for the first time, she will already have a huge head-start. She will open her script with great anticipation as if she were about to meet up again with an old friend. She will be eager to get to know him better. And she won’t be disappointed.

I think about Gemma-Rose’s excitement when she realised Father was talking about Hamlet. I can understand that. We all get very excited when we recognise Shakespearean quotes. They turn up in the most unexpected places... like in a homily or in a novel or in someone else's movie..

Someone is jumping up and down with excitement: “Did you hear that? That was Shakespeare!”

“What play is that from?”



“It was from Othello!”

And the person who works out the correct play feels so very clever.

“It was Iago who said that!” adds someone else, eager for extra points. 

Soon, I think Gemma-Rose is going to be competing with us older Shakespeare fans. We’re going to have to be quick if we want to get the correct answer before she does.

I'd like to claim I have this brilliant daughter who is barely eight. I want to tell you I am using this fabulous curriculum to teach her Shakespeare at a tender age. But the truth is I'm not teaching her at all. All I'm doing is sharing one of my passions with the older girls. And all Gemma-Rose is doing is listening while she plays. Isn't that a great way to learn?

Some Shakespeare resources which are strewed on our coffee table (or e-readers):

Will we be fed up with Hamlet by the end of all those versions or will we still wish we had a copy of Discovering Hamlet?
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  1. Replies
    1. Hi Erin,

      Do you read Shakespeare with your children?

      Thanks for reading!

  2. It's great when children learn because it is interesting and fun rather than because they have to.

    I had to learn Shakespeare to sit and pass exams. That's why I found him so difficult to understand.

    God bless.

    1. Hi Victor,

      You are so right! It is very easy to learn when it's something we're interested in.

      I wonder if your English teacher was passionate about Shakespeare. I think we pick up on other people's passions. My children are always so keen to learn more about something I really love. That love for a subject must be infectious. Perhaps your teacher just looked at Shakespeare as part of the school curriculum, something that had to be taught. And maybe you picked up on that and failed to be inspired.

      I hope you have since discovered Shakespeare's genius!

  3. I agree with Victor. I had to read Shakespeare and really didn't understand it well. My son will have to read it soon for school and I was wondering how to introduce it to him in a positive light so that he'd want to read it. I will have to check out your resources Sue.

    1. Noreen,

      I'd already decided Shakespeare was difficult and boring long before I studied his plays at school. I'd picked up that opinion from somewhere and didn't even give Shakespeare a go. With my own children, I tell them how interesting Shakespeare is and they can't wait to share.

      Perhaps if you read the Shakespeare play too you can talk about it with your son. Yes, some bits of Shakespeare are difficult to understand. We don't worry about understanding everything because if we did, we'd get bogged down and our interest would soon disappear. We have found that each time we come back to a play, we understand just a little bit more. The best thing of all is to watch a production of a play. The actors bring the words alive and it's much easier to work out what's going on. Reading a children's version first, so you know what to expect, can help too.

      Our favourite Shakespearean actor is Kenneth Branagh. Maybe your son would enjoy Branagh's version of "Henry V". It's very stirring! Lots of armour and swords and battle scenes.

      Personally I love the discussions that result from reading or watching a play. There are so many Catholic references!

      I hope you both discover you like Shakespeare when the time comes, Noreen.

      God bless!


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