“To Thine Own Self Be True”

Last week, we talked about the back-to-school blues – but there’s no question that at any time of year, at any age, it can be difficult for students to find their place. Parents and teachers try so often to capture the sense of uncertainty and frustration that faces many children as they find their social groups. The term “peer pressure” has become a commonplace, of course; and like so many of Shakespeare’s words, so too has the phrase “to thine own self be true” (Hamlet Act 1, Scene 3).

In these early days of the school year, ask your students to think about this line. What does it mean to them? How can they stay “true” to themselves? You can address the topic in a couple of ways: first, in the context of a broader lesson about Hamlet, in which Polonius’ speech to his son is one of several you may discuss in-depth; or by printing out and distributing copies of the monologue itself and asking the children for their thoughts.

If you go for the second approach, have a look at this edited version of the speech. As ever, we haven’t changed a single word – but we have abridged the monologue for ease of understanding amongst our younger friends.

Back to School Blues?

Leave it to Shakespeare to capture the back-to-school blues that hit so many of our young friends this time of year: “[…] The whining school-boy, with his satchel and shining morning face, creeping like snail unwillingly to school” (As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII).

Yes, there is some reluctance associated with the first day of school – but over the years at Shakespeare For Our Children, we have lightened the mood by starting the new term with an old friend: Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare. Written in 1807 by the brother and sister, and reprinted numerous times since, this beloved work offers what the Lambs call “a few hints and little foretastes of the great pleasure which awaits them” in Shakespeare’s works.

Check out this digitized version of the 1894 edition, volumes I – IV. For younger children, read a tale or two aloud and ask them to illustrate their favorite scene; for older students, prepare a few questions for discussion.

“He was not of an age but for all time” – Ben Jonson

Welcome to “Shakespeare For Our Children.” Please check out more about our Program and Resources here, and learn more about our aims at About This Blog.

So – why does Shakespeare matter now? Why start this blog? To put it simply, we at “Shakespeare For Our Children” believe in the timelessness of his work – and we also believe that it is never too soon to start teaching children about the Bard of Avon!

With his profound understanding of human nature, Shakespeare crafted compelling dramas the likes of which had never been seen. Nor have they been seen since.

Not unlike the wisdom of Solomon and the Proverbs of the Bible, Shakespeare’s words are used frequently to this day to illustrate the basic truths of our universal experience. Illuminating the human condition by revealing our virtues and foibles, Shakespeare has enhanced the awareness we have of ourselves.

It is, ultimately, in respectful celebration of this artist and his vision that we welcome you into the world of “Shakespeare For Our Children.” Here we can learn, and grow – and have fun!