Anachan's Corner

One woman's journey through marriage, motherhood, and the classroom…

Shakespearean Easter Egg Adventures

Written By: Anachan - Jun• 23•14

My precocious eleven-year-old daughter decided the other day that she needs to read Shakespeare.

It started as an effort to persuade me she needed to be in a school, rather than being homeschooled.

“Honey,” I told her.  “The school where you used to go has lost a lot of teachers, and there are now only three other people in your class.  Many of the classes are now on-line.  They don’t really have anything to offer you.”

“Why don’t you take me up to the town where you teach?”  she asked.

Remembering that she had been bullied out of the previous school, and concerned that the middle school in the neighboring town wouldn’t have tolerant kids, I hesitated.  “Many of the kids in that school are not as far along as you are in math and such.”  After all, she had succeeded in working a geometry problem without blinking which my remedial juniors last year had stared at uncomprehendingly.  “I’m not sure it would be the best place for you, either.  Why don’t you wait until you’re ready for high school, and then I can bring you to the school where I work?”

Her hazel eyes looked up at me with new excitement.  “Maybe I could start high school this year!”

“Have you thought about how old you would be when you graduated, if you did that?”

She considered this a moment, then looked up with eager eyes. “Fifteen!  That doesn’t matter! I heard of a kid who was a doctor by the time he was nine!  He was reading Shakespeare by age five!”

“You’re not reading Shakespeare.”

“That’s because I don’t have a copy!” she exclaimed, waving her arms in a gesture of distress.

I smirked.  “Just a moment.”  When I returned from the family room, I was carrying a large volume containing the complete works of William Shakespeare.  Her eyes grew wide.  “Be careful.  The print is kind of small.”

She opened it up and read the inside covers aloud.  Turning to the table of contents, she noted the names of the pieces, many of which she had heard about already when her sister’s college drama club had put on “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged.”

I noted she did a pretty good job of pronouncing the difficult words on the dust jacket.  “Do you want to try reading some?  We could do it together.”

Figuring she might understand “Hamlet” a bit better than some of the other plays, as “Complete Works” spent almost an entire half hour on it, I opened the volume to the beginning of that piece.  “It’s a play!” she exclaimed excitedly. “I didn’t know these were plays!”  In short order, we had decided who would read what parts in Act I, Scene i and plunged in.

Three days later, we are still reading bits and pieces of “Hamlet”.  Although there are many words she does not understand, and there are times I stop and summarize what is going on, as I would do in my high school English classes, she can generally figure out how to read the words and tries to put emphasis into her reading.  We’ve discussed the rhythm of the blank verse used in most Shakespearean plays and pointed out poetic descriptions as we’ve encountered them.

And we’ve found an “Easter egg”.

In Act I, Scene ii, Hamlet, while bemoaning his mother’s swift marriage to his uncle, exclaims,

“Oh, that this too too solid flesh would melt

Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!

Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d

His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter!” 

Something pinged in my memory, and it took me a few hours to pinpoint exactly what it was.  Around lunchtime, I suddenly looked at my eldest daughter and said, “That’s it!  Horatio Hornblower!”  <confused look from my eldest daughter>

In the first A&E Horatio Hornblower movie, entitled “The Duel”, Hornblower is stationed on a ship with a bully who makes all the midshipmen’s lives miserable.  At one point, he is seized with a severe depression and finds himself, like Hamlet, contemplating death.  One of the other midshipmen, empathetic, states, “Damned unsporting of the Everlasting to fix his canon ‘gainst self-slaughter, if you ask me.”

I giggled with glee.  “I always thought that was a fabulous line, and now I know I was right!  He was referring back to this line in ‘Hamlet!'”

“When you’ve read and understood Shakespeare,” I told my eleven-year-old, “you begin to find places all over our language or in other books or TV shows where there are references to his works.”

(It’s true!  If you’re interested in seeing just a few ways in which Shakespeare has influenced our language, you could start with this song by the CBBC’s “Horrible Histories”.)

I’m looking forward to continuing this Shakespeare project with my daughter, and I can’t wait to find more Shakespearean Easter eggs!

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