From a review of Lingua Materna, by Richard Wilson in A 1906 journal, School: A Monthly Record of Educational Thought and Progress, Volume 5. The author of the review is only given as A. J. S.
I share this here because Richard Wilson is the author of Arnold’s Language Lessons, published by Edward Arnold at the turn of the century, and recommended by Miss Mason, and because I like what he had to say:
” A useful word of caution is given in connection with the teaching of a play of Shakespeare; namely that all cumbrous discussion as to the story, the date, the authenticity, the characters, and so forth- all, in fact, that is usually found on the first few pages of every annotated edition of a play, should be severely left alone– at any rate, until the play has been read twice or three times.
It seems strange that teachers have been blind to the fact that not to allow the poet to tell his own tale, and his characters to reveal themselves, is to rob a literature lesson of three parts of its value for the class.
It is suggested that at least three readings of the play should precede a study of the introduction; one for the story or plot, another for the observation of character, and a third for attention to specially difficult or important words and phrases.
This sounds very excellent, but is perhaps a counsel of perfection for a master who only has an hour or so a week allotted to this subject and must get through the play in twelve or thirteen lessons.
So the fully annotated school editions are given the-go by; if needed at all, they are only to be in the master’s hand; the boys derive much more benefit from a few manuscript notes dictated by the teacher, when occasion arises, than from enormous erudition in print, which is frequently either unread, or if read, ill digested.
Likewise, the pretty pictures must go. “There is a real objection to fanciful, pictorial illustrations of school literature, The drawings may be more than creditable, but they represent, after all, the artist’s individual idea of the characters .” That is to say, they limit one’s imagination, and to do this, especially in the case of children and younger people, is not wise.”
You want to do Shakespeare with your kids? Just get it out and do Shakespeare. Read the stories (Nesbit or Lamb’s retellings), use paper dolls or stuffed animals to act them out (this helps keep names straight), and enjoy it. Don’t let the kids know this is too hard for them to understand. Watch the plays, preferably in real life, if that’s not possible, watch movies.
Once they know and love the play, then you can do some deeper analysis when they are older- but the familiarity and love should come first.