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Memorize this: How to get your children to love Shakespeare, too

Published August 17, 2014 6:24 pm

Stage • Playwright's book details a simple method to help kids take ownership of the Bard's language.
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Playwright Ken Ludwig had so much fun teaching his two children to memorize Shakespearean speeches that he's written a how-to book about his simple methods, "How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare."

The whole effort began when his 6-year-old daughter came home spouting lines from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" that she had learned at school. That's when the playwright saw an opportunity to spread his love for the Bard's works to his children.

"Suddenly, I realized that the true key of unlocking Shakespeare is to memorize some," Ludwig says. "You can't fudge when you memorize. Either you know it or you don't know it. If you can say it, it opens up an entire world for you."

Ludwig spent an hour with his children on Saturdays and another hour on Sundays, memorizing four-line passages at a time. "I knew it was working because they looked forward to it," says the Tony Award-winning playwright, whose farce "Lend Me a Tenor" is one of the most produced contemporary comedies in the world. "Tenor," well-loved by Utah audiences, was adapted into a musical in a sparkling production by the Utah Shakespeare Festival in 2007.

Ludwig's memorization sessions proved so successful over the years that his children eagerly signed up for Shakespeare classes in high school and college. In a phone interview, the Washington, D.C.-based playwright recounted his teenage son's recent date to see the Globe Theatre's touring production of "Hamlet." Afterward, the teens eagerly critiqued the performances while spouting their favorite lines.

"When your son, who doesn't drive yet, wants to take a date to 'Hamlet,' you say, 'OK,' " says Ludwig, the evening's chauffeur. "There's a great joy when your kid turns to you and quotes some Shakespeare."

It sounds simple, Ludwig admits, but memorizing four lines at a time while learning what each word means opens a window into the complete works. Memorization makes the language accessible for kids and seems to work on a different level than just studying the plays in English class or seeing a video, he says.

His book with that no-nonsense title has just been released in paperback, and it includes an introduction by actor John Lithgow. The book's website includes quotation sheets for the 25 passages the playwright details for readers, but perhaps its best feature is the audio files of those same speeches delivered by noted Shakespearean actors Derek Jacobi, Richard Clifford and Frances Barber.

Ludwig admits he's a zealot for Shakespeare's works, which is why he's been gratified by the response his book has received from parents and teachers. "You can't be an intellectual member of our civilization and not know Shakespeare," he says. "Since the day he died on April 23, 1616, no one has written anything without being informed by Shakespeare in some way." 'How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare'

Ken Ludwig

Broadway Books

Pages • 343

Price • $14