Friday, February 18, 2011

Family Weekend Stuff

This weekend is a long weekend in Ontario (and a couple of other provinces) because Monday is "Family Day." A couple of years ago the government realized there's a really long space between Christmas and March Break (or, for people who aren't teachers, Easter) where there are no holidays in between, so they created Family Day in February. Today is a PA Day, so I took the day off to spend it with my daughter. So in light of Family Weekend, I decided to do a family post. (Especially since y'all have caught a glimpse of my family here...) That was just a taste of my husband's guitar playing. A friend of mine found this earlier this week... a track from a CD my husband's long-defunct band put out in the mid-90s, when everyone I knew was in a band. I was a groupie for a while, joining the band on tour and hopping across the province selling merch for them. I did see everything (when they headed out to Halifax to tour with Sloan I had to stay put in Ontario because I had my stupid school). But it was a bit of a blast from the past to hear this track again! Check out the BritPop influence. ;) The band was actually pretty brilliant, but there were personality clashes, and they broke up.

My Facebook status earlier in the week actually made it onto David Lavery's blog, which made me laugh. (Go here to see what he said.) As I explained in it, I tell my daughter a bedtime story I make up every night, usually involving this elaborate land underground that we've both constructed over many years (it's become quite the place) and this boy above the ground who can go into that world and move around in it, and has become their protector. But I was tired, so I began telling her the story of Romeo and Juliet, complete with the deadly ending. She was saddened and delighted all at once, and she loved it. Ever since, she's wanted a new one every night. I don't know why I didn't think of this sooner!! Not only is she discovering Shakespeare for the first time, but it's making me skim through the plays after she goes to sleep so I'll be ready for the next night, and I'm remembering them all over again (remember, it's been a decade since I've read most of them... with the exception of The Tempest, which I reread for one of the Lost books).

Romeo and Juliet probably still remains her favourite. She was shocked when they both died, and at one point I began humming "What Is a Youth" from the Zeffirelli version of the play (one of my favourite versions... Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey have got to be two of the most beautiful creatures who ever walked this earth...) and now she wants me to sing that to her every night as she falls asleep.

The night after Romeo and Juliet she asked for another story "like that one." I said, "You mean, one written by the same person?" And she said yes. So I told her Twelfth Night. I had to go and check a quick synopsis in one of my books first (to get all the Violas and Olivias straight) and she found that one a little confusing, but was laughing when I was adding in my own facial expressions and "Wait... what?!" asides when one twin kept getting mistaken for the other one. She liked that one a lot, too, and was happy that it actually ended on an up note. I told her they were written by the same man, 500 years ago, and his name was Shakespeare. The next night was King Lear (complete with a gruesome retelling of Gloucester getting his eyes gouged out... one of my favourite moments in English literature), and by the end of that one she first said, "Wow, that Shakespeare guy was a pretty good writer!" But then added, "But can't he come up with more happy endings??"

Next up: The Tempest. I have the Waterhouse picture of Miranda standing on the shore of the island watching the shipwreck, and it hangs above my bed, so my daughter's used to seeing it. I used that to point out what Miranda looked like, and the tempest the Prospero whips up. At the end of the story I told her it was probably my favourite (although that changes by the minute) and she said she wasn't sure she liked it as much. I told her I felt bad for Caliban and that many scholars debate him more than anything else in the play. She asked why; after all, wasn't he a bad person? I said no, he lived on that island, along came Prospero and he enslaved both him and Ariel, and it's not Caliban's fault that his mother wasn't a nice person. So that sparked a discussion about native rights and I think I might have slipped some Lost/Others talk in there.

Last night was Midsummer Night's Dream. She laughed out loud in many parts, especially when I was braying like Bottom and pretending to be Titania, professing my undying love to an ass. At the end she said, "I think that one was a little silly, Mummy." She also thought it was short, and wanted something else. So I shook things up and told her the story of Mill on the Floss, as best I could remember it. FINALLY... a use for that English education!

Tonight was Hamlet. Whew. THAT was a doozy. First, I have to admit that I didn't read Hamlet until I took my Masters. Seriously... I had a Renaissance course and a Shakespeare course in my undergrad and my prof didn't teach Hamlet in either one of them (same guy). So it wasn't until I took Shakespeare at U of T that I finally read the damn thing. So it hasn't been as ingrained in my psyche as the other books. So I skimmed through it last night and remembered a lot of it, settled in on her bed and began the story. I made sure to really jazz up Ophelia's madness, and at one point was attempting a reenactment of it, walking around the room while gazing at the ceiling and saying loopy things, pretending to weave flowers in her hair. She giggled and I laughed but explained that poor Ophelia had lost her mind from grief and confusion. My daughter didn't quite know what that meant, but then I walked Ophelia outside and pretended to drop flowers into a stream, and then decided I'd like to float in the stream just like the flowers. But Ophelia couldn't swim, and floated down the stream and under the water... my daughter's eyes widened and then her lip began to quiver. "Is she dead?" "Yes... she's dead." "Is anyone else going to die in this one, Mummy?" "Um..."

By the end of it I'd pretended to die by poisoning as Gertrude, I thrust my sword into Laertes as Hamlet and then pretended to be Laertes and begged forgiveness and then gakked my way into death, then I poured poison down Claudius's throat, then had him die, then almost died as Hamlet, then almost drank poison as Horatio, then stopped Horatio from doing it and finally died as Hamlet, flopped onto the end of her bed. She applauded... AND... scene.

"Wait... that's IT?" she said. Sigh.

Then she asked me if Ophelia killed herself and why? I said I'm not sure if she killed herself on purpose, or if she got into the stream driven by her madness and died accidentally. I told her that's a big question that surrounds the book, to be honest, and I felt like I was having a proper little literary discussion with her. She said she believes it was an accident, and I agreed with her.

I'm really enjoying this! And she'll be well versed in Shakespeare before she's out of grade 1. This morning I was in the kitchen and said, "Howl! Howl! Howl!" and then looked at her and said, "What's that from?" "King Lear," she said without pause. ;)

Tomorrow is Macbeth. If anyone knows of a good "Shakespeare for Kids" book, please let me know!

My son isn't as interested in this. He's more interested in discovering music at this point, so tonight was a Beatles night. I was washing dishes and began singing "Helter Skelter" and he looked at me and said, "WHAT are you singing?" I stared back and said, "Oh COME ON" and rushed over and popped in the White Album. Next thing it was a crazed dance-a-thon in our living room.

Oh, and earlier today I gave him a cinnamon heart. He'd never had one before. This was pretty much his exact reaction:

Have a great weekend, everyone!


Allison said...

So awesome. Shakespeare, The Beatles... I LOVE IT!

Marebabe said...

Well, this Friday morning post was tons of fun! I’m not very well versed in Shakespeare. Franco Zefferelli is the main one responsible for my introduction to the Bard. I love all his adaptations, and many years ago I wrote an extended piano version of “What Is a Youth?” that includes every bit of the melody you hear in the movie. Regarding the question of how many people die in “Hamlet”, I’m pretty sure that Shakespeare left Horatio alive at the end only because he needed someone to wrap things up and deliver the exit line. (At least, in Mel Gibson’s “Hamlet”, Horatio speaks the last line.)

It’s interesting, I discovered years ago that I had seen Zefferelli’s “Romeo and Juliet” so many times that I could deliver all the lines with the same inflections as the actors in the movie. It was then that I figured out that my primary way of learning is auditory (as opposed to visual or kinesthetic). If only I had known that back in high school when I was struggling to memorize lines for a play! It would have been far easier for me if I had recorded the parts and just listened to them over and over.

I must wait until this evening to listen to the music track from your husband’s band. My computer at work has no speakers. *frowny face* I can’t wait!

Nikki Stafford said...

Marebabe: Actually, when I got to the end my daughter asked me why Hamlet wouldn't let Horatio die? I said, "Well, when the reporters descend on the castle to put up the story in the tabloids, they need someone who can actually give them all the gory details about what really happened."


Marebabe said...

I enjoyed David Lavery’s post, too. And your Shakespeare stories combined with David’s Beowulf story reminded me of the time that my brother read “The Lord of the Rings” aloud to his small children (all under the age of 8). I approved his literary choice, of course, but I wondered about the scariness factor and possible nightmares as a result. Just imagine... “Frodo was alive but taken by the enemy. G’night, kids!” Anyway, I think it’s clear that little kids are capable of enjoying grand storytelling far beyond “The Poky Little Puppy” or “Everyone Poops”. (That last one is soon coming to video! Now available for pre-order.)

Cynthea said...

How long does each story take? It sounds like you go into a lot of detail! I've read and taught many of the plays, and I don't know how I would accomplish a retelling without a detailed plot synopsis in front of me. You must have an incredible memory! You'll have to take her to Stratford this summer to see a play--I can't wait to see your blog report on her reaction!

JS said...

I think you should your bedtime shakespeare for kids and share them with the world.

Nikki Stafford said...

Cynthea: You know, it totally depends. On the one hand when I decided to do Hamlet, I thought, "So... what do I say other than, 'Once upon a time there was a king who was killed by his brother, and his son, Hamlet, whose mother married his uncle and kept her queenship, became really upset and sad, and upset his girlfriend so much she walked into a river and drowned. And then they all died in one giant swordfight-slash-poison party. The end.'"

Because it's mostly just walking around and philosophising. But then I read a few summaries and reread key scenes and thought, "oh, RIGHT, there's that" so I ended up going into way more detail than usual. Hamlet took about 20 minutes. Romeo and Juliet was about 10. King Lear probably 15 (because I think I've read it 30 times and have seen it on stage abour 4 or 5, so I know everything about it), Midsummer, Twelfth, and Tempest about 10 each. I guess the happier the ending, the shorter the story?

She's asked for a happy one tonight so I'm thinking Winter's Tale... but that reminds me; I haven't boned up on it first. Eek. Oh wait, no, I said Macbeth. Winter's Tale is next. I have time.

JS: I think my versions would be too whacked out even for the Internet. I wasn't kidding about the tabloid explanation of the end of Hamlet, heehee!! And I acted out Hamlet's death in a painful, gakking way. And then he sat up suddenly, squeaked out another last word, died... then had one more word... died. I gave him the old Paul Reubens-in-Buffy death. ;)

verif word: galys: Probably a character in Shakespeare I've completely forgotten about.

Marebabe said...

Well, I finally got to listen to “This is Now” by Licorice Fix. You’re right, they were pretty brilliant! Did your husband sing as well as play guitar?

Susan said...

Shakespeare bedtime stories - what an awesome idea!

When you run out of Shakespeare you can move onto other classics. I just wish I had thought of that when my kids were "bedtime story" age.

Suzanne said...

Your house sounds like it is so much fun!

My kids are being introduced to Shakespeare in middle school through a program where actors from a local theatre company come and have fun with them while introducing them to the plays. Then they actually read the plays in class with their teachers. Each year all three grades focus on a different play.

The first year was Julius Ceasar. I had fun bringing out my huge Shakespeare anthology from my undergraduate and graduate school days to read parts with my daughter. She was very impressed by how many works he wrote, but not too impressed with Julius Ceasar (its not my favorite either, and I haven't actually read it since I was in high school). This year they read Hamlet, which is one of my favorites and one I have taught a few times. Unfortunately, my daughter is getting to be "too cool" now to want to spend much time talking to me about it, so I didn't get to have as much fun with it as last year. Next year is Romeo and Juliet. Both of my kids will be learning it, so I will have to be sure to show them the Zefferelli film (I have fond memories of it from my youth, too).

I am looking forward to talking about Shakespeare with my son because of my two kids, he looks to be the one who is likely to head towards the humanities (he is also my Buffy-watching partner) whereas my daughter seems to be more into the sciences. He is also the one that I read The Hobbit too when he was much younger. We tried Lord of the Rings, but he became an independent reader who didn't want to be read to anymore before we could finish!

Nikki, have you thought about telling your daughter about Othello? It is one of my favorites and the one that I teach in my Comp. II class where we include some plays every year. Students really love it. Of course, I wouldn't recommend repeating any of Iago's coarse, vulgar lines to her! ;)

Mockingbird said...

Allow me to suggest the following.

(hee, hee!)

Emilia said...

Aw...Shakespeare and kids. I love it.

Beth said...

I love this so much. I see no one else has suggested a source for Shakespeare suitable for children, so I will, FWIW: the 19th c. Tales from Shakespeare by Charles & Mary Lamb. It's out of copyright, so you can also find it various places online.

Beachgirl5835 said...

One time, when my son was six, my family and I were eating out. He wanted to try the Tabasco sauce and we all warned him not to, but he did it anyway. He started to scream and my husband took him into the men's room to wash out his mouth. He was screaming so much, my husband was worried someone would come in and think he was trying to molest him!

Also, STORIES FROM SHAKESPEARE, retold by Marchette Chute is a good book.

Beachgirl5835 said...

One time, when my son was six, my family and I were eating out. He wanted to try the Tabasco sauce and we all warned him not to, but he did it anyway. He started to scream and my husband took him into the men's room to wash out his mouth. He was screaming so much, my husband was worried someone would come in and think he was trying to molest him!

Also, STORIES FROM SHAKESPEARE, retold by Marchette Chute is a good book.

Lyla Miklos said...

I recently spent half a year cleaning libraries for the public school board. Doing weeding and inventory of several elementary school collections. I noticed a series of books called "Shakespeare for Kids" that looked really cool and fun. Check out the link to the Macbeth book in the series at

I first got to know the plots and stories of Shakespeare and several other classic pieces of literature by reading Classics Illustrated when I was a kid. These were sophisticated graphic novels with fantastic artwork. Check out the gorgeous Classic Illustrated for Hamlet at