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Happy Birthday, Shakespeare!

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“These violent delights have violent ends,
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder
Which, as they kiss, consume.”
(Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene VI)

And so begins the second movie in the Twilight saga with these words from William Shakespeare. It was the reference to Shakespeare in the Twilight books that got my reluctant reader, dyslexic daughter interested in Shakespeare. She started with Romeo and Juliet, but has since read many of Shakespeare’s works.

10 quick facts about Shakespeare and an introduction to the No Fear Shakespeare series

 

Ten Quick Facts About Shakespeare

1. William Shakespeare was baptized in Stratford-upon-Avon in England on April 26, 1564. His actual birthdate is not known, but is observed on April 23, which is interesting since he died on April 23, 1616.

2. The son of John and Mary Shakespeare, William had four sisters and three brothers.

3. At the age of 18, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, eight years his senior, who was pregnant when they married.

4. William and Anne had three children together, but only one grandchild who died childless. Therefore, Shakespeare has no direct descendants.

5. Little is known about Shakespeare’s life between the years of 1585 and 1592, though rumors abound. Rumors include a flight from London to escape prosecution for poaching deer and a stint as a school teacher.

6. There is speculation that Shakespeare was Catholic at a time when Catholicism was illegal.

7. Shakespeare wrote 36 plays and several poems.

8. Women were not allowed to perform in plays during Shakespeare’s time, so the roles of women were often played by young boys.

9. Shakespeare was a wealthy man, who, in 1597, bought the second-largest house in Stratford.

10. Shakespeare’s oldest daughter and my oldest daughter share a birthday – a few hundred years apart.

I have to admit that I found Brianna’s interest in Shakespeare a bit intimidating. Though his plays are probably some of the most highly studied works of literature around, I managed to make it through high school without ever reading a single Shakespeare play. My knowledge of Shakespeare was limited to giggled accounts of one of our high school’s most eccentric teachers reading, “Out, damn’d spot!” related by friends who did take our high school’s one Shakespeare course.

Hey, a teacher using profanity in class was big news back then.

Oh, and I do often quote, “Et tu, Brute?” when I feel betrayed, but I think that may have come from either a history class or an excerpt in one of  those “little bits of everything” readers we had in an English class.

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Because of my perception of the difficult reading level of Shakespeare’s plays, I was thrilled to discover the No Fear Shakespeare books. These fabulous books feature the original text on one page, with the modern translation on the facing page, along with helpful commentary. We immediately snapped up Romeo and Juliet when Brianna wanted to read it, and soon added several other titles to our collection, such as Hamlet and the Merchant of Venice (which, incidentally, was the book in which Alice left a message for Bella in Breaking Dawn. Just in case you wondered.)

I asked Brianna once how she read the No Fear Shakespeare books, thinking that, if it were me, I’d read the original first, then check my interpretation on the facing page. It had occurred to me that she might just be reading the translation, which wouldn’t be as rich a reading experience, in my mind.

Nope. She told me that she reads the original text and only refers to the translation if she gets stumped on the meaning of the original. That made me smile. She’s my right-brained, artsy, creative kid who really enjoys reading Shakespeare. I love that about her.

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Have you or your kids ever read any of the No Fear Shakespeare books? Do you enjoy them as much as we do? I just found out that they also offer The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer in a No Fear version, too. That’s on Brianna’s to-be-read list.

Shakespeare facts source: Wikipedia

This post is linked to Top 10 Tuesday.

I received this product free for the purpose of reviewing it, but we already owned several copies and already thought they were awesome. I received no other compensation for this review, but jumped at the chance to add some new titles to our collection. The opinions expressed in this review are my personal, honest opinions. Your experience may vary. Please read my full disclosure policy for more details.

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15 Comments

  1. I’ll have to look for those! They look great…my 12 year old girl has been asking about a few of his titles since we saw them performed on stage.

    Another fact about Shakespeare that I remember reading in a trivia book as a kid: Supposedly, his father was employed as a beer tester who had to pour beer onto a bench and sit in it. If his breeches stuck, the batch was no good.

    1. That’s an interesting Shakespeare fact. I hadn’t read that one. My favorite was that his daughter and mine had the same birthday. Brianna thought that was really cool.

      Let me know what you think about the No Fear Shakespeare books if you get some. We’ve got about a dozen or so and really enjoy them.

  2. I’m grateful you did this review! I’d never heard of this series before, but I’m going to look into it now. It sounds perfect for my oldest!

    1. They are really great! So much easier to understand than the resources available to me when I was Brianna’s age. I might have taken that infamous high school Shakespeare class if I’d had the No Fear Shakespeare books. 🙂

  3. Thanks for sharing these with us. I just went and added them to my amazon wish list. I was always fearful of Shakespeare but this looks very manageable.
    Blessings
    Diane

  4. My 13 year old daughter is reading The Tempest (No Fear Shakespeare) right now for her literature assignment. I had noticed these in the bookstore one day and even though I already had another version I switched to this one. One suggestion I’d like to make, to get younger kids interested in Shakespeare is the Shakespeare Can Be Fun Series. The plays have been rewritten as rhymes and illustrated by kids. We used these when my daughter was younger to get a basic understanding of each of the stories, in preparation for reading the actual plays later.

  5. I’m like you, I never studied Shakespeare in school. The old language is hard to get into and I’ve always given up! I’ll have to try these books, not just for the kids, but for myself as well!

  6. I’m about to begin reading Othello with my daughter. This is our first year homeschooling (loosely Classical), but she was in my humanities classes when I taught in private schools, where we read Julius Caesar and Macbeth. Recently we watched two versions of Hamlet. Her favorite? The one starring David Tennant because she’s a big Dr. Who fan!

    1. Oh, I wonder if my daughter knows about the Hamlet with David Tennant. She’s a HUGE Dr. Who fan, too. She probably does, but I’ll have to ask her.

  7. We big puffy heart Shakespeare! I must confess that we have an amazing Shakespeare theatre nearby that does a phenomenal job of his plays. We usually read the version in Charles and Mary Lambs Shakespeare for Children then read the actual play. After all that , we try to watch the movie. Love it! I’m off to check out these books! Thanks for sharing!

  8. I have not read this series as my kids are early elementary but I did have to write a paper or two and read two or three plays in highschool. I espeically like to “show off” to my husband with “Friends, Romans, countrymen” since I had to learn and recite it in 10th grade…he’s always impressed because he always forgets the last time that I recited it. :giggle: I look very smart to him every other year or so. 🙂 Go Brianna!

  9. Great review and it was fun to read the facts about Shakespeare. I knew some of those, but not others. We’ll have to check out those books. It won’t be long before we have to dig into some Shakespeare here. I read Romeo and Juliet, MacBeth, and Hamlet all in high school, plus then Hamlet again in college.

    1. Brianna has already read more Shakespeare than I have. How sad is that? Once I finish the two books currently on my to-be-read list, I may have to bum one of the No Fear Shakespeare books from her and read it during our daily silent reading time.

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