The other day I heard someone describe Shakespeare’s plays as the “sitcoms of the 16th and 17th centuries.” At first I thought that was a trivial comparison; but the more I ponder it, the more sense it makes.
Shakespeare’s plays were the entertainment of the day. They were the TV and movies back then, if you will. And just as with our viewing selections today, some of his plays were comedies, some were romantic, some were action adventure, some were dramas, some were silly, and some were tragic.
So in one way his plays can be compared to sitcoms; but in another way, they are quite different. The more familiar you become with his plays, the more you observe that they contain deep insights into human nature. Something not many sitcoms can boast.
And those keen insights are delivered in lines that use the English language admirably and can even expand your own ability to use it well. Something that cannot be said of most audio visual entertainment today.
We are pleased to make the entertaining plays of Shakespeare very doable and approachable with our Shakespeare in Three Steps books and audio recordings. Today we announce two new additions to the collection: Twelfth Night and Macbeth.
Twelfth Night is a comedy suitable for grades 2–12. Two twins, brother and sister, are shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria. The sister, believing her brother to be drowned and worried that Illyria might not be safe for her, decides to disguise herself as a man. In her new garb she presents herself at the Duke’s court as a pageboy and quickly becomes a favorite, hiding her growing love for the Duke beneath the guise of devoted friendship. The Duke, meanwhile, is attempting to win the hand of another fair lady. This lady refuses the Duke, steadfastly grieving the death of a family member to the point of oblivion—unaware even of the chaos being wreaked by her other mischievous relatives, until the Duke sends his new page to woo her in his stead. Unfortunately, the lady falls for the seeming pageboy, and the ensuing chaos is not sorted out until the twin brother arrives.
Macbeth is a tragedy set in Scotland before English rule. It is best suited for older students, because of the content and intense nature of the plot. Macbeth and his friend Banquo are on their way home from subduing a rebellion when they meet three witches. The witches make a prediction that Macbeth will become king. Macbeth wonders if he can believe what they say, but his wife pushes him with such fanatical extent that the two of them murder King Duncan and seize the throne for themselves. Their resulting reign slides downhill quickly, with both Macbeth and his wife succumbing to madness and guilt that leads them to commit murder after murder, including that of Macbeth’s friend Banquo. Finally, one of Duncan’s sons rallies an English army, marches back into Scotland, and overthrows the tyrant Macbeth.
Whether you are looking for lighthearted fun or suspenseful drama, Shakespeare makes for good entertainment.