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Wisdom from Shakespeare

Sowing seedsWe’ve been talking the past couple of weeks about how much Charlotte Mason valued Shakespeare. She considered his works to be a great way to help instruct children’s consciences, reinforcing the differences between right and wrong, good and evil.

Charlotte never wanted this instruction to be brash, in-your-face moral sermons. She knew that children (indeed, all of us) tend to recoil from such hard-handed methods. Instead, she recommended the power of a good story, well written, to teach those timeless principles and shape the ideas that rule our lives. And Shakespeare created many well-written good stories!

“To become intimate with Shakespeare in this way is a great enrichment of mind and instruction of conscience. Then, by degrees, as we go on reading this world-teacher, lines of insight and beauty take possession of us, and unconsciously mould our judgments of men and things and of the great issues of life” (Vol. 4, Book 2, p. 72).

As I have become more and more comfortable with Shakespeare over the years, using the simple three-step method, I have enjoyed discovering “lines of insight and beauty.” In case you’re debating whether Shakespeare really can live up to all that Charlotte expected of it, take a look at just a few kernels of wisdom that have jumped off the page lately for me.

Lines of Insight and Beauty

In one of Shakespeare’s story lines, the duke’s daughter must flee for her life, and she decides to dress in man’s clothing so she will not be as easy of a target for thieves and other miscreants along her journey. She reflects that bold outward appearances can often hide cowardice in the heart.

“Lie there what hidden woman’s fear there will—
We’ll have a swashing and a martial outside,
As many other mannish cowards have
That do outface it with their semblances”
(As You Like It, Act I, Scene 3).

The hero of the story recognizes devotion and faithfulness in an old servant and plants the seed of the idea that such unselfish loyalty is rare in the present day, when most people serve for money or promotion but not merely for duty’s sake.

“O good old man, how well in thee appears
The constant service of the antique world,
When service sweat for duty, not for meed!
Thou art not for the fashion of these times,
Where none will sweat but for promotion,
And having that, do choke their service up
Even with the having: it is not so with thee”
(As You Like It, Act II, Scene 3).

Forced to flee for his life along with that servant, the hero stumbles upon a band of perceived outlaws. Desperate to help the loyal old man, who is fainting from hunger, he demands food at sword-point. The soft answer he receives reminds me of the truth of Proverbs 15:1, “A soft answer turneth away wrath.”

“What would you have? Your gentleness shall force
More than your force move us to gentleness”
(As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7).

A philosopher ponders life, aging, and death, giving us many ideas to ponder along with him.

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts”
(As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7).

The duke who has been banished from his estate and taken refuge in a forest finds the natural elements a welcome change from his recent mistreatment and court intrigues.

“Blow, blow, thou winter wind.
Thou art not so unkind
As man’s ingratitude”
(As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7).

When the hero’s brother announces his plans to marry, the hero despairs of ever finding his own true love again and pronounces his sorrow in a way with which we can all sympathize.

“How bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man’s eyes!” (As You Like It, Act V, Scene 2).

And all of those quotes are from just one play! Valuable kernels of wisdom quietly planted in fertile minds and imaginations.

The key in dealing with Shakespeare is not to be in a hurry and not to be afraid. Many a kernel of wisdom is left by the wayside when the traveler is focused only on finishing the journey quickly. And many nourishing kernels are ignored when the traveler is too afraid or uneasy to even look around.

Take your time with Shakespeare and don’t let his wonderful way with words intimidate you. If you found yourself appreciating even one of the quotes listed above, you have the capacity to understand the Bard. What’s more, you have the potential to actually enjoy his plays!

Our Shakespeare in Three Steps resources stand ready to help you along the way. Think of them as a tour guide that will remind you to slow down and enjoy the “lines of insight and beauty [that] unconsciously mould our judgments of men and things and of the great issues of life.”

Shakespeare in Three Steps

Each book and corresponding audio dramatization recording will walk you through three simple steps to help you understand and enjoy Shakespeare:

  1. Read the story.
  2. Hear the script.
  3. Watch the play.

You’ll receive a wonderful, classic story version of the play; the complete script with scene-by-scene summaries, highlights, and character reminders; parental advisories about content that might not be appropriate for younger children; and candid reviews of several video presentations of the play. Everything you need all gathered into one place!

Plus, if you add the superb audio dramatization from Arkangel Shakespeare, you will have a simple, yet complete, and enjoyable Shakespeare course. A feast of ideas in an easy-to-use package!

Free basic shipping on USA orders over $75!