get inspired by ken ludwig’s book how to teach your children shakespeare
Interview with dana bach johnson
curator, wonderlust adventures
when i discovered ken ludwig’s book how to teach your children shakespeare, i knew it was a must read! we were getting ready to adventure on a northern california road trip and it was the perfect time to introduce my boys to shakespeare while they were ensconced in the car. the book is a perfect introduction to shakepeare and ken maps out fun and creative ways to teach your children to experience the beauty of shaksepeare’s brilliantly crafted words and his poetic stories. and with fate leading the way and making our road trip adventure all the more symbolic, we discovered a shakespeare quote while hiking in the r. walter fey memorial grove in the redwood forest …
“one touch of nature
makes the whole world kin”
i fell in love with shakespeare while in college at the university of oregon. during a summer session, they offered a shakespeare class with a field trip to view a performance at the oregon shakespeare festival in ashland, oregon. that summer i was introduced to the masterpieces of othello, mid summer night’s dream and all’s well that ends well. that magical experience has inspired me to create my own personal “shakespeare bucket list” where i am challenging myself to see a version of all of his plays. thus far i have logged 13 of his 37 plays with adding much ado about nothing, romeo + juliet, taming of the shrew, as you like it, the tempest, richard II, richard III, macbeth, hamlet and julius caesar. i look forward to the spiritual experience of the remaining 24 !!!
i am excited to encourage you to get inspired by the fine writing of william shakespeare and to share the beauty with your children from ken ludwig’s how to teach your children shakespeare …
A foolproof, enormously fun method of teaching your children Shakespeare
A delightfully engaging guide to helping children fall in love with the works of William Shakespeare. William Shakespeare’s plays are among the great bedrocks of Western civilization and contain the finest writing of the past 450 years. From Jane Austen to The Godfather, many of the best novels, plays, poetry, and films in the English language produced since Shakespeare’s death in 1616 are heavily influenced by Shakespeare’s stories, characters, language, and themes. In a sense, his works are a kind of Bible for the modern world, bringing us together intellectually and spiritually. Hamlet, Juliet, Macbeth, Ophelia, and a vast array of other singular Shakespearean characters have become the archetypes of our consciousness. To know some Shakespeare provides a head start in life. In How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, acclaimed playwright Ken Ludwig provides the tools you need to instill an understanding, and a love, of Shakespeare’s works in your children, while enjoying every minute of your time together along the way.
and enjoy our interview with ken ludwig …
✈ tell us about you and your profession and passions.
I’ve happily spent my professional life as a playwright. I love the solitude of writing and also collaborating with lots of actors and directors in production. My own idea of heaven is sitting quietly listening to opera and reading.
✈ what inspires you?
I have two wonderful kids, one just started college and the other one is in high school. I find them both incredibly inspiring as I watch them at this time of their lives. It’s amazing to watch them take the world in and learn. I also find great books and great plays to be a source of inspiration in my professional life.
✈ where do you live? tell us your favorite things about your city.
I moved to Washington, D.C. just after finishing my studies. I had just started writing Crazy For You, and realized that I needed to live in a reasonably large metropolitan area for my work in the theatre. For me, D.C. is the perfect place because of its cosmopolitan sophistication, livability and proximity to nature. I wanted to live in a place with friendly neighborhoods, backyards and sidewalks. Living here, I’m ten minutes from the Kennedy Center, but I can be at a farm in less than half an hour for the weekend markets. I was born in York, PA in farm country, so I find small towns and the country lifestyle very appealing. At the same time, I love having access to great bookstores, world-class restaurants and all of the cultural attractions that a city like D.C. has to offer. It has also been a fantastic place to raise my children.
✈ how many countries have you traveled to in your lifetime? how many of the US states?
I’ve been traveling since I was in high school when I won a Rotary scholarship to live with a family in Lyon, France for the summer. Since then, my travel has been centered mostly in and around Europe. I particularly like visiting France, Italy and England, mostly because I love the food! Here at home, I’ve visited probably 20 different states, partly as I’ve run my kids to different camps and partly just for the beauty of the landscape.
✈ where have you traveled in the last year?
On our family vacation last year, we visited Vienna and the Salzburg Festival in Austria. The Salzburg Festival must be the single greatest center for classical music in the world. I was trained in classical music and my family loves it as much as I do. The whole experience—start to finish—was one we will never forget. Seeing the operas and the concerts was such a treat. While I was there, I had lunch with the world-renowned actor and director Otto Shenk, who starred in the Austrian production of my play Lend me a Tenor for many years.
✈ what is your next adventure?
My next couple of adventures will involve travel for productions of my plays. This summer, I’ll be heading to the Stratford Festival for a production of Crazy For You, and an author event for How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare. It will be my first time at the Festival and I’m really looking forward to meeting everyone, seeing loads of shows and sampling the local cuisine, which I hear is outstanding.
And later this year, I start rehearsals for my new play, Baskerville. The play will open this season as a co-production by The McCarter Theatre in Princeton, and Arena Stage in Washington, DC. I’ll be in Princeton for the 4-5 week rehearsals period, and I’m looking forward to spending more time exploring that beautiful city.
✈ what are your favorite places to visit?
Paris and Florence are my favorite places on earth. Locally, I love visiting Williamsburg, VA. The entire family has enjoyed visits to Williamsburg since the kids were very little—wandering around the town, to the printer and the blacksmiths and public armory. We go just about every year and we have a ball every time.
✈ what are your favorite restaurants?
My all-time favorite restaurants are Tang Pavilion on 55th Street in NYC and Praline Restaurant in Bathesda, MD.
✈ what is your most memorable travel experience?
A few years ago, I visited Monet’s home at Giverny. It’s the most beautiful place on earth. Seeing his famous Lily Pond was incredibly moving, almost life-changing.
✈ what is your idea of pure happiness?
Pure happiness for me would be spending a summer in Paris, going to the Paris opera every night and visiting Giverny.
✈ what are you reading now?
I’m rereading Tom Jones by Henry Fielding and Boswell’s Life of Johnson. I’m also reading a wonderful book about the history of the National Theatre in London called The National Theatre Story by Daniel Rosenthal.
✈ what are you watching now?
I’m addicted to Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.
✈ what are your favorite products?
✈ what is your favorite quote?
I have so many favorite quotes, but here are two I particularly like:
“The only thing truly worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself.” — William Faulkner and “To imitate others is necessary. To imitate oneself is pathetic.”—Pablo Picasso
✈ what is your favorite app?
My favorite app is a Shakespeare app called Shakespeare Pro.
✈ what is your favorite cookbook?
I really like The New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne.
and please enjoy my favorite quotes from How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare …
“not only do shakespeare’s plays themselves contain the finest writing of the past 450 years, but most of the best novels, plays, poetry, and films in the english language produced since shakespeare’s death in 1616—from jane austen to charles dickens, from ulysses to the godfather—are heavily influenced by shakespeare’s stories, characters, language, and themes."
“i am not only witty in myself, but the cause that wit is in other men.” henry IV, part 2
“in order to memorize something, you have to be very specific and very honest with yourself. you have to work slowly, and you have to understand every word of what you’re memorizing.”
“the thing to be aware of is that shakespeare has down this deliberately to slow down the reader. he pulls linguistic tricks like this all the time to give the actor a sort of playbook on how to say his poetry aloud. he uses his vowels and consonants with enormous care, creating sounds that can slow you down, speed you up, make you pause at the right place, or add an emotion that you didn’t see coming.”
“and yet isn’t falling in love a bit like magic? a gift, a song, a look—all these can alter our hearts in an instant.”
“love is the theme of most of shakespeare’s comedies, but in each one he treats the theme in a different way.”
“love is fickle, says shakespeare. we see what we want to see. we don’t fall in love because of what our eyes tell us, but what our minds tells us.”
“love looks not with the eyes but with the mind;
and therefore is winged cupid painted blind.” a midsummer night’s dream
“throughout this play, shakespeare appears to be suggesting that the experience of love is like the experience of a dream—they are both irrational and changeable.”
“if i read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, i know that is petty. if i feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, i know that is poetry.” emily dickinson
“shakespeare makes the poet’s thoughts sound like a long ribbon flowing from his brain.”
“you should point out to your children that shakespeare’s ability to create epigrams and weave them seamlessly into the dialogue of his plays is a significant, often undervalued aspect of the poet’s genius.”
famous shakespeare epigrams: “all that glitters is not gold.; parting is such sweet sorrow.; speak low if you speak love.; brevity is the should of wit.; neither a borrower nor a lender be.; screw your courage to the sticking place.; love sought is good, but give unsought is better.; the lady doth protest too much.; frailty , they name is woman.; fair is foul and foul is fair.; a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.; the better part of valor is discretion.; and it is a wise father that knows his own child.”
“comedy is balanced by tragedy, and life is balanced by death. to use one of shakespeare’s favorite images, the wheel of fortune is always turning.”
“shakespeare does not repeat things idly. he is doing it for a reason.”
“the comedy of errors is a perfect comedy for children since it relies less on subtlety than on classic elements of farce like mistaken identity and slapstick. it is also, by any measure, the shortest play shakespeare ever wrote, so it is particularly good for younger children.”
“imagery is one of the most effective ways to get your children involved in shakespeare’s language. an image is a word of phrase that suggests a mental picture that we associate with one of our senses.”
“the more your children repeat these and other quotations, the closer they will get to the essence of shakespeare’s greatness. there is simply no substitute for shakespeare’s actual words, either in study or in performance. that’s why this book is based on memorization. memorization is key to understanding shakespeare’s artistry.”
“when i was at home i was in a better place, but travelers must be content.” as you like it
” … that throughout his writing career, shakespeare used the theater as one of his central metaphors for the life of mankind.”
“one aspect of shakespeare’s genius resides in the fact that he rarely, if ever, repeated himself. he was always coming up with new solutions to age-old problems, new ways of beginning plays, ending plays, creating new subject matter, and tackling new themes.”
“one of the mysteries of literature is how simple words on a page can get us thinking about our humanity across time and space: how a story written in the sixteenth century can be as inspiring and relevant as if it were written yesterday. similarly, one of the mysteries of the theater is ow words spoken on a stage can transport us to other worlds, convincing us that we are partaking of there lives playing out in front of us, all the while knowing that those lives are being portrayed by actors.”
“… shakespeare’s work is particularly susceptible to this openness of interpretation, more so than the work of other dramatist.”
“to be, or not to be—that is the question:
whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
or to take arms against a sea of troubles
and, by opposing, end them. to die, to sleep—
no more—and by a sleep to say we end
the heartache and the thousand natural shocks
that flesh is heir to—tis’ a consummation
devoutly to be wished.” hamlet
“simplicity, simplicity. just as shakespeare uses simple things to break out hearts in emotional passages—lear’s button, desdemona’s handkerchief—so at times he uses simple language to make his most profound statements.”