Greeting – a Welcome from Marlin Detweiler
Feature Article – Renewing Our Interest in the Ides of March by G. Tyler Fischer
Educational Helps – by Emily Fischer
This month we have an unusually high number of announcements and free offers. Some you will want to pay close attention because of savings and timely opportunities.
For instance, we have begun a new program for loyal customers. Beginning March 1, 2006 we introduce the Veritas Press Points Program. For every $100.00 in orders you receive one point. Each point is worth a $5.00 credit on your next order. Points may be redeemed on subsequent orders that are in excess of $50.00. All points expire on December 31st.
We are also announcing our annual Open House and hope you’ll come visit if you are nearby. Additionally, we also have a huge giveaway that you will want to note for a free air fare and registration for the Veritas Academy Teacher Training this summer. Finally, we are announcing a Veritas Press Tutorial Service. See the details below for more information.
Renewing Our Interest in the Ides of March
I remember the first time that Shakespeare got me. It was in Mr. Calhoun’s English class. We were reading Macbeth and discussing the Great Chain of Being. Suddenly, the veil was lifted, and what had been opaque and esoteric ramblings in the text became, if not clear, clearer. It was as if someone had given me the secret decoder ring and I had been initiated into some sort of club. That might have been the moment that I became an adult. Since then, reading and watching Shakespeare’s works performed, have been a great delight of mine. Sadly, however, acquaintance with Shakespeare is becoming increasingly less common in our culture. In this article, I want to recommend that Shakespeare should be a focus of the education that you provide for your children. In fact, I would argue that teaching your children Shakespeare is an essential part of their education.
Why is Shakespeare essential? Presently I can only give you a survey, but there are three important reasons to consider it essential: reading Shakespeare, more than any reading but the Bible, connects us to our literary forefathers; reading Shakespeare introduces us to human nature in an unparalleled manner; and finally, reading Shakespeare sets the great issues of human life before us as he considers these issues from an unflinching Christian worldview.
Connecting our children with the past is something that hardly has to be argued for among those practicing classical Christian education. The faith that we believe and practice connects us to the past, and not just to the years 3 BC to AD 30. As members of the Church, we are connected to those that have gone before. With our Old Testament fathers we can rightly say, “We were slaves in Egypt.” With Athanasius we say, “. . . God of God, Light of light, begotten—not made, being of one substance with the Father.” With Luther we say, “Here I stand” as well. We, who are attempting to recover the Trivium, have added emphasis on attempting to know, understand and even stand on the shoulders of our great forefathers.
Nothing outside of the Scriptures connects us to the past like the writings of Shakespeare. Reading his works is, therefore, essential to a classical Christian education. The Bard accomplishes this task by telling stories about the past. His histories unveil the story of our culture. In them, we stand with Henry V on St. Crispin’s Day; we see the corpse of Caesar; and we spy Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane as Macbeth trembles. Also, Shakespeare in his drama and poetry connects us to the history of our language. Again, only the King James Bible is a more fruitful source of English language and phraseology than Shakespeare. Here are a few: “All that glitters is not gold;” “All’s well that ends well;” “Beware the Ides of March;” and “Give the devil his due.” These are all inventions of Shakespeare. I could list many, many more. Trying to make a comprehensive list would be a “wild goose chase.” Shakespeare is the key to understanding so many of the best English phrases in their natural habitat. Shakespeare connects us to subsequent literature because all later writers using English are conversant with his works. Recently, I was teaching Barbara Tuchman’s wonderful book The Guns of August. Time and again she refers to Shakespeare. This is quite common. If we do not read and understand Shakespeare, we find ourselves handicapped, unable to make the connections to the past that we should.
Shakespeare’s stories are also essential to a classical Christian education because he presents characters who teach us about human nature. He does this with some stunning heroes and heroines. Two of my favorites are Portia from The Merchant of Venice and Hamlet. Portia is a breathtaking character: beautiful, intelligent, gracious and strong. She reduces to an open mockery our often pared-down version of Christian femininity which makes submissiveness the only virtue. Still, she bursts through all the welcoming embraces of the modern feminist as well. She goes out to save her man, and after she does it, she is ready to take on all of the blessed duties of being a wife—happily. Hamlet stands as a giant amongst the heroes of literature. Unlike so many heroes, we can connect with him not because he possesses some sort of super-human knowledge or strength, but because he is so much like us—torn by doubt, betrayed by fear, uncertain. In Shakespeare’s heroes we see what we are and what we could become.
Shakespeare’s picture of human nature is perhaps even keener when he portrays villains. Macbeth and Iago from Othello are my favorites. Macbeth shows us the fall of a good man whose ambitious failings lead to murder and, eventually, insane pride. He is trapped by the witches who lead him to his destruction. How many times do we see this sort of pride replayed in our own culture or in our own lives? Iago, however, is his most striking villain. He is apprehended at the end after he has destroyed Othello and the innocent Desdemona, but—evil to the end—he gives us no answers for why he has done what he has done. Shakespeare sees that the heart of evil does not seek to justify itself, to explain itself, or try to ease our fears by giving us understanding of its motives. It simply hates—and that is enough. As our children face a culture intent on self-destruction, Shakespeare helps us to face evil in stories so that we will not be overwhelmed by it when we stand against it face to face. In his villains, Shakespeare unveils man’s depravity and helps us to see what we could become and must resist.
Shakespeare’s magnificent grasp of characters, however, is not just villains and heroes. Across his pages strides all of life. The profligate Falstaff and the naïve Juliet amuse us and stir our hearts. The monstrous Richard III is balanced by playful Puck. Everything is there. I have heard it said that all of us are just rearranged parts of characters in Shakespeare. Knowing Shakespeare then is a primer on everyone we will meet.
The Bard also deals with the great issues through the vehicle of powerful stories told from an uncompromising Christian worldview, and by doing this he helps us to think through how we should think and live. In the Veritas Press Omnibus curriculum, some of my favorite chapters are on Shakespeare’s plays. In Omnibus II, Peter Leithart’s essay on Henry V pointed me toward issues that I had never seen. Shakespeare sees and even-handedly portrays Henry’s virtues. But he sees and says more. Leithart makes the point that Shakespeare’s play is a subtle attack on the manipulative “press-the-flesh” politics evident in Henry—whose claim to the throne is dubious. Today, we live in a world full of Henry’s. Shakespeare’s critique of the best of demagogues prepares us for the slick talking, amoral politicos of our day and age. That essay is going to cause some politician a lot of trouble some day. This is just one example of what reading Shakespeare can do for us.
Some have objected to the sex, violence and wickedness evident throughout Shakespeare. Denying that this is an issue is foolish. At the end of many of his plays dead men and women unjustly killed litter the stage. This is hardly “G” rated. The fact of the matter, however, is that the Bible is not either—and neither is life. Read Judges 21; read Song of Solomon. The world is fallen, but it is being redeemed. This fact is evident both in Shakespeare and the Scriptures.
might turn away from Shakespeare because there is some evidence that he was not
a believer. Ironically, there is even some evidence that Shakespeare was not
Shakespeare—but that is another article. What matters when considering this
objection is that often writers’ worldviews are determined by many factors,
including their culture, and Shakespeare’s worldview is definitively a believing
one, and it’s possible that he was a believer as well.
Finally, some might object to spending a lot of time reading Shakespeare because they could use all of that time to read the Bible. While this might seem pious, it certainly is not what Paul did. On Mars Hill, he quotes the pagan poets Epimenides and Aratus. He seems to quote them from memory, which would at least imply that he took time off from Torah classes and read pagan poets. That said, he certainly did not neglect the study of the Scriptures, and neither should we. The Scriptures are the standard by which all writings are considered, affirmed and judged. If Christians use the Bible correctly as the ultimate standard, we do not diminish our knowledge of it by correcting other writing with it, but instead we deepen our knowledge of the Scriptures by reading other works and thinking through them biblically.
Reading Shakespeare should be considered an essential part of a classical Christian education. By reading Shakespeare’s dramatic works and poetry, we are connected to our fathers in the faith, to our own language and are made ready to read the English informed by Shakespeare’s writing. The Bard gives us a strikingly biblically view of human nature, history and storytelling.
Just as in Julius Caesar, the Ides of March are upon us. But there is no need to beware. Instead, give yourselves a treat and go out and find some Shakespeare to read. Better yet, find a local theater production of Shakespeare’s work and watch it. Education has never been so enjoyable.
G. Tyler Fischer
Ty Fischer is the Headmaster of Veritas Academy in Lancaster, PA, husband of Emily, father of three lovely girls and managing editor of the Omnibus curriculum.
The best way to study Shakespeare is to take a two or three-pronged approach—reading, watching the plays, and acting them out, if possible. Omitting one of these “prongs” can keep the young student from a full appreciation, and thereby full enjoyment, of this great work.
Watching Shakespeare performed is often a key ingredient to understanding the text. Watching without reading, however, does not allow the student to adequately ponder some of the deeper ideas to which Shakespeare points. For younger students, Shakespeare is often best learned in a manner opposite of what is normally recommended. Most of the time students should read works before they watch theatrical or cinematic productions. Shakespeare’s plays, however, are meant to be watched. Often, students understand the text more readily when they have first watched the performance. Live performances are to be preferred, so if at all possible find a local theater and combine your reading of a play with a live viewing.
If live performances are not available, there are a number of great performances on video. Be warned, not all performances are equal and some are, particularly for young students, confusing. Here are some of the best:
Hamlet—I tend to prefer the 1990 Mel Gibson version to the Kenneth Branagh version which moves the setting to an 1800’s Victorian venue. There are some parts of the Gibson version that younger viewers might not be ready for, but Gibson is an underappreciated actor who pulls this role off nicely.
Macbeth—The 1971 Roman Polanski directed version is my favorite. This is rated “R” and is going to be too bloody for some.
Othello—The Orson Wells Version (1952) is a classic. The 1995 version with Laurence Fishburne playing the doomed Moor is another favorite, but will be too racy for young viewers. Branagh, who is not my favorite actor, plays Iago quite convincingly.
King Lear—The Masterpiece Theatre version of Lear with Ian Holm is excellent.
Julius Caesar—The 1953 version with Marlon Brando and John Gielgud is the measure for all other versions.
Many good versions of other plays exist, but parents and teachers should always preview any video before showing it to their students.
For older students more experimental versions of Shakespeare are also enjoyable. These versions lift the plays from their original setting and place them in another analogous one. Most of the time this harms the play, but arguing about the legitimacy and helpfulness of this artistic choice makes for an interesting discussion with older students. The 1995 version of Richard III with Ian McKellan playing the monstrous Richard is a good foray in this genre. The setting is World War II. For younger readers, however, this shift can be confusing.
Younger readers will also enjoy some excellent comic book versions of the plays that can convey much of the visual aspect of Shakespeare without the nagging trouble that is presented by watching a Hollywood rendition. There are versions of many of Shakespeare’s plays in comic book format. These versions can help some young readers who might have trouble comprehending the text when it is separated from a visual presentation.
Younger readers might also enjoy the Great Scenes from Shakespeare’s Plays coloring book from Dover Publications. This book introduces some of the most famous scenes in Shakespeare’s works by giving a short snippet of the text with a picture to be colored on the opposite page. What fun!
The Oxford School Shakespeare editions in the Veritas Press catalog are also wonderful. They give students line by line help with some of the antiquated language. They are also filled with neat maps and helpful pictures and sidebars that really bring the plays to life.
Finally, wherever possible, act out the plays or scenes. This can be done at school, or it can also make for an excellent evening of fun for the entire family—and can be an educational experience for those who are not doing the reading.
We have created some project pages to aid in the increased enjoyment of Shakespeare with young students. There is a coloring page, a page on familiar idioms and one on sonnets. Click here to go to the page where you can download the file. Have fun.
Emily Fischer is the wife of Ty, former 3rd and 4th grade teacher at Veritas Academy in Lancaster, PA, mother of three lovely girls and carrying a fourth child whose sex is not yet known.
Free Registration and Air Fare to Veritas Academy Teacher Training
The annual teacher training for Veritas Academy is scheduled for July 19–21, 2006. Douglas and Nancy Wilson will be the featured speakers. We will hold a drawing for a free registration to the conference and free roundtrip air fare. To qualify for the drawing your order must be one of the ten largest retail orders during March, 2006. The winner must fly from a major airport in the lower 48. The winner will be notified during the first week of April.
Free Great Scenes from Shakespeare’s Plays Coloring Book
With any order exceeding $75 in the month of March, you may request a free copy of the coloring book Emily mentions above in the Educational Helps section—Great Scenes from Shakespeare’s Plays. Just ask when placing your order. If you place your order on our web site, simply enter item number PROMO3 on the Express Order page and click Add to Order.
Q. Transitioning into the Omnibus seems difficult at the beginning of seventh grade. What can or should be done to make this transition smoother?
A. This is an issue that we have been working through, too. In fact, Marlin spoke on this at a recent conference. Click here to go to the page where you can download or view the file. One great tool to use is reading the material out loud with students, just as you might have in grammar school, stopping occasionally to ask questions to be certain students are grasping the material. As their ability to comprehend increases, decrease the time and frequency of out-loud readings.
Q. When we look at the Omnibus it seems impossible to read all the books. What should we do?
A. First, you will be surprised once you get started how many books students can read. After all, if you had a history text, an English text and a theology text, how long would that take? If you cannot read them all, look at the entire list of books and decide which ones you would most like to study. Make sure that you get a selection that covers the entire time period and just jump in. Try to stay on the pace spelled out in Omnibus and realize that you do not need to do all the assignments in order to complete the book. Remember the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. We do not recommend taking longer than one year in any given Omnibus text. Doing so will complicate scheduling unnecessarily.
Please submit any questions you’d like answered here to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The New Veritas Press Points Program
Beginning March 1, 2006 we introduce the Veritas Press Points Program. For every $100.00 in orders, you receive one point. Each point is worth a $5.00 credit. Points may be redeemed on subsequent orders that are in excess of $50.00. All points expire on December 31st.
Veritas Press Tutorial Service
Many have asked if we could provide a tutorial service. We are pleased to announce that Bruce Etter, Omnibus and Greek teacher at Veritas Academy, is willing to teach Omnibus I—Primary Books and Greek I in an on-line tutorial format. This will not be a typical on-line class, as it will include parental updates by email, graded assignments, tests and a final report/class grade. Space will be extremely limited. Email us of your interest in hearing the details as they become available at email@example.com.
Employee Needed at Veritas Press
We continue to look for the perfect replacement for a recent opening. This is a Customer Service/Clerical position requiring good computer skills. A delightful, patient personality is a must. Ideal candidates will be familiar with Veritas Press materials. Inquiries should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Teachers Needed at Veritas Academy
The school is expanding and needs more teachers. Interested candidates may apply at www.veritasacademy.com/faculty.htm
House at Veritas Press
Come shop right out of the warehouse, see our facility and meet our staff. Folks will be on hand to answer any curriculum questions you might have. Also, we will have a scratch and dent table. You never know what bargains you might find. Saturday, March 18 from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM at 1829 William Penn Way, Lancaster, PA.
Veritas Academy Open House
Veritas Academy has an open house planned for Apr. 4 at 9:00 AM. It will provide parents who are interested in considering sending children to the school an opportunity to see the school in great depth. Contact the school for more information at (717) 556-0690.
Prospective Student Weekend at New Saint Andrews College (www.nsa.edu)
To learn more about NSA and their integrated liberal arts degree in the classically reformed tradition, contact Director of Admissions, Aaron Rench, at (208) 882-1566 or email@example.com. The Moscow, Idaho-based college has a limited enrollment, with only 140 students from more than 30 states and five foreign countries. The next Prospective Student Weekend is scheduled for March 31–April 3. Click here to read their most recent publications.
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