By invitation, Shakespeare comes into Room 204 and takes over. Once in, his language and stories are so powerful that it is impossible to keep him out! Children seem to be getting to know someone whom we can’t see. But I know what’s happening because it once happened to me.
I never introduce Shakespeare to my third graders the same way twice, so again this year my introduction is brand new. We sit in a circle on the rug. I whisper something in the ear of the person sitting on my right. The message is sent around the circle, whispered person to person. The challenge is to get the message around the circle intact—to hear the words while your ear is being tickled with the ish, shish, whisp of whispering. “You are invited into the Shakespeare club,” I whisper to the person on my right.”
You are invited into the Shakespeare Club… You are invited into the Shakespeare Club… You are invited to the Shakespeare Club…
The invitation makes it all around the circle. “You are invited into the Shakespeare club!” our voices announce in unison. There is joy from the start.
“Have you ever told a secret to a best friend and then the best friend told it to someone else?” Heads nod. OMG. It is terrible when that happens. I go on to tell how it happened to a girl named Hermia who had fallen madly in love with a dreamy handsome poet named Lysander. They’d made plans. Secret plans. And when Hermia told her best friend, Helena, she went and told Demetrius. And he said… then she said… and it was a mess. We draw them, play them, write letters to and from them. An invitation requires a response. And children respond to Shakespeare. With pleasure.
We follow Shakespeare as he takes us deep into the woods on a Midsummer’s night. It is not hard to believe that fairies are afoot. The air sparkles with their gossamer wings. “Who messes things up in this play?” I ask. Hands shoot up and so many different answers hang in the air. We’ve pushed beyond the boundaries of the “right answer” as the walls of our classroom melt away. Choices tangle like forest vines and mischief makes a mess. I remind the children that there are not right or wrong answers, but they should be able to back up their thinking. Children listen to each other and agree or disagree and explain their answers as the threads of subplots are untangled. We are building our thinking stamina. Shakespeare inspires it.
Shakespeare knew how to pull people out of the ale houses, through the cobblestone streets crowded with peddlers and carts, and into the theater. It wasn’t just the dog in an Elizabethan collar on a darkly stained wooden stage; or the puns; or the valiant sword fights; or the beguiling language. Story, rich and deep, was and is the invitation. To stand with the groundlings in the Globe — shoulder to shoulder, rapt and enthralled — is the invitation now. We invited him. He has invited us. The favour of a reply is requested.
And we accept with pleasure.