Category Archives: Shakespeare



If I had to write a one-word review of Maggie O’Farrell’s book, Hamnet, I would simply say “Wow.”  I would write more if I could stop crying, but I was powerfully moved by this story, and it’s going to stay with me for a long time. And it’s okay to cry.

It is a story about grief…so beautifully described, so honestly told. It is the story of William Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, and his death at age 11. It was a devastating death for his family, as such a loss would be for any family, and the author includes you as one who feels the loss intensely.

How were they to know that Hamnet was the pin holding them together? That without him they would all fragment and fall apart, like a cup shattered on the floor?

Read it. The writing is mesmerizing, beautiful, gripping, profound. But be prepared to cry, because you become totally immersed in the emotional honesty of this world created by Maggie O’Farrell. And then read Shakespeare’s Hamlet again, from a new vantage point, which is what I am going to do now.

“Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince;
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. ”

My husband’s copy of Hamlet…with post-it notes


Looking Back at 2019

Looking back at 2019, I am happy with my reading year. In addition to my usual reading,  I took on a number of challenges and enjoyed the books I read for each one. I love the journey of each challenge and the exposure to new authors, genres, and ideas that really expand my world.

Turning seventy years old felt like a big milestone and I wanted to celebrate it in some special way. So I put together a self-challenge called “EMBRACING SEVENTY.”  I created a 1949 list of books and movies– anything to do with 70. It turned out to be a fun research project. Here are the books I read, and the one movie from 1949 that my husband and I watched:

”WANDERLUST” was another self-challenge I put together this year in an effort to read more international literature. I read both children and adult books and liked the glimpses into other cultures. I will continue this challenge in 2020 and beyond.

For a second year in a row, I signed up for Adam’s 2019 OFFICIAL TBR challenge. Last year I read 4 books for his challenge, and this year I did the same. That’s 8 books that have been sitting on my bookshelf for far too long, so I’m happy to have been motivated to finally read them. Thank you, Adam, for hosting this challenge. I’ll miss it! Here’s my list of books read in 2019:

Dolce Bellezza’s JAPANESE LITERATURE Challenge always calls to me, and in 2019 I read one book and watched three Japanese films. Meredith always puts together a really classy challenge! My 2019 books and movies:


I had good intentions when I signed up for Rachel’s (@hibernatorslibrary) A YEAR of SHAKESPEARE Challenge this year. I was going to read three Shakespeare plays, but I ended up only reading one (which I enjoyed very much!). But I also read a lot of different books about that play, so it really was an immersive experience, and a lot of fun. Here’s what I read for this challenge:

A Shakespeare Comedy : The Winter’s Tale

READERS IMBIBING PERIL- XIV was a great challenge this fall! It’s one of my favorite challenges each year, and I enjoy it more and more each year!  I love mysteries and suspense novels, good book series and good TV mystery series, so I had lots of fun reading and watching movies!


  1. The Lost One, by Mary Stewart
  2. The Little Sister, by Raymond Chandler
  3. Christmas in Absaroka County, by Craig Johnson
  4. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
  5. The Religious Body, by Catherine Aird
  6. An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good, by Helene Tursten
  7. The Case of the Famished Parson, by George Bellairs
  8. Rose Cottage, by Mary Stewart
  9. The House on the Strand, by Daphne du Maurier
  10. Trouble in Nuala, by Harriet Steel
  11. Whiteout, by Ken Follett


  1. 4:50 From Paddington
  2. Murder at the Gallop
  3. The Mirror Crack’d
  4. Murder Most Foul 

I joined THE CLASSICS CLUB in March of 2017 and agreed to read 50 Books in 5 Years. This is a great challenge, so well organized and with fun activities. I’ve always loved reading classics so it’s a perfect fit for me. As of right now, I’ve read 28 of my 50 books list. This year I read these classics:

Having time to read is such a precious luxury for me and this year has been full of reading joy. And now I’m looking forward to my 2020 reading.

For all my reading friends, may 2020 be a year of joyful reading for you, too!

January Shakespeare Update

…painting by James Christensen

The 2019 A Year of Shakespeare, hosted by Rachel (@ Hibernator’s Library) is underway. I am participating by reading three of Shakespeare’s plays this year. The one I have started with is The Winter’s Tale, which is completely new to me. My plan is to read numerous “retellings” of the story so I am familiar with it. Then I will read the play and listen to an audiobook version. Also, if I can find an available copy, I’d like to watch a film version. And, of course, I would love to see a live performance of it, too, but I don’t know what my chances are of that!

So far in January, I have read five different retellings of the story, and enjoyed each one.

I loved Edith Nesbitt’s retelling, and highly recommend her book, The Best of Shakespeare. I also loved the Charles and Mary Lamb version. Bruce Coville’s retelling was in picture book form and had lovely illustrations.

After reading those retellings, I started listening to the audiobook performance but found it was hard to tell which characters were speaking. I hadn’t picked up a print version of the play yet, so I stopped listening until I get the book and  can do both at once.

I made a lot of progress with this part of the Challenge in January, and I’m enjoying getting to know Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale!

…painting by James Christensen. Antigonus abandoning the royal baby, Perdita, on the Bohemian coast!



A Year of Shakespeare 2019

Rachel (@hibernatorslibrary) is putting together a challenge called “2019 Year of Shakespeare.” I love Shakespeare and would like to read more of his plays so I have signed up to participate. The challenge will run from January 1st – December 31st. There will be theme-based trimesters and you can choose which play you want to read during each trimester.

Also, for each play, I’d like to watch a film version and read a fictional retelling and/or a children’s version.  I will link up all my Shakespeare reading to this post, so please check back here occasionally during the year to see the progress I am making on this challenge. I will add a bulleted list of the different versions of each play that I read or listen to throughout this Challenge.

Jan – Apr:  Comedies  (I’m going to read The Winter’s Tale.)

May – Aug:   Histories  (I’m going to read Henry V.)

Sep – Dec:   Tragedies  (I’m going to read King Lear.)

Manga Shakespeare: Macbeth

By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.

Manga Shakespeare: Macbeth is the very first Manga book I’ve ever read, and I enjoyed the experience. I’ve known very little about graphic novels or Manga, but I’m learning! And I do love Shakespeare in any form, and especially love his MACBETH. Before moving to 2nd grade after my medical leave of absence, I taught 6th grade for 16 years, and our 6th grade classes performed an abbreviated version of The Scottish Play every spring. It’s the thing I miss most about my grade level change. So it was a pleasure to read another version of the play, and experience it in a whole new way.

The world of Manga is quite fascinating. There are visual traditions and things I don’t completely understand yet (MacDuff had 4 arms, for instance, and the story was set in a post-apocalyptic future), but I know that there was always a real fascination and passion for it with some of my students, so I am curious to read more and learn about it. I am also pleased that the Manga Shakespeare books introduce readers, many of them young, to the plays in a way they can enjoy. The language is intact although abbreviated, and “reading” a Manga or graphic novel version of the story is much closer to the performance of a play because of the interaction of the words and the graphics.

The other day I watched an interview on the Seattle Channel with Nancy Pearl (Book Lust) interviewing Mark Siegel, the editorial director of :01 First Second Books, and he talked about the world of graphic novels, and how that world is growing and developing. Not only did I learn a lot about that genre from listening to him, but I also compiled a list of graphic novels that he recommends. I’m heading for the library today to pick up a number of them! It’s a 30-minute video clip, but well worth watching.

This book is my first read for Rhinoa’s Manga Challenge, and I’m looking forward to reading more Manga. I am also counting it as a book read for Historia’s Shakespeare Challenge, and for Carl’s Sci Fi Experience because the setting was changed to the future, so it loosely qualifies.

An Introduction to Shakespeare

(photo by Katie Claypool)

My fellow blogger, Mental Multivitamin, introduced me to Harold Bloom’s term “bardalotry:”

…the worship of Shakespeare, ought to be even more a secular religion than it already is. The plays remain the outward limit of human achievement: aesthetically, cognitively, in certain ways morally, even spiritually. They abide beyond the end of the mind’s reach; we cannot catch up to them. Shakespeare will go on explaining us, in part because he invented us….

So, as one who practices bardalotry … I’m always looking for good books on Shakespeare, and also for good books to introduce Shakespeare to young people, and I recently stumbled across a very nice series. I was slightly familiar with author, Marchette Chute, because my second grade students memorize and recite one of her little poems as one of their monthly poem projects. But as I was looking for books to choose for Historia’s 2009 Shakespeare Reading Challenge, I ran into her again. Her series is very nice, for young and old alike, introducing them to Shakespeare, his worlds, and his plays! While snowbound last week, I read her book, An Introduction to Shakespeare, and enjoyed it. It’s an old Scholastic paperback, geared for middle school and above, and the blurp on the back cover made me chuckle. It says the book is “A great grade booster you’ll really enjoy. Score some extra points in class — and add new meaning and excitement to your assigned reading. Journey back in time with this lively book that brings to life the world of William Shakespeare — the greatest playwright who ever lived!”

I didn’t find it lively, but I was very interested in all the information she packed into this small volume, and how easy it was to read and understand. She was very respectful of her audience, and wrote with great warmth. I learned a lot about Shakespeare that I didn’t previously know, and I think this would be an excellent book to use as part of an introductory class. She wrote numerous other books, two of which I now plan to read for Historia’s reading challenge:

*The Worlds of Shakespeare
*Stories From Shakespeare

From the ending to An Introduction to Shakespeare:

Among all Shakespeare’s contemporaries, it was John Heminges and Henry Condell who had the greatest faith in the future. They were convinced that the reputation of their “friend and fellow” would be safe if only his work could be made available to the ordinary reading public.

It is not our province, who only gather his works and give them to you, to praise him. It is yours that read him … Read him, therefore; and again and again; and if then you do not like him, surely you are in manifest danger not to understand him. And so we leave him to other of his friends, whom, if you need, can be your guides; if you need them not, you can lead yourselves and
others. And such readers we wish him.
–John Heminges and Henry Condell

Their wish was answered. It was such readers he got, and no other writer in the world’s history has been loved by so many people or has given so much happiness.

This was a very nice book to read to begin my Shakespeare Reading Challenge.

Historia’s Shakespeare Challenge

(All the World’s a Stage, by James C. Christensen)

Historia, at BiblioShakespeare, is hosting a new Shakespeare challenge for 2009. I have so many Shakespeare books on my shelf, but haven’t gotten around to reading them, so this challenge is just perfect for me! I’m looking forward to spending more time enjoying the Bard in 2009! Thanks, Historia!

The rules are simple:
• You can read anything about or related to Shakespeare – fiction or non fiction, straight bio or authorship debate – and you can read the plays and sonnets as well.
• Read 6 books in 12 months
• Starts January 1st 2009
• Ends December 31st 2009

1. Shakespeare’s Wife, by Germaine Greer
2. Shakespeare Sketchbook, by Renwick St. James; artwork by James C. Christensen
3. Shakespeare Alive!, by Joseph Papp
4. A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599, by James Shapiro
5. Introduction to Shakespeare, by Marchette Chute
6. Shakespeare, by Anthony Burgess

Putting Life Back in Perspective

B and I have been so busy and focused on work lately. B, especially, has been putting in a lot of extra time at the office due to some serious deadlines. And my job (teaching 8 year olds) can be very intense and draining both physically and emotionally. When life gets this hectic, both of us begin to wonder what on earth we are doing… and so we decided to do something that would remind us that life is so much more than just work. If you want perspective on life, read Shakespeare!

We decided to read Shakespeare’s last play, The Tempest, (which Anthony Burgess calls Shakespeare’s “swansong”) because neither of us had ever read it, and because the whole idea of Shakespeare doing this last big project and then retiring sounded awfully good to us (wish we could do the same, but we have miles to go yet)! We agreed that we would try to experience it in as many different ways as possible over the next few months — so we started searching out different written versions of the play, and looked for a variety of films, audio books, theater performances and artwork. There are no deadlines on our project, we are simply enjoying it as time allows. And what fun we’re having!

Here’s our progress thus far:

Retellings we have read:

Reading the Play Itself:


Looking Forward To:

Artwork and Photographs:

William Hamilton’s Prospero:








Maxfield Parrish’s Prospero:








Edmund Dulac’s Prospero:








John W. Waterhouse’s Miranda






I would have loved to see Sir Derek Jacoby playing Prospero!








William Hutt as Prospero. He was so great in Slings and Arrows!!





Michael Hordern, Warren Clarke, and Pippa Guard in the 1980 BBC film.








Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itelf,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Fairy Time…

For the last part of Carl V’s Once Upon a Time challenge, I read Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I was enchanted. Not at first, though… It’s difficult for me to sit down and just READ a Shakespeare play. I don’t understand all the nuances if I just read it, at least not until later after I’ve also seen it performed or listened to it read aloud. I’ve been told that Shakespeare embedded all his acting directions into his plays, so that when the actors were given their parts only (a way to protect the play from being stolen in those days), they would know how to interpret their lines because all the cues and acting clues were to be found in HOW it was written. I’d like to learn more about that! Perhaps it would help me as I read his plays.

So to tackle this project, I decided to use my teaching experiences with Macbeth to take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream–I immersed myself in the play. To become familiar with the story, I read two different retellings for young people: Bernard Miles’s version in Favourite Tales of Shakespeare, and Leon Garfield’s version in Shakepeare Stories. Then I read the play itself. My copy was an annotated version to help me better understand some of the language.

Next, I ordered several different DVD versions of the play, including the 1981 film with a lovely young Helen Mirren as Titania, (she also plays Hermia in a 1968 version, but that one hasn’t arrived yet), and the beautifully filmed 1999 version with the gorgeous Michelle Pfeiffer as Titania. I watched the first one with script in hand, noticing what they left out, but enjoying hearing the lines interpreted by such wonderful actors. I reread the play over the next few days, then watched the Michelle Pfeiffer/Kevin Kline film, and that’s when it all fell into place. That film, in particular, brought out the magic! The visual effects were so wonderful, the costuming and sets so beautiful, that I was under a spell all the way through it! By then I knew the play and thoroughly enjoyed the complete experience. I loved the fairy lights and magical effects of the film. The soundtrack was wonderful, as well. So this week, I’ve also been listening to the soundtrack and to the Boston Symphony’s CD of Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The one thing missing for my immersion, is the opportunity to see a live performance of the play. I’ve checked the playbills for all the nearby Shakespeare festivals, but this seems to be the summer for his other plays.

Immersing myself in this play was fun and refreshing. What an enchanting way to finish up my Once Upon a Time reading challenge! Thanks, Carl, for hosting a delightful reading experience!

Here are a few of my favorite passages and lines:

The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet:

More strange than true. I never may believe
These antique fables nor these fairy toys.
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are all imagination all compact.
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold;
This is the madman. The lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt.
The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven,
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes, and give to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.




Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.






Lord, what fools these mortals be!


If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here,
While these visions did appear…

Missing Macbeth

As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, I’m a 6th grade teacher on Leave of Absence. Because I’m on Leave, I’m not feeling the usual May fatigue, or writing this post with the same “Voice of May,” as described by Dolce Bellezza in one of her posts last week. Instead, I’m feeling some sadness that, this year, I’m not part of what happens in my classroom every May/June. MACBETH is what happens at this time of year!

For the last 16 years, my teammates and I have introduced our 6th graders to William Shakespeare. It’s our final big project of the school year, and it’s my favorite. Our recipe for fun works like this: I usually start the unit on April 23rd, the Bard’s birthday and death day, a piece of information that captures the hearts of 6th graders immediately. To build some background understanding for the play, we discuss readings and watch films about Shakespeare’s life, the theater during Shakespeare’s day, and life during Elizabethan times, that sort of thing. My next step is to read a prose version of MACBETH to the class. Many years ago, I found a used copy of Bernard Miles’s Five Tales From Shakespeare, long out of print. It’s a teaching treasure! The prose retelling of the story is perfect for young people of all ages, takes me about 40 minutes to read aloud to the class, and you can hear a pin drop each year as I read it.

After the students have become familiar with the storyline of the play, I pass out our scripts. (We do an abbreviated version of the play, a series of “skits” of the most important scenes, but with Shakespeare’s language kept intact.) First, I read the script aloud, with the students following along, so they can hear the language. We then take a couple of days to read the script together, and I translate everything into a 6th grader’s understanding. Then, as they become more and more familiar with the play, parts are chosen and memorizing begins. (Incidentally, the photo at the left was taken during a rehearsal, and the student is doing a very humorous job of overacting in the role of the drunken porter!)

Another delightful tradition and wonderful part of this experience is a collaboration with the Seattle Children’s Theater. Each May, we ask one of their very talented actor/teachers to come to our classrooms for a “dramashop.” These drama workshops are part of the SCT’s educational outreach program, but individualized for our study of MACBETH. The teacher spends 1 hour in each of our classrooms, introducing the kids to the magic fun of theater and Shakespearean acting. This hour provides the spark, and the kids begin to put heart and soul into our rehearsals.

Performances are in our own classrooms (each class performing separately with their own unique interpretation of the play), during the last week of the school year, with desks pushed back, everyone in black t-shirts, and parents and grandparents in attendance. When the performance is over, the students answer questions from the audience.

I get goosebumps thinking about those performances, year after year. What a pleasure to hear the Bard’s language being spoken so eloquently by my 6th graders, and what a delight to see the pride of accomplishment on their faces. They learn so much during this unit. You’re never too young to learn to love Shakespeare and his language!