Tag Archives: Hamnet

Inspiration and Us – Childhood Books – Shakespeare’s Stories.

 

Touchstone the Jester from “As You Like It.

Inspiration and us – that’s the name of a new category for the blog.  The reason I am calling it inspiration and us, instead of inspiration and me is because I want you to think about how our lives and our children’s lives inspire us.  I would also be extremely grateful to hear of your inspirational experiences.

 

As a child, I had many books which I loved but as this is about what inspires us, I shall be mentioning the main sources of inspiration.  One of my favourite books was one which was passed onto me.  I regret to say that I have no idea where it came from.  It was a big book which had many stories in it.  My favourites were some of the stories from Shakespeare’s plays.  They were the plays written in story form with some illustrations.  I read them over and over.  One which sticks in my mind is As You Like It.   It was pure escapism.  The idea of people running away from their everyday lives and living in a forest, appealed to me greatly.  As a child, I loved the idea of dressing up and being in disguise.  Subsequently, when Rosalind dressed up as a boy and pretended to be Ganymede, I was in the story with them.  This is a story which explores sibling rivalry, romance, has a wrestling match and a court jester named Touchstone.  I am proof that the story appeals to children.  If the play had been thrown at me at the age of nine, I would have been put off by its beautiful, poetic language.  However, I was lucky enough to have the plays as stories first and so Shakespeare‘s work was adored by me even before I had read a play or a sonnet.

 

illustration of William Shakespeare reciting h...

illustration of William Shakespeare reciting his play Hamlet to his family. His wife, Anne Hathaway, is sitting in the chair on the right; his son Hamnet is behind him on the left; his two daughters Susanna and Judith are on the right and left of him. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

So how has this childhood book inspired me?  First of all, I think the greatest proof is that my son is called Will after Shakespeare.  Incidentally, one of his main ambitions is to play Hamlet at the Globe Theatre.  He has never had Literature forced fed to him.  I was worried that I would do that so I have always been careful and introduced it as the fun, mad and exciting subject that it is.

 

My educational route would suggest that Shakespeare’s stories also inspired me as I have an Honours Degree in Literature and an M.A. in Creative Writing.  However, I think that the most telling aspect of it is in my writing.  In my children’s book Will Blyton and The Stinking Shadow, I have a small boy trapped in a stone called Hamnet.  He has had a curse put on him by the powerful magician Corspehound.  Not only is Hamnet trapped in the stone but the curse is on his tongue.  He can only insult people.  Hamnet is actually Shakespeare’s son who died at the age of eleven.  The Bubonic Plague was rife at the time.  Little is known about Hamnet and so I wanted to keep his memory alive by re-writing his story.  Instead of perishing before his young life had really begun, I have him living on as a huger than life character.

 

An illustration of an undertaker during the Bu...

An illustration of an undertaker during the Bubonic plague. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I have already written about introducing children to Shakespeare by using insults.  Children love language if they allowed to be playful with it – this is why they love insults – they are naughty and delicious.  This was part of my enjoyment when reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream in my story book.  There was great emphasis on the argument between Hermia and Helena.  It is Midsummer, they are lost in the forest, it is a time of misrule and chaos and they are arguing over men.  Hermia calls Helena – “You juggler! You canker-blossom!” (The Arden Shakespeare – Act III, Scene II Line 282)  Later in the heated argument, Hermia also calls Helena “Thou painted maypole.” (The Arden Shakespeare – Act III, Scene II, Line 296) The enjoyment of the insults as a child turned to inspiration as an adult.  In Will Blyton and The Stinking Shadow, Hamnet is a master of insults; most of them are aimed at Will.  The first thing he ever says to him is “thine intestines wilt be mine.”  This is quickly followed by “thou wilt regret this warty nose.”

 

Washington Allston's 1818 painting Hermia and ...

Washington Allston's 1818 painting Hermia and Helena. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

We cannot change our own childhoods.  However, we can be inspired by what was thrown at us and mould it.  As writers, we can turn our experiences into what we want them to be.  Although we cannot change our own childhoods, we can guide our children’s inspiration and education.  Catch them early on with Shakespeare in the form of his stories.  Talk to them about the funny characters like Bottom, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, who gets the head of an ass for a time.  If you missed out on Shakespeare first time around – you might be surprised at what you find.  Who knows, you or your children might end up being so inspired that you write a book too.

 

Emil Orlik: Actor Hans Wassmann as Nick Bottom...

Emil Orlik: Actor Hans Wassmann as Nick Bottom in Shakespeare's A Midsummernight's Dream, 1909 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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Introducing children to Shakespeare by using insults.

Thou art a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three suited, hundred pound, filthy, worsted stocking knave…” (King Lear)  I hope, dear reader, you don’t think I am referring to you.   Perish the thought, no, I simply wanted to grab your swan-like neck and swing it in my direction.  I don’t want to insult you but I do want to talk about insults and how they can be used to help children be comfortable with Shakespeare’s plays.

 Children love Shakespeare if they are introduced to his works properly.  Unfortunately, what should be an exciting journey with The Bard often becomes painful, embarrassing and boring.  I say painful, embarrassing and boring because if the background work is not done, Shakespeare’s language can seem unapproachable.  It then becomes embarrassing because the learner feels stupid.  We all know that feeling when something seems to be definitely “not for us”, we cut off and it becomes boring.  I am a great believer, therefore, of priming children with Shakespeare’s works well before they reach the teenage years.  Children who have been introduced to the stories   (it is important that children know what is happening in story form well in advance of reading a full blown play) and aspects of the language are ready to read one of Shakespeare’s plays.  It is thoughtless to expect teenagers who haven’t grown up in a literary atmosphere or a book loving household to embrace a sixteenth century play without any former grounding.  Fundamentally, I cannot stress the importance of introducing children to Shakespeare in a child friendly manner.

This is where insults are invaluable.  I first came across this exercise whilst doing a day long workshop with The Royal Shakespeare Company.  It was used as a warming up exercise to allow everyone to relax and clear out those dreadful inhibitions we can suffer from.  Everyone is given a piece of card with an insult written on it.  It can be something like this quotation from King Lear:

Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood.

Elizabethan music can be played whilst everyone swiftly marches or skips around the room.  When the music stops you turn to the nearest person to you and shout your insult out at the top of your voice.  They then shout their insult back at you.  The next time, it can be whispered in a sly manner. In essence, the insults can be said in many different ways e.g. angrily or with uncontrollable laughter. It is a very good drama exercise. The insult cards can then be changed around.  Incidentally, children, teenagers and adults love this as they are actually allowed to use insults without getting into trouble – it has that naughty, delicious edge to it which allows us to let off steam and then gives us the desire to learn.  It also gives Shakespeare a bit of street cred before he gets the label of boring.

As children love to be creative, I have added an activity so that they can create the insults themselves.

Activity

They need to take an insult from the first two sections below (both of these are adjectives) and then add it to the third section which is a noun.  Add ‘thou’ at the beginning and you have a lovely Shakespearean insult.

Section 1 – base, proud, shallow, beggarly, bawdy, filthy, coward, paunchy, gorbellied, puking, droning, dankish.

Section 2  worsted-stocking, pigeon-egg,  boil-brained, onion-eyed, elf-skinned, trunk-inheriting, clapper-clawed, milk-livered, lily-livered, doghearted, hundred-pound.

Section 3 knave, rogue, bladder, bugbear, pribbling, flap-dragon, boar-pig, barnacle, apple-john, maggot-pie, coxcomb.

For instance – Thou filthy, boil-brained boar-pig.

For any children who particularly enjoy the insults, I love Elizabethan insults so much that I have them all the way through my book Will Blyton and The Stinking Shadow.  Will finds Hamnet, a small boy trapped in a stone, who unfortunately hurls insults every time he opens his mouth.  He is, of course, from the Elizabethan period and has had a curse put upon him by the evil, Elizabethan magician Corpsehound.  His outrageous insults get Will into trouble everywhere he goes.

“Leave me be, thou fetid, old skanky breath,” says Hamnet.

 

So thou base, clapper-clawed rogue – I’m sorry it’s become a habit.  What I really mean is “until we meet again, dear reader.”

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