We asked our Facebook fans to present questions that we would give to James Andrews, author of Shakespeare’s Guide to Parenting. Here are his wonderful responses.
- How did you get the idea to understand parenting through Shakespeare’s words?
I was a teacher for 13 years (11-18 year-olds) and I kept finding myself quoting Shakespeare in the classroom. Any trifling transgression – lateness, talking, late assignments – would be met with: “’tis worse than murder to do upon respect such violent outrage.” (King Lear) I discovered that there were quotes for parents’ evening, running in the corridor, seating plans – even for when children fell backwards off their chairs while swinging on them. Shakespeare, it seemed, had the words. I filled a notebook with ideas but when I started to approach agents I was told that teaching wasn’t a big enough market to attract the major publishers. That’s when I came up with the parenting angle.
- What was your research like for this book?
The research has been extremely thorough, but also extremely haphazard. Being organized will only take you so far in a book like this and I opted for a form of disorganized full immersion: reading, watching, listening, copying out passages, reciting. Creating each tableau was like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle out of many thousands of pieces but without a picture to follow. I had to create the picture out of Shakespeare’s words as I was going along and to do that I needed to have thousands of quotes – or at least thousands of bits of quotes – floating around in my head at any given time. I’ve read all the plays, yes, some many times, but I’ve listened to them as audiobooks a lot more.
- What advice can you offer parents whose children do not enjoy reading Shakespeare?
Firstly I’d suggest that they stop trying to get their kids to read Shakespeare in the first place. The plays were written to be performed, not dissected in classrooms, and it’s easy to lose track of the fact that when Shakespeare wrote his now world famous plays he was just an English playwright trying to earn a living from having his plays performed to the general public.
Secondly, choose your play carefully. There’s a certain amount of adult snobbery attached to the serious plays – Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth – and we can end up foisting them on our children when there is much more enjoyable fare on offer. I’m a big proponent of The Merry Wives of Windsor. Sure, it hasn’t got all those melancholic themes to which we adults appear to be so addicted, but for the love of fun, and for the love of Falstaff, it has to be one of Shakespeare’s most accessible and enjoyable plays – a proper romp!
- Which of The Bard’s plays have you read the most – and how many times?
I’ve probably read King Lear the most, though I’ve listened to the audiobook of it a lot more. Actors working on audiobooks have nothing to work with other than their own voices and Shakespeare’s words. The depth of meaning that good actors can impart in their voices is worth a hundred dull readings. Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be performed and, not surprisingly, it’s in performance that they are at their absolute best.