Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Henry V and the Battle of Achin' Sore

As I mentioned in my previous post, work multiplies when the home school year begins. Meals, laundry and cleaning continue (sort of) and to those tasks we now add lesson planning, marking, and cultivating a 12-year-old's interest in Henry V. (I left out my hobbies of lion taming and performing home root canals because they are so relaxing and painless by comparison.) So you'll forgive me - you few, you marginally satisfied few - if new posts are scarce for the next little while.

The curriculum I have chosen lists King Harry's speech before the Battle of Agincourt, the St. Crispin's Day Speech, as the first selection for my seventh grader to memorize this year. I blanched a little when I read it today, wondering if we might be in slightly over our heads by trying to commit it to memory. As my soon-to-be-teenager lamented, "This doesn't even rhyme!"

I know there are gentler ways to introduce a child to Shakespeare - Lambs' Tales From Shakespeare is one that Mrs. P. recommended to me - but if one is attempting to memorize a passage from a play, obviously there's no point in translating that into more modern English. Anyway, who doesn't love to make Shakespeare's lexicon part of their everyday language?  Phrases such as, "But soft - a telemarketer calls again, I trow. Bacon-fed knave! Fie on't!" or "An it were meet, I'd leave yon errant sock atop the TV for the nonce," can really bring high drama to the most ordinary day.

Perhaps a little analogy would help my seventh grader enter the Bard's world: "Imagine," I'd say to my son, "that your brother is France and you are England. France and England are out in the yard playing football, and England thinks he should gain a few extra yards. France doesn't like that idea and although he lets England move the line of scrimmage a few feet, eventually he thinks better of it and yanks on the back of England's shirt collar, strangling him for a few seconds. England falls down, hits his head, and is so angry he turns around and socks France on the jaw, whereupon France comes crying into the house. The speech you're going to memorize would fit in between hitting your head and socking your brother." Since this is exactly what happened during our lunch break today, this should really make Shakespeare come alive! "We few, we happy few, we banged-up brothers...."

This particular battle came after a couple of other school-related disagreements, but at least it was the only one that resulted in a sore jaw. After we finished our school work I decided we'd watch a little more of Kenneth Branagh's "Henry V", also recommended by our curriculum, but so far, not much favored by the student. "Ha, ha," France taunted, obviously not having learned his lesson, in any sense. "You have to watch that 'Henry the Eighth' movie."

England bargained movie time down to thirty minutes, and France went off to play with a friend who had come over. Even I was not paying full attention, having stayed up too late last night, and I started to nod off in my chair as Henry made the rounds of his camp.  However, when I heard those first lines which England had been working on a few hours earlier, I was alert again, and indeed we were transfixed during the speech - even France, who had crept back into the room, stood motionless, watching the whole scene:

After a discouraging day of home school I would not have expected to get a boost from plowing into a sometimes dry film that no one seemed very inclined to watch. But that's the power of Shakespeare for you. And so...once more unto the speech, dear friends, once more!

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