The Sobran Method:
A True Story
When my kids were little, I inflicted
Shakespeare on them, with the best intentions. I began by telling them that
Shakespeare was a great genius. I made them watch the thrilling Laurence
Olivier as Hamlet. I roared bits of Othellos raging speeches
constantly. Our home rang with the immortal words of Shakespeare.
be my child was to be intimate with the Bard himself. The Sobran kids had a
privileged upbringing. Like King Lear, I gave them my best, including fair bits
of King Lear.
them years to recover. Id wanted nothing more passionately than for
them to share my great love. Where had I gone wrong and achieved the
opposite result with four such beautiful, bright children?
later, when my grandson Joe lived with me (he was virtually my fifth child,
bright and beautiful like all the others), a new approach gave me better
success. Or luck. Without much prodding, Joe watched films of
Hamlet, Macbeth, and Julius
Caesar and loved them.
occasion his school principal marveled when he interrupted our conversation
to plead, Can we see Hamlet tonight? She was
startled to hear a little boy, a fourth-grader, make such a request. A long
career in education had taught her what to expect. An eagerness for
Shakespearean tragedy? Not usually.
had I finally done right? Im almost embarrassed to reveal my simple
secret. Like the discovery of America, and penicillin, it was an accident.
Joe was learning to read, I made him read aloud a single sentence from
The Tempest: Monster, I do smell all horse-piss; at
which my nose is in great indignation.
wont find that one in books of great quotations. Never mind the
context. Joe didnt need context.)
giggled madly. He couldnt even finish the sentence. That was all I
wanted. A naughty laugh. You know grandfathers. Incurably silly. Eager to
then on, I made it a game: Id give Joe a dollar if he could recite that
one sentence with a straight face. I never had to pay. He cracked up every
time. The other night, nearly 20 years old, he flunked the straight-face test
yet again. He hadnt forgotten.
Somehow Joe never suffered from a paralyzing awe of
Shakespeares genius. A single vulgar joke had made that impossible
at the start. And had also taught him the big word indignation, by
the way. And showed him that big words and small can be combined
explosively. And that Shakespeare knew some little words youd
better not say when your principal might hear them.
hes no scholar (baseball, girls, and other things intervened), but one
of his first tastes of Shakespeare was fun terrific hilarity, in fact
and it taught me something about teaching the classics. Id
had no idea I was making a great pedagogical discovery.
dont know if the schools will adopt my simple, revolutionary method,
but I doubt it. They still seem to prefer instilling a fatal reverence for the
Bard, the time-tested way of making kids loathe him. And by the time the
kids get around to that sentence, its far too late to save them. They
respect him too much.
back to Joe. Hes a mature young man now, so maybe hes
ready for the funniest line in King John.
often happens in Shakespeare, the play is stolen by a seemingly secondary
character in this case, the Bastard, Philip Faulconbridge. The play
opens with a dispute over Philips legitimacy. His younger
(half-)brother Robert wants his title and inheritance (five
hundred pounds a year) and asks John to settle it.
transpires that Philip is indeed a bastard, the natural son of Johns
brother and predecessor, King Richard the Lion-hearted (Coeur-de-lion).
from being shamed or defeated, the blunt, witty Bastard is delighted. He
exults in being the natural son of a heroic king, despises his lost inheritance,
mocks his brother, and just doesnt give a damn. John loves him
immediately and dubs him a knight: Sir Richard Plantagenet.
Bastard is now a happy member of Englands royal family! He
accompanies John to France, where John makes war to claim certain lands he
says are rightfully his.
the English lay siege to the city of Angiers, a leading citizen, refusing to
surrender, defies them in a long, violent speech. The Bastards salty
comment is priceless:
I was never so bethumped with words
takes some doing to teach kids that Shakespeare is no fun.
first called my brothers father dad.