Review: Silly Shakespeare for Students

Silly Shakespeare for Students is a new series from Alphabet Publishing. It offers simplified versions of well-known Shakespeare plays, making them accessible and fun for English language learners. You can read the blurb from the publisher here.

A few key points about the resources…

  • Each play in the series has been cut to about an hour
  • They’re all done in rhyming couplets – short, sharp and engaging
  • They include lots of humour throughout, regardless of the original genre
  • Plays include stage directions, some production notes, plus an explanation of how the play has been adapted.

The plays are so well-written, straightforward and such a great intro to Shakespeare’s works.

The writer, Paul Leonard Murray, has stripped the plays back, and in doing so has removed some of the barriers to understanding (I wish my Year 9 teacher had done that). The simplified language means it is easier to identify the plot and the main themes of the play. The added farcical nature to tragedies like Macbeth makes the play more enjoyable and lighthearted, yet doesn’t detract too much from the overall plot. The abridging and rhyme also help the play flow, avoiding those big chunks of prose which can be hard to follow/break down, etc.

Here’s a little snippet to give you a feel for the way Murray has approached things…

As you can see, Murray finds ways to include some of the language similar to that in the original play (not necessarily where it originally appears), giving the readers/performers an occasional feel for the bard’s turn of phrase. This is certainly something to exploit/explore in class. No doubt they’ll be one or two Shakespeare purists who will scoff at Murray’s approach, but the author has done a grand job of making the text accessible to read and certainly far easier for language learners to perform, which is the important thing!

The language used can still be challenging at times, so I can see these resources best pitched at B1+ level. However, I think with support these could work for A2 learners. Murray does provide some support through definitions of difficult words in the footnotes, although at times there could be more of these.

I reckon Alphabet Publishing could up the cost of this one ($9 a book at the moment) if there were some lesson ideas or rough lesson plans for each act of the play, although that is a big ask time-wise. I just think that there will be some teachers lacking the confidence to exploit this resource to its potential – some further support would be great.

The publisher suggests that these adaptations are ‘perfect for English class, drama club, or student productions’. For me, this resource would be perfect for a summer school. I can imagine a two/four-week scheme of work built around the resource culminating in a performance. Perfect for those short-stay groups visiting the UK every summer (well, if that market picks up again post-COVID I mean…). I can also see these books being put to good use at KS3/KS4, where they could give learners a quick route into Shakespeare’s work and prime them for encountering the original text.

I’ve been lucky enough to read three of the resources in this series – consistently engaging, humorous, easy to read and well-graded. I am genuinely trying to hold back the praise with this one – these are top notch resources.

A note on Alphabet Publishing. This small publisher is going from strength to strength. I’ve reviewed a range of their resources and it seems like literacy and drama are their strong points. They certainly have a lot to offer on that front, see previous reviews for Her Own Worst Enemy and Stories Without End, but also of more general resources like Community Classroom Builders which I dipped into again recently. Their resources have got tighter and their designs have also improved over time.

There’s something very honest about their resources – there’s a real teacher’s voice coming through in their work.

I’ve never given a 5/5. So it’s a 4.9.

Categories: General, reviews

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4 replies

  1. Thank you for this review, Peter! Would you say A2 or B1 adults could benefit from it? Most of my students are business focused though, so chances are probably slim here…


    • Cheers for reading!
      Given the business context I guess not, but the resource is great in general for adults/teens. I mentioned the summer school context as this is often (IMO) quite flexible, and there might be options for drama clubs/special activities too.

      Liked by 1 person


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