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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: July ::
Re: Getting Children Interested in Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0654  Wednesday, 15 July 1998.

[1]     From:   Geralyn Horton <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 14 Jul 1998 12:31:09 -0400
        Subj:   Re: Getting Children Interested in Shakespeare

[2]     From:   Dale Coye <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 14 Jul 1998 13:34:32 EDT
        Subj:   Re: Getting Children Interested in Shakespeare

[3]     From:   Janet Maclellan <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 14 Jul 1998 22:35:42 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Getting Children Interested in Shakespeare

[4]     From:   Amy Ulen <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 14 Jul 1998 21:39:21 -0700
        Subj:   Re: Getting Children Interested in Shakespeare


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Geralyn Horton <
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Date:           Tuesday, 14 Jul 1998 12:31:09 -0400
Subject:        Re: Getting Children Interested in Shakespeare

> I have heard of some children who could read Shakespeare at an early
> age.  I couldn't and believe most can't.  I have learned to read him
> with fluidity, but it was hard work at first.
>
> Even now some passages in King Lear-particularly the storm scene- and
> bits of Love's Labour's Lost are still difficult.  I know how to look up
> obscure words and phrases.  I can make sense of these texts, though some
> meanings seem lost forever.  If Bloom means that reading Shakespeare
> with good comprehension is beyond most children, I'd have to agree.
>
> Let's think this through for a mili-second: Is an typical child's
> reading level the same as an adult's?  No.  Is Shakespeare more
> challenging to read than most books?  Yes.  When I was in college, my
> professor spent time teaching us how to read Shakespeare, much as
> another professor taught us how to read Chaucer.  That was a great
> experience.
>
> That is not the death of art.  It is common sense.

This doesn't seem like common sense to me.  At what age do children read
Mother Goose? Grimm's Fairy Tales?   Mort d'Arthur?  Alice in
Wonderland? The King James Bible?  Except for this last, none of these
are "taught" (except perhaps in college), yet young children who have
had these works read them to them from infancy read them without much
difficulty as soon as they can read anything at all-and love them and
understand them as well as they understand anything that is beautiful
and exciting and mysterious.  Is "A Midsummer Night's Dream" harder than
"Alice"? than Deuteronomy? The brain's "wiring" grows less flexible as
the child grows.  Foreign languages, musical literacy, poetic forms,
archaisms-such things are very difficult for an adult to learn, but easy
while the brain is at the "right" stage, still engaged in the building
of language forms s/he will use the rest of his/her life.

G.L.Horton <http://www.tiac.net/users/ghorton>

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dale Coye <
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Date:           Tuesday, 14 Jul 1998 13:34:32 EDT
Subject:        Re: Getting Children Interested in Shakespeare

In this discussion someone mentioned this:

>[my daughter] played the Bloody Child at age
>6, in a production of the Scottish Play where I was Lady M.  Years later
>she revealed that the experience gave her nightmares-but that certainly
>wasn't due to a lack or interest or understanding!

My own daughter has loved Shakespeare since she saw the Tempest at age 3
and I have read her the comedies since then, paraphrasing at times to
match her attention span.  We've also seen a number of productions
together.  But there's no way I'd take her to see a tragedy yet (she's
now 9).    She'd have nightmares too.   I have no doubt there are plenty
of kids out there steeped in gore from other sources, who wouldn't bat
an eye at a skewered Mercutio but we shouldn't underestimate the power
of these (or any play or film) to horrify a child to the depths of their
souls.

Dale Coye
English Dept.
The College of NJ

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Janet Maclellan <
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Date:           Tuesday, 14 Jul 1998 22:35:42 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Getting Children Interested in Shakespeare

Further testimony regarding the ability of children to enjoy Shakespeare
in a variety of ways: my eight-year-old niece has watched the
Shakespeare Animated Tales for some years now, has attended outdoor
performances of Shakespeare, asked for and received a copy of the
Complete Works for Christmas a couple of years ago, and just this past
weekend threw her mother and me for a loop by asking us to play a game
(of her own devising) in which we each had to recall quotations from the
Scottish play in turn.  She made a formidable opponent, having memorized
long stretches of the witches' chants and prophecies in particular, and
my sister and I were hard pressed to keep up with her (she berated us
for resorting to all the "easy" quotes, e.g. "Tomorrow and
tomorrow...").

Some of Shakespeare's language may be difficult for young readers to
understand, but some of it is as accessible and enchanting as Dr. Seuss
in its use of rhythm and rhyme. Try starting with these kinds of
passages, perhaps.

Janet MacLellan

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[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Amy Ulen <
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Date:           Tuesday, 14 Jul 1998 21:39:21 -0700
Subject:        Re: Getting Children Interested in Shakespeare

I'm a teacher and lover of Shakespeare.  My goal as an 8th grade teacher
is to share my passion for Shakespeare with my kids, and provide them
with the opportunity to BE Puck, Titania, and Bottom!  They don't leave
my room as Shakespeare scholars-they may not even leave it as
Shakespeare lovers (though many do)--but each child leaves me at the end
of the year able to quote Shakespeare!  They own those few lines...I've
done my job beautifully. :-)

Mike Jensen <
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 > wrote:
>Let's think this through for a mili-second: Is an typical child's
>reading level the same as an adult's?  No.  Is Shakespeare more
>challenging to read than most books?  Yes.

Some is, but some is not.  I don't tackle all of Hamlet with my 8th
graders, but they certainly understand the dumb show & the advice to the
players.  The nice thing about younger kids is that they don't come to
Shakespeare with a "this is too hard" attitude like many of my high
school students did.  They read it, act it, and re-read it until they
figure it out.  No big deal.

My niece was visiting me the weekend before she turned eleven.  My
Shakespeare acting troupe, Stage of Fools, was meeting Saturday
afternoon.  It was a particularly harsh January day, so only one other
person was at the rehearsal (We few!).  We dropped our scheduled
rehearsal of Lear so that my niece could play with us.  We decided to
work on 4.2 of Macbeth.  I played Lady Macduff, my niece played her son,
and the other actor played the rest of the characters.  My niece did a
tremendous job reading the scene.  We read it several times, and then
got up on our feet.  With each run-through, the last lines became more
heart wrenching as she died an agonizing death.  When I noticed the snow
flying outside, I suggested we leave.  She didn't want to go.  I gave
her the Cambridge School copy of Macbeth to take home with her.  She
asked me if I would do the scene with her at her birthday party.

Cut to the next weekend...I arrived at her birthday party to find that
we were the main entertainment.  We performed the scene...she had every
line memorized!  After we took our bows, the other 10 & 11 year old
girls started raising their hands and asking if they could do the
scene.  We only had one script, so my niece played the boy and they took
turns playing Lady Macduff.  I was amazed at how well they read the
script.  I asked my niece about it later.  It turns out that she had
taken the script to school with her every day that week.  She read the
entire play, and her friends helped her rehearse the scene.  For one
week, the recess yard was filled with Macbeth.  Wow!

Kids can read and understand Shakespeare.  We need to direct them to the
plays and scenes that will be the easiest for them to understand.  Allow
them to LIVE the characters, and they will be hooked.  Don't expect them
to be scholars.  It doesn't matter if they only get part of it; the fact
is that they are reading and enjoying it.

Amy Ulen <
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Surfing with the Bard ~ http://www.ulen.com/shakespeare/
 

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