The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0673 Monday, 20 July 1998.
 From: Chantal Schutz <
Date: Sunday, 19 Jul 1998 14:39:04 -0400
Subj: Children and Shakespeare
 From: Chris J. Fassler <
Date: Monday, 20 Jul 1998 09:19:54 -0500 (EST)
Subj: Getting Children Interested in Shakespeare
From: Chantal Schutz <
Date: Sunday, 19 Jul 1998 14:39:04 -0400
Subject: Children and Shakespeare
Billy Houck wrote:
>Nobody is willing to post anything on the list claiming ALL
>Mexican-Americans, women, low-income people, or Irish Catholics are
>unable to appreciate Shakespeare, but we get pleas for the logic of
>excluding ALL "children" from Shakespeare.
I quite agree.
Let me give you some first hand experience from the new Globe theatre,
an institution whose original purpose was to bring Shakespeare to ALL.
That means children, but that also means people who don't normally go to
the theatre, or who have never read or studied Shakespeare.
Day in day out, the yard (and also the galleries) welcomes dozens of
children, from infants who simply share their parents' enjoyment to
well-behaved classes in their school uniform, from wilder toddlers,
running around and commenting out loud, to teenagers who spend much of
the time sitting on the hard cement of the yard drinking coca-cola and
looking bored. But for all of them there is a time when the power of
the story takes over. And for most of them, that time lasts around three
You should see the little girls drooling when Orlando or Bassanio come
close to them. You should see the wide open eyes and mouths when Oliver
tells of his transformation. You should hear the almighty clamour when
Orlando wins the wrestling match against Charles. And above all, you
should hear their delighted laughter at Touchstone or Launcelot Gobbo's
capers adn jokes.
And now, for my own children.
Leila is 2, and though last year she chimed in with baby Perdita's
wails, this year she sat transfixed through the last act of As You Like
It, particularly enchanted with the musical and dance passages.
Emma is now 5, but when she was only 3 she came to see Northern
Broadsides' Midsummer Night's Dream, played for the first half without
costumes (British Airways had mislaid them). The fairies were played by
the same actors as the mechanicals. But she can still remember the show
and the story, above all the fairies. Children don't need many props to
invent games and stories, and are not bothered for a minute by
cross-dressing. They have much to teach us in our quest for the way the
Elizabethans used the stage.
Emma is always asking me to tell her stories, and when I am too lazy to
make one up, I simply adapt the plot of one of Shakespeare's plays. The
first one I used was Romeo and Juliet. Now it serves as a reference for
any story that has parents not wanting their daughter to marry the man
she loves. Last year, I took Emma to see three of the four shows (The
Winter's Tale, Henry V and Middleton's A Chaste Maid in Cheapside) and
she kept wanting to hear the stories over and over again, having
baptised them respectively the story of Hermione, the story of the
English King and the French princess, and the story of Moll. She still
knows the stories by heart and corrects me if I make a mistake telling
them. She met all the actors, including Toby Cockerell who played
Katharine, and thus learned a lot about the meaning of acting.
This year, she has seen As You Like It 5 times already. But there is a
difference now: she is listening to the words. In one of the wooing
scenes (IV-1), Rosalind/Ganymede tells Orlando: "men have died from time
to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love". The first time
Emma heard the line, she turned to me in shcked surprise and asked: "do
worms really eat people?".
I realised then that she was also getting way beyond the superficial
level of the story. I also understood that I could start reading the
book version of Leon Garfield's abridged tales, which she adores,
without cutting or skipping lines. Children's ability to learn languages
is boundless. Emma already speaks three languages and plays the cello,
which she has learned with the Suzuki method, which is based on the idea
that if Japanese children can learn Japanese, and German children can
learn German, two of the most difficult languages around, then any child
can learn music, provided it is taught with the same amount of love and
repetition as we emply when we teach them to talk.
I believe that the younger they begin, the greater chance children have
of getting to appreciate Shakespeare's language. But please remember
that Shakespeare wrote for the stage, that the plays were indeed made to
be seen and heard, before being read.
Sorry for this long posting, but I've simply been waiting for the time
to write it all. I should perhaps add that I work full time at the Globe
as a research fellow, maintaining the website and taking part in some of
the productions as academic observer and/or "dramaturg", studying how
the use of the space by actors, directors and audiences is enabling us
to understand Elizabethan practice - and also gain insights into the
20th century attitudes!
All the best
Chantal Miller Sch