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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: July ::
Re: Children and Shakespeare; Hytner TN
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0681  Wednesday, 22 July 1998.

[1]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Monday, 20 Jul 1998 10:49:41 -0700
        Subj:   Getting Children Interested in Shakespeare

[2]     From:   Tanya Gough <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 21 Jul 1998 09:56:00 -0400
        Subj:   Hytner 12th Night


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Monday, 20 Jul 1998 10:49:41 -0700
Subject:        Getting Children Interested in Shakespeare

Forgive me if I sound pissed off.  I am.  Despite the evidence on this
list, that is not my usual state of mind.  Hey, I'm a Berkeley pacifist
by birth.

This exchange about a child's ability to understand Shakespeare is
bereft of clear thinking by most writers, my previous post included.
For one thing, we have failed to define terms.

First, NO ONE has said that Shakespeare in not enthralling to the young
when seen on stage or in Children's adaptations.  Those who keep bring
up such evidence are arguing against no one but a straw man named
Ludwig.

NO ONE has said that children can not "get" Shakespeare from sitting in
a classroom with a teacher giving them the tools to understand.  Quit
picking on Ludwig.

NO ONE has defined child.  For some reason I thought of my eight year
old niece.  Trust me, she can not pick up Macbeth and get much from it.
Some have used 15 and 16 year olds for their examples of children who DO
understand Shakespeare.  Obviously a 16 year old has an advantage over a
child half that age.  So your examples of 16 year olds does not make my
example of an 8 year old wrong.  It makes us both wrong for not speaking
carefully.  If you want to argue that a 16 year old, who puts in more
work than it takes to read a newspaper, can understand Shakespeare, I
won't argue.

I don't, by the way, usually call 16 year olds children.  I call them
teenagers.  Perhaps before we attack Mr. Bloom's statement, we should
find out what he means by CHILDREN?

NO ONE has said no child can understand Shakespeare by reading.  I know
two children who can.  Their degree of comprehension, and their patience
to look up archaic words and idioms is surprising, but they are
surprising children.  Their grasp of the complexity of theme and debate
is poor, however.  This brings us to my next point.

NO ONE has defined UNDERSTANDING.  Do we mean to get the plot?  Know the
characters?  The debate is nonsense until we pin this down.  I meant
something way beyond the grasp of most children I have met.  It comes
with experience.

As You Like It has a character matched to just about every kind of
romantic love in human experience.  There may be children out there who
get this, though I have never met one.  I think most don't. (You digging
up one who does won't invalidate that statement.) I don't think most get
"O' that this too too sold flesh would melt."  They may get that Hamlet
does not want to live, but most have never felt the emotion behind it.
Most adults have, have worked through it, and that informs our
understanding.

The more I live the richer I find Shakespeare.  The greater my store of
experiences, the more ideas and emotions I find in his texts - texts I
thought I understood but did not have the experience to understand more
fully.   I doubt most children can understand Shakespeare on this
level.  This is what I meant by UNDERSTAND.  What do you mean?

>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.

Give me an eFFing break.  No body is that stupid, I hope.  There is a
hell of a difference between an adult from any background and a child.
Most adult minds understand things differently then most children's
minds.  That is called maturity and experience.  Why bring race and sex
into this?  It is apples and oranges at best, an attempt to win
rhetorically by implying those who disagree are some kind of racist or
sexist at worst.

Told you I was pissed.

Besides,

>  but we get pleas for the logic of
> excluding ALL "children" from Shakespeare.

is answered above.  Poor Ludwig.

As for the argument that the younger you are, the better equipped you
are to learn Shakespeare's language - that is difficult.  I have studied
this issue, but do not consider myself an expert.   I feel there is so
much we still have to learn that I don't trust anyone who pretends to
have figured it out.

Remember, NO ONE on this list has argued against exposing even infants
to Shakespeare, though some of us would have the audacity to claim that
reading him is a bit beyond them.

This SOUNDS like a good plan.  I wonder how well it will really work?
The benefits are obvious, so I won't detail them.  I think of these
problems:

Unless you want to put a child in a bubble (read to the child every
night for a hour, say), the exposure to Shakespeare's language during
the most fertile linguistic years will be sporadic.  I mean, how many
hours a year is your child usually exposed to Shakespeare's language?

By the time children begin to read, a lot of their language skills are
already in place.  By the time they can move beyond Dick and Jane to the
Bard, even more are in place.  To what extent have you missed your
window of opportunity?  If you have missed it, how reliable are your
results?

Even if you do put your child in a bubble, that is no guarantee the
child will take to Shakespeare, or even the arts.

Could a child end up with an archaic set of language skills that they
don't know are archaic?  (Most of the evidence I have seen suggests not,
at least not for most children, but I think the question worth asking.
I suspect it will happen to someone somewhere.)  Surely, some archaic
vocabulary will slip in.  Are there disadvantages to this?  Will it
drive the first grade teacher nuts?  (Wherefore do I have to stay after
school?  It was Billy who let me from getting to the bathroom!)

I do think the experiment worth trying.  I have not heard of it being
done with Shakespeare's texts.  If it has been, and I have missed it,
please point me to the article.  I, rather arrogantly, am not much
interested in your non-controlled-experiment experiences with your kids
or the children you teach.  That evidence may seem compelling to you,
but I don't really trust it for universal application.  Sorry if that is
offensive, but it is the scientific method.  Any linguistics or
psychologists out there?

Even if such an experiment were successful, it does not make me wrong.
My belief that MOST CHILDREN CAN NOT UNDERSTAND SHAKESPEARE WITH THE
UNDERSTANDING OF AN ADULT will still be true for most children.  It will
continue to be true until most children are raised in the bubble.  Even
then, I wonder about their comprehension of the emotional and political
issues involved (as discussed above), unless they begin with a good
guide (also discussed above).

But then I may be whistling in the wind.  When it comes to animals and
children, some people have a problem with objectivity.  I'll never
forget my Aunt Carol insisting her three week old had a vocabulary that
not only included Mama and Dada, but pink, tiger, and seven other
words.  Unless we are vigilant, we do have a tendency to read our hopes
and experiences into the behavior of others.  Everyone does it to some
extent.  Me too.

Voltaire may have been wrong about the Bard, but he was right about the
need to define our terms.  Let's do better.  Too much of this debate
have been off the issue.

Michael P! (for petulant) Jensen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tanya Gough <
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Date:           Tuesday, 21 Jul 1998 09:56:00 -0400
Subject:        Hytner 12th Night

Donald Lyons absolutely raved about 12th Night in last Friday's Wall
Street Journal.  I'll fax copies of the article on request (off list,
please).

Tanya Gough

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