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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: January ::
Shakespeare for Kids
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0151  Wednesday, 21 January 2004

[1]     From:   D Bloom <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 20 Jan 2004 08:04:17 -0600
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0140 Shakespeare for Kids

[2]     From:   Thomas Larque <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 20 Jan 2004 15:48:08 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0140 Shakespeare for Kids

[3]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 20 Jan 2004 10:48:19 -0500
        Subj:   Shakespeare for Kids

[4]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 20 Jan 2004 14:04:59 -0800
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0140 Shakespeare for Kids


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <
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Date:           Tuesday, 20 Jan 2004 08:04:17 -0600
Subject: 15.0140 Shakespeare for Kids
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0140 Shakespeare for Kids

Terence Hawkes supplies more lines from "Shakespeare Can Be Fun."

"Meanwhile King Claudius was still uptight.
The cause of Hamlet's madness had not come to light"

Damn, they *are* fun. They're so dreadful that they warm my heart every
time he quotes some. I suppose in larger quantities they would simply
make me queasy, but these snippets brighten my mornings immeasurably.

Perhaps you could provide one for every morning's Shakespeare read?
(Especially if they had a nice satiric dig at some overblown discussion
topic.)

Cheers,
don

P.S. Am I the only one who finds butchered metrics to be like
fingernails on a chalkboard? Do people assume that children are too
stupid to notice the ineptitude? I don't claim to be any Alexander Pope
lisping in verse since infancy, but I have detested such horrors as long
as I can remember.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Larque <
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Date:           Tuesday, 20 Jan 2004 15:48:08 -0000
Subject: 15.0140 Shakespeare for Kids
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0140 Shakespeare for Kids

 >If only poor Thomas Larque could be prevailed upon NOT to 'paraphrase'
 >my argument 'fairly heavily'!  His version is far longer, less clear and
 >-I flatter myself-- indisputably more boring than the original:

I will leave other readers to decide whether the real Terence Hawkes is
boring or not, but since my paraphrase is not a summary of a single
post, but of the content of a goodly number of posts spread over many
years (as I remember them), it certainly isn't longer than the originals.

You might also note that my paraphrase is entirely free of sarcasm and
put-downs, which some people have certainly complained about in the
original Hawkes posts, so to that extent you might even think of it as
an improvement; although, to be fair, I myself quite enjoy Hawkes in his
"allowed fool" poise - however unpopular it may be with some others.

 >characteristics to some extent shared, oddly enough,  by the adaptations
 >of Shakespeare which he so admires. His enthusiasm for lines like
 >
 >"Meanwhile King Claudius was still uptight.
 >The cause of Hamlet's madness had not come to light"
 >(Hamlet, 'Shakespeare Can Be Fun' series)

Of course I haven't read the "Shakespeare Can Be Fun" books, and I
certainly haven't had the opportunity to speak to a child on whom they
have been tried out, so they might well fall into the category of "a
particular children's version ... so badly written that no child would
be willing to sit through it" (see my last post), but as I remember
Hawkes's complaints are not limited to a particular version of
children's Shakespeare, but are a politically inspired resistance to the
idea that children should be exposed to Shakespeare at all, whether in
adaptations, or even in the original - because children will not accept
that Shakespeare means what Hawkes "means by Shakespeare" which is
something deep, dark, and political.  I have not had the opportunity
(and admittedly have made no effort) to read any of Hawkes's interesting
sounding books, so I do not know whether or how he reconciles his two
apparently irreconcilable viewpoints: on the one hand his much cited
belief that every individual makes his own Shakespeare (which I
fervently believe to be true), but on the other a Sam-Small-like
irritation when people refuse to adopt the version of Shakespeare that
Hawkes himself has created, which happens - for Hawkes - to be a highly
politicised, morally ambiguous, entirely adult-oriented Shakespeare.

Putting aside the tub-thumping rhetorical tactics of a certain Mr.
Hawkes, who would rather tie me to an adaptation that I know virtually
nothing about, I would be quite willing to take a stand on the power and
effectiveness of children's adaptations of Shakespeare on the basis of
Charles and Mary Lamb's "Tales from Shakespeare" (within the context of
its own times) and in the modern age the work of the Shakespeare4Kidz
Theatre Company (whose effective adaptations of Shakespeare's scripts
link sections of real Shakespeare using modern additions and specially
written songs), and the Animated Shakespeare films and videos -
produced, I think, for the BBC or possibly Channel 4.  In the former
case I can cite a goodly number of Victorian sources  saying how they
were first inspired to love Shakespeare by the Lambs' Tales, in the
latter I can testify to the effectiveness of the adaptations upon
children of my acquaintance who were transfixed by the stories.  My most
abiding memory is of the effect of a Shakespeare4Kidz "Midsummer Night's
Dream" upon an 8-year old friend of the family, who appeared on one
visit to us, spontaneously quoting Bottom's speech as Pyramus ending
"Now die, die, die, die, die" from memory - together with appropriate
gestures - after having only seen the production twice, and never having
seen the script.  The fact that she had begged her mother to take her a
second time to see the play, and then memorised large chunks of the
text, suggests that she had found a "meaning" in Shakespeare that was
important and interesting to her, helped along by that process of
age-appropriate adaptation.  For some reason I suspect that my 8 year
old friend may be a better judge of what makes excellent theatre for
children than a crusty more-than-middle-aged English Professor, who
apparently didn't enjoy Shakespeare when he was a child, and doesn't
think anybody else should be allowed to either.

 >is thus predictable. It strikes me as merely shaming.

I would find the patronising attitude to children which seems to lie
behind your own and Sam Small's obsessions with not allowing them to
encounter Shakespeare rather "shaming" if I held it myself.  You might
notice that my opinions - if they were enforced upon the world at large
- would not actually force anybody to do anything, since I say only that
adaptations are enjoyed and valued by many people and should be
available for anybody who enjoys them, while your arguments would
apparently favour a blanket ban on all children's adaptations of
Shakespeare, on the basis that you personally don't like them.

 >Let me ask a
 >simple question. The language of the 'Shakespeare Can Be Fun' books is
 >not Shakespeare's. The verse-form they employ is not Shakespeare's. The
 >stories they tell are not Shakespeare's. What, then, is the source of
 >the 'fun' ?

When I first read Shakespeare, aged 13 (having found my brother's school
"Macbeth"), I was technically a child.  The language was Shakespeare's.
  The verse form was Shakespeare's.  I struggled with it, but it
fascinated me, and I read the book from beginning to end in one sitting
and enjoyed it and its strangeness enormously.  If I hadn't spent years
away from school with health problems, then somebody would have
introduced me to the rest of Shakespeare some time before I finally
discovered him for myself (aged 17 - also the year that I discovered
straight live theatre for the first time).  I only wish they had.
Judging by my 8-year-old friend's reaction to Shakespeare4Kidz and their
"Midsummer Night's Dream" I wish they had introduced him to me at least
five years before that first encounter with "Macbeth".

My only experience of straight live theatre before my 17th birthday was
a touring Theatre-in-Education production of "Animal Farm" that came to
my school when I was 9 or 10.  I loved that too.  I don't see that
"Animal Farm" is any less adult, dark, or political than Shakespeare,
unless you want to pretend that any animal allegory is automatically a
children's story, while any Shakespeare play is not.  Despite this, it
meant something to me as a child, and it meant something much more
significant to me as a young adult, when I studied the book for GCSE,
and I probably now have an even deeper understanding of the book than I
did when I was 17, since age may not bring wisdom, but it brings a wider
range of perspectives and experience.  If the patronising views of a
Hawkes were held by my schoolteachers, or by that Theatre-in-Education
company, then certainly I would not have been shown a powerful
adaptation of a wonderful adult book.  I suppose I would have been
watching a stage version of "Andy Pandy", or something else with no
political content and no depth.  That means I would have lost a very
rich and formative experience and had it replaced with mindless pap.
This certainly seems to be what Sam Small advocates, and I suspect it is
what Terrence Hawkes is advocating as well, whether he admits it or not.

Thomas Larque.
"Shakespeare and His Critics"       "British Shakespeare Association"
http://shakespearean.org.uk           http://britishshakespeare.ws

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Tuesday, 20 Jan 2004 10:48:19 -0500
Subject:        Shakespeare for Kids

Terence Hawkes writes:

"Let me ask a simple question. The language of the 'Shakespeare Can Be
Fun' books is not Shakespeare's. The verse-form they employ is not
Shakespeare's. The stories they tell are not Shakespeare's. What, then,
is the source of the 'fun' ?

The "fun" is in acting out a scene or part of a scene. But I agree with
Terry that Shakespeare should be read in the original, and for American
kids, that's often not possible before the 9th grade; even then, some
plays (_Troilus and Cressida_, for example) are just too hard to read.

We need to face the fact that some things have to wait a bit. Nobody
does Calculus in 9th grade. You have to learn algebra first. It's much
the same with Shakespeare. Perhaps the outstanding example of this in
literature is Spenser. Some people love reading him, but few before the
age of 30 or so.

A compromise that might work is to let younger students watch plays
(_Julius Caesar_ is good for this) in which the verse is relatively easy
and modern actors do a good job of making lines comprehensible. But in
all honesty, there are many good things to read; most students are
better off reading a good adventure story or a Harry Potter. Shakespeare
can wait a bit.

Ed Taft

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Tuesday, 20 Jan 2004 14:04:59 -0800
Subject: 15.0140 Shakespeare for Kids
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0140 Shakespeare for Kids

Terence Hawkes writes,

 >If only poor Thomas Larque could be prevailed upon NOT to 'paraphrase'
 >my argument 'fairly heavily'!

It seems that Terence has been playing the role of the "Bill Arnold"
identity for so long that he's even picking up Bill's more annoying
typographical habits.

The language of the 'Shakespeare Can Be Fun' books is not Shakespeare's.
The verse-form they employ is not Shakespeare's. The stories they tell
are not Shakespeare's. What, then, is the source of the 'fun' ?

Who cares?  Even if the title of the series is a misdenomer, that
doesn't make enjoyment of Shakespeare by children nonsensical.

Yours,
Sean Lawrence.

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