The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0686  Thursday, 23 July 1998.

[1]     From:   David J. Kathman <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 22 Jul 1998 21:19:56 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0681  Re: Children and Shakespeare

[2]     From:   Kathleen Hannah <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Thursday, 23 Jul 1998 08:16:20 CST6CDT
        Subj:   Children & Shakespeare

From:           David J. Kathman <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 22 Jul 1998 21:19:56 +0100
Subject: 9.0681  Re: Children and Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0681  Re: Children and Shakespeare

Mike Jensen wrote:

>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
>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?

Children's exposure to any language, even their native language which
they hear spoken every day, is imperfect.  There are always gaps of one
sort or another.  But children have an astonishing ability to fill in
gaps and figure out the system of any language they're exposed to,
because they have an innate language-learning faculty that lasts until
roughly puberty.  After that, for reasons not entirely understood, they
lose the ability to learn languages and dialects easily.  But
prepubescent children will almost certainly absorb Shakespeare's
language more readily than adults with the same amount of exposure.
(Just to be clear, I'm talking here about spoken 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

Good questions all, to which I can't pretend to give answers.  Language
learning is a continuous process, and I doubt that there's any kind of
"window of opportunity" beyond which a child's ability to absorb
Shakespeare's language will suddenly fall off.  If the child has been
exposed to a lot of Shakespeare's language in performance, I'm sure that
would help immeasurably when they start to read the plays, no matter how
old they are.

>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 seriously doubt that this would happen.  Kids are smarter than you
probably think, especially when it comes to language.  Even if you
exposed them to Shakespeare all the time through reading and
performances, they would recognize it as a different register than the
language they use in talking to their family and friends.  Your fears
are reminiscent of some parents who innocently believe that if their
children learn another language, they somehow won't speak English as
well.  But bilingual children have no trouble keeping their two
languages distinct, and they know the circumstances in which each
language can be spoken.  Bilingual children actually have better overall
verbal skills than monolingual children, basically because keeping two
languages straight gives their brains more of a workout.  I would think
that prolonged exposure to a different dialect/register (i.e.
Shakespeare's poetry) would have a similar effect on a child.

>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?

I studied linguistics for 10 years and have a Ph.D in the subject,
though I have not been active in the field for several years.  But I
think that just about any professional linguist would agree with the
gist of what I've said.

>Even if such an experiment were successful, it does not make me wrong.
>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).

I agree that most children can't understand all the emotional and
political complexities of the plays, even if they understand the
language fluently.  But that's pretty much true of any work of
literature, including those written in modern English.

Dave Kathman
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

From:           Kathleen Hannah <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 23 Jul 1998 08:16:20 CST6CDT
Subject:        Children & Shakespeare

I've been following this thread with interest, since I happen to be
specializing in children's literature and writing a dissertation on the
Lambs' _Tales_. I'm surprised that no one on this list has really
mentioned any of the *vast* number of books out there that we can use to
introduce our kids to Shakespeare. Lots of list members have mentioned
Lamb, CLassics Illustrated,  and the HBO tales, and Joe Conlon finally
mentioned Lois Burdett's books (though he left out her last name), which
are great evidence of the extent to which even elementary-aged children
can engage with Shakespeare.

But there are so many more efforts out there, some good, some bad. My
personal favorite, since I don't really like the idea of introducing
Shakespeare to children via retold stories that cut and sometimes mangle
the original language, or leave it out altogether (which means that
they're closer to retellings of Shakespeare's sources than of
Shakespeare), is Gina Pollinger's _Something Rich and Strange: A
Treasury of Shakespeare's Verse_ (illus. Emma Chichester Clark; New
York: Kingfisher, 1995), which is a kind of quotation book, arranged
according to such topics as "Power to Charm," "It Was a Lover and His
Lass," and "Fierce Civil Strife."

Diane Stanley has a few books out that deal with Sakespeare's time, lots
of nice illustrations. Bruce Coville and Ann Keay Beneduce have both
recently retold _The Tempest_ in large-format illustrated books.
Coville also did _Midsummer_, I believe it is. Other retellings include
E. Nesbit's from the 1890s, Bernard Miles's _Favorite Tales from
Shakespeare_ (1976) and _Well-Loved Tales from Shakespeare_ (1986),
Geraldine McCaughrean's _Stories from Shakespeare_ (1994), and, perhaps
best, Leon Garfield's _Shakespeare Stories_ (1985) and _Shakespeare
Stories II (199?). There are dozens more.

Julius Lester "reconceptualized" _Othello_ in a recent novel for young
adults (he made Iago and Emilia black, among other things).  Sheila
Front has a book for younger children about _Macbeth_ in performance
(_Never Say Macbeth_; among the allusions are names of characters, such
as Jeremy Lamb and Sir Montague Worthington-Browne).

This is just a small sampling. Please let's not think that the Lambs and
HBO are the only ones doing this sort of thing. If anyone would like
further citations of any of these books, don't hesitate to contact me
off list.

Katie Hannah
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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