The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1327  Tuesday, 14 May 2002

From:           Matthew Baynham <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 15 May 2002 10:03:51 +0100
Subject:        Results of the Experiment

As I've mentioned here before, we ask Primary Teaching Studies Students
(usually towards the lower end of UK undergrads in previous academic
achievement) to adapt and perform a Shakespeare play for 10-11 year old
children. So the idea that 'not everyone is either capable of
understanding Shakespeare, or interested enough to try' might apply both
to the students and children a problem.

We also insist on Shakespearean language: so 'adaptation' means radical
cutting rather than translation.

We found that the children did not understand the language but all
understood the action, characterisation and the plot: even the
intricacies of Tweflth Night. The children all said that they enjoyed
the experience.

The students themselves did not easily understand the intricacies of the
language which they were asked to adapt and, in many cases, had very
negative expectations of anything associated with Shakespeare. Many of
them were also sceptical that the children could enjoy the experience.

After the performances, they were then give the Assignment title: 'Why
should we do Shakespeare with children [of this age]? What opportunities
and difficulties does this present?' I'm just finished marking them. One
or two of them remain sceptical about the possibilities of doing
Shakespeare in the Primary classroom, within the constraints of an
ordinary school curriculum, but nearly all now agree that it can be
done, with outside help.

With regard to the students' own experience, the following comment,
(including its rather odd choice of words and spelling) is fairly

'When I began work on Shakespeare, I possessed extremely negative
feelings...when I was finally confronted with this play-write...I was
almost afraid...With perseverance and willing peers, I have been able to
overcome my negative feelings, and was able to understand and enjoy
Shakespeare...I now feel that this process would not have been anywhere
near as hard work if I had encountered Shakespeare at the the early age
that the National Curriculum now wants us to.'

These words were written, I may say, by possibly the most wooden Romeo
that ever walked a stage: but boy did he try - and his lack of acting
talent didn't seem to hinder the children's enjoyment at all!

Matthew Baynham

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