The idea first came to me when I was an undergraduate student working on a student-run children’s television program and taking a Shakespeare class as a part of my English requirements: there is no reason kids can’t learn and appreciate Shakespeare. I started to imagine what that show might look like. My mentor and best professor gave me an opportunity to fully pursue my special project with an Independent Study. That’s where I really started forming my philosophy.

Firstly, that Shakespeare does not need to be so scary. He has been built up over the years into this nearly mythological figure. There’s this pressure to understand and analyze each and every word. We forget that he largely wrote for illiterate audiences. We ignore the fact that his plays, even the serious ones, are sprinkled with dirty jokes. If we peel away the daunting mythology, the staggering greatness, Shakespeare is just a man who wrote some plays that stand the test of time. Anyone can understand them if they don’t try to hard.

Secondly, I believe that performance is the key. Shakespeare was meant to be seen, not read. Students will have an easier time understanding what is happening if they see it acted out with the emotion behind the words. They will also benefit from acting it out themselves. By playing with the rhythm, rhyme, and words, they will be better able to understand the plays as they continue to experience them throughout their lives.

Finally, we don’t need to shy away completely from some of the more difficult subjects portrayed in Shakespeare, such as violence and racism. Kids have an amazing ability to face these subjects head on. The violence can be portrayed in a more stylistic way. The racism can be framed in a way that sparks discussion. Shakespeare is not too deep for kids to understand.

As I work my way to through all of the plays, on deeper and deeper levels with each reading, I hope to evolve my philosophy and come up with more concrete strategies. Stay tuned!

9 thoughts on “Shakespeare Project

  1. The beauty of Shakespeare is that as a child you can be utterly swept away by the stories and characters and then, for the rest of your life, you go back and get more and more out of it. Some one once said that every time they see Hamlet they find Shakespeare has completely re written it.
    The earlier you start the better I say.

    1. I agree! So many of the testimonials I have come across in my research say exactly this idea. Students who encounter Shakespeare later after learning the stories at a young age, equate the experience to returning to an old friend. They are able to make Shakespeare their own.

      1. Yes, starting at 13 or 14 is probably the WORST age to introduce Shakespeare. It becomes about archaic language rather than the stories and themes. The sooner the better.

  2. I’ve taught Shakespeare to older children, but I too recently embarked on quite a big project to teach Shakespeare to young children – probably because my own daughter is 4 and I think she’s ready, in a way, to be gently introduced to things Shakespearean. And I like what you said about returning to an old friend. If Shakespeare is part of her life now (which it is already becoming), she has the opportunity to discover things on her own, at her own pace. I think our projects have a lot in common, and I look forward to reading more of your discoveries and thoughts – maybe there’s even a way to join forces?

    1. I would love to continue speaking with you about Shakespeare for kids. It has so many interesting facets I can’t possibly explore them all!

  3. What a great idea! I hope you find out all sorts of fascinating things through your research. I’m reading my favourite plays out loud – page-by-page – to my baby boy (unlucky!), he’s 5 months old and can only stand about three-quarters of a page before he protests!

    1. you should definitely check out some of the children’s books out there! There are a ton that may hold his attention longer. You also should check out the Baby Eistein Shakespeare! Let me know how your progress goes.

  4. Really love your project ideas. Children absorb so much at a young age that introducing them to heightened language and concepts can only increase their thirst for higher learning skills. I have been working on the same concept and have had most success, and as an actress i memorizing all of the sonnets. Please keep us posted as you have inspired the work to continue. We should compare notes. ‘From fairest creatures we desire increase, that thereby beauty’s rose might never die’ Sonnet 1

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