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!