Start 'em Young: Should We Be Teaching Shakespeare to Children?
Speaking to my cousin's seven-year-old daughter this weekend, she announced that she was looking forward to performing "As You Like It, by Wil-liam Shake-speare," carefully but clearly prouncing the Bard's name as though she knew what it meant.
I was taken aback. "You're reading Shakespeare?" I asked, a bit surprised that any first grader would be expected to understand Early Modern English with its "thous" and sundry archaic verbs. I wasn't introduced to Shakespeare until my ninth grade Honors English class read Julius Caesar, and I'm not entirely sure I actually understood very much of it the first time I read it.
She nodded soberly. "As You Like It and Romeo and Juliet," she informed me.
Romeo and Juliet? For first graders? Really?
Turns out they're performing individual scenes from the plays, because even children as incredibly brilliant as my niece would have a difficult time memorizing two entire Shakespeare plays. And while I don't doubt that, as some argue, starting children on a regimen of Shakespeare might make life-long fans, I'm also wondering how appropriate tales of teen suicide are for a bunch of kids. Really, I'm having a hard time thinking of any of the Bard's plays that don't deal with adult themes in a difficult language to read--exactly how much can a seven-year-old really get from As You Like It, or Romeo and Juliet, or the Scottish play?