Monday, February 8, 2010

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?

4 comments:

Homero said...

Every first grader should read "The Prince" and "Titus Adronicus."

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

I was thinking about it, and ALL of them involve (a) murder most foul; (b) suicide; (c) racism; (d) sexism; (e) something else that involves a good deal of critical thinking to discern what is done from what is right.

But Titus Adronicus for first graders would be a hilarious Daily Show skit.

Homero said...

I had a friend who would work theater/Shakespeare camps for school age children. Her dream was to one day have the kids do Titus Adronicus.

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

Have you ever seen The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)? They do Titus Adronicus as a cooking show. That would be hilarious with a bunch of kids missing their two front teeth.

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