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Four Ways to Celebrate Shakespeare with Your Child

Four Ways to Celebrate Shakespeare with Your Child

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Updated on Apr 15, 2011

“To be, or not to be.” For many parents, William Shakespeare can be distilled into a series of sound bites and memories of high school teachers droning on in what then seemed like another language. What was it that made us so bored by the Bard?

Maybe, suggest some educators, we just weren’t introduced to him early enough.

Lucretia M. Anderson, the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Elementary School Program Coordinator, points out that Shakespeare can be magical for young learners, who are “eager to try something new and...less inhibited and more willing to take risks.” Better yet, elementary students who are just beginning language acquisition and vocabulary skills won’t fear Shakespeare’s unfamiliar words, and aren’t coming at him with the cultural stigma of “high art” clouding their appreciation. This April marks both National Poetry Month and the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth and death day on April 23rd. In honor of both, here are four ways to unlock the world of the so-called “sweet swan of Avon” for your elementary-aged child.

“We know what we are”: Build on What Kids Already Know

Titus Andronicus would be a stretch for your six-year-old, but it’s not that big a leap from Tinker Bell and Pixie Hollow to A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s Titania and her fairy bower. Likewise, Macbeth’s three witches chanting around the cauldron or the magician Prospero in The Tempest may resonate with children who grew up on Harry Potter.

Kids may also recognize the Bard in movie adaptations geared toward their age groups: She’s the Man, for example, sets Shakespeare’s gender-bending Twelfth Night in a high school, The Lion King borrows heavily from Hamlet, and the recent Gnomeo and Juliet casts the star-crossed lovers as animated garden gnomes. “Shakespeare is for everybody,” reminds the Folger Shakespeare Library’s website, “and that includes elementary school students!”

“Words, words, words”: Have Fun with Shakespeare’s Language

Just playing around with Shakespeare’s words makes him more accessible to even the youngest children. Ancient grudge breaking to new mutiny in your household? A light-hearted Shakespearean insult-fest is bound to instigate giggles instead of griping. Lists of Shakespeare’s best zingers are plentiful online—give your kiddos three columns of Shakespearean words and let them have at it, going back and forth to invent and trade goofy one-liners like “Thou spongy, elf-skinned bugbear!” and “Thou mewling, toad-spotted malt-worm!” Better yet, turn the tables and find a list of Shakespeare’s compliments online and exchange sweet nothings—what child wouldn’t chuckle at being affectionately referred to as “Thou sweet, tiger-booted pigeon-egg”?

Shakespeare’s best one-liners: insults from the plays and poems
  • “You juggler! you canker-blossom!” – A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • “Why, thou deboshed fish thou” – The Tempest
  • “What, you egg! Young fry of treachery!” – Macbeth
  • “Thou sodden-witted lord! thou hast no more brain than I have in mine elbows” – Troilus and Cressida
  • “You starvelling, you eel-skin, you dried neat's-tongue” – Henry IV Part I
Shakespeare’s best one-liners: compliments from the plays and poems
  • "But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun." – Romeo and Juliet
  • “I do adore thy sweet grace’s slipper” – Love’s Labours Lost
  • “Thou art the fairest and most precious jewel” – Sonnets
  • “My sweet rose, my dear rose, be merry” – As You Like It
  • “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate” - Sonnets
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