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Four Ways to Celebrate Shakespeare with Your Child (page 2)

Four Ways to Celebrate Shakespeare with Your Child

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Updated on Apr 15, 2011

Even the sound and cadence of the language is enough to foster appreciation for the man who added some 500 new words and phrases to the English language. The Folger Shakespeare Library suggests having kids create their own stories from some of these Shakespearean coinages—phrases like “vanish into thin air” and “as luck would have it” are so much a part of everyday usage that kids may be surprised to discover they’re actually 400-year-old literary remnants of the renowned playwright.

“If music be the food of love, play on!”: Shakespeare in Music and Art

Another good way to introduce kids to Shakespeare is through art celebrating his plays and poems. John Everett Millais’ The Death of Ophelia or Arthur Rackham’s Puck are both iconic images that can help kids recognize thematic elements of Shakespeare without necessarily having to understand all of the language. The soon-to-be-released Shakespeare’s Art by Jeff A. Menges (Dover, coming mid-April 2011) has over 130 artistic representations of Shakespeare’s works, and Folger-endorsed author Bruce Coville (various publishers) has produced a dramatically-illustrated series of Shakespearean retellings for kids.

Shakespeare’s plays themselves are rife with songs and music, providing yet another way to welcome kids to his world. Let your elementary-age children stomp out the iambic pentameter in the witches’ spell from Macbeth or hear original period instrumentation of Shakespeare’s songs on Michael Mikulin’s Shakesongs website (www.shakesongs.com). Broadway adaptations like Kiss Me, Kate (based on The Taming of the Shrew) or orchestral suites like Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream help even the youngest children recognize the mood of the plays.

“All the world’s a stage”: Shakespeare Through Performance

Naturally, the best way to approach Shakespeare is the way his audiences did 400 years ago: through performance. Many cities offer Shakespeare festivals, and outdoor presentations make Shakespeare especially doable for young children. The Shakespeare Fellowship (www.shakespearefellowship.org) gives a fairly comprehensive list of Shakespearean productions spanning the globe. For parents who can’t get out with their kids to see live Shakespeare, the BBC offers their 4-disc Emmy Award-winning BBC Shakespeare Animated Tales, which condenses the Bard into 30-minute, kid-friendly adaptations.

You can also have your children act out their own scenes: the Folger Shakespeare Library’s website has abbreviated versions of the Bard’s best plays that can be easily adapted for younger actors. It’s important, notes Folger Elementary School Program Coordinator Lucretia M. Anderson, to choose a resource that doesn’t water down Shakespeare’s language too much: “We want them [kids] to become engaged with the beauty of the language, as opposed to using paraphrased versions...children do get it.”

“Not of an age, but for all time”: Shakespeare for Everyone

Still think your kid is too young for Shakespeare? Not so, says Anderson: “We are definitely advocates of introducing Shakespeare to elementary students. We believe this allows students the opportunity to unlock the language and have the ability to really enjoy Shakespeare in their secondary school years and beyond!”

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