Children are made to learn bits of Shakespeare by heart, with the result that ever after they associate him with pedantic boredom. If they could meet him in the flesh, full of jollity and ale, they would be astonished...But if at school they had been inoculated against him, they will never be able to enjoy him. [...] Shakespeare did not write with a view to boring school-children; he wrote with a view to delighting his audiences...
- Bertrand Russell, New Hopes for a Changing World (1951), p. 201.
William Shakespeare. The bane of all high school teenagers. The thick verse. The strange words. The "I just can't understand it!" "I hate Shakespeare." "What the heck is iambic pentameter??" Well, you don't hate Shakespeare. You just haven't been put in a position to appreciate it because no one exposed you to it correctly. Shakespeare invented 1700 words and phrases that are now in our English language. You'd be surprised to know that bedazzle, addiction, gloomy, swagger, and rant are his inventions. He also coined phrases such as "break the ice," "in a pickle," and "neither rhyme nor reason." (here's a cool page...A list of Shakespeare's words and phrases. It's not an exhaustive list of course). The greatest disservice to Shakespeare in high school (and forgive me if I irritate some school teachers here) is that Shakespeare is read, not seen. I think every student should WATCH a production of a play and then read the text. I wonder if this would have a better outcome and make the plays less frustrating. **Here's a handy little tip. The more you read or listen to Shakespeare the easier it becomes to understand. You might find yourself a little lost for the first 15-20 minutes but most people start to fall right into the language. It's not so different from our language today. Fear of the verse is what seems to make people deaf.
|Claudius and Hamlet|
Many cities have Shakespeare in the Park type productions. Often these productions are free to the public, or are staged for a nominal fee. Many of these companies subsist on donations and grants (bring a couple of singles with you and drop a few dollars in the bucket when it's passed around). Many people don't how much time and effort goes into a production of a work of Shakespeare. It's not easy. I can barely memorize a stanza or two of a poem. Can you imagine having to memorize (and act out) several thousand lines of Shakespearean English? But why go through all of that for a play? Simply, these plays are that important to society...all society.
((**Note: Shakespeare is not Old English or even Middle English. For all intents and purpose Old English is virtually unreadable for the average person and Middle English is the language in which Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales. Shakespeare is Modern English. You heard it right. MODERN English.))
How to NOT Make Going to See a Shakespeare Play a Chore
Start young. Take your children to see outdoor productions. Remember this part...this is important...watching Shakespeare as a child is NOT NOT NOT about understanding every word. It's about exposure. Let your child hear the words, see the action, people watch the audience. What kind of people go to Shakespearean plays? All sorts of people. People like you and me. The greatest Shakespeare scholars to the person who's never seen a play in his life.
|Nope. Not asleep. Relaxed and enjoying...the strangulation scene?|
|And example of a page from the No Fear Shakespeare collection|
See if you can find a modern visual interpretation. Many of the movie productions move out of the typical Elizabethan settings and clothing opting to reinterpret the plays using a modern backdrop. And it's very easy to do so. Shakespeare's plays are timeless. Ian McKellan's Richard III takes place in WWIIish Britain. The story transfers easily. The Kevin Kline version of A Midsummer Night's Dream takes place during the turn of the century as opposed to Ancient Thebes. The Othello we went to see today was set in the backdrop of WWII. Period costumes and music were used. My kid is a history buff as well so she actually recognized the music.
|The set for the 2014 production of Othello in Allentown, PA (8-9-14)|
Watch the following video before you go see any Shakespeare play. No. I'm serious. Watch this. You will laugh yourself into stitches (that's from Twelfth Night...see what I did there??!) It's kid friendly with the exception of the Punch and Judy scene. You might want to mute it (it's a wee bit racy). Mute from 1 hour 15 minutes until 1 hour 17 minutes.
How about Moonlighting's version of The Taming of the Shrew? This one will also have you in stitches. Quite a few modern references.
If you make it OK to like Shakespeare your child may grow to love him as I hope my child will. Remember that you are the greatest influence in your child's life. If you squish your eyes, wrinkle your nose, and say "I hate Shakespeare" chances are that's the exact same position your child will take. If you don't care for Shakespeare (or don't understand it) go on a journey together. If you have to read the "No Fear Shakespeare" version of the play before you see the play do it. Do what you have to to enjoy it. Maddie said to me after Othello, "you know when you see it it makes more sense." So it does grasshopper. So it does.
|Curtain call for Allentown's SitP's production of Othello|
*Allentown Shakespeare in the Park Facebook Page
*The Allentown Shakespeare in the Park Company: Fractured Atlas
*My apologies to my beloved Shakespeare professor Dr. L. Fletcher if I mucked up any information.
|I had to throw this in...sorry.|