I love Shakespeare. I have crushed on his words and poetic devices since I was very small and my parents would take my siblings and I to witness the overwhelmingly gorgeous productions of his plays in Louisville’s Shakespeare in Central Park every summer. Though free to the public, these productions were never skimpy. I remember the stage being covered in candlelight when necessary, sumptuous costumes, soldiers marching from the stage between the rows of the audience… all very exciting to a small child who half-believed the characters were real.
I think those early days in that lovely park, the darkness closing about us like a thin blanket to shut out the disturbances of a city night, are what made it easy for me when I reached high school and had to read Shakespeare for lit class. I had been hearing the language for so long it made perfect sense to me. I want my littles to have that same lack of struggle when reading Shakespeare, though we live too far away from Louisville now to make the Park a regular childhood thing.
This year, April 23rd marks the 400th year of Shakespeare’s death as well as being the day we celebrate his birth. Historians are not 100% sure the 23rd is his actual birthday, but they know he was baptized on April 26. Since the usual day of baptism occurred at 3 days old back then, it is assumed that he was born on April 23. Close enough. Gives us a chance to celebrate the Bard and his works on a specific day (though we hardly need one). It also gives us the curious fact that Shakespeare may have died on his birthday. He was a unique man, no doubt.
To give my Littles an early introduction to Shakespeare, I have done everything from taking them to local high school productions to watching films with them. They love West Side Story, so I made it into a lesson on how it’s based on Romeo and Juliet. I have several prose versions of Shakespeare’s works that are written specifically for kids, and we read them from time to time just to keep our hand in. I think they’re old enough now to really read one of the plays, so I am going to be introducing them to Macbeth over the summer. It is my all-time favorite. I know, people always think I’m weird for that–What about Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet? Well, I crush on every single play, and every time I read or see one of them, I discover something new to love. But Macbeth was the very first play I read for myself, and I was so drawn into the intrigue and the resulting guilt and all the consequences that I could not get enough. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not big on love stories for the sake of love stories, so the romance plays have a slightly less draw for me than the political ones. Though I have to admit, my favorite Shakespeare line is in Romeo and Juliet: “I’ll prove more true than those that have more cunning to be strange.”
I love that Juliet is saying, “Listen, dude, I know I’m throwing it all out there for you, but you’ll find me more honest and loyal than the girls that play games.”
Yeah yeah. Nobody likes a player.
If you want to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday with your littles, there are lots of ways to introduce the Bard without confusing the heck out of them.
Watch West Side Story, Ten Things I Hate About You, or Shakespeare in Love.
Joseph Fiennes as Shakespeare? My dear, I will take it. On any given day. Give me a lovely image to go with that way with words… Oh, I’m there.
But this isn’t about Your Pleasure, Mama, it’s about your littles getting a glimpse into Shakespeare’s time, his rivalry with Christopher Marlowe, and what he went through to get his plays produced. You will have to fast-forward through some of the more loving parts, but the movie (while not being entirely accurate) is beautiful.
Ten Things I Hate About You is based on The Taming of the Shrew, and if you can’t get the Elizabeth Taylor film of the play (or even if you can), this teen flick might be easier for your littles to follow so they can understand the plot. Plus, Kat’s poem at the end of the movie is a great example of a Shakespeare-type sonnet. Also, Heath Ledger.
I think West Side Story is one of the most faithful, if not The Most, musical adaptations of a Shakespearean work. That could be bias as I was raised to be a Jet.
Find book adaptations for children.
If you search Shakespeare in Children’s Books on Amazon, you’ll get over 2000 hits. There has to be something in there that will tickle your fancy. I particularly like Shakespeare’s Stories for Young Readers by E. Nesbit. It has 12 of the Bard’s plays done in prose while retaining much of the language that people often find tricky. It is a really good introduction to Shakespeare’s work by an author we already adore. If only Macbeth were included in the lineup, it would be perfect. Perhaps Nesbit thought it too bloody for littles? Out, out, damn spot.
Go to my subscriber freebies and download this great Shakespeare Quote worksheet, which introduces your littles to the language in short bites and gives them an opportunity to interpret quotes for themselves.
Check out these great websites for more ways to celebrate:
This Sweet Life Books, unit studies, and other resources
Hub Pages Paper puppets, anyone? Bring the plays to life for your littles with some very cool crafts.
31 Cups has a cool pic with a listing of a lot of the things we say today that we don’t even realize come from Shakespeare.
Ed Snapshots Throw a Shakespeare party? Yes, please.
BBC Shakespeare’s plays animated. Because when has the BBC ever let us down?
Shakespeare can be fun and inspiring even for the littlest of littles. It’s even more fun when they realize they’ve been influenced by his work in myriad ways all their lives. So plan something cool for the 23rd. And fall in love with Shakespeare all over again.