Shakespeare can be a very intimidating subject to introduce. Isn’t the language archaic and difficult? There is no way children today can relate to it! Actually, once examined and simplified, many of Shakespeare’s plays are incredibly relatable. The themes within the plots were created not only as pure art but also to entertain the masses, so Shakespeare’s plays were the hot ticket in his day, and they can still be enjoyed that way today.
You don’t have to wait for high school to do Shakespeare with your kids. If you do any reading aloud or movie watching together, you can do Shakespeare together at any age. Shakespeare can and should be introduced to children. The discussions about betrayal, cowardice, truth, and love can wait for high school, but the enjoyment of the plots, the characters, and the language doesn’t have to wait. Introducing children to the world of the plays will help them feel more at home and navigate those deeper waters later in a more knowledgeable and understanding way because they’ll already know the stories.
STEP ONE: INTRODUCE THE PLAY IN A FUN WAY
The first step is to do basically a Cliff’s-Notes version of the play. When the plot and the storyline are known beforehand, then the attention is free to enjoy the details without having to keep track of who is who. Be sure to introduce the play with an engaging retelling.
Start off with a little history lesson about who Shakespeare is and what his Globe Theatre was like. Then introduce the basics of the plot. Try to find a beautiful picture book version of the story.
STEP TWO: WATCH THE PLAY
Shakespeare was meant to be seen, not read. Find and watch multiple versions of a play and see how differences of inflection, of setting, and of context put completely different spins on the lines. This is the beauty of Shakespeare. None of them are “Right.” Scripts allow actors room to interpret their characters and get into character, reflecting on humanity as they do so. Is Hamlet’s ghost to be trusted? How that ghost is portrayed will affect how you feel about that central plot point. Shakespeare’s plays and themes are complex, as life and people are.
Of course, you, as the parent, should always watch a Shakespeare production yourself before viewing it with your children. You’re going for an experience that will leave your children with a positive enjoyment of Shakespeare, so watch the movie options beforehand and try to find ones that will be a good fit for your family. You can also check Youtube for recordings of live productions!
STEP 3: BE THE PLAY!
Of course, the best way to engage with Shakespeare is to be the one performing it! True knowing and understanding can come when we make the material our own when we recreate or represent it in some sort of personal expression. In history or grammar, that might involve writing or speaking, but the most natural way to add personal expression with Shakespeare is to be the actor the play is directing. Add costuming and props in order to give your children the chance to act out Shakespeare. If your child is not big into acting, here are some other low-key, low-commitment ways to add doing to your studies:
- Duplo or LEGO scenes & characters (try recording it for your own movie production)
- Illustrated comic book versions of selected scenes
- Monologues dramatically delivered
- Puppets – handcrafted, popsicle stick, finger puppets, paper dolls – can be recorded to make a movie.
There are many facets of theatre, from stand-up comedy to Shakespeare! Drama Kids International allows children of all ages to experience everything theatre has to offer within our developmental drama program. Check it out today!