Is Shakespeare for You?
"A good education for every child does not mean the same education for every child."
Web Page by Pauline Harding for Art Nurk, firstname.lastname@example.org
Choose the right play. Comedies are best for younger kids and first-timers, with A Midsummer Night's Dream an excellent choice. The tragedies like Macbeth or Hamlet are more suitable for older kids, as there may be a lot of violence and the plot is harder for little ones to grasp.
How young? They will have to sit still and reasonably quiet throughout the performance. These plays can be quite long. Assuming they can sit quietly, I’m guessing 8 or 9 is not too young for comedies if you prepare a bit ahead of time; 10 or so is a good age to start tragedies; sensitive children may need to wait a year or two longer. The occasional well-behaved, well-prepared, interested child who has been taken to the theater often may be ready for the comedies at a younger age.
Actively parent your child during the show. Parents may want to sit close to younger kids so they can quietly explain what is going on, and provide reassurance if there are any loud noises or scary parts.
Read a summary of the play before you go. I like Lambs' Tales from Shakespeare, because they use a lot of the actual text. If you do not read a summary, you will be hopelessly lost. I usually read the summary aloud, sentence by sentence, and after each sentence I “translate” it into something my kids understand. Since the Lambs’ summaries use text from the play, this method helps the children understand the Shakespearian language the actors will use. They’ll also understand who the characters are.
There’s no need to do extensive study of the play – that can wait until your child has seen a number of plays and acquired a love and appreciation of Shakespeare. Read a summary together, see the play, enjoy it, discuss it afterwards as you would any family outing and you’re set.
Two plays a year from the age of 9 or 10, done this way, is excellent preparation for high school and college literature courses.
A good source for more information about Shakespeare is Mr. William Shakespeare and the Internet.
We are fans of the Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival.