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Shakespeare for Children and the Young.. at Heart

“Shakespeare 4 Kidz” may not be the perfect monicker, but it’s memorable and does “exactly what it says on the tin”.  – Shakespeare 4 Kidz (http://www.shakespeare4kidz.com)

 

William Shakespeare as we all know him is considered to be the greatest playwright of all time. Everyone might not know him really well, might not have read some or all his works, and might only be familiar about him because he/she heard Shakespeare from others, but Shakespeare is Shakespeare.

It has been a long debate and discussion regarding what Shakesperean really means and no one (that I know of) has come up with a concrete answer that everyone will agree with. We can all just assume and lay out our arguments, but what really makes something Shakesperean?

Purists might stick to their guns that Shakespeare is (only) if one is utterly faithful to the original meaning of the texts. They might not be able to appreciate spinoffs, adaptations, parodies, etc. They’re the mercenaries in preserving the real spirit of Shakespeare’s texts. On the other hand, there’s a group of people who’s open to other forms and versions of Shakespeare. Sometimes, no matter how crappy it gets or how far it deviates from the original text, the non Purists would still accept. It is all about artistic freedom after all. As long as Shakespeare’s spirit is there, it is Shakespeare.

I am a little bit in between.

If someone will be too faithful to the original text, I wouldn’t say that is still Shakespeare because if that is the case, Shakespeare is the only Shakeperean. It is only the author who can stay true to the original meaning of the texts because those are his own brainchildren in the first place. It’s only him who purely knows his texts. In addition, if this is the case, what happened to people exercising their artistic freedom and creativity? It would be boring if there’s nothing new that the artist can offer to his/her audience. It would be a mere copycat.

I laugh at parodies. I am okay with versions that quite deviates from the text, but not entirely. Still, I know there is a part of me that screams purist, if not totally. The debate can just go on and on and we enjoy the… Bottomline, it depends on people’s tastes and preferences. We can’t force everyone to agree with us. So, let’s just all benefit from what The Bard has bestowed on us.

This course has sparked my interest more about Shakespeare, I may not be that knowledgeable about him before as I am now and I am proud of the knowledge I gained this semester. Shakespeare is just everywhere and has become an icon, a symbol, a brand, etc. and it is like a shame if one has no knowledge of him. At some point, I kept muttering to myself, “I wish the great author was introduced to me when I was a kid.” That inspired me to write about this.

During the first part of this course, we discussed about how Shakespeare was introduced to kids or young readers. We have read adaptations and stories written by Charles and Mary Lamb as well as children’s storybooks packed with graphics and texts. We have also watched the cartoon version of Hamlet and The Tempest. If my memory served me right, it was discussed at some point how these texts intended for children lose their “beauty” and original sense because simpler words need to be used for children’s comprehension.

Tales From Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb

Here’s a comic book for children about Shakespearean texts with a twist. Each page has side comments on the borders and is fun to read. The characters are spectators and at the same time part of the comic book as well. It is heavily packed with graphics and texts everywhere which would look chaotic but children these days would enjoy to read the text or just the drawings or both. Especially in this day and age of multitasking, a single medium won’t be that much appealing. As they say, “The more the merrier.”

Tales From Shakespeare Seven Plays presented by Marcia Williams

Additionally, aside from story books, there are also guides on how to teach children about Shakespeare and his texts.

Presents the life and works of Shakespeare. Includes activities to introduce Elizabethan times, including making costumes, making and using a quill pen, and binding a book by hand.

Provides attractive and suitable teaching materials to help teachers introduce their students to Shakespeare in a wide range of active ways.

Shakespeare’s media has reached the children as well, even if most of his works are applicable for adult viewers only. Teaching kids about Shakespeare has also now become accessible through the World Wide Web. There are trivia, pop quizzes, activities, and programs for teachers readily available for use. For  example, http://www.folger.edu/index.cfm offers a wide variety of accessible resources to Shakespeare. Though, resources are still limited compared to what the actual library can offer, but online services are divided to cater to those who want to learn and teach Shakespeare at the tip of their finger. There are fun game quizzes to play in http://www.folger.edu/Content/Teach-and-Learn/Shakespeare-for-Kids/ that even adult enthusiasts might enjoy.

E-books are also available if a child is not fan of paper. There are free downloads one can get from sites like http://www.manybooks.net. One needs to download the free PDF format or any format convenient for him or her in order to access the text. Though, most of the Shakespeare for children e-books available online comes with a cost like in http://www.nosweatshakespeare.com/shakespeare-for-kids.htm and http://www.amazon.com/Shakespeares-Comedy-Errors-Kids-ebook/dp/B00365F65U.

Knowledge is not just limited to what the children can read. Theater can also be an effective tool to educate children about Shakespeare. After reading with them the books or by letting them read alone, it would also be best to let them watch the plays to introduce the media that most of these texts were originally intended for. Though, reading the text is not a requirement before watching the play, but it would be best to give them knowledge first to avoid the endless whispers of questions during the entire show.

I quote from Amy Bizzri’s entry in chicagoparent.com: “I had briefly outlined the basic story to him before the show, so I wouldn’t have to answer too many whispered questions during…. and judging by the other children’s eager questions during the standard Q&A session with the actors post-show, I’d say that this production captured the interest of not only our son.” She watched the play, “Short Shakespeare! Macbeth” a production by Chicago Shakespeare Theater, together with her husband and son.

Click link for photos: http://www.chicagoshakes.com/main.taf?p=2,19,3,32,1,24

Click link for more information about the play: http://www.chicagoshakes.com/main.taf?p=2,19,3,32

Shakespeare 4 Kidz is a group that specifically caters to young audiences. They have sprung from theater production creative education and school production and now they are to launch this year three Shakespeare movies currently in production, “Romeo and Juliet,” “Macbeth,” and “Hamlet.” http://www.shakespeare4kidz.com/s4k-films/s4k-films.html

They came up with the name “Shakespeare 4 Kidz” or S4K because they want to be remembered easily. As what they wrote in their website, they wanted something that sounded catchy and showed they are different without sounding elitist. Though, that can be quite contradicting. Shakespeare, in the first place has become a brand of the elite that is only shared to the “masses” for the sake of imparting the knowledge. Moreover, the prices they (S4K) have for their workshops and “Play Pack” are expensive. Well, I converted the price to Philippine Peso and that was my basis for saying it’s really expensive. I just don’t know in a European’s point of view if it is still expensive. To note, the prices online do not include the taxes yet. For more info, click the links: http://www.shakespeare4kidz.com/education and http://www.shakespeare4kidz.com/putonaplay.

Anyway, that’s besides the point. The theater company presents musicals about Shakespeare’s plays and has performed to different places outside of U.K. as well. Their version of Romeo and Juliet (2009) reminded of the movie Romeo+Juliet by Baz Luhrmann. Romeo is this guy blond guy and the Montague cousins wearing the colorful and flowery polo blouses.

The music at the end of the trailer reminded me of the “Jellicle Song” from the musical Cats.

 

The characterization of Hamlet is quite different from the versions I have watched before. He does not look like a prince in this play, the character/actor exemplified a mad person – well, exactly what Hamlet has become. However, he didn’t come quite convincing as a prince, he looked more of a court jester. On the other hand, the actor has become an effective character to convey to young audiences that Hamlet has gone mad because of his Father’s death. The phantom apparition also appeared creepy. It seemed real or maybe it’s just the power of film, I am not sure if it still appeared real on stage.

 

Their production of Midsummer Nights Dream appeared comical and appealing to the young audiences.. The costume and makeup was very colorful and appeared to be magical. The play looked like a fairy tale at first glance. The set design was simple but based on the trailer, it’s interesting to watch with the kids.

 

It is interesting to note how young minds are shaped regarding Shakespeare. What I appreciate is that, so far, I haven’t encountered any that turned Shakespeare’s tragedy into Disney. Though, the language was simplified, yet, it did not deviate from the original sense of the text. Macbeth, Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet are plays that most parents would refuse to let their children watch because of the violence and madness. They think that these are not healthy for their young minds. We should not underestimate children these days, it is surprising how they can comprehend and appreciate something as complicated as Shakespeare. Adults should just guide the younger ones especially with the information they get so easily. If one does not know how to filter properly, there’s a possibility of grounding oneself in a sea of information.

 

References:

“Shakespeare for Kids: His Life and Times, 21 Activities – Shakespeare – Books – Books & Media.” Plimoth Shops. Web. 10 Mar. 2011. <http://www.plimoth.com/books-media/books/shakespeare/shakespeare-for-kids-his-life-and-times-21-activities.html&gt;.

“Behind Bars: Readings on Prison Culture @ Books @ Smart Shop Buy Dot Com.” Home Decorations, Solutions, Lighting, Tools, Sports Products and More @ SmartSthopBuy.com. Web. 10 Mar. 2011. <http://smartshopbuy.com/books/behind-bars-readings-on-prison-culture.htm&gt;.

Bizzari, Amy. “Review and Giveaway: Shakespeare for Kids – Macbeth at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater – Windy City Mama | ChicagoParent.com.” Home | ChicagoParent.com. 31 Jan. 2011. Web. 13 Mar. 2011. <http://www.chicagoparent.com/community/windy-city-mama/2010/giveaway-of-the-week-short-shakespeare!-macbeth-family-ticket-pack&gt;.

“Chicago Shakespeare Theater – Short Shakespeare! Macbeth.” Chicago Shakespeare Theater – Home. Web. 16 Mar. 2011. <http://www.chicagoshakes.com/main.taf?p=2,19,3,32&gt;.

“Shakespeare For Kids: Shakespeare’s Plays For Children.” Shakespeare Resources: Modern English Shakespeare Translations. Web. 16 Mar. 2011. <http://www.nosweatshakespeare.com/shakespeare-for-kids.htm&gt;.

“Shakespeare…comic Book Style?” The Book Children. 10 Sept. 2010. Web. 16 Mar. 2011. <http://www.thebookchildren.com/2010/09/tales-from-shakespeare.html&gt;.

Preface from the book Tales from Shakespeare (Written 1805-1806) – Reading reference for English 198

Videos courtesy of youtube.com

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Categories: Multimedia Essays
  1. hypoperfusion
    March 25, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    When I read this entry, I remembered what Ma’am Ick mentioned about different institutions’ teaching of Shakespeare to children not only to promote accessibility, but also to serve as a long term marketing campaign. They are made early on as customers, and the appreciation can hold until they’ve grown up, at which point, they can then also pass on Shakespeare to their children–thus, continually supporting the reasons for those institutions’ existence.

    “What I appreciate is that, so far, I haven’t encountered any that turned Shakespeare’s tragedy into Disney.” Haha, do you hate Disney? It’s interesting though if they do make one. Disney production, after all, is one of the most patronized by children all over the world, and the adults who take care of them.

    • jbd
      March 28, 2011 at 5:02 am

      Thanks for your additional note on this entry. Haha, no, i don’t hate Disney. It’s just that they create something which is sometimes too different from the original text and giving it a title as “Macbeth,” for example. It sometimes misleads people like how I was misled by their adaptation of Hercules. Lol. That’s why guidance and disclaimers are important too.

      Yes, it is indeed interesting if they make one.. especially if they’ll try to make it a “happily ever after.” The reactions from the critics/Shakespeare scholars will be so interesting too. Haha. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why they haven’t made one yet.

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