Discussion time. When, in your opinion, should Shakespeare be introduced? I’m looking for a specific age/grade level. Along with that, what are your *expectations* of understanding Shakespeare at that age?
Last week the topic came up over that whole darned Cliff Notes thing (yet again) and whether you’re assisting students in their introduction to the material (and thus a good thing), or dumbing it down because you acknowledge that they’ll never understand the real thing (which I don’t think anybody is for 🙂 ).
Long time readers know my answer. My kids have heard *about* Shakespeare and his stories since they were born. And I mean that almost literally. My youngest saw his first production of The Tempest while still in his stroller – we were telling that story long before that. The archives for this blog are loaded with stories of me coming home from work and overhearing my daughter playing games with her Barbies which that day were named Ariel, Miranda and Sycorax. Over the years my older kids have taken to reading the “for kids” versions of the plays on their own, and I’m not shy about showing them quotes and explaining their meaning.
As for my expectation, well, that’s sort of my motivation for the question. I’m ok with my 5yr old knowing plot and character. He asked for King Lear, for pete’s sake. *Asked* for it. So when you show me a 17yr old that has to read Romeo and Juliet and goes running for whatever crutches he can find because he’s already convinced it’s too hard and he’s never going to understand it, I get frustrated. Had we just brought them up on these stories from a very young age, this wouldn’t happen as often as it does.
There are other problems with expectation when it comes to Shakespeare. Last night a Twitter follower asked me for help with her Hamlet homework. Her essay question?
“One critic said, ‘Hamlet himself seems stranded between two worlds, unable to emulate the heroic values of his father, unable to engage with the modern world of diplomacy.’ To what extent does this statement explain why Hamlet is a tragic character?”
Are you kidding me?? What high school student, forced to stay awake long enough to even *read* that question let alone *answer* it, will go through life thinking “Wow, I really got into Hamlet, that was an awesome play.” These are students who have just been introduced to it, and are at the same time trying to get their heads around that same story and character that, had they lived in my house, they would have learned 10+ years ago. And you’re asking questions like that?! Are you crazy?!
I suppose it has value, but there are times when I simply *loathe* literary analysis of the plays. I try to go back to what Shakespeare was trying to say, versus what 400 years of critical analysis has read into it, and wonder what we should test kids on. Tell me what you thought of the play. Tell me how you sympathized with the characters, or did not. Where did you rage? Where did you laugh out loud? Why? Which passages do you remember because they resonated with you in just the right way? How do AC Bradley and TS Eliot change what Hamlet means to you?
Ok, rant over. Been busy at the day job so I haven’t been posting as often as I should, and wanted to see if I could get some conversation going.