“Can we please listen and read the next act, Mom?” begged Abby (caught above reading the play).
Abby is a newcomer to Shakespeare and our co-op where we are enjoying The Winter’s Tale. She’s also only 8 years old. It’s amazing what children are capable of understanding at such young ages.
It’s the original words of an author that I want my children to read, not someone else’s. This is especially true when it comes to Shakespeare. A few parents have recently shared a concern with me about the appropriateness of teaching Shakespeare to children. As it turns out, these parents have been relying on modern translations. (I am not referring to the use of children’s retellings like Lamb’s or Nesbit’s which are helpful introductions when followed by the original work.)
There are at least three issues that arise when relying on modern translations. First, any interpretation will carry with it the interpreter’s worldview and agenda, which can take you on rabbit trails not intended for anyone, let alone children. Second, an off-color remark in Elizabethan English is not nearly as obvious or offensive as a blunt explanation in modern English that often times adds more color than intended.
Thirdly, there is the loss of the beautiful writing and insights. An important reason that we read Shakespeare is to experience the genius of this author to convey his stories with such inspiring prose and verse. So much of this is lost in a modern translation. LittleJack has said to me, “Sometimes, it’s not what Shakespeare says, but how he says it. That’s the point.” Yes, what is said matters, but I think you can see what he is getting at. Also, by focusing on an offensive modern word, we lose sight of what Shakespeare actually did say. It’s a little like not seeing the forest for the trees.
Charlotte Mason said,
“Then, by degrees, as we go on reading this world-teacher, lines of insight and beauty take possession of us, and unconsciously mould our judgments of men and things and of the great issues of life.” Vol. 4, p. 71
Taking my cues from Mason, I recommend using Shakespeare in his original and unabridged format. I recommend the Folger editions, which come with brief scene-by-scene summaries. Children as young as eight, when properly introduced, can certainly follow his writings. Not only can they follow them, but enjoy them as well!