Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Shakespeare For Wee Ones

So I'm thinking it's time to introduce the kiddles (6, 4 and 2, and although the 2 doesn't really count yet...) to a new Shakespeare play.  Thus far we've done:

  • The Tempest.  They love it.  I've told them the story, I've read them "children's" versions, I've shown them picture books, we've discussed details, and they've seen a production.
  • Romeo and Juliet, edited.  They know a version with a happy ending where everybody wakes up.  They have a movie, Sealed With A Kiss, which is an animated feature about two warring families of seals.  It's surprisingly good once you adjust your expectations.  I choose not to expose them to the real ending yet. My 6yr old knows about it in theory, but based on her questions she's not ready to see it for real yet.
  • As You Like It.  I read a children's version of this one to them in preparation for the Boston production this summer, but they did not seem to really get it like they got Tempest.  Perhaps it was because I read it directly from a book with few pictures, where I did the Tempest from memory?
  • Midsummer Night's Dream.  I tried to explain this one to my 6yr old, but she got confused too fast.
  • King Lear, edited.  They know a very slimmed down version of King Lear which reads much like Cinderella.  Namely, "two bad sisters who treat their father poorly, and one good sister who comes back to rescue him from the forest."  I realize it's not even close to the real thing, but I like the idea of my 4yr old daughter naming her dolls Ariel, Genevieve, Cordelia, Regan and Goneril.
  • Macbeth, aborted.  My 6yr old tried to read one of my Macbeth graphic novels and gave up because it was far too violent.

So I'm wondering what to tackle next.  I would like to make progress with Midsummer, but clearly trying to tell it like a bedtime story does not work very well.  I'm toying with the idea of using their Legos and other dolls to illustrate who is who. 

I don't think they'd get much out of Much Ado, the themes are a bit too grown up.  Likewise with Shrew.

What else?  I think the common theme is that they like little to no violence (even in Romeo and Juliet the confrontations are limited to stuff like "Romeo got mad because the Prince made Mercutio fall off the cliff, so Romeo pushed the prince off the cliff" where everybody lands in the water and survives), and mistaken identity makes it too confusing (As You Like It, Dream). 

I'm not as familiar with the late plays (Winter's Tale, Cymbeline, etc...) as I should be.  Is there anything in there that I could translate down to kidspeak?  What is it about The Tempest that is so different from the other plays, and where did Shakespeare repeat those themes?


Nicole said...

I think that you should give Midsummer another try. In my studies, I have found similar themes in Midsummer and The Tempest. They are both home to a "created world" of sorts. In Tempest, Prospero is creator. In Midsummer, Oberon is creator. Puck causes a case of mistaken identity, and Oberon enters to recreate things as they should have been. They both engage a dreamlike world of events. Perhaps if you just focused on one of the story lines, either the lovers or the players, you might have an easier time making a good version for them.

Have you thought about Twelfth Night? It is my favorite, so I am a little biased; but the mistaken identities of twins are always fun stories to tell.

Duane said...

Hi Nicole,

Thanks for the ideas. I did try Twelfth Night briefly, but fell into the same category as AYLI, where the mistaken identity left them detached from the story.

I'm wondering if Dream told from the perspective of the fairies might make an interesting tale for kids... Not quite sure how you start with "Well the fairies kidnapped this human boy and were fighting over who gets him", though. :)

Nicole said...

The fairy perspective is a good idea. Maybe you could say that the boy had to go stay with the fairies because he got lost?

ren girl said...

It's too bad Twelfth Night didn't work--that's my favorite too. :) Try it when they're a little older, maybe.

Hmm...for this age group...Winter's Tale is pretty good, actually. I would give that a try. Because it has a happy ending (more or less) and romance and adventure, and is about forgiveness, which is a nice thing for kids to learn. :) It could just be as simple as, "The king got sad and angry because he thought his wife loved somebody else" without having to get into the sexual infidelity issues.

-ren girl

Allison said...

I've been lurking on your blog for a while, but when I read this I knew that I just had to throw my two cents in.

I read The Merchant of Venice for the first time this summer, and was immediately struck by the impression that it follows the model of a traditional fairy tale. You have a benefactor (Antonio), a hero (Bassanio), a virtuous princess (Portia), a villain (Shylock), and a test (the puzzle of the three chests).

Now, Shylock might be a little scary--the suspense of the "pound of flesh" bit would need to be toned down--but I don't recall any significant violence. Also, depending on how your kids handle sub-plots, you could probably get away with skipping Lorenzo and Jessica (but only if you thought it would get too confusing). I definitely think that Merchant could be translated into some very enjoyable "kidspeak," though.


Duane said...

You know something, Allison? I'd never thought of it! Of course I think I'd also have to skip the whole "Shylock is evil because he's Jewish" thing - don't want the kids bringing that up at playgroup! :) But it's certainly an interesting idea, I'll take a look and see if it can be broken down into something the kids can follow. From what I recall, the puzzle of the three chests doesn't really play significantly into the climax, does it? It's really the pound of flesh thing that's the big crowning glory, so if I'm going to edit that I'll have to be creative...

Alan K.Farrar said...

Part of the trick is to separate out different elements of the plot ... do just the 'mechanicals' from AMND and you have a good story ... another time do just the lovers (Shakespeare did the opposite ... bringing different stories together).

You can do that with several of the plays ... even The Shrew (if you only do the 'middle' plot, Bianca and her suitors).

Henry IV is also up for a 'kids' re-telling ...

Folk tales are behind all the plays to some extent.