In my last column, I talked about the importance of introducing fine arts to young children. To recap that subject, here is what I wrote:
Why Study Fine Arts?
Charlotte Mason, a 19th century British educator, believed that exposing children to great ideas and beauty in all areas inspired them to greatness as well. She theorized that by letting them become familiar with the best artists, composers, and writers, they would be less willing to settle for mediocrity in themselves. As Elizabeth Gutman said in her book, The Story of Art, part of The Bookshelf for Boys and Girls series: “The magic power of art can arouse all kinds of emotions in us, from simple joy to much deeper feelings. And artists are great people whose works can gladden our eyes, enrich our thoughts, and deepen our feelings.”
I think these words can apply to ALL areas of the fine arts. And with today’s norm of following the crowd or being happy with the status quo, we should want our children to be inspired and motivated to strive for more—to reach for excellence instead of being content with the marginal.
I also introduced the topic of picture study in the last column. Now I would like to discuss the most famous bard of all time, William Shakespeare, and how a ‘Shakespeare Study’ can benefit even young children.
William Shakespeare ultimately helped to shape the English language. Because of him, we now have such phrases as ‘in a pickle,’ ‘all’s well that ends well,’ ‘love is blind’, ‘wild goose chase’, and countless others. In fact, Shakespeare is credited with coining or creating close to 2000 words and phrases that are now part of our daily usage. In addition, his language is challenging, with tight and concise sentences. Vocabularies are sure to be increased when reading Shakespearean plays or poetry. And most of all, Shakespeare was a master of plot and a great storyteller of history. He knew the Bible and mythology, and drew from both, and it is evident that his writing was definitely influenced by Christianity. I’ve often heard that if a person is familiar with the Bible, mythology, and Shakespeare, he will always have a greater understanding of any literature as well as human nature. Ideas of greed, love, hatred, self-loathing, pity, generosity, courage, and even misunderstandings are ageless.
Why Start Young?
If a child is introduced to Shakespeare early, he will not be apprehensive about studying the plays when he is in high school. When he is young he will certainly not understand all the twists, turns, and nuances that Shakespeare employs, but he can most definitely read simplified versions and keep track of the basic plot and characters and learn the ‘stories’ behind the plays. When he is older, he will already have a basic understanding of Shakespeare’s work and be able to build upon that foundation with a deeper understanding of the plots and the moral and historical significances. He will recognize within the characters a mixture of sinfulness and goodness—just as we all are in real life. He will see weaknesses and strengths in the players within the layers of each story.
Children around the age of six might enjoy Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children by E. Nesbit, author of the Railway Children. Ms. Nesbit retold twenty of Shakespeare’s dramas in story form to make them more accessible to a younger audience, which is the perfect introduction to the bard for children.
The next step up might be Tales From Shakespeare by the brother/sister team of Charles and Mary Lamb. Published in 1807, this book includes all of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies and tragedies. The tales are retold in a clear and exceptional literary style, and the Lambs even borrowed vocabulary and phrases from the actual plays.
Other Resources for Younger Students:
Starting with Shakespeare: Successfully Introducing Shakespeare to Children by Todd Daubert
Shakespeare for Kids: His Life and Times, 21 Activities (For Kids series) by Colleen Aagesen and Margie Blumberg
Shakespeare Can Be Fun series by Lois Burdett
Shakespeare Stories by Leon Garfield
Bard of Avon: The Story of William Shakespeare by Diane Stanley
As a child grows older, the actual plays will become more accessible to him. Because he is already acquainted with the language and characters, Shakespeare’s dramas will seem like old friends that become more enjoyable and appreciated through the years. William Shakespeare had the talent of revealing things that man needs to see in himself—whether good or bad. And as another actor wrote of him, “He was not of an age but for all time.”
Karen Andreola states in her book, A Charlotte Mason Companion, that Shakespeare’s plays provide us “with thoughtful entertainment, a look at human nature, the beauty of the English language, animated scenes from history, and even a good laugh.” Young children can enjoy the same!
Originally published at The National Writing For Children Center.