Monday, October 12, 2009

How Old Is Too Young?

Over at The Shakespeare Place, regular commenter JM has finally put up a topic that’s near and dear to my heart : kids and Shakespeare. 

Regular readers know my answer.  Cruise back through the archives (sorry, I am way too busy at the day job to bring up the links) and you’ll find recordings of my kids – as young as 2 – reciting Sonnet 18.  Or my 3yr old naming her Barbie dolls Regan and Goneril, and asking to sleep with King Lear under her pillow.  Or my 5yr old asking me to explain Hamlet’s ghost.  Or drawing the shipwreck scene from The Tempest on the back of her placemat at breakfast.

The all too common response to Shakespeare among schoolchildren is “Oh, no.”  What I get from my children is “Oh, cool!”

I think that most people start late, and then only come to appreciate what Shakespeare really means later in life.  I am hoping beyond hope that my kids get the kind of jumpstart I never had, and who knows, maybe go on to discover depths as yet undiscovered.


Marie said...

I love having children learn to read and recite (and memorize) poetry. It's got to do great things for their brains, like learning music. And you can't do much better than Shakespeare. I love your point of view on this! :-)

JM said...

Thanks Duane,

I'm willing to bet your little geeklets do just fine with "bardspeake". I will do the search.

When I played Macbeth, my 4 year old daughter was solid on the entire Tomorrow speech before I was, just from hearing me read it out loud. In my experience, kids take to it like magnets. It gives them a sense of empowerment. It's amazing, the resistance to the idea that children that age can't handle it. Some of them handle it better, right off the bat, than some pros I've worked with. :)

David said...

I think that's fabulous, inspiring, all the anecdotes here. I don't really sing, so I've been reciting Shakespeare to my 6-month old for a couple months now as I put him to sleep. He's surely heard Hamlet's "To be" soliloquy at least a hundred times if he's heard it once. I'll be talking about that at my blog at some point.

That's the thing with Shakespeare and children: Adults keep the Bard away from them until they're well into their teens, and then they're told it's "hard" and that they won't understand it. A prescription for failure. Kudos to anyone who gives children a chance with Shakespeare early.

JM said...

But David, you ARE singing. Shakespeare's verse is music, his words are the notes, you and your voice are the instruments. And I'm not just speaking metaphorically. There's a lot more to it but briefly:

Just as in music, there are rhythms, undercurrents to float upon, and vibrations to be heard, absorbed,(literally absorbed as with music) and appreciated. There's a very real visceral connection between words, the voice, and emotion--and the results of ongoing exploration in this area are being employed by teachers of voice and acting (esp. with Shakesp.) who recognize its importance. Though mostly where I find a use for it, I believe it goes much deeper in its potential for utility.

So, for whatever it's worth from that standpoint, in my estimation, you're doing a wonderful thing for your son; already giving him something worth learning. And the sound and feel of your voice will be with him always--and I'd be willing to bet that he'll be an advanced speaker; possibly reader too. Kudos to you.

JM said...

Duane, the link you spoke of?

Something precious, that.