I think you all know how I feel about that. I have, on the fly, retold the tale of King Lear to my 5year old son - at his request. I will never forget this moment:
Well, her father the king was not happy with this answer at all. He got so mad that he said she would not have any share of the kingdom, and he banished her.
...at this point a choked little voice asks me, "But did he still love her?" And I am caught so by surprise that I don't quite know what to do with myself. My little guy has been hanging on every word, and he's an emphathetic little bugger.
"Oh, he absolutely still loved her," I told him, "He was just really really mad because he thought she was saying that she didn't love him. He didn't understand her answer. Are you sad?"
He nods, unable to get any words out.
I squeeze him a bit tighter and remind him that this story has a happy ending, remember? "We're going to find out that she loved him most of all."The fact that I know that that's only half true? That she did love him most of all, but that the story doesn't have a happy ending? I'm lucky I didn't get choked up like he did trying to pretend like it all works out.
I have always believed that you can expose children to elements of Shakespeare, literally, from birth. Go ahead and name their stuffed animals Romeo and Juliet, or Beatrice and Benedick. Throw around random quotes when you can. Bring up plot points. It will be a long long time before they "get" Shakespeare in an academic sense. It'll also be a long long time before they understand physics and gravity and parabolic arcs, but that doesn't mean they can't learn how to catch a ball.