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M. Dale Prins

4th Grade Shakespeare.

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I don't want to bias anyone, so I'm going to give this tidbit without any background information or my opinion on it.

"[This] marks the end of the middle school’s Shakespeare unit. The 4th graders were introduced to some of the bard’s most famous plays -— 'The Tempest,' 'Macbeth,' 'The Comedy of Errors,' 'Romeo and Juliet' and 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream' —- via Mary and Charles Lamb's 19th century classic, 'Tales From Shakespeare.' Meanwhile, the 5th, 6th and 7th graders completed a study of 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream' during which they wrestled with Shakespeare’s language in order to tease out its theatrical implications. Just how well they came to understand such slippery interpretive concepts as 'blocking' and 'subtext', all while trying to come to terms with what often seemed to them a foreign language, can be seen in their remarkable 'final exams,' scenes from the play that were acted out and recorded in front of live audiences on Thursday, March 26th. Staking their claim as the elder statesmen of Shakespeare Studies at [this school], the 7th graders have now mastered two of the bard’s masterpieces, 'Julius Caesar' and 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' Only 35 more to go..."

Opinionize.

Dale

Edited by M. Dale Prins

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I feel two ways about this: on the one hand, I can't imagine that a 4th-7th grader will adequately comprehend what they are participating in and by the time they re-read these plays in high school and college, the plays will have become stale and just a part of the run-around. Is this just a big push towards early achievement? On the other hand, who am I to say what is or is not meaningful to children? Perhaps these actors and readers will grow into the plays, and find that as they grow, the plays grow as well.

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I don't want to bias anyone, so I'm going to give this tidbit without any background information or my opinion on it.

"[This] marks the end of the middle school’s Shakespeare unit. The 4th graders were introduced to some of the bard’s most famous plays -— 'The Tempest,' 'Macbeth,' 'The Comedy of Errors,' 'Romeo and Juliet' and 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream' —- via Mary and Charles Lamb's 19th century classic, 'Tales From Shakespeare.' Meanwhile, the 5th, 6th and 7th graders completed a study of 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream' during which they wrestled with Shakespeare’s language in order to tease out its theatrical implications. Just how well they came to understand such slippery interpretive concepts as 'blocking' and 'subtext', all while trying to come to terms with what often seemed to them a foreign language, can be seen in their remarkable 'final exams,' scenes from the play that were acted out and recorded in front of live audiences on Thursday, March 26th. Staking their claim as the elder statesmen of Shakespeare Studies at [this school], the 7th graders have now mastered two of the bard’s masterpieces, 'Julius Caesar' and 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' Only 35 more to go..."

Opinionize.

Dale

I think it's fine, and I think it's inevitable that elementary- and middle-school-aged kids will miss much of the beauty of Shakespeare. No, kids won't understand a lot of the language, nor will they be able to appreciate the complexities and conundrums of life that Shakespeare dramatizes so well. But Shakespeare is like the Bible. Did I want my kids to read the Bible at any early age, to marinate in what was there? Sure. And the same is true for Shakespeare.[1] I hoped, and hope, that they'll come back again and again, and find new meaning and depth each time.

[1] No, I'm not equating Shakespeare with the Bible from an inspiration/theological standpoint. I'm simply noting that both are supremely worthwhile reading at whatever age the reader encounters them.

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[1] No, I'm not equating Shakespeare with the Bible from an inspiration/theological standpoint. I'm simply noting that both are supremely worthwhile reading at whatever age the reader encounters them.

Absolutely. Shakespeare and the Bible -- specifically, the Authorized Version -- are two of the three sources that fundamentally made modern English what it is today. (The third is the Book of Common Prayer.)

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Someone e-mailed me for a little more information, so I suppose I can be slightly less vague: This is from a newsletter at an independent (i.e. not affiliated with a parish) Catholic school we're considering sending B. Dale to for Kindergarten next year.

But I'm going to hold off on stating my opinion on the matter for a little bit longer.

Dale

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The Chas. & Mary Lamb book is fantastic and appropriate for children this young ... even younger, perhaps.

I am pretty sure that growing up with a King James Bible helped me get into Shakespeare later on. I don't think the language in Shakespeare is necessarily a problem for young children as long as those children have the basic building blocks of literacy. When you're in word-acquisition stage, why should it matter whether a word was coined yesterday or fell out of use 150 years ago? If my autistic 4-year-old can learn "triceratops" and "pterodactyl," surely an ordinary fourth grader can learn "This lanthorn doth the horned moon present." In fact, I think you'll have more success introducing Shakespeare to fourth graders than you will if you wait until kids are 15 and already think they know everything.

The teacher's understanding of Shakespeare is crucial, of course. Can't teach what you don't know. Unfortunately, even some people who like Shakespeare haven't teased out all the vocabulary questions and don't understand how iambic pentameter drives everything: not just the rhythm, but the choice of words, the pronunciation, the emphasis, even the meaning.

Of course, if kids haven't learned to read, the whole thing is moot. The problem my wife encounters most often with her elementary-age students is that kids are reading far below their grade levels, and can't get through a script in their own vernacular, let alone Shakespeare.

Should a person encounter Shakespeare in childhood and then cycle back to it years later, he or she will, one hopes, discover new, previously inaccessible depths of meaning, rather than dismissing the work as old hat. Heck, I'm re-reading Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad books to my son and discovering things I didn't understand when I read them as a child. If that can happen with a kids' picture book, how much more so with Shakespeare?

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I am dying to know why Dale is aghast at the thought of teaching Shakespeare to fourth graders.

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I am dying to know why Dale is aghast at the thought of teaching Shakespeare to fourth graders.

He's afraid it might include King Lear, Act II, Scene 2, starting with line 10.

A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a

base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited,

hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a

lily-livered, action-taking knave, a whoreson,

glass-gazing, super-serviceable finical rogue;

one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a

bawd, in way of good service, and art nothing but

the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar,

and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch: one whom I

will beat into clamorous whining, if thou deniest

the least syllable of thy addition.

Actually, I think Dale figures that Benji will have worked his way through the entire Shakespeare canon by fourth grade, and will be on to Derrida and Kierkegaard.

Edited by mrmando

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Perhaps it's the fact that Julius Caesar revolves around a political assassination and other forms of violence, or that A Midsummer Night's Dream includes some bawdy humour.

But since the Shakespeare-Bible connection has already been made here, I'll just say I'm still wondering how to introduce my kids (aged 3.5 and younger) to some of the grimmer parts of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

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Perhaps it's the fact that Julius Caesar revolves around a political assassination and other forms of violence,

It's got nothing on Titus Andronicus. And Macbeth is a series of assassinations.

or that A Midsummer Night's Dream includes some bawdy humour.

Name me a Shakespeare play that doesn't.

It's possible to attenuate much of the unsavory content in Shakespeare for younger readers. For example, the Lamb version of The Tempest says only that Caliban tried to harm Miranda, not that he attempted to rape her. I wouldn't plop an entire script in front of fourth graders and say "Read it"; I'd have them read a synopsis, such as the Lambs', and then read selected scenes aloud together in class.

Edited by mrmando

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I am dying to know why Dale is aghast at the thought of teaching Shakespeare to fourth graders.

If you mean "aghast" in the more objective sense ("struck with amazement" or some such), I'll just say that it never occurred to me to teach Shakespeare to children that young in a school setting. I was honors track in the best public school district in Iowa, and I got Shakespeare twice: "Romeo and Juliet" (9th grade) and "Hamlet" and "Macbeth" (12th grade).

If you mean "aghast" in the pejorative sense, did I ever mutter that? All I've said is that I'm temporarily withholding my opinion as not to bias the results.

Dale

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If you mean "aghast" in the pejorative sense, did I ever mutter that?

Norris: Are you attempting to tell me my duties, sir?

Marlowe: No, just having fun trying to guess what they are.

I have another Big Sleep quotation (also between Marlowe and Norris) if you come out and say "I think it's brilliant" or even simply "I wasn't aghast in the pejorative sense."

Edited by SDG

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I think it's brilliantly aghast in the pejorative sense.

Dale

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I have another Big Sleep quotation (also between Marlowe and Norris)

Yes, but do you have a Ben-Hur 1860?

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If you mean "aghast" in the pejorative sense, did I ever mutter that?

Norris: Are you attempting to tell me my duties, sir?

Marlowe: No, just having fun trying to guess what they are.

I have another Big Sleep quotation (also between Marlowe and Norris) if you come out and say "I think it's brilliant" or even simply "I wasn't aghast in the pejorative sense."

Ah, the three pillars of our literary heritage -- The Bible, Shakespeare, and Marlowe (Philip) -- in the same thread. Life doesn't get much better than this.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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Okay. Talk's all slowed down, so I'll give my initial thoughts which were: Awesome.

My concern was that I tend to think all such grandiose academic primary school gestures are awesome, no doubt as overcompensation for my completely uninspiring primary school education (where I was never within 200 miles of being challenged outside of pull-out TAG classes). So I wanted more rational thinkers to take a gander at it without my bias creeping in.

So yeah. Based on my feelings and on what most of you are saying, I'll put it as a big PRO in that school's column. (Slight explanation: We basically have three choices for kindergarten, those being the public school, our parish school [where B. Dale is in preschool], and the above private Catholic school. And not that we can't change our minds at some point, but inertia tells me that whatever school we pick for kindergarten is probably where B. Dale is going for the next nine years. So we're trying to be smart about this.)

Dale

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Okay. Talk's all slowed down, so I'll give my initial thoughts which were: Awesome.

Marlowe: Oh, Norris, you made a mistake. Mrs. Rutledge didn't want to see me.

Norris: I'm sorry, sir. I make many mistakes.

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