A lot of students when I was at secondary school, even at university, had trouble reading Shakespeare. I did A Midsummer Night’s Dream in my English class in France in year 7, Romeo and Juliet in Australia in year 9, Macbeth in year 10, Twelfth Night in year 11, The Tempest in Year 12, and King Lear in my first year of university. Every year, people complained about doing Shakespeare. They didn’t read the text. They read sparknotes. Even at university (I was studying creative writing and English, so these people didn’t have the excuse that English wasn’t their thing), my classmates complained about doing King Lear. I was that weirdo who explained the plot of King Lear to my class.
I’m not entirely sure where my love of Shakespeare comes from. I’m not big on the classics (grown-up classics, that is – children’s classics, as it is obvious from my blog, I really like), and, in fact probably only started reading what people would deem classics outside of the classroom about two years ago. But Shakespeare and I, we get on. I like him. I understand that his language can be a bit difficult for some people, but to me, it’s not as hard to understand him as it was learning French when I moved there when I was seven. I don’t wish to sound arrogant, or pompous – I’m not smarter than anyone else, I think I was just lucky. Although I don’t know how I understand him so well, I have an idea. I think it all comes from my Gran.
My gran was a librarian, and her last position before she retired was as a librarian of an tertiary arts school. Sometimes, when books became too battered, or too out of date, or simply too unloved by the students, she got to bring things home. One of these things was a series of Shakespeare plays on video. And I watched them, and I liked them. I think watching great actors performing the work helps understand it so much more than reading them off a page. Gran also brought me home tattered copies of him plays. I don’t remember reading them until I was older, but I liked owning them. And my mum bought me a children’s edition of Shakespeare, and I read that, and reread it. And I think because I was introduced to Shakespeare outside of the classroom, but people whom I admired, I wasn’t scared of him. After all, they were just stories. And I liked stories.
This is why I think that Charles and Mary Lamb’s ‘Tales from Shakespeare’ is so great. They don’t present the plays as important to humanity, or these big, scary things that have to be analysed for themes and ideas – they are just stories. And children like stories. They like baddies being punished and goodies being rewarded and girls dressing up as boys and men being magicked into having donkey’s heads. I think that more kids should be introduced to Shakespeare this way – rather than telling them ‘This is Shakespeare. This is important’, they should be told ‘This is Shakespeare. They are great stories.’ Because, first and foremost, that is exactly what they are.
I admit that I enjoyed Mary and Charles Lamb’s book a lot more than I enjoyed reading the individual plays. That’s not to say that I don’t like Shakespeare, but I found that their stories were more accessible, perhaps?
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