11 of the best ways to introduce children to Shakespeare
The journalist and author Bernard Levin once famously wrote:
"If you cannot understand my argument, and declare "It's Greek to me", you are quoting Shakespeare; if... you have been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony, danced attendance (on your lord and master), laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fool's paradise... if you think it is high time and that that is the long and short of it, if you believe that the game is up and that truth will out even if it involves your own flesh and blood... if you think I am an eyesore, a laughing stock, the devil incarnate, a stony-hearted villain, bloody-minded or a blinking idiot, then – by Jove! O Lord! Tut, tut! for goodness' sake! what the dickens! but me no buts – it is all one to me, for you are quoting Shakespeare."
Shakespeare shaped our language and his characters and themes seem as relevant today as they did 500 years ago. Whether you're an expert or in the process of discovering Shakespeare yourself there are lots of brilliant ways to bring his work to life for younger audiences and readers.
1. Discover Shakespeare's stories
From Charles and Mary Lamb's classic Tales from Shakespeare, written in 1807 (you can download a free audiobook version to listen to) to the fantastic Shakespeare Stories retold by Andrew Matthews and illustrated by Tony Ross, there are a huge number of Shakespeare retellings for children to choose from. We also recommend Edith Nesbit's Beautiful stories from Shakespeare (the free audio download is perfect for car journeys) and the Usborne Illustrated Stories from Shakespeare, with gorgeous illustrations to pore over.The 'Shakespeare in Shorts' animations for primary school also tell some of Shakespeare's most famous stories: Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, Twelfth Night and A Midsummer's Night Dream.
In Shakespeare Retold, ten of Shakespeare’s most famous plays are the inspiration for a collection of stories by children’s writers.
3. Take part in family discovery events
If you're looking for live performances adapted for children, interactive workshops and family tours packed with behind-the-scenes secrets and costumes to try on you'll be spoilt for choice at the UK's leading Shakespearean theatres and venues.
- The Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon offers family events, holiday activities, treasure trails, play carts and more.
- Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London brings Shakespeare to life for the whole family with live demonstrations, family events and a fantastic interactive website to explore.
- The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust runs family events and activities in all the historic houses it manages: Shakespeare's Birthplace, Mary Arden's Farm, Anne Hathaway's Cottage and Gardens, Hall's Croft and Harvard House
Photo by Andrew Fox © Royal Shakespeare Company
5. Find out more about Shakespeare, his life and times
Immerse yourself in Tudor times and discover why William Shakespeare is considered to be one of the world's leading poets and playwrights. Loads of free Shakespeare games and activities are available online:
7. Immerse yourself in Shakespeare's language
Free audioclips of actors reciting Shakespeare are available from How to teach your children Shakespeare, as well as quotation sheets so they can follow the words as they're spoken.If you're feeling confident, why not have a go at creating your own Shakespearean-style characters, dialogue and stories with the story starters and activities in My Book of Stories: Write your own Shakespearean Tales?
9. Read Shakespeare: the comics
Dramatic events, comic characters and memorable locations make Shakespeare's plays into fantastic comic books.Marcia Williams brings 14 of Shakespeare's plays to life for younger children with her beautiful artwork in Bravo, Mr William Shakespeare! and Mr William Shakespeare's Plays.
Classical Comics offers Shakespeare graphic novels for older kids in three versions: original text, plain text and quick text. If your child loves superhero stories and contemporary comics they'll be captivated by these illustration-led retellings.
10. Become a Shakespeare expert in minutes
In ancient Greece, where there were no pens and paper, students were taught the art of memory using everyday objects as visual cues. Images are how the brain has evolved to learn and remember. Therefore, presenting these plays visually all at once is the best way of introducing young children to the world of Shakespeare,” says Christopher Lloyd, author of the What on Earth? Wallbook of Shakespeare, a fold-out timeline wallbook of all of Shakespeare's plays. At 2.4 metres long the timeline is packed with characters, plots and emotions to explore; don't be surprised if your primary-schooler spends hours examining the intricate detail.