Celebrate Shakespeare’s Birthday
Good Stuff for Special Days by Becky Rupp
Editor’s Note: All I can say is WOW! With these resources, your kids are going to be saying, “The play’s the thing.” Enjoy!
Nobody knows the precise date of William Shakespeare’s birthday. Records show that he was baptized on April 26, 1564 – and traditionally, but possibly inaccurately, his birthday is said to be on April 23.
Which means that we can celebrate anytime we please. There’s no wrong time for Shakespeare.
Shakespeare Rubber Duck
For the Bard-lover who has everything, the perfect literary bathtub toy: Shakespeare as rubber duck, complete with mustache, manuscript, Elizabethan ruffles, and orange bill. Available from Celebriducks, along with a host of other creative ducks, among them Alice in Wonderland, the Oz characters, Santa Claus, Robin Hood, and an environmentally conscious Green Duck, made entirely from recycled materials. $11.99 each.
Great Characters from Shakespeare Paper Dolls
Designed by Tom Tierney, this is a collection of 30 costumes for two (male and female) paper dolls. Costumes are based on fifteen Shakespearean plays, among them Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, Antony and Cleopatra, Macbeth, and The Tempest. Short plot synopses are included. $6.95 from Dover Publications.
From Toy-a-Day – “a toy to download, print and make, every day” – a pattern for a full-color (though somewhat block-shaped) paper Shakespeare.
The Interactive Globe Theatre
Shakespeare’s Globe: An Interactive Pop-Up Theatre by Toby Forward and Jan Wijngaard (Candlewick Press, 2005) has a detailed and accurate ten-inch fold-out model of the Globe Theatre, along with twelve moveable characters from the plays, a pair of abbreviated scripts, and background information on the Elizabethan theatre world. Enact your own small-sized Shakespearean plays. For ages 9-12.
At the website of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., click on “Teach and Learn” for teaching suggestions for all ages, lesson plans, an extensive archive of supplementary resources, and a collection of Shakespeare-based games, puzzles, and activities for kids.
Lesson plans and activities to accompany Michael Wood’s four-part PBS series In Search of Shakespeare (available from Netflix) include numerous approaches, plans, and projects for teaching Shakespeare to various age groups, a bibliography of print and online materials, and an interactive “Playwright Game.”
Absolute Shakespeare has biographical information on Shakespeare, complete texts of all the plays and sonnets, a history of the Globe Theatre, a film list, famous quotations, trivia, a timeline, and a “grueling” quiz.
Having trouble with all those varlets and forsooths? No Fear Shakespeare pairs the original Shakespearean text with a modern English translation, in side-by-side pages. The site has 19 of the plays, plus the sonnets. Unfortunately it also has a lot of annoying advertising.
Shakespeare in Modern English has four plays in the same side-by-side format, minus the blinking promotions.
According to Wikipedia, there are over 400 extant film adaptations of Shakespearean plays, to say nothing of films about Shakespeare himself, and films about people acting in Shakespearean plays. For a very long hyperlinked list, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_William_Shakespeare_film_adaptations.
Among these is the hilarious Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) (2000) by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, in which three frenetic actors run through all 37 plays in just 90 minutes. (It’s very fast-paced; best for viewers who are familiar with Shakespeare.) The DVD is available for $21.99 at Amazon.
The Man and the Plays
Lois Burdett’s “Shakespeare Can Be Fun” series (Firefly Books) is a delightful introduction to the plays for ages 5-8. In each book, the story of the play is told in simple rhyming couplets (“I have a story that is often told/Of a Prince named Hamlet, from days of old./ His troubled mind we shall explore/As I take you now to Elsinore.”) The wonderful colorful illustrations are all by elementary-level kids. Titles include A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, and more.
Bard of Avon by Diane Stanley and Peter Vennema (HarperCollins, 1998) is an excellent 48-page picture-book biography of Shakespeare for ages 8-12, beginning with a day in Stratford-on-Avon when a band of traveling players arrives in town. Informational, reader-friendly, and interesting.
The appeal of Aliki’s William Shakespeare and the Globe (HarperCollins, 2000) lies in Aliki’s multitudinous and marvelously detailed little illustrations. The book, arranged in five “acts,” briefly covers the life and times of Shakespeare and the modern rebuilding of the Globe Theatre under the auspices of American actor Sam Wanamaker. For ages 6-10.
By Colleen Aageson and Margie Blumberg, Shakespeare for Kids: His Life and Times (Chicago Review Press, 1999) is a 150+-page chronological overview of Shakespeare’s life and world, illustrated with prints, maps, and photographs. Included are 21 hands-on activities and crafts: for example, kids make a pomander ball, decorate a pair of gloves (Will’s father was a glover), learn to juggle Elizabethan-fair-style, play a selection of Elizabethan games, make a quill pen and use it to compose a sonnet, make a sword (cardboard) and choreograph a sword fight, and produce a short scene from Julius Caesar. For ages 9-12.
Tina Packer’s Tales from Shakespeare (Scholastic, 2004) is a beautifully designed 192-page collection of prose retellings of ten of Shakespeare’s best-known plays, each with an illustration by a popular children’s book artist.
Want to put on a play? Brendan Kelso’s adaptations of Shakespearean plays for kids might be just the thing: each book includes three ten-minute versions of a play, arranged for three different group sizes (9-10, 11-14, or 15-20 actors). The dialogue is modernized (and funny), with a smattering of actual quotes from the plays. Titles include Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream for Kids, Macbeth for Kids, Romeo and Juliet for Kids, and Julius Caesar for Kids (BookSurge Publishing, 2009).
Or, for a real challenge, why not tackle an unabridged play? For an inspirational account of performing unabridged Shakespeare with fifth-graders, see teacher Rafe Esquith’s Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire (Viking, 2007), which includes the wonderful story of his experience with the Hobart Shakespeareans.
Don Freeman’s Will’s Quill (Viking Juvenile, 2004) is the delightful picture-book tale of Willoughby Waddle, an adventurous goose, sets off for London, where he is befriended by young Will Shakespeare. There’s a disastrous episode in which Will (goose) attempts to save Will (playwright/actor) from a stage duel, but all ends happily, when the goose – with a gift of feathers – is able to help his new friend. For ages 5-9.
In Elise Broach’s Shakespeare’s Secret (Square Fish, 2007), Hero – a sixth-grader named for a character in Much Ado About Nothing – has always loathed her name. Lonely after a move to Washington, D.C., and a lot of teasing from her new classmates, Hero makes friends with Mrs. Roth, her eccentric neighbor, who tells her the story of the missing “Murphy Diamond,” said once to have belonged to Anne Boleyn. With the help of an eighth-grader named Danny, they set out to solve the mystery of the diamond – discovering a lot along the way about Elizabethan life, William Shakespeare, and the controversy over who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays.
Gary Blackwood’s The Shakespeare Stealer (Puffin, 2000) stars Widge, an orphan, who – because of his knowledge of “cryptic writing” – is hired by a rival theatre company to transcribe (read: steal) the script of Shakespeare’s new play, Hamlet. An exciting read for ages 9-13. Sequels include Shakespeare’s Scribe (2002) and Shakespeare’s Spy (2005).
In Bailey MacDonald’s Wicked Will (Aladdin, 2009), a troupe of strolling players arrives in Stratford, among them 13-year-old Viola (a.k.a. Tom), who travels disguised as a boy. When Viola’s uncle is accused of murder, she joins forces with theatre-obsessed 12-year-old William Shakespeare, and together they devise a plot to discover the true culprit, involving an imaginative script devised by Will and Viola as a ghastly ghost. For ages 9-13.