"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel,
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose well saved a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again towards childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness, and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."
Every January, our family likes to attend Ozact's summer Shakespeare production in Geelong's Botanic Garden.
Ozact is one of a number of companies performing William Shakespeare's plays in outdoor park settings around Victoria, but it is our favourite because of the way they manage to make the plays accessible and entertaining, whilst still being true to the Bard's intent. I love the way Ozact appeals to all ages without dumbing down and simplifying the works, and I love the way they subtly convey the bawdiness of Shakespeare without deteriorating into crudeness and crassness. Adults know what is going on; kids have no idea. That is really clever. The pays are performed in period costume, the settings are great, and we always have a pretty amazing time.
The 2015 season is Ozact's 20th Anniversary, and the troupe celebrated with a performance of what is probably Shakespeare's most delicious comedy, As You Like It.
As you know, Shakespeare's plots are always pretty convoluted, and As You Like It is no different, a tale of mistaken identities, exiled lovers, true friendship and political intrigue. Ozact manages to encapsulate the whole of the play's plot in what is possibly the most succinct Shakespeare synopsis I have ever seen:
Rosalind follows her father, Duke Senior into exile in the Forest of Arden. Disguised as a boy she makes friends with her true love, Orlando, and through many twists and turns, sees her father restored to his rightful place and wins her place in Orlando's heart.
We always make a real event of our visit, packing a delicious picnic lunch, with an obligatory bottle of champagne. We like to make it a really special occasion.
And Shakespeare? He, indeed, is not to be classed, and timed, and treated as one amongst others,––he, who might well be the daily bread of the intellectual life; Shakespeare is not to be studied in a year; he is to be read continuously throughout life, from ten years old and onwards. But a child of ten cannot understand Shakespeare. No; but can a man of fifty? Is not our great poet rather an ample feast of which every one takes according to his needs, and leaves what he has no stomach for? A little girl of nine said to me the other day that she had only read one play of Shakespeare's through, and that was A Midsummer Night's Dream. She did not understand the play, of course, but she must have found enough to amuse and interest her.
Charlotte Mason Formation of Character p.226
Shakespeare is scary to some kids...and possibly to their parents also...but we've always loved him. If you haven't yet attempted the Bard, here are a few hints that work for us:
:: Shakespeare can be pretty expensive. Look round to see what is available. Often summer seasons in outdoor settings are cheaper, as well as being more approachable and friendly. If your kids can't stay completely quiet for the length of a performance, an outdoor play is for you, because the actors and audience will generally be tolerant of a bit of noise.
:: Choose your play. Shakespeare wrote historical pays and tragedies as well as comedies. A comedy is your best choice if you are a newbie. Often the lines are blurred - there will almost always be some comedy in Shakespeare, but tragedy often overshadows that. A few Shakespeare plays are inappropriate for children. Coriolanus would not be a sensible first play. Ahem.
:: Find a good company. Try to find one that hasn't been too modernised if you can. Be especially careful that your chosen company doesn't concentrate on the bawdiness. Some of them specialise in this, and if so, they're probably not your first choice.
:: Prepare well. We always get an overview of the plot by re-reading the story in Lamb's Shakespeare before we go. It help put everything in contact, and means that we know who the characters are before we arrive. We also run through some of the famous lines. It is sort of fun hearing these spoken by the actors later on:
“Do you not know I am a woman? when I think, I must speak.”
“All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”
:: Finally, go expecting to enjoy it. Your child may not understand everything, and maybe you won't either, but chances are that like Miss Mason says, you will all take what you need and leave what you have no stomach for. Shakespeare truly is a delicious feast. I'm sure you'll find plenty enough to enjoy.
A bottle of champagne always helps as well.