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Shakespeare’s The Tempest

Dear Reader,

Shakespeare’s The Tempest can be a delightful experience for those wanting to incorporate a bit more of the Bard into their studies of the Reformation and Renaissance era. The themes are not difficult in this play and unlike many of Shakespeare’s other works, the plot sequence is rather simple and easy-to-follow, even for young students. For the youngest reader there are two delightful approaches to take which should make this an enjoyable experience for all!  Marcia Williams in her Tales from Shakespeare has done an adaptation that will provide a worthy introduction; her detailed and colorful illustrations will hold the attention of the youngest reader.  Her well-selected passages retain the beauty of Shakespeare’s language.  Those introducing The Tempest to the youngest readers will be delighted to learn that the BBC produced an animated edition (though an abbreviated 30 minutes–it is well worth watching) which covers the main plot and themes for the youngest student of the Bard.  Though it isn’t readily available for purchase, it can be watched on YouTube in 3 ten minute parts. You can access Part 1 here.

For middle readers, Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb remains the classic revision of the Bard’s most beloved tales, and while it was originally published in 1906, it is still popular today.  Charles Lamb, a nineteenth-century essayist and his sister Mary, understood the importance of retaining the intricate twists and turns of the play’s plot while retaining the beauty of Shakespeare’s language as often as possible.  For any reader who needs an introduction, or even a refresher, these delightful re-tellings will not disappoint.  Many editions of this title include the illustrations of Elizabeth Shippen Green Elliot.  I am partial to the work of nineteenth-century children’s illustrator Arthur Rackham, who did some of the earliest illustrations for the Lamb’s edition.  At left, note his delightful depiction from The Tempest of Ariel teasing Caliban.  When Prospero relates to his daughter Miranda the story of her birth and upbringing,  she recalls a time when she had nursemaids to care for her (see at right).   And below, Rackham depicts Miranda’s lovely lines to Ferdinand, “Alas, now, work not so hard, I pray you.”

Another of my favorite nineteenth century illustrators is Edmund Dulac.  You can see here two of his illustrations from The Tempest.  His vision of Miranda and Ferdinand is stunning and his fairies conjure up all the mystery of this fantastical work.  Hunting down either of these extraordinary artists will enhance and enrich your literary experience with some of the finest art ever produced for children.  In my next post, I will provide a simple overview of the plot, themes, and fun historical facts that will, hopefully, make studying this delightful work even more enjoyable!  So, good night, and as good Prospero says,

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on;

And our little life

Is rounded with a sleep.”



6 thoughts on “Shakespeare’s The Tempest

  1. Thanks for this review. I love the idea of introducing Shakespeare to young children. What do you think of the retelling by E. Nesbit?

  2. Hello Courtney,
    I like E. Nesbit but feel her other works, like The Treasure Seekers and Railway Children display her talents better than do her Shakespeare retellings. Most of them are just a quarter the length of the Lamb’s and thus provide children only the merest sense of the plot. For the very youngest child this may be fine. Thanks for posting!

  3. Thank you for this review. We are seeing this play next week in Dallas and i love knowing what its about before we go. I will be reading this to my 15yo daughter, who will be joining me for the play.

    1. Wonderful! Please consider posting a review after you”ve seen it, especially if you recognize some of the themes covered here!

  4. At what age do you suggest introducing the Lamb version? Or, I guess I should ask, at what age is a child a ‘middle reader’?

    Thanks again!

    1. Hi Courtney!
      Well, that depends on whether you’re wanting to hand this over to a middle reader or read it aloud. I would introduce it as early as your child will sit and listen and comprehend. You can tell when your child gets that glazed over look and you know you’ve lost them. Because even the plot sequences of Shakespeare’s works are complex, probably most children under third grade will get lost in the Lamb’s edition. (There will always be the brilliant-child exception to the rule.) But generally speaking, you can use a true primary edition (Like Marcia Williams) for under third grade and then start the Lamb’s then. Using the CM narration skill will enable you to gauge whether you child can handle a certain edition quite early. Just recently I finished reading The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain to my 6th grader and Twain’s language in that is so archaic (to modern American ears) that we often had to stop and verify that we hadn’t lost her. So, the habit of narration is great for all the listeners. Even my older daughter was helped by making those brief stops for clarification. Great question, Courtney! Sorry for the oh so long answer! Cheers.

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