Descending Shakespeare: Toward a theory of adaptation for children

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Abstract

In the preface to a collection of adaptations of Shakespeare for children, E. Nesbit’s narrator describes a scene at an inn on the evening following a visit to Shakespeare’s house in Stratford in which children are gathered about a table “poring over a big volume of the Master’s plays;" the narrator, with eyes “fixed on the fire�? and mind “wandering happily in the immortal dreamland people by Rosalind and Imogen, Lear and Hamlet,�? is roused by a sigh: " ‘I can’t understand a word of it,' said Iris.�? The children, it turns out, cannot read the plays. In response, the narrator declares that she will tell them the story: In response to this defense of “story�? and after the children’s pleas (“Why don’t you write the stories for us so that we can understand them, just as you told us that, and then, when we are grown up, we shall understand the plays so much better�? [9]), the narrator-like Nesbit herself-undertakes to write her own adaptations. But, as the narrator has already indicated, the stories she-again, like Nesbit herself-is able to write constitute only “the least part of Shakespeare.�? I would like to use this anecdote about Shakespeare, children’s fascination with stories, and the genesis of a writer’s project as a point of departure for my discussion of adaptations of Shakespeare for children. I do so in part based upon my sense that we need to theorize more precisely what is meant by the phrase “Shakespeare for children�? and by the largely-mystified term “adaptation.�? Adapting Shakespeare for children is not only far more complex than is generally believed (by typical adult readers, at least), but it is at the same time an intensive labor that hides its own traces. As a consequence, the politics of adaptation have generally remained undertheorized.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationReimagining Shakespeare for Children and Young Adults
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Pages180-189
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9781135363284
ISBN (Print)0415803608, 9780415803601
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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