I think there’s a big difference between a child picking up Shakespeare of their own accord, and a child being actively tought him in school. I mean, it’s not really possible to teach Measure for Measure without going into the details of prostitution and rape, not possible to teach Macbeth without going into the horrific Elizabethan views and practices of Witchcraft, or into the specifics of slaughtering children; not to mention the outright, grubby sex of so much of his work.
If you have to censor these (often pretty fundamental) aspects for a child, then how can you really be teaching them the text? I don’t think that the required chat about STD’s, deviant sex, genocide, rape and murder that comes with most studies of the canon could be considered “appropriate” for the average child under 13, and that’s being generous (at least not considered appropriate in an official capacity by an educational board taking, by necessity, the lowest common denominator into account).
I also think it’s worthy of note that in no subject other than English Literature would it be deemed at all worthwhile or useful to attempt the teaching of arguably the pinnacle of that discipline, it’s most advanced area of study, to children of 10 or 11 or 12 years old.
The earlier the better! My younger daughter has been watching Shakespeare in one form or another since she was two, and by the time she was 10 or so she’d seen about eight “Midsummers,” a few “Macbeths,” and six or seven other plays (or movie adaptations of plays), and she’s appeared onstage in “As You Like It.” When she began her formal Shakespeare education this year in 7th grade English, she was able to help a lot of her fellow students out with vocabulary and sentence structures. She’s turned into quite a Shakespeare snob in fact, and will not hesitate to tell you when some production is not up to snuff. But the best part is she’s one of my most faithful theatre buddies, and when I ask her, “Charlotte, do you want to go see ________?” She will always say yes.
I love the photo. I’ve seen and heard students as young as five at the Denver Public School Festival reciting famous lines from Shakespeare’s plays. I’ve also seen students in elementary school (grades 3-6) learning about Shakespeare and performing scenes from the plays at festivals at the Folger Shakespeare Library and in Denver. Youngsters have a lot of fun with the language. They are challenged by it. So, working with a line or two in kindergarten, or a few lines in first grade, and working up to scenes in third grade seems fine.