Laugh with Shakespeare and Stuffed Animals

Skip “kid” versions that paraphrase all the great writing and go for the original gold. If you can handle the words “hell” and “ass” you’re all in for a treat.

While much of Shakespeare is far too mature for young children, there are some fantastic scenes that will have them rolling with laughter and shivering with thrills. A great first introduction to Shakespeare is the three witches stirring up their cauldron in the opening scene of Macbeth. Kids will laugh at the weird and gruesome things thrown into the pot, but be careful… the third witch’s lines aren’t appropriate for kids at all. You can stick to the lines below, and if the word “hell” is too much for you, just replace it with something else, like “curse.” If it is Halloween season, all the better. Just take a few sock puppets or stuffed animals, put a bowl and spoon on the table, and chant the lines together with lots of expressive evil cackling.

ALL

Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Second Witch

Fillet of a fenny snake,

In the cauldron boil and bake;

Eye of newt and toe of frog,

Wool of bat and tongue of dog,

Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,

Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing,

For a charm of powerful trouble,

Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

ALL

Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

If that was a good time for you and your kids and they want more, take it to the next level! Get yourself a copy of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (you can find it free online, too), and read it through on your own with some post-it notes handy. Then get out the stuffed animals and your silliest voices and act out your favorite parts with your kids, choosing the funny scenes and giving them quick summaries of some of the plot points and longer scenes as you go along. Brevity is the soul of wit! You know your kids, so choose according to their nature. The play has three main components:

  • The mixed-up Athenian lovers (who have many long and boring monologues that most kids will not enjoy).
  • The fairies, who have several awesome scenes but also some long monologues… skip Titania and Oberon’s long expositions about the little boy they both want, but spend time with Puck, the rascally henchman to Oberon, and be sure to give some time to Titania while she falls in helplessly love with the foolish Bottom.
  • The Players, who are hilarious fools that your kids will LOVE. They are why you are reading this play with them. Shakespeare puns on the word “ass” quite a bit in this play, since pompous Bottom is unaware that he gets a donkey’s head from Puck, so if you think they can handle it, let your kids hear this word and understand the pun. It will just be more fun. Really ham it up with the kids… the players are silly clowns and Shakespeare wrote them into the play as the comic relief. Your kids will enjoy the funny ways the players try (and fail) to practice their play, Titania’s enchanted obsession with donkey-headed Bottom, and the final play within the play, in which the Players mix up their lines terribly, the Athenians make dry jokes about them, and Bottom dies a memorably melodramatic fake death.

If everyone is having a blast, keep going. If interest is flagging, take a break or call it enough. The idea here is just to introduce Shakespeare, so keep it light and paraphrase when you need to. When you come to the end, and after reading Puck’s beautiful final words, you might ask your children if they notice something about the way the play is written. There is an excellent chance that they haven’t realized that the whole thing was written in rhyme. This will blow them away!

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