By Jacqueline Green, Head of Learning and Participation, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
“He was not of an age, but for all time!” – those were the words written by Shakespeare’s friend and fellow writer, Ben Johnson in his preface to the First Folio. Here, at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, we passionately believe that not only was Shakespeare for all time he was and is for all people.
For too many, their experience of Shakespeare is tainted by their experiences at school when Shakespeare can be just another subject to be tested and yet Shakespeare’s stories, characters and themes are just as relevant today as 400 years ago. Given the opportunity, young people will connect with the characters finding links with their own experiences and emotions so in 2014 we launched a new national, annual celebration of Shakespeare for children and their families, Shakespeare Week. We chose to engage with primary-school aged children as it is at that age that we are most open to new experiences and we describe it as a celebration because, for us, the key to sustaining a life-long interest is enjoyment.
This year library services are joining the celebration. What more natural partner could there be for a project that aspires to reach out to everyone than public and school libraries? They are at the heart of every community and the portal to so many journeys of discovery. The Society of Chief Librarians lent their support to Shakespeare Week from day one so we are particularly delighted to be working with them, the Association of Senior Children’s and Education Librarians, the Reading Agency and CILIP to bring Shakespeare vividly to life in communities nationwide.
To reach out to as many children as possible we have worked closely with teachers to develop resources and activities for the classroom that encompass every subject and artform. Over 6,700 schools, more than 1 million children, will be celebrating Shakespeare Week in 2015. As teachers tell us, Shakespeare can open the door to all kinds of knowledge and skills but this celebration is about so much more than just a classroom experience. We want to fire children’s imaginations and inspire them to take their own journey of discovery but to do so it is essential that there are opportunities for children to encounter Shakespeare wherever they live. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust cannot be everywhere so we have been working with arts and heritage organisations across the UK to ensure that there are opportunities, in their own neighbourhoods, for children and their families to have fun whilst discovering or, for some parents, re-discovering Shakespeare. All over the country families will have the chance to learn about his life and times, and therefore the context in which he wrote; delve into some of the issues raised in his plays; develop language skills or discover creative talents.
Since Shakespeare Week is about inspiring and enthusing the next generation, the last words here should go to a young person. Last April, Joe, a five year-old who lives in Nuneaton visited Shakespeare’s Birthplace with his family and was interviewed for our blog, ‘Living Shakespeare’. Asked why he was visiting he told us it was because his school had taken part in Shakespeare Week, he was able to name 8 of Shakespeare’s plays and when asked if he wanted to learn more about Shakespeare the answer was a resounding “Yes”.
Happy Shakespeare Week
– Jacqueline Green, Head of Learning and Participation, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust