“The Play’s the Thing”: Shakespeare in Children’s and Young Adult Fiction
Michael C. Prusse, Friday 15.00-15.30

Teachers may or may not agree with the literary canon postulated by Dietrich Schwanitz in his bestseller Bildung (1999). And yet, teaching Shakespeare is an essential task for teachers if they want to catch the conscience of the child. Furthermore, as Jonothan Neelands argues, “access and belonging to the culture of power requires knowledge of its symbolic and cultural heritage,” in other words pupils must acquire cultural capital. Being familiar with the great bard’s work will open doors, which would otherwise remain shut. Neelands uses drama to achieve his teaching aims in a highly effective programme in English schools. When non-native pupils are involved, the dramatic performance of scenes from Shakespeare features as a rather daunting task. Fortunately, Children’s Literature and Young Adult Fiction provide a number of inroads that will allow encountering Shakespeare by means of contemporary texts, which, at the same time, serve the purpose of promoting reading in the English language classroom.

This paper will focus on how Shakespearean themes are exploited in three fairly recent contributions to fiction for children and young adults. It will first examine a historical novel, Gary Blackwood’s The Shakespeare Stealer (1998), which focuses on Hamlet; the second text to be considered is Jackie French’s Macbeth and Son (2006), a narrative with obvious reference to Macbeth; the third example is provided by Bali Rai’s Rani and Sukh (2004), a contemporary rendering of Romeo and Juliet.

Each analysis of how these texts may raise an interest in the Shakespearean original is followed by some brief suggestions as to how learners can use the text as a springboard to deepen their acquaintance with Shakespeare and how they will be empowered by understanding Shakespeare’s themes as relevant to their own lives and cultural experiences.

Michael C. Prusse is Professor and Head of the Faculty of Languages at the Zurich University of Teacher Education, where he teaches ELT Methodology, Children’s Literature and Literatures of the English-speaking world. He has published a number of articles on bilingual education, on twentieth century literature and on the teaching of literature both at tertiary and at secondary level.