- Shakespeare and Childhood
This valuable and important volume focuses on what editor Robert Shaughnessy correctly identifies as a "surprisingly underdeveloped area of scholarly investigation": the relationship among Shakespeare, children, childhood, and children's culture from the early modern era to the present (2). "Despite the complex and varied significances of the figure [End Page 337] of the child in the Shakespearean canon," as well as innumerable appropriations and adaptations of the plays to the cultures of childhood in the "literary, educational, theatrical and cinematic realms," the representation of children in Shakespeare and Shakespeare in children's culture is an area undertheorized and underdeveloped (2). The fourteen essays and supporting scholarly apparatus in this volume redress this imbalance to varying degrees of success.
The volume is divided into two roughly even halves, each with an invaluable introduction; these introductions, by Kate Chedgzoy and Susanne Greenhalgh, respectively, are among the highlights of the volume. The first section, "Shakespeare's Children," engages childhood in early modern England and its representation in Shakespeare; the second, "Children's Shakespeare," explores how Shakespeare has been transformed for presentation to children. As Chedgzoy indicates, childhood is "a highly significant category of cultural and ideological meaning," and each culture shapes its own understanding of this stage of development and its relationship to adulthood (22). By engaging Shakespeare and his relationship to children, we also reevaluate Shakespeare's representation of adulthood.
At their best, the essays in this volume require the reader to rethink children in Shakespeare's plays by placing his child characters in dialogue with other representations of children from the period. Catherine Belsey offers a fascinating contrast of representations of children in paintings (where they are often represented as "miniature adults") and onstage, observing their vulnerability, authority, and mischievous playfulness (34). Hattie Fletcher and Marianne Novy present an extended analysis of fathers identifying with and losing daughters—to marriage, death, or both—in comedy and tragedy. Their scrutiny of paternal privilege, loss, and identity in the canon reveals a consistent concern for the affection between father and child (usually a daughter), followed by the loss of that child. Lucy Munro explicates the intricate relationship between Shakespeare and the children's companies and boy players of the English Renaissance, in particular, reading Coriolanus as a critique of the heroic tragedies produced by children's companies. Observing that when played by children, heroic tragedy becomes satiric, finds in she Coriolanus a tragedy brought about when Martius must play out "the role of the hypermasculine military hero," which would have been comedic if performed by children (92).
The essays in the second half range over greater territory, engaging shifts in thinking about childhood from the sixteenth through the twenty-first centuries and examining how each generation has constructed childhood—and constructed a Shakespeare for those children. Because of the wider-ranging subject, some of the essays in this section seem a bit tangential or peripheral to the larger issues of the book. Nevertheless, most offer a fascinating examination of education, culture, and the construction of Shakespeare. Although the obvious examples are here—the Lambs' Tales from Shakespeare, Bowdler's Family Shakespeare, the creation of a "children's canon" (plays acceptable to be read in schools yet accessible and of interest to young readers)—the other topics under consideration range from the obscure to the highly significant.
Naomi Miller contributes an intriguing essay on agency in children's Shakespeare, indicating that through Shakespeare, children gain "developmental autonomy" and "the capacity to act and to learn through acting" (137). Kate Chedgzoy's chapter on reimagining boyhood in adolescent literature set in Shakespeare's England is almost more valuable for its background analysis of boys in the plays than it is for the twentieth-century novels that are her actual subject. Observing that many of the boy characters in Shakespeare's plays are separated from their families and possibly in danger, she sees the theatre as a cultural site where anxieties about boys could be safely articulated.
The last two essays engage Shakespeare...