In this article I present an argument for introducing the stories and language of Shakespeare to children in the earliest years of compulsory schooling. The evidence is drawn from a project on The Tempest with a class of four- and five-year-old children led by the education department of the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2010. One of the striking results of the project was the noticeable effect the work had on children’s use of language in the classroom. Drawing on the work of Peter and Iona Opie and the applied linguist Guy Cook, I examine how children’s enjoyment of nursery rhymes and other forms of language play helped them access and internalize language drawn from Shakespeare’s original text. I then explain and illustrate how the aesthetics of play, as theorized by Roger Caillois, can help us draw parallels between the playful pedagogy of the teachers involved in the project and the playfulness at the heart of Shakespeare’s own work. Central to my argument is the contention that attending to the aesthetic appeal of the form of language can be more powerful to young children’s learning than merely concentrating on its potential for transactional meaning.


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pp. 1-15
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