Wherefore art thou, Shakespeare? In 2nd grade!
In high school, students sometimes dread Shakespeare. But, according to Zephyr Cove Elementary School 2nd grade teacher Dee Robinson, her students don’t know it’s supposed to be difficult.
“The kids love it. They watch a movie and write about it and there is a contest for the best summary,” she said. “Second graders can learn this. They don’t know they can’t.”
For the fourth year, Robinson has taught her students that tale of star-crossed lovers, “Romeo and Juliet.” The children turn her classroom into Verona and perform scenes from the play. She got the idea when she visited her niece’s charter school in Southern California.
“I thought if these kids can memorize poetry in the 2nd grade, what the heck? We should try Shakespeare.”
Robinson team teaches this year with Angela Kelley. Robinson said the students begin the year studying poetry and every week have to memorize a poem.
“One Juliet last year knew 82 lines in Old English. They do five or six scenes and learn about expressions Shakespeare wrote that you hear everyday. It is interesting when they start realizing parts they hear in cartoons are from Shakespeare.”
In previous years she has also had the children play a baseball game in which the children all have to speak in Old English and Shakespearian expressions.
This year, 15 of her 25 students tried out for parts. Each student earned at least one part and many students had the opportunity to change change costumes and play a different character, creating an ever-changing array of Juliets and Romeos.
Family members squeezed into tiny chairs to witness the performance Thursday morning and teachers and other students watched the second performance that afternoon.
Barely-stifled laughter sometimes could be heard over the children’s’ voices saying the familiar lines, especially when a Romeo would ignore parts in which he is supposed to kiss his true love.
“No, no, no. It’s impossible for me,” said one Romeo, Cody Nelson.
But all the parents agreed it was impressive that the students learned all those difficult Shakespeare lines.
Peggy Cain said her son Colby, who played the friar and Romeo didn’t even ask her help to learn his lines.
“He learned his lines in two days. I thought it would be tough, but when I sat down to rehearse with him, he already had it,” she said. “(The performance) brought tears to my eyes. (Robinson) had them right from the beginning memorizing poems. I think that helped them. It was good exposure to poetry and language.”
Kathy Bourne came to see her son Steffen, 8.
“It was an extremely neat experience for him. I was impressed how well they all did and the lines they learned,” Bourne said.
Rachel Fry, 7, played Juliet’s nurse and Lord Capulet in one scene.
Her ability to project stood out in a stage full of sometimes mumbling Romeos. Her favorite line had to do with that very thing.
“I usually practiced myself. I wanted to study the lines so I could be Lord Capulet. My favorite line was (as Lord Capulet speaking to the nurse) ‘Peace, you mumbling fool!'” Rachel said.
Rachel’s mother, Marylynn Fry, said she was very proud of her little actress.
“She learned it all on her own. She even came up with her own costume. She was very exited. She practiced with her two brothers. She came up with the energy and enthusiasm on her own,” Fry said.
Dylan Smith, 8, who played Romeo’s brazen friend Mercutio, added a bit of excitement to his death scene when he accidentally fell into a table. “I am hurt – A plague on both your houses!”
Dylan said he liked the swordplay and the fact that “I got to call Tybalt a rat catcher. And I got to be with my friends.”
Christy Clark, 8, said she loved playing Juliet and dressing up, but was nervous when her father showed up.
“I forgot some lines, especially after my dad was there. He said I was good, I was just embarrassed,” she said.
Christy, however, showed good improvisation skills when she forgot to take her dagger onstage during her death scene and just pretended to stab herself.
A student narrated the play, and Robinson stood “off-stage” to whisper forgotten lines.
“I want to say something about drama, art and music in schools,” Robinson said to parents after the performance, “request it, demand it. This is how you hook them – they’ll do the rest. It’s really hard to hook them with a math worksheet.”