William Shakespeare is Reintroduced for Young Readers in Charles Lamb and Mary Lamb’s "Tales from Shakespeare"



 The romantic wave that swept Europe early in the 19th century also affected children's literature if it were indeed intended for doing so. Primarily these were for the newly educated common mass and the young ones of the upper classes apart for the general intelligentsia. Thus, William Shakespeare is relocated once again in Charles Lamb and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare (1807) in simple words without losing the root interest in it. It is very common that a common citizen  much  suffer reading Shakespeare and that they always read simple summaries before reading the original plays, so it was very thoughtful of Lambs to bring a book that contains the most famous plays of Shakespeare retold in a very clear and easy-to-follow style.

Such a revival of interest in the works of English playwright William Shakespeare resulted in one of the most popular children's books, Tales from Shakespeare, a prose adaptation for children, consisting of versions of the Shakespeare stories by essayist Charles Lamb and his sister Mary Ann Lamb. Writing the stories was a project for Mary Lamb while in a sanitarium for murdering her mother. Her brother Charles Lamb faithfully visited his sister every day. They divided the tales up, each wrote half and they would read them to each other.

Shakespeare Simplified:

This is a wonderful introduction to the genius of Shakespeare. Generally, the book is pretty helpful for beginners.  An ESL student usually pick up a certain play and read it from this book before, during or after reading the original play to make sure they understood the play completely and perfectly. The tales in this volume are written for critical summarizations and have become literature in their own right. These stories are a perfect way to introduce new readers to Shakespeare’s plays.

Considered the classic revision of Shakespeare for new readers, it is a nice way for young adults to be introduced as Shakespeare’s plays come alive and are especially accessible to the young readers. The plays are written as "short-stories" which made the book even easier to comprehend. In this Tales from Shakespeare, Charles and Mary Lamb use Shakespeare’s words as much as possible, especially in the tragedies. More often than not, the comedies are adapted using the authors’ own words. Regardless of the origin of the stories they are brief descriptions of some of Shakespeare's plays and are nice introductions to the work of the Bard.

Reading List: 

The Lambs haven't included all of the plays in this work – notable absences include the Roman plays and the History plays. The suggestion is, at least in the introduction to the edition that I read, is that the Lambs were more interested in the plays that operated within the domestic sphere as opposed to those that operated in the political sphere. While that may seem a little odd when we note that plays such as the Macbeth and King Lear are included as these two plays very much operate within the political sphere.

 Total list of tales translated in Tales from Shakespeare:
Titles Translated by Mary Lamb

Early Comedies

1.The Comedy of Errors
2.The Two Gentlemen of Verona
3.The Taming of the Shrew

Middle Comedies

4.A Midsummer Night's Dream
5.The Merchant of Venice

Mature Comedies

6. Much Ado About Nothing
7. As You Like It
8. Twelfth Night

Problem Comedies

9. All’s Well That Ends Well
10. Measure for Measure

The Late Plays

11. Pericles, Prince of Tyre
12. Cymbeline
13. The Winter's Tale
14. The Tempest

Translated by Charles Lamb

Early Tragedies

15. Romeo and Juliet

Mature Tragedies

16. Hamlet
17. Othello
18. King Lear
19. Macbeth
20. Timon of Athens

Intended for Common Mass:

 The book is primarily targeted at young readers at the age when experience of the world outside of the home were very limited. In fact, tales for children had existed for centuries, but many of the stories that we traditionally consider to be children's stories such as Grimm's Fairytales were originally written for an adult audience. It wasn't until the 19th century that stories, and books, were written specifically with children in mind that we have already noted earlier. In a way we can trace the modern children's story back to the work of Charles and Mary Lamb, who saw a need to make some of the classic Shakespearian, plays more accessible to the younger audience. It is interesting to consider the target audience of this book though – written in 1809 it would have mainly been for the children of the middle and upper classes, who no doubt would have been able to read. However it is suggested in Charles Lamb's introduction that it was more for the girls than the boys, as the boys would have had access to the father's library at a much younger age than the girls. It is also an indication that at the time children's literature would have been literally non-existent, namely because it was expected that when a child learnt to read, they would have been thrown straight into the deep end. Tales from Shakespeare are meant to be submitted to the common mass as an introduction to the study of Shakespeare, for which purpose Shakespearean  words are used whenever it seemed possible to bring them in; and in whatever has been added to give them the regular form of a connected story, diligent care has been taken to select such words as might least interrupt the effect of the beautiful English tongue in which he wrote: therefore, words introduced into our language since his time have been as far as possible avoided.

Variables in Tragedies and Comedies: 

A lovely book for those who want to get the gist of Shakespeare. With Lovely prose and imaginative impulses, it is well composed as good bedtime story book. Again, we sometime don’t feel that we are ready to actually start reading the proper text, namely because we wouldn't fully understand Shakespeare's language. After all, Shakespeare isn't the easiest of authors to read. This is a great little book simply because it has been written in a style that suits this purpose. It is really accessible to those of us who might not be able to understand the language, or even be able to follow what is in effect a script.

 The Lambs do try retaining as much of the original dialogue as possible, but only where they use the dialogue. For the most part the story is told using prose, which has a great effect on being able to help us understand the action of the play.  In those tales which have been taken from the tragedies, the new enlighten  readers will perceive, when they come to see the source from which these stories are derived, that Shakespeare’s own words, with little alteration, recur very frequently in the narrative as well as in the dialogue; but in those made from the Comedies the writers found themselves scarcely ever able to turn his words into the narrative form therefore it is feared that in them dialogue has been made use of too frequently for young people not accustomed to the dramatic form of writing. As faint and imperfect stamps of Shakespeare’s matchless image can be seen in the stories because the beauty of his language is too frequently destroyed by the necessity of changing many of his excellent words into words far less expressive of his true sense, to make it read something like prose; and even in some few places, where his blank verse is given unaltered, as hoping from its simple plainness to cheat the young readers into the belief that they are reading prose, yet still his language being transplanted from its own natural soil and wild poetic garden, it must want much of its native beauty.

Children’s Literature Seriously Taken:

 It has been wished to make these Tales easy reading for very young children. To the utmost of their ability the writers have constantly kept this in mind; but the subjects of most of them made this a very difficult task. It was no easy matter to give the histories of men and women in terms familiar to the apprehension of a very young mind. For young ladies too, it has been the intention chiefly to write; because boys being generally permitted the use of their fathers’ libraries at a much earlier age than girls are, they frequently have the best scenes of Shakespeare by heart, before their sisters are permitted to look into this manly book; and, therefore, instead of recommending these Tales to the perusal of young gentlemen who can read them so much better in the originals, their kind assistance is rather requested in explaining to their sisters such parts as are hardest for them to understand: and when they have helped them to get over the difficulties, then perhaps they will read to them some passage which has pleased them in one of these stories, in the very words of the scene from which it is taken; and it is hoped they will find that the beautiful extracts, the select passages, they may choose to give their sisters in this way will be much better relished and understood from their having some notion of the general story from one of these imperfect abridgments;—which if they be fortunately so done as to prove delightful to any of the young readers, it is hoped that no worse effect will result than to make them wish themselves a little older, that they may be allowed to read the Plays at full length. When time and leave of judicious friends shall put them into their hands, they will discover in such of them as are here abridged many surprising events and turns of fortune, which for their infinite variety could not be contained in this little book, besides a world of sprightly and cheerful characters, both men and women, the humour of which it was feared would be lost if it were attempted to reduce the length of them.


What these Tales shall have been to the young readers, that and much more it is the writers’ wish that the true Plays of Shakespeare may prove to them in older years—enriches of the fancy, strengtheners of virtue, a withdrawing from all selfish and mercenary thoughts, a lesson of all sweet and honourable thoughts and actions, to teach courtesy, benignity, generosity, humanity: for of examples, teaching these virtues, his pages are full.

Ardhendu De

Reference: http://www.eldritchpress.org/cml/tfs.html


Popular posts from this blog

Dr. West’s New Method of Teaching English :Its Merits and Demerits

Critical Appreciation of Philip Larkin’s Poem, "The North Ship": Life Award for Best Philosophical Access

What are the specific objectives of teaching English as a second language at the secondary stage? How far is the current high school curriculum helpful in realizing the objectives?