Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Lend me your ears!

This afternoon, Lucretia asked me if I knew of any audiobooks of Shakespeare’s plays for kids. One of this year’s Shakespeare Steps Out teachers had asked for recommendations for the listening stations for students in her class.

When I was a kid (and I think it’s been well-established that young Caitlin had more than a little Shakespeare in her life) I had a favorite audio book on cassette tape of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which went with an abridged graphic novel of the play. The internet can be magical, and that book (and audio recording) and I have been reunited. However, it is with great disappointment that I find that none of the original text is used in this series. Yes, there are a dozen plays in this series of Illustrated Classics, but they use “modernized” language and occasionally bungle up the story (click on the sample of Hamlet if you don’t believe me!).

So at the moment, I have failed my colleague and the SSO teacher. I would imagine that there could be some abridged Shakespeare in audio out there somewhere, and I would hope (because I am biased) that it would come from the Shakespeare: The Animated Tales texts, as those are wonderful abridgements with true text.

If you’re up for the full play on audio, you can’t beat the Arkangel’s fully dramatized recordings. But what if you want only 30 minutes for kids? Where do you turn?

Do you have any suggestions? Tell us in the comments!


  • We’ve found another! The Sourcebooks Shakespeare has a series of abridged plays accompanied by audio cd. There are several titles available at Amazon, including Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Othello, Much Ado About Nothing and more. There is an intro and narration by Sir Derek Jacobi and features recordings from various productions including CBC Radio and Living Shakespeare of the 60’s as well as the The Arkangel Shakespeare Recordings from 2003. The book also has great photos from classic and contemporary productions. The great thing is teachers can easily select various scenes that they’d like to play for their students to hear and read along in whatever the alotted time.

  • Ah, that was going to be my suggestion. I adore The Sourcebook Shakespeare. They make a great introduction to a play without sacrificing the original text.

  • Just tuned into another source. http://www.tumblebooks.com offers students a chance to read along with audiobooks online. They have 10 Shakespeare titles available under the Classics section. If you are affiliated with a library or school you can subscribe for a year to their collection of books that allow readers to hear the text while reading along with the highlighted lines on the screen. This may be a great option if you have access to computers in the classroom. The texts are not abridged however, but you can certainly select chapters or scenes to send students to directly.

  • This discussion has been all about reading or listening to plays (or versions of plays) by Shakespeare. Our idea is to give children versions of Shakespeare’s plays that they can act in, that they can perform. So our scripts are shortened but with all the characters and scenes, and they are in English that children can understand, so that they can learn their parts and be in a production. And it works! A recent production of our modern English version of Twelfth Night by 7 – 11 year olds was “A Rip-Roaring Success” . The actors and the audience all loved it. You can see what children said about being in another play in our series, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, on our website http://www.startingshakespeare.co.uk

    Our aim is provide an introduction to Shakespeare that is lively and action-based. The whole play is there, and – as one of our reviewers said – the poetry awaits the youngsters more mature appreciation.

    • Thanks for the link, John.

      However, reading your comment, I’m a little disturbed by the phrase “English that children can understand,” since we’ve repeatedly made reference on this blog to students who embrace the original language of Shakespeare’s plays. We have no problem with annotation, or with plays being edited for time (our successful 30+ year old student festivals feature performances 15-25 minutes in length).

      Our mission, if you read our website, http://www.folger.edu/education, is to get students on their feet with Shakespeare’s words, experiencing the text as plays – as they were originally written to be – and using the original text that Shakespeare wrote. This blog post was in reference to audio materials, and laments the use of modern language in lieu of the original text.

      Again, thank you for the link, but I would encourage you and your team to work with Shakespeare’s original text with students – you might be surprised at how much they pick up without needing your translations!

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