Talk Like Shakespeare Day, a Chicago creation, goes global

We’ve got Da Bears, Da Bulls and now, Da Bard.

Friday is the second annual Talk Like Shakespeare Day, in honor of the playwright’s 446th birthday. The celebration began last year in Chicago and spread globally, with more than a million hits to, and is backed by the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Mayor Richard J. Daley’s resolution encourages Chicagoans to “let boldness be thy friend” and get their Elizabethan on.


Shakespeare may be most commonly encountered in high school and college literature classes, but it’s surprisingly kid-friendly, says Reina Hardy, executive director of The Viola Project, a Chicago non-profit that runs Shakespeare performance workshops for girls.

“The actual stories and characters are very graspable and exciting to kids,” Hardy says. “Take Hamlet: This is guy’s dad is dead and his mom has married his uncle, and he’s pretty sure his uncle actually killed his father. Kids love that. Their jaws just drop.

“There hasn’t been a play we’ve done that kids haven’t responded to,” she adds.

Marilyn Halperin, director of education and communications for the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, says waiting until middle or high school to introduce kids to Shakespeare is actually a mistake. By then, they’re self-conscious, which “makes it difficult to play with and engage the language, as they’re afraid of sounding like an idiot.”

And by high school, many students have been convinced that Shakespeare is just another “old, dead white guy” — teen-speak for lame.

there’s so much baggage about shakespeare aeing boring, difficult, almost iconic of everything that school demands of you that doesn’t ahve any relevance, that many students by the time they get to jr high and high school approach his plays with both the cultural baggage attached but also their own developmental self-consciousness that makes it difficult to play with it.

“By adolescence, there’s so much baggage about Shakespeare being boring and difficult and almost iconic of everything that school demands of you that doesn’t have any relevance to your life,” she says.

So start ’em early, Halperin says. Maybe not with Hamlet’s soliloquy (though for an adorable video of one actor trying to do just that, scroll down), but there are plenty of ways to introduce Shakespeare’s language and stories to kids as young as preschool.
She shared these tips:
  • Tell the stories. While most of Shakespeare’s plotlines were, um, recycled, they’re still the easiest way to access his work. Love, vengeance, mystery and a good swordfight are the keys to any good story. Halperin recommends the retellings by Bruce Coville, availablehere.
  • Break it down. Shakespeare’s language can be tough for little tongues, so make it manageable, Halperin says. Go word by word, and help your child with ones that are tough to pronounce. “These are plays and they’re meant to be spoken and heard, not read,” Halperin says. “It really makes the words come alive.”
  • Put on a play. The world’s a stage, as the Bard tells us, so make it your own. Bedsheets make great capes, empty wrapping paper rolls are excellent stand-ins for rapiers, and those crowns they give in school for birthdays will do just fine. The Viola Project also offers workshops for girls, and a special mother-daughter workshop on May 8. For more information, click here.
  • See it live. The Chicago Shakespeare Theater holds abridged kid-friendly versions of Shakespeare’s classics every winter. It’s done for this year, but starts up again next January. But even a full version can captivate young crowds, Halperin says. For upcoming performances, click here.
  • Wish William a happy 446th! Friday is about more than talking like Shakespeare, Halperin says. If a birthday party is the easiest way to get your kids’ attention (and when there’s cake involved, that’s a safe bet), that’s just fine. Get a cupcake, light a candle, and sing “Happy Birthday to Thou.”

Visit for information on all things Shakespearean, including recipes (A Winter’s Tale Shepherd’s Pie? Yes, please!), and tips to talk like the Bard, and read-aloud Shakespearean stories (we recommend avoiding King Lear before bedtime).

And just for fun, check out this adorable video of actor Brian Cox trying to teach Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy to Theo, age 2.

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