Mr. Silas A. Ramsbottom
P.O. Box 182605
Columbus, OH 43218
Dear Mr. Ramsbottom,
Have you ever seen a Shakespeare play marketed to middle school students? With all the editions of Shakespeare plays on the market there is essentially a non-existent Shakespeare market for middle school aged persons. Because of our love for the arts, and of course Shakespeare, we believe that an edition to suit this particular audience will be whole-heartedly embraced by teachers, students, and over ambitious parents who want their children to be well cultured. It is not only our love for the Bard that has inspired us to create an edition of As You Like It suitable for a middle school audience, but because of the many benefits that such an edition will bring to middle school students and their teachers.
Usually the first experience that students have with Shakespeare is in high school; plays like Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet are common choices of high school teachers. These dramas lend themselves to the more serious and tragic side, with rather depressing or gruesome endings. In a general sense, when high school students hear the word “Shakespeare” their adolescent frames tremble with fear or their developing minds dread the coming experience. They associate the wondrous name of Shakespeare with words like: boring, difficult, not important, outdated. We desire to ease this recurring problem by exposing students to Shakespeare at a younger age through a more humorous and light-hearted play, with the hopes that doing so will lay the ground for future enjoyment and involvement.
One very probable reason why teachers do not introduce Shakespeare to middle school students could be due to the noticeable lack of appropriate editions for that particular age range. While there are a variety of choices for high school teachers to choose from, no such selection exists for middle school teachers. Editions like the Folger Library: General Shakespeare Readers As You Like It has simplified text and even explanations of unfamiliar words annotated on each page. A middle school teacher could use the front matter, but it would require vast amounts of elaboration and selected paragraph readings for the students seeing as the material is more aimed at upper-level high school students. Manga offers a simple and creative edition of As You Like It in the form of a graphic novel. However, while this text may be accessible to students, teachers might find it challenging to teach from given that it has no other materials for them but adapted text and drawings; some of which hinge on inappropriateness. Despite the accessibility of these editions, they do not adapt the gender/cross-dressing issue in a manner appropriate for a middle school audience.
Our edition is both accessible and appropriate for middle school students. The text of the play is edited and adapted for their particular needs, while still maintaining the integrity of the Shakespearean language. Unfamiliar or difficult words are annotated at the bottom of each page, but not overwhelmingly so. Rather than emphasizing the ambiguity of gender or homosexual undertones, our edition effectively talks about the role of men and woman at that time and in the present, all the while maintaining the humorous nature of the play. Also, between acts there are short educational readings to help students to have a better understanding of Shakespeare, the theater, and themes in As You Like It. Taking it a step further there are also several critical thinking questions that will encourage the students to develop and use analytical skills. The Common Core states that students in grades 7 to 8 need to be able to “determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text” (RL.7.2). The critical critical thinking questions after each act will help students and teachers be on this path. Please, peruse through the manuscript that we have included as it will speak for itself.
A lack of appropriate editions might not be the only obstacle preventing middle school teachers for teaching Shakespeare. The teachers themselves could be the obstacles. Perhaps these teachers feel that their students would not be able to grasp the complexities of a Shakespearean text or perhaps they are unsure on how to go about teaching Shakespeare to twelve and thirteen year-olds at an appropriate level. Our edition, too, addresses this possible problem by supplying a teacher’s edition of the text. In essence, the teacher’s edition is identical to the students so that there is no confusion when reading together as a class or assigning homework. But in addition to that, the teacher’s edition has a more in-depth look into historical content and references of sources where to find more information if so desired. This allows the teacher to choose how much and what to share with the students. More analytical and summative questions are included that the teacher may use for more class discussion or test questions. This allows teachers to feel comfortable and confident teaching As You Like It in an appropriate and engaging manner for their middle school classrooms.
We have great confidence and faith that our edition will help middle school students (and teachers) feel successful with Shakespeare. Our edition allows for earlier exposure to this great Bard and will therefore lessen the anxiety and increase excitement for future Shakespearean encounters. Please, look through the manuscript that we have included. We hope you see the great potential and benefits that we do in having a middle school edition of As You Like It. Thank you for your consideration.