The Children's Shakespeareby Edith Nesbit, Rolf Klep
As a writer, E. Nesbit understood that the stories are the least part of Shakespeare, but as a mother she also understood the need for simplicity. Envisioning this simplified introduction to works such as The Winter's Tale, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Taming of the Shrew -- eleven plays in all -- E. Nesbit set out to make them more
As a writer, E. Nesbit understood that the stories are the least part of Shakespeare, but as a mother she also understood the need for simplicity. Envisioning this simplified introduction to works such as The Winter's Tale, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Taming of the Shrew -- eleven plays in all -- E. Nesbit set out to make them more accessible to young readers without sacrificing any essential elements. For if the stories were stripped of their wit and humor, of their emotion, the children would be no more entertained by them than by the indecipherable originals. In the end, under E. Nesbit's gifted pen, these stories emerge with all the charm and grace of the very best fairy tales. Written in thoroughly modern English and each no more than ten pages in length, the eleven plays featured in this volume afford children the opportunity to discover for themselves the magic of Shakespeare.
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The Children's Shakespeare
By Edith Nesbit, Rolf Klep
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2015 Edith Nesbit
All rights reserved.
The Winter's Tale
Leontes was the King of Sicily, and his dearest friend was Polixenes, King of Bohemia. They had been brought up together and only separated when they reached man's estate and each had to go and rule over his kingdom. After many years, when each was married and had a son, Polixenes came to stay with Leontes in Sicily.
Leontes was a violent-tempered man and rather silly, and he took it into his stupid head that his wife, Hermione, liked Polixenes better than she did him, her own husband. When once he had got this into his head, nothing could put it out; and he ordered one of his lords, Camillo, to put a poison in Polixenes' wine. Camillo tried to dissuade him from this wicked action, but finding he was not to be moved, pretended to consent. He then told Polixenes what was proposed against him, and they fled from the Court of Sicily that night, and returned to Bohemia where Camillo lived on as Polixenes' friend and counselor.
Leontes threw the Queen into prison; and her son, the heir to the throne, died of sorrow to see his mother so unjustly and cruelly treated.
While the Queen was in prison she had a little baby, and a friend of hers, named Paulina, had the baby dressed in its best, and took it to show the King, thinking that the sight of his helpless little daughter would soften his heart towards his dear Queen, who had never done him any wrong, and who loved him a great deal more than he deserved; but the King would not look at the baby, and ordered Paulina's husband to take it away in a ship, and leave it in the most desert and dreadful place he could find, which Paulina's husband, very much against his will, was obliged to do.
Then the poor Queen was brought up to be tried for treason in preferring Polixenes to her King; but really she had never thought of anyone except Leontes, her husband. Leontes had sent some messengers to ask the god, Apollo, whether he was not right in his cruel thoughts of the Queen. But he had not patience to wait till they came back, and so it happened that they arrived in the middle of the trial. The Oracle said:
"Hermione is innocent, Polixenes blameless, Camillo a true subject, Leontes a jealous tyrant, and the King shall live without an heir, if that which is lost be not found."
Then a man came and told them that the little prince was dead. The poor Queen, hearing this, fell down in a fit; and then the King saw how wicked and wrong he had been. He ordered Paulina and the ladies who were with the Queen to take her away, and try to restore her. But Paulina came back in a few moments, and told the King that Hermione was dead.
Now Leontes' eyes were at last open to his folly. His Queen was dead, and the little daughter who might have been a comfort to him he had sent away to be the prey of wolves and kites. Life had nothing left for him now. He gave himself up to his grief, and passed many sad years in prayer and remorse.
The baby Princess was left on the sea-coast of Bohemia, the very kingdom where Polixenes reigned. Paulina's husband never went home to tell Leontes where he had left the baby; for as he was going back to the ship, he met a bear and was torn to pieces. So there was an end of him.
But the poor, deserted little baby was found by a shepherd. She was richly dressed, and had with her some jewels, and a paper was pinned to her cloak, saying that her name was Perdita, and that she came of noble parents.
The shepherd, being a kind-hearted man, took home the little baby to his wife, and they brought it up as their own child. She had no more teaching than a shepherd's child generally has, but she inherited from her royal mother many graces and charms, so that she was quite different from the other maidens in the village where she lived.
One day Prince Florizel, the son of the good King of Bohemia, was hunting near the shepherd's house and saw Perdita, now grown up to a charming woman. He made friends with the shepherd, not telling him that he was the Prince, but saying that his name was Doricles, and that he was a private gentleman; and then, being deeply in love with the pretty Perdita, he came almost daily to see her.
The King could not understand what it was that took his son nearly every day from home; so he set people to watch him, and then found out that the heir of the King of Bohemia was in love with Perdita, the pretty shepherd girl. Polixenes, wishing to see whether this was true, disguised himself, and went with the faithful Camillo, in disguise too, to the old shepherd's house. They arrived at the feast of sheep-shearing, and, though strangers, they were made very welcome. There was dancing going on, and a peddler was selling ribbons and laces and gloves, which the young men bought for their sweethearts.
Florizel and Perdita, however, were taking no part in this gay scene, but sat quietly together talking. The King noticed the charming manners and great beauty of Perdita, never guessing that she was the daughter of his old friend, Leontes. He said to Camillo:
"This is the prettiest low-born lass that ever ran on the green sward. Nothing she does or seems but smacks of something greater than herself — too noble for this place."
And Camillo answered, "In truth she is the Queen of curds and cream."
But when Florizel, who did not recognize his father, called upon the strangers to witness his betrothal with the pretty shepherdess, the King made himself known and forbade the marriage, adding, that if she ever saw Florizel again, he would kill her and her old father, the shepherd; and with that he left them. But Camillo remained behind, for he was charmed with Perdita, and wished to befriend her.
Camillo had long known how sorry Leontes was for that foolish madness of his, and he longed to go back to Sicily to see his old master. He now proposed that the young people should go there and claim the protection of Leontes. So they went, and the shepherd went with them, taking Perdita's jewels, her baby clothes, and the paper he had found pinned to her cloak.
Leontes received them with great kindness. He was very polite to Prince Florizel, but all his looks were for Perdita. He saw how much she was like the Queen Hermione, and said again and again:
"Such a sweet creature my daughter might have been, if I had not cruelly sent her from me."
When the old shepherd heard that the King had lost a baby daughter, who had been left upon the coast of Bohemia, he felt sure that Perdita, the child he had reared, must be the King's daughter, and when he told his tale and showed the jewels and the paper, the King perceived that Perdita was indeed his long-lost child. He welcomed her with joy, and rewarded the good shepherd.
Polixenes had hastened after his son to prevent his marriage with Perdita, but when he found that she was the daughter of his old friend, he was only too glad to give his consent.
Yet Leontes could not be happy. He remembered how his fair queen, who should have been at his side to share his joy in his daughter's happiness, was dead through his unkindness, and he could say nothing for a long time but:
"Oh, thy mother! thy mother!" and ask forgiveness of the King of Bohemia, and then kiss his daughter again, and then the Prince Florizel, and then thank the old shepherd for all his goodness.
Then Paulina, who had been high all these years in the King's favor, because of her kindness to the dead Queen Hermione, said, "I have a statue made in the likeness of the dead queen, a piece many years in doing, and performed by the rare Italian Master, Giulio Romano. I keep it in a private house apart, and there, ever since you lost your queen, I have gone twice or thrice a day. Will it please your Majesty to go and see the statue?"
So Leontes, and Polixenes, and Florizel, and Perdita, with Camillo and their attendants, went to Paulina's house, and there was a heavy purple curtain screening off an alcove; and Paulina, with her hand on the curtain, said:
"She was peerless when she was alive, and I do believe that her dead likeness excels whatever yet you have looked upon, or that the hand of man hath done. Therefore I keep it lonely, apart. But here it is. Behold, and say 'tis well."
And with that she drew back the curtain and showed them the statue. The King gazed and gazed on the beautiful statue of his dead wife, but said nothing.
"I like your silence," said Paulina, "it the more shows off your wonder; but speak, is it not like her?"
"It is almost herself," said the King, "and yet, Paulina, Hermione was not so much wrinkled, nothing like so old as this seems."
"Oh, not by much," said Polixenes.
"Ah," said Paulina, "that is the cleverness of the carver, who shows her to us as she would have been, had she lived till now."
And still Leontes looked at the statue and could not take his eyes away.
"If I had known," said Paulina, "that this poor image would so have stirred your grief, and love, I would not have shown it to you."
But he only answered, "Do not draw the curtain."
"No, you must not look any longer," said Paulina, "or you will think it moves."
"Let be, let be!" said the King. "Would you not think it breathed?"
"I will draw the curtain," said Paulina, "you will think it lives presently."
"Ah, sweet Paulina," said Leontes, "make me to think so twenty years together."
"If you can bear it," said Paulina, "I can make the statue move, make it come down and take you by the hand. Only you would think it was by wicked magic."
"Whatever you can make her do, I am content to look on," said the King. And then, all folks there admiring and beholding, the statue moved from its pedestal, and came down the steps and put its arms round the King's neck, and he held her face and kissed her many times, for this was no statue, but the real living Queen Hermione herself. She had lived, hidden by Paulina's kindness, all these years, and would not have discovered herself to her husband, though she knew he had repented, because she could not quite forgive him till she knew what had become of her little baby. Now that Perdita was found, she forgave her husband everything, and it was like a new and beautiful marriage to them, to be together once more. Florizel and Perdita were married, and lived long and happily. To Leontes his long years of suffering were well paid for, in the moment, when, after long grief and pain, he felt the arms of his true love round him once again.CHAPTER 2
Romeo and Juliet
Once upon a time there lived in Verona two great families named Montagu and Capulet. They were both rich, and I suppose they were as sensible, in most things, as other rich people. But in one thing they were extremely silly. There was an old, old quarrel between the two families, and instead of making it up like reasonable folks, they made a sort of pet of their quarrel, and would not let it die out. So that a Montagu wouldn't speak to a Capulet if he met one in the street — nor a Capulet to a Montagu — or if they did speak, it was to say rude and unpleasant things, which often ended in a fight. And their relations and servants were just as foolish, so that street fights and duels and uncomfort-ablenesses of that kind were always growing out of the Montagu-and-Capulet quarrel.
Now Lord Capulet, the head of that family, gave a party — a grand supper and dance — and he was so hospitable that he said anyone might come to it — except (of course) the Montagues. But there was a young Montagu named Romeo, who very much wanted to be there, because Rosaline, the lady he loved, had been asked. This lady had never been at all kind to him, and he had no reason to love her; but the fact was that he wanted to love somebody, and as he hadn't seen the right lady, he was obliged to love the wrong one. So to the Capulets' grand party he came, with his friends Mercutio and Benvolio.
Old Capulet welcomed him and his two friends very kindly — and young Romeo moved about among the crowd of courtly folk dressed in their velvets and satins, the men with jeweled sword hilts and collars, and the ladies with brilliant gems on breast and arms, and stones of price set in their bright girdles. Romeo was in his best too, and though he wore a black mask over his eyes and nose, every one could see by his mouth and his hair, and the way he held his head, that he was twelve times handsomer than any one else in the room.
Presently amid the dancers he saw a lady so beautiful and so lovable, that from that moment he never again gave one thought to that Rosaline whom he had thought he loved. And he looked at this other fair lady, as she moved in the dance in her white satin and pearls, and all the world seemed vain and worthless to him compared with her. And he was saying this — or something like it — to his friend, when Tybalt, Lady Capulet's nephew, hearing his voice, knew him to be Romeo. Tybalt, being very angry, went at once to his uncle, and told him how a Montagu had come uninvited to the feast; but old Capulet was too fine a gentleman to be discourteous to any man under his own roof, and he bade Tybalt be quiet. But this young man only waited for a chance to quarrel with Romeo.
In the meantime Romeo made his way to the fair lady, and told her in sweet words that he loved her, and kissed her. Just then her mother sent for her, and then Romeo found out that the lady on whom he had set his heart's hopes was Juliet, the daughter of Lord Capulet, his sworn foe. So he went away, sorrowing indeed, but loving her none the less.
Then Juliet said to her nurse:
"Who is that gentleman that would not dance?"
"His name is Romeo, and a Montagu, the only son of your great enemy," answered the nurse.
Then Juliet went to her room, and looked out of her window over the beautiful green-gray garden, where the moon was shining. And Romeo was hidden in that garden among the trees — because he could not bear to go right away without trying to see her again. So she — not knowing him to be there — spoke her secret thought aloud, and told the quiet garden how she loved Romeo.
And Romeo heard and was glad beyond measure; hidden below, he looked up and saw her fair face in the moonlight, framed in the blossoming creepers that grew round her window, and as he looked and listened, he felt as though he had been carried away in a dream, and set down by some magician in that beautiful and enchanted garden.
"Ah — why are you called Romeo?" said Juliet. "Since I love you, what does it matter what you are called?"
"Call me but love, and I'll be new baptized — henceforth I never will be Romeo," he cried, stepping into the full white moonlight from the shade of the cypressses and oleanders that had hidden him. She was frightened at first, but when she saw that it was Romeo himself, and no stranger, she too was glad, and, he standing in the garden below and she leaning from the window, they spoke long together, each one trying to find the sweetest words in the world, to make that pleasant talk that lovers use. And the tale of all they said, and the sweet music their voices made together, is all set down in a golden book, where you children may read it for yourselves some day.
And the time passed so quickly, as it does for folk who love each other and are together, that when the time came to part, it seemed as though they had met but that moment — and indeed they hardly knew how to part.
"I will send to you tomorrow," said Juliet.
And so at last, with lingering and longing, they said good-bye.
Juliet went into her room, and a dark curtain hid her bright window. Romeo went away through the still and dewy garden like a man in a dream.
The next morning very early Romeo went to Friar Laurence, a priest, and, telling him all the story, begged him to marry him to Juliet without delay. And this, after some talk, the priest consented to do.
So when Juliet sent her old nurse to Romeo that day to know what he purposed to do, the old woman took back a message that all was well, and all things ready for the marriage of Juliet and Romeo on the next morning.
The young lovers were afraid to ask their parents' consent to their marriage, as young people should do, because of this foolish old quarrel between the Capulets and the Montagues.
And Friar Laurence was willing to help the young lovers secretly, because he thought that when they were once married their parents might soon be told, and that the match might put a happy end to the old quarrel.
So the next morning early, Romeo and Juliet were married at Friar Laurence's cell, and parted with tears and kisses. And Romeo promised to come into the garden that evening, and the nurse got ready a rope-ladder to let down from the window, so that Romeo could climb up and talk to his dear wife quietly and alone.
Excerpted from The Children's Shakespeare by Edith Nesbit, Rolf Klep. Copyright © 2015 Edith Nesbit. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
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Meet the Author
E. Nesbit 1858-1924, was an English author and poet, who wrote or collaborated on more than 60 works of fiction for children, several of which have been adapted for film and television and are still popular today, such as The Treasure Seekers and Five Children and It.
English author Edith Nesbit's impressive body of work includes poems, plays, novels, and even ghost stories, however, she is best known for her beloved children's adventure stories, published under the name E. Nesbit. Among Nesbit's best-known works are The Story of the Treasure-Seekers, The Railway Children, The Wouldbegoods and Five Children and It. Nesbit's novels departed from the children's literary tradition of fantasy-worlds popularized by Lewis Carroll and Kenneth Grahame, and instead focused on the adventures to be had from real-life experiences. Nesbit's work inspired other writers like C. S. Lewis, P. L Travers, and J. K. Rowling, and many of her stories have been adapted for film and television. In addition to writing, Nesbit was an activist and co-founded the Fabian Society, a socialist group that provided the foundation for the modern British Labour Party. Nesbit died in 1924.
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