A Dream come true
THE PLAY tells of unrequited love, petty jealousy, manipulation and sex with a donkey. It is also a way of teaching six-year-olds science, history and physical education.
After spending a day at a Royal Shakespeare Company workshop, Sue Mitchell, the Year 1 teacher at Telford infant school in Lillington, Warwickshire, decided to use A Midsummer Night's Dream to teach various curriculum subjects.
She took pupils out to a wooded area in the school grounds, where they examined the textures of different types of bark. Pretending it was the Athenian wood from the play, she taught them the difference between "rough"
She also introduced pupils to a passage in which Titania throws a fireball at Oberon, which then transforms into water and soaks him. In science lessons, they then examined what kinds of material would make the best waterproof coat for a fairy king with domestic troubles.
"It's about fairies, so we were worried the boys wouldn't like it," Ms Mitchell said. "But they loved it. Magic, kings and gore appeal to children. So Macbeth would work as well.
"Shakespeare just lends itself to the imagination. There's something in there for all ages."
The Y1 curriculum stipulates that children should learn about a famous person, so the Telford pupils have been studying Shakespeare's life and his lasting impact.
"We look up answers to their questions," said Ms Mitchell. "Where did he live? Did he wear school uniform? Did he have fishfingers for tea?"
In music lessons, children learn passages of Shakespeare's text set to familiar tunes. And in PE they learn Dream-related dances portraying fairies and magic, marking the moment when aphrodisiac potions are squeezed into characters' eyes.
The year's work will end with an abridged performance of the play, bringing together the dances with Shakespearean dialogue, all performed by the six-year-olds.
The Telford pupils insist the play is relevant to their lives. Six-year-old Ewan McPherson said: "There are magic and fairies in real life.
"I left my tooth under my pillow and the tooth fairy took it away and left coins. That's magic.
"It's not quite the same as the play. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, the fairies are all actors. But the tooth fairy is real."
Ms Mitchell said: "They don't have any preconceived ideas about Shakespeare. Now, when they study him in secondary school, it will be familiar. They'll feel more comfortable with the language."
Fiona Ingram, of the RSC, agrees that six-year-olds are not too young to acquire an appreciation of iambic pentameter.