Laurie E. Osborne
Early in the nineteenth century, Mary Lamb and her brother published their “Tales from Shakespeare, ” rendering his plays in narrative form as “easy reading for very young children.” The introduction offers the tales “for young ladies, too …because boys being generally permitted the use of their fathers' libraries at a much earlier age than girls are…frequently have the best scenes of Shakespeare by heart, before their sisters are permitted to look into this manly book” (Lamb 1975:viii). As both the introduction and the tales themselves prove, the production of Shakespeare for young children not only exposes how a culture imagines the education of its young people but also how reworking Shakespeare for children justifies a revealing degree of abbreviation, naturally only in preparation for the “real thing.” The reconstruction of the plays in brief narrative form reveals as much about the growing importance of narrative as it does about the position and use of Shakespearean texts in early nineteenth-century England.
In the late twentieth century, Shakespeare: The Animated Tales, the recently released joint production originating in Wales, England, and the Soviet Union, alludes to the earlier tales quite deliberately in its title. Like the Lambs' narratives, the Animated Tales are centrally important not just because of how they present Shakespeare to a new generation of readers and potential audience members, but also because they train that audience in the influential new medium for conveying the plays. The Animated Tales underscore the mechanics of film, particularly as it brings Shakespeare's poetry into illusory motion. In fact they prepare their audience to understand the plays cinematically rather than theatrically or literarily. Thus these cartoons simultaneously introduce viewers to supposedly timeless canonical works and predispose them to understand those works and their significance through the lens of contemporary video culture, in which the most prominent visual mechanism is the film cut.
All Shakespearean films cut and rearrange materials from the plays-often to the dismay of eagle-eyed scholars-but the Animated Tales, like the Lambs' Tales before them, readily justify that curtailment on the basis of audience. Because of the immaturity of the youthful potential Shakespeare fan and the presumably limited attention span of the cartoon generation, the series first produced versions of Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth