Tales from Shakespeare

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hints and little foretastes of the great pleasure which awaits them in their elder years...

Tales from Shakespeare is an English children's book written by Charles Lamb and his sister Mary Lamb in 1807.



  • The following Tales are meant to be submitted to the young reader as an introduction to the study of Shakespeare, for which purpose his words are used whenever it seemed possible to bring them in; and in whatever has been added to give them the regular form of a connected story, diligent care has been taken to select such words as might least interrupt the effect of the beautiful English tongue in which he wrote: therefore, words introduced into our language since his time have been as far as possible avoided.
  • ...it was the only way in which could be given to them a few hints and little foretastes of the great pleasure which awaits them in their elder years, when they come to the rich treasures from which these small and valueless coins are extracted.
  • It has been wished to make these Tales easy reading for very young children... For young ladies too, it has been the intention chiefly to write... it is hoped they will find that the [original] in this way will be much better relished and understood from their having some notion of the general story from one of these imperfect abridgments...
  • What these Tales shall have been to the young readers, that and much more it is the writers' wish that the true Plays of Shakespeare may prove to them in older years—enrichers of the fancy, strengtheners of virtue, a withdrawing from all selfish and mercenary thoughts, a lesson of all sweet and honourable thoughts and actions, to teach courtesy, benignity, generosity, humanity: for of examples, teaching these virtues, his pages are full.

About Tales from Shakespeare[edit]

  • Often, after a hard day's teaching, my father used to have his breakfast in bed next morning, when we children were allowed to scramble up to the counterpane and lie around him to see what new book he had bought for us, and listen to his description and explanation of it. Never can I forget the boundless joy and interest with which I heard him tell about the contents of two volumes he had just brought home, as he showed me the printed pictures in them. They were an early edition of 'Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare.' And what a vast world of new ideas and new delights that opened to me! a world in which I have ever since much dwelt, and always with supreme pleasure and admiration.
  • I cannot tell exactly when I began Lamb's "Tales from Shakespeare"; but I know that I read them at first with a child's understanding and a child's wonder.
  • [Mary] says you saw her writings about the other day, and she wishes you should know what they are. She is doing for Godwin's bookseller twenty of Shakespeare's plays, to be made into children's tales. Six are already done by her; to wit, The Tempest, A Winter's Tale, Midsummer Night's Dream, Much Ado about Nothing, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Cymbeline. The Merchant of Venice is in forwardness. I have done Othello and Macbeth, and mean to do all the tragedies. I think it will be popular among the little people, besides money. It is to bring in sixty guineas. Mary has done them capitally I think you'd think.
    • Charles Lamb, letter to Thomas Manning (10 May 1806), in The Letters of Charles Lamb, Vol. I (1837), pp. 286–287
  • Mary is just stuck fast in All's Well that Ends Well. She complains of having to set forth so many female characters in boys' clothes. She begins to think Shakespeare must have wanted imagination! I, to encourage her (for she often faints in the prosecution of her great work), flatter her with telling how well such and such a play is done. But she is stuck fast, and I have been obliged to promise to assist her.
    • Charles Lamb, letter to William Wordsworth (26 June 1806), in Tales from Shakespeare ed. by G. Sampson (1905), p. xxviii
  • My Tales are to be published in separate story-books. I mean in single stories, like the children's little shilling books. I cannot send you them in manuscript, because they are all in the Godwins' hands; but one will be published very soon, and then you shall have it all in print. ... Charles has written Macbeth, Othello, King Lear, and has begun Hamlet; you would like to see us, as we often sit writing on one table (but not on one cushion sitting), like Hermia and Helena in the Midsummer Night's Dream; or rather, like an old literary Darby and Joan, I taking snuff and he groaning all the while and saying he can make nothing of it, which he always says till he has finished, and then he finds out he has made something of it.
    • Mary Lamb, letter to Sarah Stoddart (2 June 1806), in Mary and Charles Lamb ed. by W. C. Hazlitt (1874), p. 55
  • It was like reading fairy tales, an intimate experience not surpassed by my later reading of the original plays.
    • Guo Moruo, as quoted in Degrees of Affinity: Studies in Comparative Literature and Translation (2015) by Zuoliang Wang, p. 12

External links[edit]