Golden Lads & Lasses: Shakespeare for Children children's exhibition

Park's Shakespeare Characters, a nineteenth-century picture game. Folger Digital Image 6208.

This article collects the children's exhibition material featured in Golden Lads & Lasses: Shakespeare for Children, one of the Exhibitions at the Folger. Specifically, this article focuses on games and activities for children.

The world of Shakespeare’s stories and poems seems made for children. Through illustrations, riddle card games, and even paper dolls, explore the creative ways in which Shakespeare has been presented to children over the centuries. All of the objects and drawings seen here can be found at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Park's Shakespeare Characters

This picture game from around 1840 is one that could be played at the Twelfth Night Festival. The game is a large, hand-colored engraved sheet showing twenty-four Shakespearean characters in blocks, each the size of a playing card. Beneath each character is a silly riddle. Presumably, the cards were to be cut out and passed around the table where guests would take turns asking the riddles and guessing the answers.

Riddles from the Riddle Card Game

Desdemona from Othello
Q: Why is a flea like a railway?
A: Because it runs upon sleepers.
Othello from Othello
Q: Why is an honest man like barley sugar?
A: Because he is candid [candied].
Queen Anne Boleyn from Henry VIII
Q: Why is a woman in error like a young lady taken prisoner?
A: Because she is mis-taken.
Henry VIII from Henry VIII
Q: Why is a cautious tradesman like a student in divinity?
A: Because he studies the profits [prophets].
Lady Anne from Richard III
Q: Why is a fretful man like a loaf of bread baked too much?
A: Because he is crusty.
Duke of Gloster from Richard III
Q: Why is an eating house keeper like a doctor?
A: Because he profits by consumption.
Miranda from The Tempest
Q: Why is an invalid old man like a well driven nail?
A: Because he is in-firm.
Prospero from The Tempest
Q: What bird is that which always calls its own name?
A: A cuckoo.
Sir John Falstaff from Merry Wives of Windsor
Q: Why is the cross on the top of St. Paul's like an abandoned character?
A: Because it is covered over with guilt [gilt].
Mrs. Page from Merry Wives of Windsor
Q: Why are trousers that are too big in every way like two towns in France?
A: Because they are too long [Toulon] or too loose [Toulouse].
Ophelia from Hamlet
Q: Why are children whose parents are dead like worn out shoes?
A: Because they are [left off-ens] orphans.
Hamlet from Hamlet
Q: Why is a boy doing his sums like a serpent erect?
A: Because he is an adder up.
Juliet from Romeo and Juliet
Q: Can you spell Brandy in three letters?
A: B, R, & Y.
Romeo from Romeo and Juliet
Q: Why is the letter “F” like death?
A: Because it is at the end of life [E] and the beginning of the grave [G].
Benedict from Much Ado About Nothing
Q: Why is an endeavour to obtain perpetual motion like a barren tree?
A: Fruitless.
Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing
Q: Why is a man searching for the philosopher’s stone like Neptune?
A: Because he is seeking what never existed.
Cymbeline from Cymbeline
Q: What “graphy” do young schoolboys like the best?
A: Top-ography.
Imogine from Cymbeline
Q: What is the difference between 5 and 20 and twice 25?
A: Twenty.
Orlando from As You Like It
Q: What river would a person name if he suddenly recollected that he was in debt?
A: Ohio.
Rosalind from As You Like It
Q: What ingredient in a salad would express our native land?
A: Sweet isle [sweet oil].
Jessica from Merchant of Venice
Q: Why is a man approaching a candle like another about to get off his horse?
A: Because he is going to alight.
Shylock from Merchant of Venice
Q: Why is wit like a Chinese lady's foot?
A: Brevity is the soul /sole/ of wit.
Petruchio from Taming of the Shrew
Q: When is a ship not a ship?
A: When she is a-shore.
Katharine from Taming of the Shrew
Q: When is a tree as comfortable as a bed?
A: When its down.

A Daughter's Desperate Plea

In this activity, you will compare an illustration by Gertrude Demain Hammond with the text from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest that inspired it.

Have a look at the drawing. Take a moment to study what is happening in the drawing. What do you see?

Now read the text below:

MIRANDA: If by your art, my dearest father, you have
Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them.
The sky, it seems, would pour down stinking pitch,
But that the sea, mounting to th’ welkin’s cheek,
Dashes the fire out. O, I have suffered
With those that I saw suffer! A brave vessel,
Who had, no doubt, some noble creature in her,
Dashed all to pieces. O, the cry did knock
Against my very heart! Poor souls, they perished.
Had I been any god of power, I would
Have sunk the sea within the earth or ere
It should the good ship so have swallowed, and
The fraughting souls within her.
(The Tempest, 1.2.1-13)

In this monologue, Miranda begs her father, Prospero, a magician, to calm the rage of the storm and sea.

  • Can you see how the illustrator used the text to inform her picture?
  • What words or phrases were used to describe the power of the storm and force of wind? The destruction of the ship?
  • What clues does the illustrator give you of Prospero’s ability to command the storm?
  • Do you think Ms. Hammond did a good job?

Illustrations inspired by Text

These pictures were drawn to dramatize scenes from Shakespeare's play Hamlet . They are from a book called The Lives and Tragical Deaths of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, and the lovely Ophelia, which is illustrated with a foldout handcolored plate showing four scenes from the play.

In this activity, you will read a text from a Shakespeare play and then draw a picture based on that text.

Mercutio’s Queen Mab Speech

In the play Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio–Romeo’s best friend–describes Queen Mab, a fairy that drives her chariot across the faces of sleeping people and compels them to dream.

MERCUTIO: She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate-stone
On the forefinger of an alderman,
Drawn with a team of little atom
Over men’s noses as they lie asleep.
Her wagon-spokes made of long spinners’ legs,
The cover of the wings of grasshoppers,
Her traces, of the smallest spider’s web,
Her collars, of the moonshine’s watery beams,
Her whip of cricket’s bone; the lash of film,
Her wagoner a small grey-coated gnat,
Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut,
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Time out o’mind the fairies’ coach-makers.
And in this state she gallops night by night
Through lovers’ brains, and then they dream of love.
(Romeo and Juliet, 1.4.59-76)

Based on the description, what do you think Queen Mab’s chariot looks like? Draw a picture that illustrates the text.

Enobarbus’ Description of Cleopatra

In this monologue from the play Antony and Cleopatra, Enobarbus, Antony’s most loyal friend, describes the moment Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt, arrives in Rome. This is the first time Antony sees Cleopatra and he instantly falls in love with her.

ENOBARBUS: The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne
Burned on the water. The poop was beaten gold,
Purple the sails, and so perfumed that
The winds were lovesick with them. The oars were silver,
Which to the tunes of flutes kept stroke, and made
The water which they beat to follow faster,
As amorous of their strokes. For her own person,
It beggared all description: she did lie
In her pavilion—cloth-of-gold of tissue—
O’erpicturing that Venus where we see
The fancy outwork nature. On each side her
Stood pretty dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids,
With divers-colored fans, whose wind did seem
To glow their delicate cheeks which they did cool,
And what they undid did.
(Antony and Cleopatra, 2.2.227-242)

Based on the description, what do you think Cleopatra’s barge looked like? What do you think Cleopatra looked like? Do you think she was beautiful based on the description? Draw a picture of both Cleopatra and her barge.

Macbeth and the Three Witches

In this scene from the play Macbeth, Macbeth re-visits the three witches he met at the beginning of the play who predicted that he would become king. Fearful for his life, he asks the witches to conjure a spell to tell him the outcome of his treacherous deeds.

WITCH 1: Round about the caldron go;
In the poison'd entrails throw.—
Toad, that under cold stone,
Days and nights has thirty-one;
Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i' the charmed pot!
ALL: Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
WITCH 2: Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
ALL: Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
WITCH 3: Scale of dragon; tooth of wolf;
Witches' mummy; maw and gulf
Of the ravin'd salt-sea shark;
Root of hemlock digg'd i the dark;
Add thereto a tiger's chaudron,
For the ingrediants of our caldron.
ALL: Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
(Macbeth, 4.1.1-36)

Based on the description, can you draw the cauldron and the ingredients of the spell?

Modern Day Heroines

A heroine is often an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances, who, despite the odds being stacked against her, typically prevails in the end. In 1851, during the Victorian era, Mary Cowden Clarke’s wrote the book, The Girlhood of Shakespeare’s Heroines, which explores the childhoods of Shakespeare’s female characters.

Here is an excerpt from The Girlhood of Shakespeare’s Heroines. This moment is a scene between Ophelia, her brother Laertes and their father, Polonius. All three characters are from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

From The Girlhood of Shakespeare's Heroines by Mary Cowden Clarke, London, 1851.

On one occasion, [Polonius] called [Ophelia and Laertes] and commended them highly for never having been into a certain gallery...

Seeing a look of surprise on their faces, he added: "Ah, you marvel how I came to know so certainly that you never went in. But I have methods deep and sure, - a little bird, or my little finger..."

"But we did go in;" said Ophelia.

"What, child? Pooh, impossible! Come to me; look me full in the face." Not that she looked down, or aside, or anything but straight at him; but he always used this phrase conventionally, when he conducted an examination. "I tell you, you never went into that gallery ... I should have discovered it, had you gone into that room without my permission."

"I never knew you forbade it?" said Laertes. "If we had known you had any objection, neither Ophelia nor I would have -"

"I never forbade it, certainly," interrupted his father; "but I had strong reasons for wishing that you should not go into the room till the pictures were hung. No, no; I know better than to let heedless children play there; so I took means to prevent you entering the gallery without my knowledge."

"But we did play there, every day, father;" said Laertes.

"Yes;" said Ophelia.

"And I tell you impossible! Listen to me; I fastened a hair across the entrance. The invisible barrier is yet unbroken. So that you see, you could not have passed through the door without my knowledge."

"But we didn't go through the door, papa; we got in at the window!" exclaimed both the children. "We didn't know you wished us not to play there; so, finding a space which the builders had left, in one of the windows that look into the garden, we used to creep in there, and amuse ourselves with looking at the new pictures. We did no harm; only admired."

Below are some heroines you might know from books, comics, and movies.

Alice: Alice in Wonderland
Ariel: The Little Mermaid
Belle: Beauty and the Beast
Cinderella: Cinderella
Jean Grey: X-Men
Mulan: Mulan
Rogue: X-Men
Snow White: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Storm: X-Men
Sue Storm: Fantastic Four

Can you imagine what life was like when these characters were little? Choose one or two characters and write a short story based on what you think her childhood was like.

Twelfth Night Characters

This illustration above shows William Shakespeare celebrating the holiday Twelfth Night, surrounded by characters from his plays. Shakespeare wrote a play called Twelfth Night around 1601 or 1602.

Twelfth Night is the day of Epiphany, which marks the end of a winter festival that started on All Hallows Eve, or Halloween. According to one superstition, all Christmas decorations have to be removed on Twelfth Night, or else they have to stay up all year to avoid bad luck!

At a traditional Twelfth Night celebration, each child in the family or neighborhood brings a small gift to the party, and all form a procession and lay their gifts at a crib under the Christmas tree.

Do you see the cake in this drawing? The traditional Twelfth Night Cake has three dried beans or trinkets hidden inside. The children who get the beans or trinkets in their pieces of cake receive a crown and are the "Twelfth Night Kings" during the remainder of the party. The kings distribute the gifts to all the children and select the songs and games.

Twelfth Night cake recipe

Here are instructions for how to make a Twelfth Night Cake.

Remember: have an adult help you. Be on the look out for the bean or the trinket!! Don’t swallow it!


  • 8 cups of all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 pound butter or shortening
  • 2 cups whole milk, scalded then cooled to lukewarm
  • 1/2 ounce yeast (2 1/4-ounce packages, or about 4 1/2 tsp)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • A few cloves
  • A dash of cinnamon
  • A little ginger
  • Sweetmeats to your liking (candied lemon peel, orange peel, and citron)
  • Candies or frosting to decorate!


Have ready a greased parchment paper or baking pan. In a bowl, combine 2 cups flour with the salt; set aside. Next, sift 6 cups of flour into a large mixing bowl. Dissolve a half-ounce of yeast in a little warm water. Make a hole in the center of the flour. Pour in the yeast. Knead and mix the flour with one hand, while adding the 2 cups of milk with the other. In yet another mixing bowl, beat eggs with butter, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, sweetmeats and sugar until light. Add to dough, kneading lightly with your hands, and adding more eggs if the dough is a little stiff. Let the dough rise until doubled in bulk, then add the reserved flour and salt. Knead the dough by turning it over on itself three times and set to rise again, covered with a cloth for about an hour. Take it up and work again lightly, and then form into a ring.

This is a large amount of dough, so it may be divided and baked in two or more cakes. Pat gently and flatten a little. Set the ring in the middle. Cover the pan with a clean cloth, and set the cake to rise for an hour longer. When well risen, glaze the loaves lightly with a beaten egg. Place in 325° oven; let bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or less if making smaller loaves. Decorate with colored icings and decorator candies, as desired.

What's a Hornbook Anyway?

Did you ever wonder what it was like to be a student during Shakespeare’s time? During the Elizabethan Era, beginning students were taught from a hornbook. Because religion dominated everyday life, it was taught in the classroom. Although different hornbooks had many different lessons on them, a great many had a cross in the top left-hand corner and the Lord's Prayer in the middle. Traditionally, the hornbook would also have the alphabet, basic vocabulary, and illustrations.

Typically, a hornbook was made from a piece of parchment or paper pasted onto a wooden board and protected by a leaf of horn from a ram. A hornbook measured about 3 1/2" x 2 1/2." Books were quite expensive at this time, which made them costly to replace. However, the durable hornbook could last through many years of young students.

Make Your Own Hornbook

Try making your own hornbook!! It is really very simple and quite fun! All you need is a pair of scissors; a piece of cardboard; crayons, markers, color pencils, or paints; and saran wrap.

  • With the scissors, cut the cardboard into the shape of the hornbook that you see here.
  • With crayons, markers, color pencils, or paints, decorate one side of your hornbook with any images you want. This will be the front of your hornbook. Be creative.
  • Next, decide what you want to put on your hornbook. This will go on the other side. What subjects would you include? You can put anything you want. Follow the Hornbook Activity Content Ideas below for ideas.
  • Now, wrap your hornbook with saran wrap to protect it from spills and dirt.

Hornbook Activity Content Ideas

Adding Grid
Multiplication Tables
The Five Senses
What are the five senses? Which organ corresponds with each sense? For more information, fun activities and images of the five senses, visit,
Social Studies
Pledge of Allegiance
“I pledge allegiance to the Flag
of the United States of America
and to the Republic for which it stands,
one nation under God, indivisible,
with liberty and justice for all.”
Preamble to the Constitution of the United States
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.