SHAKESPEARE has long been a challenging, and often fiercely resisted, element of high school English.
But in a bold move, Bell Shakespeare is taking his plays into the state's primary schools, where they will be taught to students as young as six.
Shakespeare is not formally introduced into the curriculum until high school and, for many primary students, it would be their first taste of the Elizabethan playwright.
''Is Star Wars a classic Shakespeare?'' asked Lachlan Gibson, 7, during a trial at Westmead Public School this week. ''Yoda would be my favourite character.''
The primary school program, launched on Thursday night, is a sort of early intervention tactic, aimed at developing an appreciation of the rich language and epic stories before students are exposed to negative perceptions. ''We want to meet them while they're young, so that by the time they reach high school, they aren't disillusioned,'' the head of education at Bell Shakespeare, Joanna Erskine, said.
The company has spent more than 20 years convincing high school students of the playwright's merits.
The primary school program will tour metropolitan and regional schools from September. In pilot programs, organisers have found younger students generally more receptive to Shakespeare than those at high school.
''They're just devouring these plays,'' Ms Erskine said. ''We've learnt not to assume what they're capable of.''
One play adapted for school performances is A Midsummer Night's Dream, which she said was a favourite with young audiences.
''The play is inherently magical and full of fairies and hijinks and comedy and very typical slapstick,'' she said. ''But we've also done Macbeth to great effect and, of course, it is a really dark and bloody play.''
Jennifer Gregory, a Year 2 teacher, said the plays were not difficult for her students to relate to, despite being more than 400 years old.
''They're full of themes that underpin every story children read,'' she said. ''The Lion King, for example, is basically Hamlet.''
Ms Gregory, who has been involved in the pilot program, has been teaching Shakespeare at Westmead Public School for six years.
''A lot of people think Shakespeare doesn't belong in primary school,'' she said. ''But I think that's the best place for it. They don't need to understand every single word but they understand the sense of the work and what's behind the scenes and the characters.''
She has no doubt it will enhance literacy and the students' capacity and enthusiasm for language.
The program involves performances, as well as digital workshops at the Sydney Opera House with Bell Shakespeare educators.
They will also work with teachers to ensure they are confident teaching Shakespeare after the performers leave.