Originally Posted by HarryT
Come on, that really is rather an exaggeration. The grammatical differences between Elizabethan English and English of the 21st century are minor (and primarily consist of things NOT present in Elizabethan times), and the vocabulary issues can be overstressed. There are relatively few words in Shakespeare that are totally unfamiliar to a modern reader. Words can be used in unfamiliar ways, true, but it's hardly "learning a second language".
In the US, it's very much "learning a second dialect"--one that the child has likely never been exposed to. The pronunciation and cadence of speech is entirely alien.
There are relatively few words unfamiliar to an *adult* modern reader, and that's more true in the UK than in the US.
Opening of "Midsummer Night's Dream," often taught in high schools as it's considered one of the more accessible stories--kids may not understand the politics of Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet, but they're plenty familiar with "he likes her but she likes that other him, but now they're all confused."
Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour
Draws on apace; four happy days bring in
Another moon: but, O, methinks, how slow
This old moon wanes! she lingers my desires,
Like to a step-dame or a dowager
Long withering out a young man revenue.
Words likely to be confusing to an American teenager:
Nuptial, apace, moon, wanes, step-dame, dowager.
While the kid certainly knows the word "moon," she may never have heard it as a euphemism for "month." "Apace" is understandable... after a bit of thought. "Nuptial" is an uncommon term here; kids rarely hear it unless their parents are somehow involved in the wedding industry. My kids know what waxing and waning mean because we're Pagan; "wanes" not a grade-school vocab word here. "Step-dame" is clear enough once you know that a "dame" doesn't mean "any woman," which is how it's often used here. "Dowager" is likely to be entirely unknown.
Six lines, six new words to learn. Combine those with the unusual structure of the sentences--great for memorization, weird for casual speech--and by page three of whatever book the play is printed in, 3/4 of the class is lost unless the language was taught before the story.