Cheaper than a Harley. Easier than growing a ponytail …


How dull it is to pause, to make an end,

To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!

Why this?  Why now?  And why so slow?  What on earth would prompt someone to commit to a read-through of Shakespeare’s plays?

I decided to do this about 6 weeks ago, let’s say about the end of November 2016.  In many ways this post is a way to work through my motivations, as well as finally committing to the project.

WHY SHAKESPEARE? What else could there be?  Books have always been my life, my chief interest and joy.  As for Shakespeare, I just about remember being taken to see an outdoor production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by my parents at primary school age.  Of course, I would have got next to nothing from it apart from the spectacle and the atmosphere, but that early exposure helped to foster a sense that Shakespeare was nothing to be scared of, and once that was established I increasingly loved the stories and yes, the writing too.  If Shakespeare is another language, as many of my pupils seem to think, then repeated exposure has made me bilingual.  It’s a richer, better language, and a fascinating historical period.  I’m comfortable in the 16th Century, sometimes more so than in the 21st.

WHY NOW? Teaching literature is satisfying, but it’s never quite enough. Increasingly, I seem to miss my university days and the enjoyment I got from studying texts as opposed to just reading or even teaching them.  Here’s a first quotation from Tennyson’sUlysses’, my favourite poem:

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,

To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!

I’ve also recognised that teaching is a job that expands to fill the time you allow it, so in some ways this is an effort to reclaim some time, some life, dammit – otherwise, let’s face it, it’s only a matter of time before I go insane under the strain of the hardest job I’ve ever done.  This is something I’m doing for me.

Timing-wise, I don’t suppose I can ignore the timetable, now it’s there in black and white.  Sticking to the schedule means I’ll finish just before my 50th birthday.  Ulysses seems increasingly to speak to me about mid-life crisis, and it would be disingenuous to say that my 40s have been easy.  Maybe that’s what I’m dealing with, even subliminally.  As the poet says:

Death closes all: but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done,

Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

Either way, it is indeed ‘cheaper than a Harley and easier than growing a ponytail’.     

WHY SO SLOW? A few years ago, I walked the Anglesey Coastal Path, and developed a taste for ‘living slow’, when I could.  I can’t recommend it enough: being relatively out of shape, I found it arduous but incredibly rewarding – probably my favourite holiday.  You can find people online who ‘did’ the path in 4 days (125 miles, that is), but it took me 13 days.  Honestly, I wish I’d had time to take it even slower – there always seemed to be a detour that we didn’t quite have time to take.  Just call me a ‘journey rather than destination’ guy.  If I’m going to read all the plays, I want to immerse myself in them, wallow in the richness of the language, distract myself with the narrative and the characters.  Otherwise the project will become a chore rather than something to enjoy …

So the rest of the month will be spent ‘limbering up’, whatever that means.  And then February is Henry VI part 1.  Why not join me?

[edit:  notice how often I mention the word ‘time’?  Clearly, that’s  what’s really on my mind.  “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me”, indeed …]

Author: Boar's Head, Eastcheap

Hyperactive English Teacher and Tutor; Shakespeare-obsessed 'Villainous abominable misleader of youth'; 'old white-bearded Satan'; Friend of the Orangutan

22 thoughts on “Cheaper than a Harley. Easier than growing a ponytail …”

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