If we do meet again, why, we shall smile;
If not, why then, this parting was well made. (Brutus, Julius Caesar: Act V, scene I)
This morning, at 9am, my Y11 students sit their first GCSE English exam – 1 hour, 45 minutes on The Tempest and Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four … and so begins the ‘long goodbye’ …
Firstly, goodbye to my students. By the end of the week, they will have sat both Literature papers, and have the two Language papers not long after next week’s half term. I remember them as Year 7 students, four years ago: what a lively, fun bunch they were then. I christened them the ‘frisky puppies’, and they reminded me of that when I got them back last year. Many of them haven’t changed much, apart from having got taller. Many of them are mature young men and women I have really enjoyed getting to know. It’s not always been plain sailing. I can be quite demanding (they might say ‘impossible to please’), and we didn’t much like each other for a short while, when I was pushing pushing pushing pushing pushing – until we were where I thought we ought to be, as a top set.
But is HAS been fun. Even when it wasn’t, as they say …
Some I will see next year in Sixth Form. Some are studying English, and I hope to teach them again. Others, inevitably, I might not see again, once the exams are over, despite the fact that it’s a small town, a small part of the world. In fact, each time I see them now, I will reflect that some of the goodbyes could be permanent, if their other exams clash with our remaining timetabled lessons. [EDIT: it turns out, and I’m very sorry to say that I was not told until afterwards – because there was a strict embargo on the news – that Friday last (09 June) was their final lesson. Never did have the proper chance to say ‘farewell’ en masse, after all …]
It’s also goodbye to The Tempest, in a different way. I mentioned the other day that I had given the class the choice of Shakespeare text. From next year, the department will only teach Macbeth or Romeo & Juliet for GCSE. For me, that effectively means Macbeth. It also means that realistically, I don’t know when I will ever teach The Tempest again …
Each time I’ve taught it, I’ve approached the text with less than 100% enthusiasm – it’s not my favourite. Each time, it has confounded my bias. And it took me until last year – and this class – to realise that the bias is against the masque scene, nothing more – to the point that I’ve decided that Shakespeare stopped writing because he, too, hated the Masques that everyone from James downwards seemed to like. Fashions change, in theatre as in everything else. I like to think that he decided that such work was below him, and so he left the stage to Ben Jonson, Inigo Jones and others.
Elsewhere, I’ve variously and sometimes simultaneously conflated Prospero with Shakespeare and with James I, too. Since University days – when I remember contrasting him with Brad Pitt whilst suggesting that Miranda was superficial – I’ve always had plenty to say about Caliban, about nature vs. nurture, linking him to other misunderstood ‘monsters’ like the creature in Frankenstein and, actually, Richard III.
Next time I will write at length about The Tempest looks like being January 2020! I may look back at this post, and smile. If not, why then, I like to think that this parting was well made …
3 thoughts on “The Long Goodbye …”
2020 seems like such a long time from now, but maybe by then you’ll see The Tempest differently! It is one of my favorite plays – perhaps because I always feel close to Shakespeare when I read it. Probably because the professor who taught it to me was a fan of the Prospero = Shakespeare theory.
Our reading schedules are so different! But it’ll be fun to tell people that we’ve gone through the entire canon, won’t it?