BATE, Jonathan: ‘Introduction’, in Titus Andronicus (The Arden Shakespeare: London, 2003)
Some students see value in Literature as an end in itself. Others need a bit of persuading about why they have to study poetry, novels, and of course Shakespeare in particular (sigh).
‘What’s Shakespeare got to do with me? I want to be an air hostess!’
I was asked by a Year 9 pupil a few years ago. Henry Peacham, via Jonathan Bate, has an answer.
Here’s Professor Bate, who I’m a bit of a fan of (with a small ‘f’). Over the years he’s become a face (again, with a small ‘f’) at The Boar’s Head. He pops in regularly for a few weeks every now and again, pays his bill, he’s softly spoken (and he is in real life) and always with something interesting to say.
At the moment he’s been informing my PTS reading with an excellent ‘Introduction’ to the Arden Third edition of Titus Andronicus. (If you need an example of why the Ardens cost more and are worth every penny, this is one). And this is where I came across the wise words of Henry Peacham.
As the father of older children, as a sixth form tutor, as an A Level and GCSE teacher, I seem to spend large chunks of my life dishing out fatherly or avuncular advice – interminably, some of the recipients might say. Why do some of us adults bang on and on and on (and on) about what happened to them, or to someone they know? Peacham knows:
what can be more profitable, saith an ancient historian, than sitting on the stage of human life, to be made wise by their example who have trod the path of error and danger before us.
Complainers take note. We do this because we care. Because we hope you can avoid some of the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ that life will throw at you by learning from others’ experiences.
And, importantly, if you don’t like literature, you can’t deny that every time you read a book you are ‘sitting on the stage of human life‘, with a privileged insight into how others have felt and acted when faced with certain moral dilemmas (which is what the Shakespeare’s plays are rammed full of). Let’s throw in another quotation, possibly ‘sexier’ inasmuch as it comes from Game of Thrones:
‘A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies’, said Jojen. ‘The man who never reads lives only one.’
Jojen‘s bang on, too. Reading enables an escape from the hum-drum of our lives. And it teaches us a hell of a lot about ourselves, and about other people.
Last year’s Y13 class told me, before they left, what they’d got out of studying Literature for two years. The most common answers were along the lines that it had made them far more self-aware, and empathic.
Surely those are key skills for any job: even, I dare say, being an air hostess?