Friday found myself and a colleague sacrificing a precious free period (one of only four per week) for the opportunity to Shake-spar … and what fun it was.
Let me set the scene – one of our colleagues in the department was unwell. She also teaches A Level Lit to Year 12, and would have done so in period 2, when I’m free. Two of the students in that class are in my form, so I casually said to them in the morning that if there were ‘any problems‘ relating to that lesson, they ought to come and see me.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised to find about a dozen girls at my door at about 09:55?
At that point, I was chatting to my other colleague, and knocking off some work e-mails. Smelling an opportunity, I quickly kicked the cover teacher into touch (“Don’t worry, I’ll take this – you owe me a beer, OK?”) and settled down to get my teeth into Hamlet (which I’m not currently teaching). What I hadn’t banked on was my English colleague deciding she wanted a piece of the action too …
I wonder what the poor students thought of it. In the nicest possible way, it was a spirited debate between two passionate Shakespearios. Not a period wasted for them, either: they are specifically marked, at A Level, on their ability to consider alternative interpretations of the text – the dreaded AO5. So, as I said to them, neither of us were in any way diminishing or criticising what they’d already been taught so far. Between us, I reckon they must be looking at Ophelia in a very different way, now!
My colleague must have enjoyed the cut and thrust as much as I did – she returned for round two, in period 6 – when she was free, but I was looking at Edward II with Y13. This class were considerably more spooked than the others – but then, in fairness, they’re very close to their final exams …
To ‘quote of the week‘, then. Regular readers know that I find it hard not to eulogise either of the Richards, yesterday’s post on Act IV of Richard II being a good example. It’s not long ago, too, that I said I would have loved sharing a beer with Michael Bogdanov.
I like to think we’d invite Professor Terry Eagleton to join us. I think he sits on the same side of the political fence as Bogdanov and I. But where Bogdanov would excite me with his penetratinhg questions, Eagleton would make the conversation somewhat spicier with his opinions. Here he is on poor Richard ..
When the dying Gaunt puns on his own name, Richard finds this word-play profoundly irritating: ‘Can sick men play so nicely with their names?’ This is pretty rich, coming as it does from a king who seems unable to scratch his nose without maing a symbol of it. As a ‘poet king’, […] only by translating unpleasant political realities into decorative verbal fictions can he engage with them. While Bolingbroke’s armies are invading, Richard wants to sit down and concoct narcissistic narratives about the death of kings. He survives his deposition only by rewriting it as a tragic drama, and when brought finally to execution can face death only by cobbling together a brief Metaphysical poem on the topic.
Eagleton’s glorious impatience with Richard has had me in sporadic giggles since I read it. One of the beauties of the subject is that neither of us (I think) are wrong. But what fun, like I had on Friday, trying to argue your point of view …
If we can swap banter about football, or politics, why not Shakespeare?
Terry Eagleton, Rereading Literature: William Shakespeare, (Basil Blackwell Ltd: Oxford 1987), p.10