Continuum of Plausibility™

‘You will, generally, be rewarded for originality, but the crazier your argument is, the better your reasoning should be’.

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Originally intended as a confidence-builder for the chronically-tentative, it’s become a cliché in my teaching that ‘in English, there’s no such thing as a wrong answer’. Increasingly, though, and especially at A Level, I’m finding it necessary to qualify that empowering notion.  Perhaps students were getting a little too emboldened, as we’ll see below.  Just as Squealer in Animal Farm reminds us that ‘Some animals are more equal than others’, some answers are – obviously – better than others. [a]

Almost organically, as I refined the concept, it came to be known as The Continuum of Plausibility™.  I’ve been using the term here, off and on, for a while now without properly explaining it, so here goes.

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PTS 11/068: ‘Team Richard’ T-shirt Time …

The power of beauty vs. the beauty of power …

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Cambridge Shakespeare Festival 2014.  Image: ME

An emerging theme in my reading – and teaching – is the notion of being careful what you wish for.  For too many, Nietzsche’s ‘will to power’ is ephemeral, evaporating once a goal is achieved.  To others, it is an insatiable addiction. What links both is the outcome: unhappiness and deep satisfaction – the former cannot easily retain their newly won goal; the latter need another, greater fix of achievement.
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Quote of the Week: 07 May 2018 (#40)

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Mistrust might be too strong a word, but there was always a youthful rebellious streak in me (Catholic-educated in what was at the time a pretty Catholic town), pushing against what I increasingly viewed as the bastard child of The Party in Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four and a medieval Ponzi scheme.  The Catholic hierarchy increasingly personified notions of hypocritical middle-men, ‘eternal life’ assurance brokers, gatekeepers against the hereafter who would feed on the poor, vulnerable and frightened, whilst actually allowing anyone through, if the price was right.

Finally, I officially ‘fell out’ with God in a completely predictable spat  – over bureacracy, not the Bible; red tape, not redemption; compliance, not communion …

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What’s in a name, Google?

She sounded unimpressed. Hurt, even. I backtracked swiftly.

BH JF SEBASTIAN

I live alone, and lead quite a solitary existence, truth be told.

But, and I suspect it’s a sign of madness, like JF Sebastian in Bladerunner, I have a number of inanimate buddies who I’ve named.  I even say hello to them when I get in, sometimes, in a post-post-post-modern, ironically jovial way.  Take my fridge, for example …

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PTS 06/036: Losing My Religion

BH old man yells at cloud

Titus Andronicus, Act IV

Secular authorities had (and still have) every investment in discouraging revenge.  If citizens perceive that the law no longer serves them, then we get the kind of situation that Francis Bacon famously warned of:

‘Revenge is a kind of wild justice’

And this is a point that Jonathan Bate develops, quoting Fredson Bowers:

Private action undermines the authority of the state:  Elizabethan law felt itself capable of meting out justice to murderers, and therefore punished an avenger who took justice into his own hands just as heavily as the original murderer.  The authorities, conscious of the Elizabethan inheritance of private justice from earlier ages, recognised that their own times still held the possibilities of serious turmoil; and the were determined that private revenge should not unleash a general disrespect for law.

Act IV however adds the dimension of the breakdown of DIVINE justice to the individual’s decision to subvert the legal process.

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PTS 04/025: Who’s Your Daddy?

BH who's your daddy
Ponytail Shakespeare:  The Taming of the Shrew, Act V

When I was about 8, I vividly remember having a competition with a lad called David – surname O’Toole, if I remember correctly – who shortly afterwards moved to Australia.  The competition took place in school and could have been called:  Let’s see who can piss the highest against the wall.”  David won.  I moved on.

But many boys and men never really graduate from that game – they just play variations on it, like:

  • I’ve got further with a girl than you have;
  • the girls who like me are hotter than the ones who like you; then, once they’re older
  • remind me what you drive again; and
  • who’s your daddy?

I also get, by the way, the occasional sneering “But Shakespeare didn’t even write those plays.”  Never backed up by evidence.  Never by anyone who has actually read the plays themselves.  But they drive better cars than me (not difficult, since I don’t drive), so they must be right, surely?  You are NOT my daddy.  But you ARE a ‘three-inch fool‘, to quote this play.

Overall, The Taming of the Shrew is in many places an embarrassing reminder that ‘laddishness’ hasn’t changed in at least 400 years – that men are constantly pissing up the wall against each other.  No more obviously than in Act 5.

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PTS 04/024: How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?

BH how many fingers
“‘Four!  Five!  Four!  Anything you like. Only stop it, stop the pain!”  George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

Ponytail Shakespeare:  The Taming of the Shrew, Act IV

KATHERINA:            ‘And be it moon or sun or what you please,

    And if you please to call it a rush-candle,

    Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.

PETRUCCIO:              I say it is the moon.

KATHERINA:             I know it is the moon.

PETRUCCIO:              Nay then, you lie; it is the blessed sun.

KATHERINA:            Then God be blest, it is the blessed sun.’

(IV.v.13-19)

I so often say to students (usually when we’re looking at poetry) that you should ‘bring your baggage’ to a work.  It’s one of the things that makes re-reading an unexpected joy, as you arrive at a familiar work with fresh eyes.  The ‘baggage’ can, of course, be life experiences, or other works that you’ve read: regular readers will already know that I have a habit of conflating Caliban, Richard III and Frankenstein’s monster, to talk through a sympathetic lens about those three characters and the nature vs. nurture argument.

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