150 minutes. Three questions, on Richard III, Edward II, and Tennyson‘s ‘Maud‘. And despite my best efforts, my class have been increasingly panicked, increasingly convinced that a ‘U’ grade will result in their being kicked off the course. Most of my free periods this week have been taken up in reassurance and revision.
It’s been contagious:
Open your ears! For who could possibly block them when loud Rumor speaks? (2HIV)
And it’s been unhelpful. For a certain type of student, fear of failure is the biggest barrier they have to succeeding. Whoever propagated this ‘you’re getting kicked out’ myth needs a kick in the codpiece.
One of the latest things I asked my students to consider was the contrast in pre-battle speeches between Richard and Richmond. Which inspired me to email them my own, a short while ago …
For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground, and tell sad stories of the death of kings …
PTS read-through:Richard II, act III (part ONE)
Witnessing the utter disintegration of a human being – even a fictional one – is, I’d suggest, an uneasy, distressing experience.And yet …
Voyeuristic shame accompanies the compulsion to keep spectating what is usually such a private affair.My first experience of this type of slow-mo car-crash literature was Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge, when I was about 12.It scarred me – I’ve never quite been able to revisit Michael Henchard’s self-induced immolation; it also, I think, gave me my first seductive bittersweet taste of tragedy.Like that initial stolen underage drink, whilst I wasn’t quite sure I liked it, I wanted another – just to be certain.
Sometimes we need to be reminded that our historical figures are human beings.
This week’s quotation is taken from Garrett Mattingly, The Defeat of the Spanish Armada(ed. J.H. Elliott), (The Folio Society: London, 2002)
– – –
This is just a humble tavern, and we’ve no real pretensions to royal patronage. Prince Hal, of course is a regular, but he doesn’t behave very … ahem … regally, when he’s here, Lor’ bless and keep him.
But like every good English ale-house, we do have a portrait of Good Queen Bess behind the bar, and it’s this one. This week, I’ve been thinking about Elizabeth I …
It’s a wonder Will didn’t end up in prison, when you think about it …
This week’s quotation is from Germaine Greer, Shakespeare (Past Masters series), (Oxford: OUP, 1986), p.75
Classroom experience tells me that [massive generalization] today’s students are disinclined to think for themselves [/massive generalization]. It’s part of the resistance to Shakespeare that seems to be coded into some pupils’ DNA (and another day I might talk about the ‘generational’ thing), but we see it with other texts. A while back, in Manchester, I taught the short film ‘The Virus’ – which I personally think is excellent:
– but it was met with howls of anger (only slight exaggeration) from students who couldn’t work out what had happened, why, and what might happen next. Watch the film, if you have under ten minutes, and then ask yourself if the main character is alive or dead at the end. Then, ask yourself why or how the answer couldn’t be obvious to 14/15 year-olds. This happened with TWO classes. I wasn’t just taken aback: I was worried. Not least because they thought it was ‘rubbish‘ because they couldn’t figure it out.
To be fair, this probably isn’t new – had my students been alive at the time, and in possession of the attention span required to read it, they would have been part of the contemporary outcry over the ending to Great Expectations. But Dickens‘ audience wanted their theories confirmed or refuted. In 2018, it just seems endemic that people have no theories. They just want to be told what to think … and that scares me.
Putting Shakespeare in students’ mouths is often as much fun as feeding a baby – the faces they pull!
A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Act I
Shakespeare’s language lives in the mouth, not the ears or eyes. It needs to be tasted, and one of the advantages of living alone is that I can pace up and down my flat’s lengthy corridor reading tricky lines out loud, or just playing with the inflections of favourites:
I wasted time and now doth time waste me.
I WASTED time and NOW doth time waste me.
I wasted TIME and now doth TIME waste ME.
And so on, like the celebrity skit in the BBC’s Shakespeare400 celebration. You get the picture.
If it needs to be tasted, it also needs, I suppose, to be CHEWED. That’s what we often do in the classroom …
‘death, a necessary end, will come when it will come’ (JULIUS CAESAR: Act II, sc ii)
subtitled:‘The not very tragic or lamentable death of the serial rotter, Suffolk, and the deservedly doomed distraction caused by Cade.’
It’s not quite acts three or four of Antony and Cleopatra, but this act does get into double-figures in terms of scenes – something I find irritating as a reader, in a way that I don’t find when listening to or watching the plays. Still, basically, Act IV boils down into two episodes, as the subtitle suggests.