He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named (Henry V: IV,iii)
… IF their legs are still working, that is. Shakespeare’s Globe staged three plays last Saturday, and a ‘happy few‘ of us bought groundling tickets for the trilogy. Here’s how I got on. [spoilers ahead]
It’s been a long, hard year, and I need a real treat …
Whilst it’s not all been bad news, Spring Term was dominated by an insidious, invidious, but ultimately innocuous illness that lingered like an unwelcome guest at a party, refusing to take all the hints I could throw at it that it needed to exit stage left. Summer Term replaced that with a series of professional setbacks and niggles that have led to my heavy-hearted decision to leave a school I always thought I would (eventually) retire at, and where I work daily alongside some of my closest friends. ‘You do the math‘, as Shakespeare never said.
I’m currently open to offers inside and outside the profession, by the way …
Men in great place […] have no freedom; neither in their persons, nor in their actions, nor in their times. It is a strange desire, to seek power and to lose liberty: or to seek power over others, and to lose power over a man’s self. [a]
Sure, it’s only a week away from school, and I ought to be able to control myself. Many of you will also have a handle on the state of my bookshelves – I have no space for these, and yet. Half-terms are an opportunity to catch breath in more ways than one.
Some would suggest I oughtn’t to have bought anything; I like to think of this as a fairly restrained Book Haul, all sourced from the second hand bookshop about 300 yards from ‘her place’. So, what and why …
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 …