Today marks two year since Prince died. It’s not that long ago that I confessed that his was one of the very few celebrity deaths that have personally touched me. Step aside, Princess Diana! People have got tired of me saying he was the ‘effing Mozart of his age‘, I think.
This weekend is a busy one – or should be. One of my favourite watering holes, Beerwolf, are hosting a live music tribute on Sunday afternoon, marvellously entitled ‘Prince you’ve been gone‘. I suspect this might put a dent in my Sixth Form marking – sorry, people.
Whilst there’s an argument to be made that Shakespeare himself was a multi-faceted genius, you know me by now: I started thinking about who the Shakespearean ‘Prince’ might be. These were my criteria …
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.
This is a long read – I say that on a blog where posts often hit 1,300 words, against ‘accepted wisdom’ – so apologies in advance. YOUR blog is your blog; my blog is MY blog, and I write for catharsis and as a kind of journal, not ‘popularity’, ‘followers’, or ‘influence’. I was tempted to temper my words with a gallery of pictures, but that didn’t feel right, either. This post feels a little more personal than most.
In spite of, or maybe because of, constant trawling for Shakespeare-related content, I have only just found this. Last April, Peter Marks wrote a piece for The Washington Post (link below) suggesting that Americans are too ‘intellectually lazy’ to appreciate Shakespeare, and fearing for the future popularity of the plays. My immediate response was ‘you think it’s bad in the US? Try over here, where Shakespeare was born!’
Richard III: Act I, Sc iii (Ponytail Shakespeare read-through)
Richard has been a part of my life, a surprisingly large part, for about six years or so. In fact, we might call him part of the ‘soundtrack of my life’, since I turned 40. So whilst I try and inevitably fail to do the play justice in these posts, one of the things that’s already settled is the Shakespeare’s Jukebox ‘Soundtrack Album’ that I publish at the end of my amble through the play. Some songs have been ringfenced, so that I don’t use them for any other play … this is one.
If there’s a decidedly ‘camp’ flavour to the jukebox, in fact to these posts (I mean: Mercury, Hasselhoff and now EJ?), it could be down to two factors:
I’m teaching Edward II, to two classes, at the moment (conspiracy theorists, and I like one as much as the next person, will note that these two plays were probably written within months of each other, if not simultaneously); and
this is a camp play. At some stage I might get stuck into the relationship between Richard and Buckingham (a personal theory that causes wide-eyed incredulity in my classes, more often than not)
I’ve often described it as a pantomime for grown-ups. Ironically, because a child’s pantomime is possibly the worst way I can think of spending an evening. Perhaps this takes on board the criticisms of those who favour other, more mature or ‘intellectual’ plays. Richard is gleefully childish and petulant, at least until he becomes king, and there are several times where I want to shout:
He’s behind you!
or similar, at members of the cast: Clarence, Hastings, the young Duke of York, the hapless Burghers of London, at the very least.
But … having ambled through the HVI plays for the first time this year, I have a completely different understanding of and respect for this play. The Bitch is back in Act I scene iii, and there can be only one Bitch (capitalisation intended), as we saw in The Hollow Crown …
Richard III: Act I sc ii (Ponytail Shakespeare read-through)
Sub-title: ‘Do you have free wi-fi? Because I’m sensing a connection …’
At school, we have a department policy of sitting boy-girl where possible (until sixth form, at least), and in most classes there is a combination that seems to get on that bit too well. So, I’ve been researching chat-up lines I can embarrass those pupils with. Yes, I’m that kind of teacher …
These are the best clean ones I’ve found so far. If you can top this, let me know.
Anyway, back to the play! Shrug. If you’ve decided to behave badly, you may as well test your strength straight away, right? If we accept, after my last post, that the main thing on Richard‘s mind is the constant, inevitable rejection of women, it follows that his next step in the play (the true story is somewhat different) is to seduce someone …
(Can I also say it hurt my eyes to search for this image?
Ponytail Shakespeare read-through – Richard III (Act I, scene i)
Larger than life. One of a kind. Brash on the outside, to mask an inner vulnerability. The ultimate showman, whose memory lives on long after his death. Freddie Mercury is all these things, too …
I’ve arrived at Richard III, the first play in my read-through that I know well, with a sense of awe, almost a fear of not doing him justice. Unusually, I’m as tentative as I might have been had I met him with a pathetic autograph book in my hand (or Mercury, whose death in 1991 touched me as few other celebrity deaths have: Prince and Sir Terry Pratchett are the only others that I register, emotionally). My relationship with Richard grows more obssessive and complex every time I teach him, and my recent book-buying seems unconciously centred round the historical Richard and the major players in his accession and downfall. I’ve also realised there is no way I can do this in the usual 1,000-ish-words-per-act format, so all I’m going to do is try to avoid 1,000 words-per-scene, if I can.