Never mind having a MONTH named after you – you’re nobody, in the grand scheme of things, until you have your own Lego figure …
Today marks the beginning of one of the most eagerly anticipated parts of the school year … the final summer half-term. The countdown’s on, for teachers at least: 7 weeks; 35 working days; a maximum of 28 lessons with each of those classes.
Manners maketh the man, it seems …
It wasn’t till I got to University that I came across Malcolm’s ‘king becoming graces’ in Macbeth. I thought them startling – an almost impudent challenge to James I about what the country expected from their new monarch, in a play which, I’m increasingly convinced, is all about what it means to be a ‘man’:
As justice, verity, temperance, stableness,
Bounty, perseverance, mercy, lowliness,
Devotion, patience, courage, fortitude, (IV, iii) [a]
But what of those in the level below? What were the expectations placed on nobles and courtiers?
The long road to the civil war begins here …
This week’s quotation is from: Charles R. Forker, ‘Introduction’, in William Shakespeare, Richard II (Arden Third Edition), (Thomson Learning: London, 2002)
A recent Reddit thread discussed the extent to which the History plays critiqued the monarchy. To be honest, I didn’t want to get involved, because it looked like a straight request for homework help, and yet, it was hard to resist such a fascinating subject …
Should we pay more attention to James I before he became King of England?
Thomas Cogswell, James 1: The Phoenix King (Penguin Monarchs series), (Allen Lane: London, 2017)
Studying or teaching Shakespeare’s plays, the figure of Elizabeth looms in the background, like the spectre at the feast.
We see it in the ever-present censorship, in the light of the Treasons Acts in 1571 and 1581, outlawing public discussion of the succession. Or, more positively, in the ‘Gloriana’ cult that produced works like Spenser‘s The Faerie Queen, and flattering nods to Elizabeth wherever you look – like links between her and Theseus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We see it in her discomfort with comparisons to Richard II, and the propagandic lionization of Henry VII.
Reading Cogswell‘s short, sympathetic biography has made me reassess the extent to which we / I ignore James until the succession question becomes absolutely critical.
Art not just as a time machine, but as a mirror, too …
Germaine Greer: Shakespeare (Past Masters series) (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1986)
I wonder if there was a time when, at least as an adult, the name Germaine Greer was unknown to me. Yet this slim volume, picked up in the last mad pre-demolition trolley dash round our old sixth-form building almost a year ago, is my first reading of any of her works. I feel a bit embarrassed about that.
We only want to be kings because we don’t fully understand what it involves?
Christopher Lee, 1603 (Review: London, 2003)
Not THAT Christopher Lee, obviously!
In class, we’ve seen it in Edward II and, I think, Richard III. There are hints of it for my younger students in Macbeth. But I see it everywhere: in Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI.
In Twelfth Night, Malvolio tells us:
“be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em” (II.v)
Quite simply, the message I consistently get from EMP plays is that greatness – in this case being monarch – is never, ever, all it’s cracked up to be …