It’s dawning on Clarence that he won’t talk his way out of this one …
“Do you do ‘PEEFE’* on Saturday nights, Sir?” one wag asked me, to general titters of amusement in C5.
‘Why not? It’s fun.’ I replied. And it is. So why not?
Why not, actually, spend some time thinking again about RIII, I.iv? Thinking about a grown man who has such a terrifying nightmare that he asks another to sit with him whilst he tries to get some sleep. About a man desparately pleading for his life in every way he possibly can (see the Blues Brothers, above), when faced with two murderous executioners. Much more fun than Love Island, surely?
What kind of teacher asks their students to do something they wouldn’t do themselves?
My latest Y12 Homework task was titled, yes, This Charming Man – students were asked to analyse the exchange between Richard and Anne in Act I scene ii of Richard III. Those who were feeling a bit flash were challenged to get in as many song titles as they could from The Smiths discography.
It’s been a long, hard, day. No, really! In amongst the pre-school meeting; the marking; the trying to keep your errant Year 11s just on this side of hysteria, given they have their second English Lit exam on Friday; the data (two classes’ worth, by lunchtime, thanks very much); the lunchtime storytelling club for younger pupils; the broken photocopiers; and the almost insignificant matter of actually teaching, you need an oasis of calm.
Don’t Panic, as Douglas Adams might say. Together we can beat this awful disease.
This is a PUBLIC HEALTH WARNING brought to you by the Boar’s Head, Eastcheap.
There is a deadly, debilitating disease sweeping schools in the UK. Parents, teachers, and especially students need to be informed. Many people do not realise they have it until it is too late. Treatment can be lengthy, and painful, and some patients (err, I mean students) never recover.
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 …
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.