Hot ice and wondrous strange snow: the appetite for articulation …
Frequently, I ask my class to step into the time machine and join me back in 1592.
Conveniently, it’s as close as we can get to dating both Richard III and Edward II, my Key Stage 5 texts. The other plays I teach at the moment – Much Ado About Nothing and Macbeth – follow on from here.
This period was a crucible in which Drama as we know it was being born, alchemically transmuted from the didactic Morality Plays into something fresh and exciting. With my Marxist critical hat on, if we can understand the contextual elements poured into that cauldron, we can better appreciate and analyse the resultant heady brew.
For too many of the 600,000 students who sit that GCSE, it’s their final taste of Shakespeare …
Shakespeare is the only author that everyone over here has to study. Unless, it appears, you live in Scotland (and someone might be able to correct me on that if I have misread the SQA specification) …
‘For divers unknown reasons‘ as Richard III would say, I’ve been engaged in a little research of what our exam boards offer at Key Stage 4 – that is for the 15/16 year-olds who sit their GCSE English Literature. I think it throws up some interesting points:
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’:
BOTTOM: I will discharge it in either your straw colour beard, your orange-tawny beard, your purple-in-grain beard, or your French-crown-colour beard, your perfect yellow. [a]
Although The Guardian confidently proclaimed we’d reached ‘peak beard’ two years ago – in fact exactly two years ago today [b] – I stopped shaving before Christmas. I’m far from a fashion victim: this was initially sheer laziness (I loathe shaving); now increasingly compounded by curiosity about exactly what I might grow. After nearly thirty years of a more-or-less maintained goatee, I’ve gone wild.
It’s a work in progress (and had to survive a pre-Portugal pruning by She Who Must Be Obeyed), but I’ve ended up with a hybrid: think the hirsute love-child of Hemingway and Fidel Castro … the addition of a very disreputable cap during my Easter hols jolly to the Algarve has added, I like to think, a revolutionary aura to the whole thing. Plus, some students have given it a name of its own, like a stray dog. So, the beard is staying – for now.
Naturally, this started me thinking about beards and the Bard …
Forget the Oscars, here are some winners that REALLY matter to me …
We HATE lists, don’t we?
Except, actually we bloody love them, if it’s something we’re interested in.
That said, the last thing we want is a list that agrees with our perceptions – the dopamine rush of validation is very short-lived compared to the opportunity to passionately argue our disagreement. We LOVE subjective opinions. Trust me – my wonderfully fulfilling University years were full of essays arguing the toss – why, for example:
Dracula should not be judged for his ‘special dietary requirements’, whereas Van Helsing and his bunch are vindictive bastards;
we ought to respect Edward Hyde for his refreshing honesty, as opposed to Henry Jekyll‘s hypocrisy; or
Ursula K. Le Guin’s (RIP) The Left Hand of Darkness, whilst a superb book, had no place in the Science Fiction module
You get the picture: English Lit is a tailor-made subject for those who are argumentative and prepared to do the spadework to back-up their cockiness …
Being a Production Photographer has its moments – this is my favourite image from The Dream in Cambridge, 2012.
Ponytail Shakespeare read-through: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act V.
One of the things about a project like this read-through it that it gives you a certain discipline. In this case, although my timetable may be only notionally followed, it has forced me to read or re-read plays that I might not have, otherwise. Occasionally (Love’s Labour’s Lost, I’m looking at YOU), my reservations have been fully justified. On other occasions, this new-found steel in my soul has been intensely rewarding. I might not otherwise have read the Henry VI plays, for example. Or, indeed, re-read The Dream in any hurry (believing I knew it ‘well enough’), and that would have been a shame …
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 …