At 18, students ought to be able to handle History plays, but the exam boards don’t seem to like them?
Following my recent KS4 post, I extended my research to A Level – that is the exams taken by 18-year olds before they hit university. Again, I’d love to hear from students or teachers, especially in other countries. Here are a few thoughts of my own:
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:
What was the first word I thought of when I heard the word, ‘Shakespeare’?
Apologies. I’m neglecting my PonyTail Shakespeare read-through, but suddenly writing more frequently, and hopefully more pithily (but I somehow doubt that), at the moment. Let’s see how long it lasts …
I’ve already recommended Duane’s blog – the longest-running Shakespeare blog I know of – to you. Tonight – and I had something work-related to do – I stopped by whilst having dinner, and promptly got distracted. Which is what the best blogs do, right?
The internet being a brilliant example of intertextuality, Duane’s most recent post is itself a response to something he read on Reddit. And here I am, responding in turn.
The premise is ‘What do you think of when you hear the word Shakespeare?‘
Niccolò Machiavelli: The Prince, (transl. George Bull, ed. Anthony Grafton), (Penguin Classics: London, 2003). e-book ISBN: 9780141912004 (£2.99)
– – –
Niccolò Machiavelli … the name has a seductive musicality, like all the Devil’s best tunes, and in Italian, ‘Il Principe’ uncoils like a snake, before hissing and then biting. This, his most famous work, has insinuated its way into our psyche until ‘Machiavellian’ has become part of a sinister cabal of authorial-adjectives including ‘Orwellian‘, ‘Lovecraftian’ and ‘Kafkaesque‘.Yet how many people appreciate its true meaning, having read ‘The Prince’?Is its reputation merited?Is it a useful, topical read, or a dusty, centuries-old curiosity?
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 …
Act III places us at the game table, jostling Shakespeare for a view of the goings-on in that VERY busy wood …
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act III: with apologies to Albert Einstein 
On reflection, it seems odd that as a child experiencing / undergoing / suffering a Catholic education, once a year, on our ‘Saint’s Day’ – St Martin de Porres: 03 November – we were treated to a film in the school hall which was invariably a Ray Harryhausen epic.
Not that I want to complain. I loved them, and still do.
They fostered an appetite for the ancient world – for Perseus, Theseus, Hercules, Jason … any number of heroes and their associated monsters. And, like the Book of Genesis, they’ve proved to be invaluable in teaching Literature.