I mentioned the other day that I was coming into King John blind, apart from the Disney film and a vague notion of the Magna Carta. The little I am beginning to accumulate through secondary reading and the play itself is startling.
King John, Act I
Having broken out of my Romeo and Juliet-induced enervation, I approached King John with a sense of excitement bolstered by my positive experiences with the Henry VI plays. Unusually, maybe impatiently, I skipped my Arden’s introduction and got stuck in after finding these hopeful signs elsewhere:
“a neglected play about a flawed king” [a]
“King John has all the beauties of language and all the richness of the imagination to relieve the painfulness of the subject.” [b]
So, what did I make of Act I?
Telling stories ABOUT stories seems to be my stock-in-trade when it comes to teaching Shakespeare.
Unusually, I’m going to start with the quotation of the week, from Stephen Greenblatt, rather than work towards it:
Humans cannot live without stories. We surround ourselves with them; we make them up in our sleep; we tell them to our children; we pay to have them told to us. Some of us create them professionally. And a few of us – myself included – spend our entire adult lives trying to understand their beauty, power, and influence. [a]
It’s no wonder we love soliloquy …
Regular visitors know that I teach Richard III and Edward II at A Level – coincidentally, plays which seem to have appeared within months of each other, in or around 1592. Marlowe doesn’t get discussed much in the circles I move in online, and Edward II often feels even more overlooked – so when someone wanted to talk about the differences between Kit and Will on /r/shakespeare (after watching a performance of Tamburlaine), I couldn’t resist diving in. Here’s an edited extract of what I said:
Why do I keep reading books about the plays, about the contextual crucibles in which they were cooked up?
Because there’s always something new to learn, or an angle that I hadn’t considered before. And that’s where this week’s QotW comes in.
Thankfully, we can’t have a third series of The Hollow Crown, but what about adaptations of the Roman plays?
If there’s one thing my (currently stuttering) Pony Tail Shakespeare read-through project has given me so far, it’s a greater love for the History Plays. Once the project is (eventually) finished, I’m looking forward to reading them again merely for pleasure.
Gifted, abominable, yet capable of producing ‘the mighty line’ …
It’s episode 52 – not a continuous year (the first post is here), but a year nonetheless, so I’m going to indulge myself a little this week. Will you be able to tell the difference, I hear you ask!
Bear with me whilst I tell you a story:
In eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages. His story will be told here. His name was Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, and if his name – in contrast to the names of other gifted abominations, de Sade’s, for instance, or Saint-Just’s, Fouché’s, Bonaparte’s, etc. – has been forgotten today, it is certainly not because Grenouille fell short of those more famous blackguards when it came to arrogance, misanthropy, immorality, or, more succinctly, wickedness, but because his gifts and his sole ambition were restricted to a domain that leaves no traces in history: to the fleeting realm of scent. [a]