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]
You probably know my taste for puerile humour by now.
This joke (and there are many versions of it knocking around) has been a favourite since before I got married, a good twenty years ago. You can imagine how well it went down, the first time I used it on my (rather fierce) ex-mother-in-law. I received what we might call an ‘old-fashioned look’, with added chilli. Nowadays, poking fun at someone’s verbosity is also self-referential, because, yes, I unashamedly like to talk! In my defence, it’s because I ‘live’ in 1592.
Sure, it’s only a week away from school, and I ought to be able to control myself. Many of you will also have a handle on the state of my bookshelves – I have no space for these, and yet. Half-terms are an opportunity to catch breath in more ways than one.
Some would suggest I oughtn’t to have bought anything; I like to think of this as a fairly restrained Book Haul, all sourced from the second hand bookshop about 300 yards from ‘her place’. So, what and why …
Maybe it’s growing up in the 70s, but I enjoy an infantile dirty joke as much, if not more, than the next fellow. They don’t always work in the plays, or perhaps audiences are now vastly more sophisticated: I can imagine that even the weakest ones would have had them rolling in the aisles at The Globe.
This week, I decided to work my favourite Shakespearean knob-gag … ooh err!
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: