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]
‘Why would I bother watching Titanic, when I know how it ends?’ Silence …
Ponytail Shakespeare read-through. Romeo and Juliet: Prologue
As a trainee, I remember ‘inheriting’ R&J from the usual teacher on placements. Twice. And I vividly remember teaching the Prologue to a top set of smart, welcoming, wonderful students.
This was the class that christened Romeo the ‘pervy monkey boy‘ after watching Zeffirelli‘s interpretation of the balcony scene. Thanks, Hannah – I will never forget that. They’re also the bunch that did the ‘Mean Girls‘ recreation of Act III, scene v. They made ‘fetch’ happen! So much for ‘Two households, both alike in dignity‘ …
Despite the brilliant memories, I wonder if it’s significant that I have never, since, opted to teach the play, now that I am largely in charge of my own destiny? And for PTS purposes, what can we, can I, pull out of these fourteen lines that hasn’t been said before over the last 400-years?
Why’s it taken me so long to get this one written? To get this play finished? To ‘officially’ say goodbye to Richard II for a few years, given I have no opportunity to teach it at either GCSE or A Level? That question probably contains its own answer.
Or, the fact that it’s Romeo and Juliet next …
You know – if you’ve been reading along – how deeply I feel an affinity for Richard’s journey. Perhaps when I (eventually) get to the end of the PTS I’ll reflect that the ‘most important things are the hardest things to say‘, as Stephen King tells us [a]. It’ll be interesting to look back and see whether the plays I found harder to connect with came and went rather quicker.
Forgive the delay in arriving at Part II: here’s an explanatory (and favourite) quotation from Stephen King by way of apology:
“The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them — words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.”
And don’t forget the health warning: you don’t read Shakespeare, he reads YOU.
Being overwhelmed with books is a problem I’ve had to get used to …
Today, I looked EVERYWHERE for a book that I wanted to quote from and couldn’t find it …
I know you’re in here, somewhere. You were a Christmas present; when I got back from my second home in Wales I put you down when I unpacked. You’ve not left the flat. The only place I didn’t check was the kitchen: it’s got no windows and I don’t go in there if I can help it.
This is a long read – I say that on a blog where posts often hit 1,300 words, against ‘accepted wisdom’ – so apologies in advance. YOUR blog is your blog; my blog is MY blog, and I write for catharsis and as a kind of journal, not ‘popularity’, ‘followers’, or ‘influence’. I was tempted to temper my words with a gallery of pictures, but that didn’t feel right, either. This post feels a little more personal than most.
In spite of, or maybe because of, constant trawling for Shakespeare-related content, I have only just found this. Last April, Peter Marks wrote a piece for The Washington Post (link below) suggesting that Americans are too ‘intellectually lazy’ to appreciate Shakespeare, and fearing for the future popularity of the plays. My immediate response was ‘you think it’s bad in the US? Try over here, where Shakespeare was born!’
What could be worse than dying, believing that you’re going to hell?
PTS read-through: Richard III, Act II, scene i
June 27, 1996. George Street, Luton, at a bus stop opposite the town hall. Genuinely nauseous to the verge of throwing up. Could I have torn my eyes up from the book I was reading, I would broadly have seen the image below …