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]
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 …
‘Books are delightful society. If you go into a room and find it full of books – even without taking them from the shelves they seem to speak to you, to bid you welcome.’ William Ewart Gladstone
This post came out of a discussion on Reddit where I asserted that we weren’t seeing enough Shakespeare shelf-porn. SHAKESPORN, in fact. Yup. You heard me. So in the spirit of ‘I’ll show you mine; you show me yours‘, here’s a tour of my Shakespeare bookshelf: MY ‘delightful society‘ …
Studying a History play? Look for the playwright’s sources …
My Marxist critical inclinations – that a text can’t be read in isolation from the contextual crucible that created it – get pretty much free reign when it comes to teaching Edward II. For the OCR A Level course, my students need to compare Marlowe’s drama to Tennyson‘s monodrama, ‘Maud‘ and, get this, 50% of the mark is context (that’s AO3, troops).
What, exactly, is context? I’d suggest that for both texts, maybe all texts, context is usually a mix of two things:
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]
150 minutes. Three questions, on Richard III, Edward II, and Tennyson‘s ‘Maud‘. And despite my best efforts, my class have been increasingly panicked, increasingly convinced that a ‘U’ grade will result in their being kicked off the course. Most of my free periods this week have been taken up in reassurance and revision.
It’s been contagious:
Open your ears! For who could possibly block them when loud Rumor speaks? (2HIV)
And it’s been unhelpful. For a certain type of student, fear of failure is the biggest barrier they have to succeeding. Whoever propagated this ‘you’re getting kicked out’ myth needs a kick in the codpiece.
One of the latest things I asked my students to consider was the contrast in pre-battle speeches between Richard and Richmond. Which inspired me to email them my own, a short while ago …