Jonathan Bate: The Genius of Shakespeare (Picador: London, 2008)
Professor Bate will probably be a familiar face, or voice, to anyone on the ‘Shake-scene’ in the UK. You can hear him participating in Shakespeare-themed episodes of BBC Radio’s ‘In Our Time’, he heads a University of Warwick MOOC on ‘Shakespeare and his World’, and amongst his many written accomplishments, he edited the Arden third edition of Titus Andronicus.
This is such an engaging book. Because ‘you don’t read Shakespeare, he reads you‘, we learn almost as much about Professor Bate as we do about Shakespeare. If you want to know what a modern Shakespeare scholar is like, you could do worse than start here.
Hot ice and wondrous strange snow: the appetite for articulation …
Frequently, I ask my class to step into the time machine and join me back in 1592.
Conveniently, it’s as close as we can get to dating both Richard III and Edward II, my Key Stage 5 texts. The other plays I teach at the moment – Much Ado About Nothing and Macbeth – follow on from here.
This period was a crucible in which Drama as we know it was being born, alchemically transmuted from the didactic Morality Plays into something fresh and exciting. With my Marxist critical hat on, if we can understand the contextual elements poured into that cauldron, we can better appreciate and analyse the resultant heady brew.
Maybe it’s ironic to quote an author I haven’t read – apart from a single short story in a SF anthology (‘The Way of the Cross and the Dragon’ (1978), if anyone’s interested) – but this is the second time I’ve used GRR Martin‘s quotation (and indeed this image):
‘A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.’
‘Everyone‘ says I would love Martin’s work if I could find the time to read it, by the way. It’s not even close to reaching the slopes of Mount Tsundoku at the moment.
If Marxist literary criticism were renamed, say Contextual Critical Theory, I wonder if it would be taken more seriously by the uninitiated … like rebranding Labour as ‘New Labour’ in the UK helped Tony Bliar (intentional misspelling) come to power in 1997 … How can we possibly dissociate a text from the society in which it was created, or indeed from the intertextual cauldron that formed the author’s views?
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 …
“Is black so base a hue?” Aaron, Titus Andronicus, Act IV scene ii …
AF Scott, Witch, Spirit, Devil, (White Lion Publishing: London, 1974)
Whilst Black History Month isn’t celebrated in the UK until October, this is a bit of an international blog: about half of you are visitors from the US, and another quarter or so from elsewhere outside the UK – thank you, by the way!
So now, whilst I’m reading Scott’s book, feels like the time to look at this …
The consequences of people feeling there is no legal, peaceful alternative might be grim … Shakespeare shows us that in Titus and elsewhere.
I know you all, and will awhile uphold
The unyoked humour of your idleness:
Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wonder’d at,
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapours that did seem to strangle him. (PRINCE HAL: 1 Henry IV. I.ii)
I’d love to ascribe these lines to our leaders, but I reserve them for myself today …