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.
Ponytail Shakespeare read-through: Romeo and Juliet, Act I, scene i
Regular readers will understand my complex relationship with the notion of ‘England’.
The catchy simplicity of Three Lions (It’s Coming Home) turned from pleasantly nostalgic ‘earworm‘ – I well remember the song’s release for Euro ’96 – to a cankerous ‘worm ‘i the bud‘ [a] long before Wednesday’s almost inevitable defeat to Croatia. The entire nation, it seemed, had been reduced to a vocabulary of just three words – a mantra which was unchallengeable, a self-evident truth destroyed in just 120 minutes (if only Brexit could fall as quickly.) As I watched people (including several students) spill out of The Sun – opposite where I was drinking – in a numbed state of shock after the match, I was glad I wouldn’t hear it for a while. Having ‘sat like Patience’ I was now, almost, ‘smiling at grief’. To no avail: by 11am the next day – no lie – I was hearing “World Cup 2022: It’s Coming Home” in the corridors of ‘C’ Block … sigh.
Has this anything to do with Romeo and Juliet? Of course.
Love it, hate it? Just try it, and see what happens …
Stephen Greenblatt: Tyrant: Shakespeare on Power, (Bodley Head: London, 2018). ISBN: 9781847925046.
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I probably need to declare my bias, not least for new visitors.
I’m an unashamed socialist (I don’t understand how an educator could be otherwise, given that our efforts benefit society more than ourselves); I’m anti-Brexit in the UK, and anti-Trump in the US. One of my most popular blog posts, from two years ago, equated Richard III with Trump. “I am unfit for state and majesty” indeed …
‘On Brexit, and Ignoring the Advice of Uncles’, as Montaigne might have written …
PTS read-through: Richard II, act II
Richard II plays against the backdrop of an enormous cosmic clockface. Our poetic but ineffective, spiteful monarch ends act I cynically hoping to arrive too late; he begins act II suffering the consequences of being early, getting an earful from his uncle.
What Richard does miss, though, is Uncle Gaunt’s remarkable crie de couer on the state of the nation. It’s an interesting, beautiful swansong, the breathless anaphora creating a crescendo of patriotic fervour – but I have three issues with it.
“This is all the UK has to show for itself. The situation is urgent. Please think of others far worse off than you and give generously”
For those who don’t know Mr Woolfe, he was hovering on the edges of glory at UKIP for a few years, challenging for the ‘leadership’ at one stage, until leaving in high dudgeon after a classy physical altercation with a colleague, and now standing as an ‘Independent’. UKIP is, for the uninitiated, the United Kingdom Independence Party – a political party of xenophobic, borderline racist, swivel-eyed loons who have done as much as anyone else to get us into this desperate Brexit mess.
Mr Woolfe is currently one of my MEPs (Member of the European Parliament). I didn’t vote for him. But tonight, to my shame, he represents me.
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 …
‘When ignorant men are overwhelmed by forces totally beyond their control and their understanding it is inevitable that they will search for some explanation within their grasp. When they are frightened and badly hurt then they will seek someone on whom they can be revenged. […] What was needed, therefore, was a suitable target for the indignation of the people, preferably a minority group, easily identifiable, already unpopular, widely scattered and lacking any powerful protector.’
Philip Ziegler, The Black Death, (The Folio Society, London: 1997) Cover image: Francis Mosley
The plague was too immediate, too visceral, for Shakespeare to include more than a passing reference to it in his plays.In Romeo and Juliet it’s a factor in the tragedy, but at a safe distance.