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]
Mistrust might be too strong a word, but there was always a youthful rebellious streak in me (Catholic-educated in what was at the time a pretty Catholic town), pushing against what I increasingly viewed as the bastard child of The Party in Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four and a medieval Ponzi scheme. The Catholic hierarchy increasingly personified notions of hypocritical middle-men, ‘eternal life’ assurance brokers, gatekeepers against the hereafter who would feed on the poor, vulnerable and frightened, whilst actually allowing anyone through, if the price was right.
Finally, I officially ‘fell out’ with God in a completely predictable spat – over bureacracy, not the Bible; red tape, not redemption; compliance, not communion …
Where Marlowe went when he should have been at Uni …
George Carleton, A Thankfull Remembrance of God’s Mercie (1630)
Much as I’d like a copy of this on the Boar’s Head Bookshelf, I’ve been playing with a facsimile copy I got from www.archive.org. I think it was mentioned in one of the episodes of BBC’s wonderful Shakespeare’s Restless World – which I recommend to anyone remotely interested in Shakespeare, Marlowe and their contemporaries.
As usual, I have one eye on anything that could be interesting or useful to my A Level students, so whilst I’d like to dwell on some of the pretty hilarious vitriol this man of the cloth (Bishop of Winchester, to be exact) reserves for the Catholic faith, I’ve something a little quotable for the students of Marlowe.
Secular authorities had (and still have) every investment in discouraging revenge. If citizens perceive that the law no longer serves them, then we get the kind of situation that Francis Bacon famously warned of:
‘Revenge is a kind of wild justice’
And this is a point that Jonathan Bate develops, quoting Fredson Bowers:
Private action undermines the authority of the state:Elizabethan law felt itself capable of meting out justice to murderers, and therefore punished an avenger who took justice into his own hands just as heavily as the original murderer.The authorities, conscious of the Elizabethan inheritance of private justice from earlier ages, recognised that their own times still held the possibilities of serious turmoil; and the were determined that private revenge should not unleash a general disrespect for law.
Act IV however adds the dimension of the breakdown of DIVINE justice to the individual’s decision to subvert the legal process.
This started as commentary on the furore surrounding the staging of Julius Caesarfeaturing a Trump-alike, but based in England, I can’t help reflecting the fact that things have been overtaken here by the insane events near Finsbury Park Mosque in London …
At what stage does it become acceptable for people to use the kind of methods they vilify – demonise, actually – in others to advance their own agendas? No, really – when is this OK?