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]
You probably know my taste for puerile humour by now.
This joke (and there are many versions of it knocking around) has been a favourite since before I got married, a good twenty years ago. You can imagine how well it went down, the first time I used it on my (rather fierce) ex-mother-in-law. I received what we might call an ‘old-fashioned look’, with added chilli. Nowadays, poking fun at someone’s verbosity is also self-referential, because, yes, I unashamedly like to talk! In my defence, it’s because I ‘live’ in 1592.
Regular visitors know that I teach Richard III and Edward II at A Level – coincidentally, plays which seem to have appeared within months of each other, in or around 1592. Marlowe doesn’t get discussed much in the circles I move in online, and Edward II often feels even more overlooked – so when someone wanted to talk about the differences between Kit and Will on /r/shakespeare (after watching a performance of Tamburlaine), I couldn’t resist diving in. Here’s an edited extract of what I said:
Can we just stop putting ideas in Shakespeare’s head, please?
… just busy.
And increasingly grumpy … when I’ve found no time to blog, other than a single new Golden Dogberry.
Autumn Term is always a log-jam, and my least favourite of the three. I told my better half today that whilst there had been a LOT of time at home and weekends where I was too busy to see her, there wasn’t really any ‘me time’ in there. I haven’t read anything for weeks, and obviously, the blog has suffered. At least our school has finally been inspected now after years of being on ‘DEF-CON2’, and with any luck we won’t see THEM for a while …
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: