What was the first word I thought of when I heard the word, ‘Shakespeare’?
Apologies. I’m neglecting my PonyTail Shakespeare read-through, but suddenly writing more frequently, and hopefully more pithily (but I somehow doubt that), at the moment. Let’s see how long it lasts …
I’ve already recommended Duane’s blog – the longest-running Shakespeare blog I know of – to you. Tonight – and I had something work-related to do – I stopped by whilst having dinner, and promptly got distracted. Which is what the best blogs do, right?
The internet being a brilliant example of intertextuality, Duane’s most recent post is itself a response to something he read on Reddit. And here I am, responding in turn.
The premise is ‘What do you think of when you hear the word Shakespeare?‘
Richard III: Act I, Sc iii (Ponytail Shakespeare read-through)
Richard has been a part of my life, a surprisingly large part, for about six years or so. In fact, we might call him part of the ‘soundtrack of my life’, since I turned 40. So whilst I try and inevitably fail to do the play justice in these posts, one of the things that’s already settled is the Shakespeare’s Jukebox ‘Soundtrack Album’ that I publish at the end of my amble through the play. Some songs have been ringfenced, so that I don’t use them for any other play … this is one.
If there’s a decidedly ‘camp’ flavour to the jukebox, in fact to these posts (I mean: Mercury, Hasselhoff and now EJ?), it could be down to two factors:
I’m teaching Edward II, to two classes, at the moment (conspiracy theorists, and I like one as much as the next person, will note that these two plays were probably written within months of each other, if not simultaneously); and
this is a camp play. At some stage I might get stuck into the relationship between Richard and Buckingham (a personal theory that causes wide-eyed incredulity in my classes, more often than not)
I’ve often described it as a pantomime for grown-ups. Ironically, because a child’s pantomime is possibly the worst way I can think of spending an evening. Perhaps this takes on board the criticisms of those who favour other, more mature or ‘intellectual’ plays. Richard is gleefully childish and petulant, at least until he becomes king, and there are several times where I want to shout:
He’s behind you!
or similar, at members of the cast: Clarence, Hastings, the young Duke of York, the hapless Burghers of London, at the very least.
But … having ambled through the HVI plays for the first time this year, I have a completely different understanding of and respect for this play. The Bitch is back in Act I scene iii, and there can be only one Bitch (capitalisation intended), as we saw in The Hollow Crown …
Ponytail Shakespeare read-through – Richard III (Act I, scene i)
Larger than life. One of a kind. Brash on the outside, to mask an inner vulnerability. The ultimate showman, whose memory lives on long after his death. Freddie Mercury is all these things, too …
I’ve arrived at Richard III, the first play in my read-through that I know well, with a sense of awe, almost a fear of not doing him justice. Unusually, I’m as tentative as I might have been had I met him with a pathetic autograph book in my hand (or Mercury, whose death in 1991 touched me as few other celebrity deaths have: Prince and Sir Terry Pratchett are the only others that I register, emotionally). My relationship with Richard grows more obsessive and complex every time I teach him, and my recent book-buying seems unconciously centred round the historical Richard and the major players in his accession and downfall. I’ve also realised there is no way I can do this in the usual 1,000-ish-words-per-act format, so all I’m going to do is try to avoid 1,000 words-per-scene, if I can.
… nor custom stale his infinite variety. (Enobarbus: ANTHONY AND CLEOPATRA: II.ii.245-246) [bastardised by me, obviously]
Our timetables for next year were finalised last Friday, and this is what mine looks like – at least in terms of Shakespeare / EMP material. It’s more of the same, basically – although I finally lost The Tempest – which Top Set Y11 had voted to study back in the day when I had complete freedom about what to teach. I think it could be the last year I teach this combination – I want to make at least one change …