Friday, February 03, 2017


Willm Shackper

That's one of the ways he signed his name.

Rash statements are my speciality. Consistency in the rashness is less obvious. One exception: I have always said that I would do a deal with the Devil in order to spend just one day with Shakespeare when he was alive and writing. I would gladly trade all the rest of my days for just one in his company. Just give me a week to get my things in order and then I'm definitely up for it.

Why? He was just the most incredible of writing geniuses. I would like to know how he did it. I would like to try to understand how anyone could so consistently produce genius, seemingly at the drop of a hat. It still awes and amazes me every time I consider it.

It was not always so. At the age of 15 my introduction to the Bard was both late and uninspiring. In the 60's studying Shakespeare was based on the text; and, as I am very keen to point out to modern students, not very satisfying, imaginative or interesting.

Studying like that was, and is, boring and almost guaranteed to put you off for life. What “saved” me was the play chosen for study - Julius Caesar.

I have always been interested in Rome and Roman history, so Caesar was a natural for me. I like history (in the 8th grade I won five dollars in the Daughters of the American Revolution history contest – I got 49 out of 50 questions correct I missed the one about Teddy Roosevelt, I knew that FDR was a Democrat so I guessed that Teddy was one as well – no – he was a Republican and a Progressive – damn Ol Teddy he cost me another 5 bucks and the first place glory).

Caesar in the dark ages – i.e. before video tape, cd's, dvd's – was a challenge for pupils and teachers alike. Why?

Simple. I told pupils why for more than 30 years. Skakespeare wrote plays, not books. Plays are meant to be acted on a stage (or as a movie). They are not meant to be read, either out loud or silently to yourself. To make sense of what is going on you have to see it!

Witness (and slip in a real good moan at the same time) the BBC – a venerable and mercenary broadcaster. Between 1978 and 1985 the Beeb commisioned and screened all 37 plays. They are quite truly wonderful, as they featured some of the most expert and famous actors of the day.

Then in a feat of the most uninspiring and possibly criminal opportunism and shameless exploitation of the long-suffering license-payer the BBC steadfastly has refused to air them again – as soon, and if you think this is co-incidental you need professional help, as video recorders became generally available. You can of course see these marvellous productions provided you buy the video from the BBC – and they are not cheap.

So much for inspiring a new generation of Bard fans. Thanks Auntie.

I do have a collection of plays that were aired co-incidental with modern technology and I used them extensively during the 90's and noughties.

Thus Shakespeare became a joy to teach. The language came alive and pupils suddenly “got it”. Fantastic.

After Caesar I moved on to Richard III. I say moved on but it was more like struggled on really.

Firstly, a rather attractive girl I knew invited me to spend the weekend at her Granny's farm. Could I say no? Not likely. As luck would have it, my weekend was promised to reading Richard III as well. Now truly it was a “winter of discontent” even though it was May.

My amorous adventures turned out to be non-existent, but I made little progress with Richard either. Why? This may be Shakespeare's most difficult play, though it was, apparently, very popular in his time. Why so?

Simple. It's a soap opera. And just like Eastenders if you don't know who the characters are and how they are related to each other you have little chance of making sense of it.

When I taught it for A level, I always spent a week (figuratively that is) in the 1480's. Unless you understand how society worked then you have little chance of understanding Richard III.

I need another blog to move the story on. I promise to do it soon.

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