Thursday, 5 May 2011

Hurrah for the Globe!

There are several things I hate about Shakespeare. One is the way it has to be taught in schools. Be innovative all you like. It still comes down to the same exam.

Like, there is no getting round it. If the kids are to pass that exam, they have to read the bloody stuff. In class.

Have you ever listened to Kirk of 5B, slumped behind his desk, elbows on the table, head sunk low, plodding his dreary way through Macbeth's soliloquy? The one about how all his expectation fell away? Where nothing is left to him? Not as a man, a friend, a soldier, a king? He has nothing at all?

By the time Kirk comes up for air, and you clock the expression on his uncomprehending, bewildered face, and know that it is your moment to explain in miserable and excruciating detail what's going on, but you won't, you can't. You'll just say 'Macbeth has had enough' then you will have experienced a pain so deep and penetrating it would be miracle if you did not throw yourself under the number 15 school bus. At least that way, you don't have to endure it all again tomorrow with Lewis in the second GCSE group you got lumbered with after the parents discovered the other 'English teacher' actually only had a degree in Sports Science.

Then there is the pace. Oh God, the pace. I can do what Macduff does. Only I'll do it slower, more painfully, with more deliberation than anything he can muster, even with his emotional state and his mean vengeance. He should learn a few tricks from me.

I can kill Macbeth, slowly. I can plan it, by the day, hour, minute. Stretching out his guts from one term start to the next term end, I can have 30 schoolkids stake him out, peg his tongue, cut out his words, dissect his brain, slice him in two, then stop at every one of his dying breaths to peer at his wife. And then I'll bludgeon them all with reading comprehensions, short-answer paragraphs, extended essays, and background reading; you try now and see if you can wriggle out of the pinning to my mark sheet.

Because don't forget, there is the exam, the exam, with the grade boundary you can fall between. And if I have to make Macbeth die for twelve slow weeks to drag the weary student from D to C, then that is what I must do, even at a cost to all our lives and souls.

But now, you can be glad! Your children are safe from me! There is one less English teacher bringing misery to the world!

Now, I teach Shakespeare how I like, which is to say, I don't teach it at all.

I can love anything I want about Shakespeare; the language, action, characters, the plots historical, miserable, humorous, problematic, bizarre. I can shoo my wild, home educated children out the door, and we can share it, on stage, performed.

Because to my way of understanding, a playscript is exactly that. A means by which actors can do what they are good at doing, in a place they want to be, with an audience who wants to be there.

What I can see is, in that wonderful bringing together of action, expression and speech, there doesn't seem to be any problem in a child's understanding at all.

Quite the opposite, in fact. Tiger immediately seizes on the dilemma of whether Hamlet is mad, or merely acting mad. She spots the characters, the motives, the revenge. She sees him trapped in his world, unable to act. She and her sisters chatter about all and everything, from the role of Ophelia to the character of Polonius, the wanderings of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the point of the jester and the slaughter of the final scene.

I'm over the moon, planning already to take her to see every play; we'll go back to the Globe, go to Stratford, see Richard III. I'll have my daughters to talk over everything in all the world.

Come time to sleep, Tiger snuggles down and says, 'I don't know why anyone can say, they hate Shakespeare. Mummy, why does anyone ever say that?'