Took a short break from grammar to watch Twelfth Night, as a student is working through it and I want to make sure I remember what I’m talking about. There ought to be a rule: teachers can only do a Shakespearean play if there’s a good movie for it. Twelfth Night‘s in, as is Romeo and Juliet (that would be the Zefferelli version, not that other garbage), and Othello… actually, any of Kenneth Branagh’s films. This would mean, though, that Macbeth is out, ’cause there are no good movies for it.
I despise Shakespeare’s writing style. How would we feel if, some 400 years from now, scholars were holding up Danielle Steele as The Ultimate in Literature? Shakespeare was not a talented writer. If we want to show students what literature has been like throughout the ages, there are many, many other options: any Christopher Marlowe; Gammer Gurton’s Needle; Gorboduc; FOURE LETTERS, and certaine Sonnets.
That said, I think Shakespeare did have one talent, one which isn’t being properly demonstrated to the students: he could write an awesome fool. Trinculo, Feste, Puck, the Dromios, Dogberry (is he a fool? – yes, even though the wisdom is accidental), Mercutio; these guys are astoundingly funny, and the students are always willing to pick up on the sex jokes and references to digestive gas. Okay, maybe Mercutio’s classical allusions are above the average ESL-teenager’s abilities, but Trink says nothing that can’t be understood with a bit of modern translation.
Hell, if I could have taken a Shakespearean Fools class in university, I probably wouldn’t have that C on my record. Or maybe it was just the professor’s white silk scarf that dazzled me into stupidity.
I think the English teachers are lazy. Either that, or they don’t really like Elizabethan literature, and they’re just choosing something they’re familiar with so they don’t have to suffer anymore than necessary. Is that it? They don’t like what they have to teach? Perhaps we should change all the rules then: if your job is to get students excited about literature, then you get to choose literature which excites you. (If that happens to be Calvin and Hobbes, then that’s the fault of the dude that hired you.) I know that I couldn’t get anyone excited about the literary qualities of Shakespeare – just the sex and the funny jokes. But I’m sure I could have most of them awed by my Holy Literary Trinity; in fact, I had proof this week that I can make Findley’s The Wars somewhat interesting to a 17-year-old (I would have been about 17 when I first read it – and fell in love with it – and I remember the things that impressed me then; Tuesday was a weird trip down memory lane).
This week, the student that just survived To Kill A Mockingbird has to begin Twelfth Night next week. I got her hooked on Atticus (that’s never a problem) and Miss Maudie’s weirdness; now I get to introduce her to Feste. That’s going to be pretty easy, kinda like convincing someone to like chocolate.