Protesting Shakespeare…

My daughter often tells me stories about her school that make my eyebrows shoot up.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not likely to go all 1970’s and say ‘It was not like that in MY day.’ I went to an experimental community school, where all sorts of unorthodox educational theories were tested out (and some of them found wanting!) I was interested to note that the website of the school today makes no mention of it’s radical background.

I mention this, as some of Emily’s accounts of her current schooling still leave me rather puzzled and concerned. Here is a sample-

The kids were shown ‘Braveheart‘ in history- as a way of understanding Scottish-English history. Now even accepting that most of the Scottish establishment loves to have a go at all things English, to suggest that the story portrayed in this film has even a passing resemblance to history is stretching it some, wouldn’t you say? Rather like learning about the dinosaurs by watching the Flintstones.

Then there is English literature. The chosen books for were Harry Potter, and one of the Philip Pullman series. Fine romping entertainment- but literature? Give the teachers their due- some kids simply do not read any more, so starting with something easily digested is not a bad thing… but today, they began talking about Shakespeare. Like generations of kids before them, the kids suggested that Shakespeare was boring. And when they learnt he was English, they all booed. The teacher told them not to worry as they were going to study the worlds greatest ever poet, Rabbie Burns soon.

Now I am not planning to argue about who the worlds greatest poet is/was, and even though I am no great fan of Burns, I am happy to concede that he is in the mix.

But I so hope that narrow prejudice will not be reinforced in our schools, and that my kids will be enthused by teachers who have a love for beautiful inspiring words.

So, by way of my little protest- here is a little Shakespeare (from one of Hamlets hugely cynical speaches)…

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet,
to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me—
nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.

Hamlet Act 2, scene 2, 303–312

Merciful heaven,
Thou rather with thy sharp and sulphurous bolt
Splits the unwedgeable and gnarlèd oak
Than the soft myrtle; but man, proud man,
Dress’d in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he’s most assur’d—
His glassy essence—like an angry ape
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As makes the angels weep; who, with our spleens,
Would all themselves laugh mortal.

Measure For Measure Act 2, scene 2, 114–123