I love Shakespeare so why do I want him banned from school? Because his genius is not to be learned by rote by adolescents giggling at their peers reciting the Balcony Scene from Romeo and Juliet. “Out! Out, damned spot!” from Macbeth is not an opportunity to disrupt an English class of 11year olds with jokes about adolescent pimples and the like. His works should be performed by actors who have studied their craft and bring his words to incandescent life on a stage.
There are a number of Shakespearean quotations that can stand alone — usually insults — such as “The Devil damn thee black, thou cream-faced loon. Where got’s thou that Goose look?” (Macbeth) or “Thou art a boil. A plague sore, an embossed carbuncle.” (King Lear). Even these occasional exceptions carry so much more feeling than simply “Fuck off!”. In fact Chaucer was better at that kind of language, but even the sixth-formers of today are only just beginning to learn the medieval langauge of his work.
These are the exceptions. As Hamlet says, “The play’s the thing”, not a dreary repetition invariably recited out of context. Try picking up a copy of Coriolanus for some bedside reading and you will probably bore yourself to sleep — which is when the nightmares will begin. Watch the play and you will never complain about violence on television ever again.
Dickens is often considered one of the most descriptive English novelists — and he was to the Victorian readership of his monthly journals — but his style now feels overblown much of the time. The stories are magnificent and remarkably influential at the time but they are of a bygone era. #MeToo,#BLM and #LGBT” are all trying to achieve what Dickens did to reduce discrimination in the forms of poverty, slums, child cruelty and the inadequacy of the Law. The trouble is that there are just too many activists today, brandishing soundbite placards, all demanding that their voices be heard while “no platformimg” alternative opinions.
Both Shakespeare and Dickens wrote great speeches. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”; “To be or not, to be”; “Now is the winter of our discontent …” and even “Please, sir I want some more.” Too many are locked in the fossils of history simply to be regurgitated on request. They have been reduced to the soundbites of today which, any defamed politician will tell you, are invariably taken out of context.
We do not discuss or debate anymore. Take a look at the empty chambers of the Houses of Parliament in these Covid days. Our representatives prefer to get a soundbite onto television’s News at Ten than discuss the issues constructively. We close our ears and SHOUT!
We don’t endlessly replay the first eight bars of Elagr’s Cello Concerto in E minor or cut a postage stamp out of a Rubens masterpiece. They were constructed to taken as a whole - even if you do like the yellow colour of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers petals.
We have our own greats. “I have dream”; “We shall fight them on the beaches…”; “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Why not study them in a language we understand at our particular age?
There are just too many activists today all demanding that their voices be heard while “no platformimg” alternative opinions.
I lay no claim to be a critic of any form of art but I like to think that I appreciate great works of most genres but, at my age of over eighty, I find myself at something of a loss when it comes to modern art and music. Give me the Brandenburg Concert or The Night Watch and my passions are moved but I am now of an age when I would be unable to understand someone explaining Picasso’s Blue Period to me or even the subtleties of R&B/hip-hop.
I may be a Philistine but at least I spell it with “Ph” and not an “F”.