Friday, July 24, 2015

Measure for Measure at the Globe and my problem with Shakespeare sorted

This is not a review proper.

In part, I'm writing simply because I haven't posted for a while. I've been trying to write a piece. Saying 'I think it's nearly there' or, 'I'll post it soon' seems to be the kiss of death for my writing, so I won't say anything more.

But also I just want to tell you how wonderful and brilliant my evening at the Globe was last night. My first time there, and my first time seeing Measure for Measure. In fact, a little secret - I had no real idea about the story line in Measure for Measure at all. Obviously, I knew a few of the themes. And I've mentioned on twitter that I've bought Marc Shell's The End of Kinship: 'Measure for Measure,' Incest and the Ideal of Universal Siblinghood. I wanted to see the play, then read the book. It maybe a month or two before I can do that, but I so enjoyed the play - I got lost in it so deeply, as many of the audience seemed to - that I'm not too worried that my memory of it will fade. Mark Shell's book will keep while I do other things.

Honestly though, the Globe. If you haven't, then do.

At school I had a couple of English teachers for English A level. One was a wonderful, rather effette and posh chap who was in love with William Blake. I have a vivid memory of him reading Chaucer and saying the word cunte in front of a shocked class. He manage to bring the words to life. No mean feat when teaching a group of disinterested and hormonally exuberant seventeen year olds.

My other English teacher was a cunt. Mr Heft was a nasty old nonce who ended up in prison for his abusive ways. He sent a letter home to my parents on my last day of school ever - just before my exams - saying that he wasn't responsible for my result because I hadn't turned up for his lessons in the final term. I think what had hacked him off most was that I turned up for everyone of the other teacher's lessons. Unfortunately, Heft did Shakespeare with us. Consequently, I've found it difficult to connect with the Bard ever since.

His modus operandi was to spend the term dissecting the text of a play word by word. He didn't believe you could understand what the play was about unless you knew precisely what every word meant. So we never got to appreciate any play as a whole - from memory I think we did Othello & The Winter's Tale. We didn't get to discuss the themes and ideas that the play explored. We just had to know what was said and by whom. It was Shakespeare by rote. We did actually go to see Othello at the Old Vic, but the possibility of me enjoying the play was already destroyed by then.

Well, I think last night finally exorcised that ghost. I have enjoyed a little bit of Shakespeare - last year I watched the 2004 film of the Merchant of Venice - but that doesn't really compare to the immersive and magical experience that the Globe gave me. And I'm so glad I didn't read up on Measure for Measure before seeing it. Going in cold really gave the two fingers to Heft. I didn't understand every word - I didn't hear every word come to that (there's no amplification) - but it didn't matter. The play was written to be seen rather than read and dissected in a classroom. And so my mind is alight with it and consequently I'm looking forward to reading Marc Shell's critical analysis of even more.

Shakespeare won in the end.

[I don't really need to forgive Heft. To me he was just a nasty teacher who scared the shit out of me as a 12 year old. When I was a bit older - 17 & 18 - I just thought him a bitter man for whom life had been hard. He was of the generation for whom the harsh realities of WWII had been formative and resonated with him in his teaching career. But that doesn't excuse the fact that he was a terrible bully at times. I witnessed both verbal and physical abuse for which today, he would have lost his job in an instant. And obviously, he was far far worse to some poor kids who attended his boxing club. There was a bit of me that wanted to provoke him when I was older. I wanted him to try and hit me so that I could retaliate. But he didn't. After one particular row I had with him where he described my entire cohort as 'pigs living in filth' I decided the best thing I could do was just not turn up to his classes. He died in 2010.]

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