As social politics continue to change with gathering speed, works of literature have to catch up or fall by the wayside. The plays of Shakespeare, written in a very different age from our own, must be scrutinised. Does this play, a notorious battle of the sexes, pass the test? Sheldrake thinks so.
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My whole outlook on Shakespeare has been shaken up by my chance discovery of the Sheldrake on Shakespeare podcasts, such that I’ve become evangelical about them. I’ve always found “The Taming of the Shrew” an awkward text that I feel I ought to dislike, yet am drawn to Katerina’s character despite resenting her taming. It was good to hear your argument for a place for this play in a modern world where women are still subjugated. I wonder if in the changes to forthcoming GCSEs, we should be widening students access to these problematic texts rather than playing it safe?
Thank you for such high praise Susan. I wasn’t sure how this episode would go down with the listening handful, so thank you for getting in touch in such a positive fashion. And thank you for spreading the word about Sheldrake on Shakespeare; word of mouth remains the best marketing tool.
As for GCSEs, I think one has to be slightly careful. My educational instinct is always to throw a cat among the pigeons, which I know is not always the best teaching method. But putting that caveat to one side, I think room must always be made to consider how a literary text interacts with the modern world and the life of its readers. Even if it is just one lesson out of a hundred, there should be space in schools to consider what King Lear has to say to those students with grandparents suffering from dementia, perhaps, or what Henry IV has to say to children going through that tricky negotiation where you want to do something different with your life from what your parents think you should do.
Pupils should be encouraged, not forced but encouraged, to have what used to be called a ‘literary experience’ with the plays they find themselves studying. I have in my own small way tried to make that possible in the cyber-sphere with Sheldrake on Shakespeare.
Thank you again for listening Susan,
Dear James thanks for your reply. You might have guessed that I’m a teacher – I almost feel the need to apologise for that – so your thoughts about the issues raised with the plays was really relevant. I’m teaching “Macbeth” and “Hamlet” at the moment as parallel texts and it’s astounding the links between the texts which I’ve never noticed before. I think your podcast on “Macbeth” was one of the first I listened to, and despite having memorised most of the first two scenes as a teenager (how weird) I hadn’t noticed that the play starts with an ending. That idea of disrupting a harmonious end to a battle with the witches is quite inspired, and when contrasted with the jittery opening of “Hamlet” has given me a really fruitful starting point for our discussions in class. Thankfully I’ve stopped responding to being summoned with “I come Gray Malkin” but have retained my affection for the Scottish play despite it’s lack of the kind of depth we find in “Hamlet”. Yet saying that, looking at the soliloquies in parallel Macbeth does show some of the emotional complexity of Hamlet, and they’re not that far apart, at least in the early part of “Macbeth”.
Thank you for continuing to shed new light on familiar texts.
Thank you Susan. Glad to hear such provocative discussions are being had in the classroom. I too have a soft spot for Macbeth. The consensus is that Middleton revised Shakespeare’s version (which would explain why it is so short) but I still think there’s a good deal of brilliance and depth.
Carry on the good work, and keep spreading the word,