Wednesday, 17 October 2012

I love it when a plan comes together…

I'm feeling optimistic about the world today, which is not normally how people feel after spending the morning in the company of King Lear.

My Shakespeare class is for second-year students (sorry, 'level 5) and takes the form of a two-hour seminar. I knew things would go well when they worked out how to efficiently arrange the desks in a square within minutes. (One of my pet hates is that every room is set out as a school class, with all the students facing the front where the power and authority is meant to be).

We started off by comparing the various editions of the play we had: from 'school' versions, the Norton Anthology edition, the Oxford, the Arden, the RSC and various others - it was a great introduction to the art of textual and editorial studies, which led nicely into a discussion of the play's last lines: spoken by Edgar in my Arden edition, but by Albany in the Oxford version - leading to very different interpretations. (If you like this kind of thing, Claudia Johnson's new book on Austen starts with her trying to decide where a comma should go in a new Austen edition, followed by a virtuoso exposition of the ramifications of making such a decision).

After that, I showed the Nahum Tate's The History of King Lear, his rewrite with a happy ending – Edgar and Cordelia are lovers; she and Lear live happily every after, unlike Shakespeare's text – and we discussed the motivation for this and what it did to interpretation. Tate's version was actually performed far more often than Shakespeare's (which Tate calls 'an unpolished jewel'), and the other tragedies were also fitted with happy resolutions by the Victorians and others, shocked as they were by the arbitrary cruelty of justice not being done.

We discussed the cosmos's indifference to the characters' fates, and whether Lear is ultimately a nihilistic play or one concerned with social justice - all led by the students, who were informed and eager to talk. Certainly one of the most enjoyable sessions I've been in for quite a while.

Also on today: media/cultural studies students are handing in their project proposals. Some are nervous, some want a chat, some want to throw it at me and disappear without a word. We've tried really hard this year to get them to take the proposal seriously and start researching. From looking at the pile, I'd say about 40% have opened a book before writing the proposal. Which is an improvement.

Here's a tip, kids. A dissertation called 'Blogging: is it different in China and the West?' might be considered a little broad and rather vague…

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