Sunday, February 3, 2013

'Why is Shakespeare so famous, Miss?'

As expected, this question was asked by a Year 10 (14yo) student on Friday after I had read the class 'My Mistress Eyes' and 'Shall I Compare thee to a summer's Day' and we've watched Dire Straits strut their stuff in an 80s music video 'A love struck Romeo sings a sweet song serenade...'

I answered as I promised I would in the last post (with a slightly amended language as per the reading experience of these particular kids). I'm not sure, really, if the question asker was entirely convinced with my response but, by the end of the year, if she hasn't understood the why of her question then I have failed her.

Last night, I had a few friends around for dinner - all well read. I was discussing my desire to provide Fleance with a clear way of rallying the troops for one last go despite the odds being against them and having suffered terrible losses.

Ah, I can hear the Shakespeare lovers out there beginning to quote Henry V. Exactly but I'd not read Henry the V nor did I know the story but one of my guests began to quote the St Crispen's Speech and then we watched Kenneth Branagh on YouTube and I knew I had what I needed.

Here's the part that I particularly love:

This story shall the good man teach his son;

And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,

From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remembered-

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother;

In reading the entire speech, I read it through the lens of my own story's arc. I don't know the play as I've said but that doesn't matter because I find a connection for my characters and their situation in the words Shakespeare has written.

Because his thoughts and understandings of the human condition, of our hopes and desires and dreams, is universal and timeless. How else could a man from the turn of the 17th Century be able to write a speech for an English king during a battle set in 1415 in such a way, with such turns of phrases that a 47 year old New Zealand writer connects with and uses for her own creation's speech set in 11th Century Scotland?

THAT'S why he's so famous, Miss.

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