Various book-related news items caught my eye again today. First of all is this news item from the BBC's website that "the Royal Shakespeare Company is to increase its efforts to boost the teaching of the Bard's work in schools. The company will go into schools and encourage teachers to get children to study Shakespeare by performing his works rather than just reading them. The project is part of a year-long festival in which every play, sonnet and long poem written by Shakespeare will be staged. It covers both primary and secondary schools across the UK. 'The Royal Shakespeare Company believes that Shakespeare should be taught standing up and saying and with children moving around rather than sitting down', a spokeswoman said. The year-long festival, called The Complete Works, will be staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon from April next year. Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian McKellen are among those taking part alongside theatre groups from around the world."
This project sounds really exciting and I wish I could participate in a theatre group with Dame Judi and/or Sir Ian ! I clearly remember the one and only live theatre performance of Shakespeare that I've witnessed. My O-level year (15 or 16 year olds) was taking to see the RSC perform Richard II at the Theatre Royal in Bath. That's now more than 20 years ago, but the experience is a vivid now as ever. I can clearly recall John of Gaunt giving his speech about "This Sceptr'd Isle"; the scene in which various nobleman challenge each other by flinging their gauntlets down onto the ground (stage); and Richard's pitiful speech in prison. I think that if I had acted out parts of it myself my recollection of it would be even more vivid ! Given that Orson Welles once said "Now we sit through Shakespeare in order to recognise the quotations.", which is probably true for a lot of people now, I think this is a fantastic project. Just for once, I even schoolchildren in England !
In other news, John Masefield's Sea Fever has been voted the Nation's favourite sea poem. I love this poem ! I learnt it by heart when I was in my 20s and once declaimed it in the middle of a bookshop where I was working, not realising that there were two customers out of my line of sight behind bookcases who gave me a resounding round of applause when I finished...
I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.
If you read it aloud or recite it, you can hear the rhythm of the sea in the words... Gorgeous.
There was a lengthy article in yesterday's Observer by Peter Conrad suggesting that "A boiled-down Bible, the Odyssey in haiku, terse txting... If we're not careful, our obsession with making all things small could obliterate our capacity for complex thought and even our cultural past." He comments:
Broadsheet newspapers go tabloid, recognising the scarce elbowroom available to crushed commuters. The stories in the papers implode too, contracting into weblinks: everything we don't have room for is banished to the vacuous attic of cyberspace. In our impatience, we disemvowel language when we transmit terse txt msgs to our m8s, using punctuation marks and parentheses to semaphore our moods. We live in a culture suicidally intent on abbreviation.
Once upon a time, our planet looked immense. When Adam and Eve leave Eden in Milton's Paradise Lost, they confront a world that is 'all before them'. Its scope is panoramic, because it consists of things that have not yet happened, choices they have yet to make. A few brief centuries later, the world is all behind us.
Thank goodness for the pleasures of long books like Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, of long poems like Milton's Paradise Lost, of plays like Shakespeare's Richard II:
This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,--
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.
How can anyone not love that ? Not for the nationalistic fervour (goodness knows, I'm not that much of a patriot !) - it's the sheer beauty of the language, the phrasing and structure of the phrases that I love. I'm shuddering at the thought of reducing that to a TXT MSG !