Friday, February 03, 2012
I’m hooked on Shakespeare, I confess, and when I get back from a performance as hilarious as the “Twelfth Night” that finished its run at Notre Dame last week, I sometimes think of my high school English teacher, old Father D. He tried to turn us on to Shakespeare, but failed miserably.
The scene was a classroom in an old brick Catholic boys school. At the podium, Father D., dressed in black, his white wavy hair combed straight back, introducing the final section of “Macbeth.” Women scream somewhere in the castle; Lady Macbeth, no longer able to stomach her own corruption, has taken her life. A messenger tells Macbeth the news. Having “supp’d full” of his own horrors, he can hardly attend to his wife’s death. His words are heart-rending and hopeless.
At the front of the classroom, Father D. fingered his white clerical collar. Boys, he said, in the old days our students would have memorized a speech from Macbeth. Those boys had intellectual curiosity, and knowing Shakespeare was what it meant to be an educated person. But the boys of today, he said, looking around the room at us, I’m not sure the boys of today have same spirit, the same drive to learn. Perhaps tomorrow I will be proven wrong. Perhaps tomorrow one or two of you will raise a hand and say that you’d like to recite this speech by Macbeth. We’ll see tomorrow if any of you boys have that same spark of excellence as the boys of former days.
Father D.’s exhortation really burned me. But on my ride to school the next morning I read Macbeth’s speech over and over again until I easily had it down. In English class, Father D. returned to his grim theme. Well, he said, now we find out whether any of the boys of today have the same spirit of excellence as the boys of yesterday. I imagine that the answer is going to be no. Will any of you raise a hand now and step forward to recite Macbeth’s speech?
I didn’t like his crude motivational message any better the second day than I did the first. I ran over the opening of the speech in my head, and the teacher asked again: Will anyone step forward to recite? My hands were on the desk, and I left them there. Father D. moved his class on to other things.
That was a long time ago. I sometimes imagine meeting him again, walking up to him, showing him Macbeth’s speech typed out on a sheet of paper. Then I would crumple the paper and throw it down. I would speak the lines from memory as I do now, these words about the depths to which we must all hope not to descend:
[The Queen, my lord, is dead.]
She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way
To dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
Who struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
But let’s let Father D.’s ghost recede from the room now. Life is for the living; and so is Shakespeare. In the classroom, some teachers think joyless grim discipline moves young minds. Shakespeare knew it was the juicy mess and horror and joy of humanity that move us. The standing ovations last week at “Twelfth Night” easily prove it so.
Arts & Entertainment • Education • Permalink • Printer Friendly
A random pick from more than 460 Michiana Chronicles -- refresh the browser to see another set:
April Lidinsky -- More essays by April
Joe Chaney -- More essays by Joe
Jeanette Saddler Taylor -- More essays by Jeanette
Heather Curlee Novak -- More essays by Heather
David James -- More essays by David
Elizabeth Van Jacob -- More essays by Elizabeth
Jeff Nixa -- More essays by Jeff
Louise Collins -- More essays by Louise
Jonathan Nashel -- More essays by Jonathan