I’m an amateur at technology – one of those stand at the front and yell at them, one of those “put-two-marks on the board to describe all of – well everything” teachers. “Potted lectures,” tests over the readings – that’s me. (My favorite pattern – that of the autobiographical or first person narrator taking us to the past, showing us the trail and trials to become the person speaking had a certain simplicity. But laughter began as I started, one semester, to put it up for the fifth or sixth time. Ah, I said, but doesn’t this make sense? Well, maybe, they said. It also looks like a rather flaccid penis. Perhaps simplicity leaves too much to the imagination.)
But, in an on-line American lit class, I want them to follow passages closely; the lectures use powerpoints – not bulleted points but sections of works we look at together. So I learned a beginner’s technology. For the freshman, well, plays need to be seen to be felt. Whole versions take up a lot of class time, so, this semester, I put up speeches and dissected them. This worked with Oedipus – the production I’d long used has been cut up in parts (10 and 11 are reversed). Pennington, Gielgud, Bloom make a speech live as I cannot. The magisterial pace demonstrates Aristotle. Evoking their sympathy, they understand dramatic irony and the mythic, the tragic and purgation.
Okay, long preamble.
So combing Youtubes for Othello’s speeches, I was frustrated by the lack of system. And quantity: beside Fishburne and Branagh, Olivier, Hopkins and Hoskins, clips from high schools and passionate amateurs, from Liverpool to California to . . . well, everywhere appear. Some are satiric and some playful, and some just love the words. A thought crossed my mind – what if Shakespeare could materialize beside me, looking at these interpretations – their breadth of quality and intensity, but always his words. He would be pleased, perhaps, but not surprised. His sonnet sequence so often, as in 54 and 81 describes the immortality of verse: it distills the essence of love and the beloved in words that last as monuments don’t. The thought has taken pleasant life in my mind this weekend. It made me smile – as I hope it does you.
In the great scheme of things the 2500 years that separate us from Sophocles or 400 from Shakespeare may not be big. Still, it teaches humility – makes us wary of using rather than appreciating them. It reinforces our sense of the universality, the nature of the human. And, well, we may have technology, but do we have a Sophocles or a Shakespeare among us?
I’d like to say that that opening of our minds and hearts is why more literature courses should be required. I’m not sure. But reading the old stuff – that, that would help this generation as it did ours and many before.