Magazine article English Drama Media

English in the News: Tom Rank Surveys Media Coverage of English

Magazine article English Drama Media

English in the News: Tom Rank Surveys Media Coverage of English

Article excerpt

It's all over for the rainbow as it's curtains for the DCSF

This spring brought us all the high drama of the election and, as often, lazy journalists turn to Shakespeare. And who am I, at best a Polonius keeping a close eye on the arras, to complain? It seems, as the old chap said in Hamlet, that the electoral stage presented us with 'the best actors in the world, either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem unlimited.... For the law of writ and the liberty, these are the only men.'

All the classroom's a stage

For of course the big players in our election drama were all men. Gordon Brown was invariably seen as a tragic figure, first as lago to Tony Blair's Othello, then taking over the tragic role he had so longed for only to be consumed by it. Inevitably, given his native country, he was also Macbeth. refusing to see that Birnam Wood had come to Dunsinane. Still, 'nothing in his life/Became him like the leaving it,' as Malcolm said of the previous Thane of Cawdor, and after Gordon had been dragged off the stage, on came the young lovers. Libby Brooks in the Guardian took exception to some of the language used about the courtship with another dramatic allusion: 'Nick Clegg: 'Tis pity he's a whore.' She commented that David Blunkett 'appeared to be invoking the threat not of public service cuts but of Moll Flanders when he asked testily: "Can we trust the Liberal Democrats? They're behaving like every harlot in history."' Of course, it all ended happily, as Simon Hoggart pointed out in a Guardian sketch entitled: 'After whirlwind romance, the big day': 'All the happiest partners remember when they couldn't stand each other! It's utterly romantic, like The Taming of the Shrew.' So, if it sends students scurrying to old texts, some good may come of all this even if there won't be any money for new ones. It was timely that in March the RSC urged teachers to 'drop "chalk and talk" technique and let pupils mirror methods of actors by walking around'. 'Stand up for Shakespeare'--and also, now, for every visitor; tiring--and confusing if everyone already standing up.

Liedership bid

Our national heritage (or National Curriculum, as we fondly call it) was invoked at convenient times by candidates. They may not have agreed with Shelley that 'poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world' but they did find them convenient. Just before polling day Gordon Brown addressed the Royal College of Nursing Conference and it seemed that like Blake he'd been seeing angels: 'We feel like parents who have been in the presence of angels dressed in nurses' uniforms, performing the most amazing works of mercy and care. And I will never forget seeing in real time every minute of the day that idea of service and selflessness summed up by the great poet William Blake:

Can I not see another's woe?

And not be in sorrow too?

Can I see another's grief?

And not seek for kind relief?

'That is the spirit of nursing,' he said, to (of course) rousing applause. Nobody appears to have said that about English teachers, but the other leaders' expensive educations had not been wasted, for when the National Poetry Day site asked for poetic heroes, Nick Clegg also laid claim to Blake, citing 'Eternity': 'it's a fantastic way of saying "seize the day" and the perfect poem to read in times of trouble, really uplifting.' And 'seize the day' was, of course, what Nick did, even if he took rather a long time over it. David Cameron chose Wilfred Owen: 'I still remember the first time I read his poems and the incredible power and anger about the First World War. For me, they were literally an eye-opener.' Literally, David? So you were normally asleep during poetry lessons at Eton? Not content with claiming Blake as his favourite poet, Nick Clegg declared in the Guardian that his 'hero' is Samuel Beckett. …

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