Saturday, October 7, 2006


One of my tasks, most Autumns, is the grading of exams and essays on Shakespeare's plays. In fact, it's become so much a part of fall that it seems somehow fitting. I realize why that is. While grading I tend to listen to the music of my middle school and HS years, the years when I first read and re-read the major tragedies while otherwise inundated by Brit prog rock -- that I later excerpted on tapes for my daughter in her middle school and HS years, tapes called "Miscellanies" and designed, basically, to celebrate the rock music that I associate with fall and British folk influence -- Jethro Tull, Procol Harum, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, King Crimson, Yes -- twisted and wigged-out as some of that music may be through classical posturings. But that's ok too, because sometimes while grading I have recourse to Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mussorgsky's "Pictures," music that I also soaked up (in small doses) during my teen years. Shakespeare, after all, has always been a British folk influence for me and a "classical" taste, as well as, like the shrinking days of fall and the changing leaves, an atmosphere that is the very essence of poetry, at least as conceived by my adolescence.

Even in the halting, lax, dull, awkward and occasionally effective prose of these kids, the greatness that is Shakespeare shines through. The majesty of the language, certainly, but also the nimbleness of all his stage business and busy plots. What an arrant knave it is. Reading the students' essays and answers I recall 11th grade and practically memorizing Macbeth through repeated listenings to an audio tape I'd made of a TV production (with Eric Porter and Janet Suzman--the best Lady Macbeth I've ever seen) and my own enactments of the soliloquies. I also recall my effort to do justice to the sublime tragedies in a 12th grade essay (strange to say, I never wrote a word on the Bard in college). And trying as the task of correcting, commenting, evaluating and assigning a grade is, I feel somehow that it is indeed most meet that the collegiates of the 21st century should have to bend their respective wits upon honest Will's verbiage, for what else have we got but his spell, his way of asserting, as gloomy Bloom hath said, the very quick of what humanity is in its wit and trials and words that must give voice to despair and outrage or else conjure it away.

But soft, 'tis done, the regal strains of "Grand Hotel" have left the air again a deprived silence and the pen of comment has dropped, its task complete. Let there be more light.

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