Monday, August 01, 2005

Back to the future...

Two news stories about "classic" English literary icons appear on the BBC website this week. In one story, it's reported that the Globe Theatre are due to perform an "authentic dialect" version of Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, while in a second story, a Canadian rapper (yes, there's more than just that terrible Snow bloke of "Informer" fame) claims to be performing rap versions of some of Chaucer's greatest Canterbury Tales.

Why? While it's fascinating to see how many times these classics can be recycled for different audiences, and exciting for those of us who're fans of both great writers, it seems a touch desperate to keep trying to flog the traditional English literary canon to us year after year, century after century. They may be great stories which can be re-told time and again, but aren't there more relevant ways of telling stories to young (and old) people in the 21st Century?

Much of this coincides with a debate going on about the future of English teaching at the moment. The government has set up a project called English 21 which apparently seeks input from teachers, students and anyone interested in English as a subject. Whether it listens to those contributions or becomes yet another New Labour consultation exercise (tell us what you think and if we don't like it we'll ignore it) remains to be seen.

But with an ever-changing language creating its own new forms of communication, and fewer and fewer young people reading the "classics" of English literature, is there really a place for literature at the heart of English teaching any more?

Much as I love to read Chaucer and Shakespeare (and even - occasionally - watch one of his plays) I can't personally see the need to insist on Shakespeare plays being part of the the GCSE syllabus for English. In fact, I can't really see a good argument for insisting that any of "the greats" of English Lit are taught at all at GCSE. After all, what's the point of trying to teach what is essentially a foreign language (Early Modern English of the 1600s) to 15 and 16 year olds today, when many of them struggle with Standard English in its written form, or don't speak Standrad English as a first language anyway?

I'd be interested to know what your views are on this subject. And I'd also be interested to hear what you think of my latest effort at turning the Miller's Tale into rap. Please imagine this is performed in a Tim Westwood stylee:

"Fo shnizzle my nizzle", cried the student to the ho
Who was sticking her big ass out the open window.
So he climbed the ladder with a rat-a-tat-tat,
Perchance to get Medieval like a spitting gat

But as he closed his eyes and assumed the position,
Alisoun's butt went on a mission,
And Absoloun's dreams of being in da club
Flopped as she gave his face a rub...

But of course, as our new favourite Canadian rapper, Baba Brinkman says, some scenes have had to be toned down for a young audience. So, if you want the full, rude version of Geoffrey Chaucer's Miller's Tale, have a look on google. Key words: Miller Chaucer fart window face

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