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Thinking about ‘The Tempest’…

1 Nov

A recent discussion with a student has me thinking about The Tempest again.  We were discussing the notion that the opening scenes of The Tempest are largely about Prospero’s need to discover a version of himself that counteracts the model of weakness offered as a result of being ousted from his role as Duke of Milan.  While we both accept this proposition, we did wonder if he was overcompensating!

Prospero is, unquestionably, emasculated by the discovery that he has been duped by those he trusted.  He also, clearly, responds by exerting control over everyone and everything he encounters on the island.  Notably, he enslaves Ariel and Caliban, seeks to mould his daughter’s mind and control her actions, and even musters a tempest as a means of exacting revenge on those responsible for his emasculation and exile.  He seems to be repeating the acts of usurpation and control that humiliated him, merely ensuring that he is victor rather than victim.  The doubling and tripling of this pattern offers dramatic impact – on that we can all agree.   It may also speak volumes about Prospero’s character and the role played by events in shaping personality.

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‘New Boy’

2 Sep

I have just finished reading Tracy Chevalier’s novel New Boy, it is an appropriation of Othello and part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series that also includes Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed.

Like OthelloNew Boy explores jealousy, manipulation and choices that cannot be unmade.  Interestingly, New Boy sets the action in a school playground, perhaps alluding to the notion that the manipulation engineered by Ian (the Iago character) is just another childish game.  This setting also allows the easy manipulation of Oesi (the Othello character) to seem more plausible; it makes more sense to me that a child, rather than an adult soldier, may not have the resilience or savvy to withstand the tactics of a manipulator.

Another interesting choice made by the author is the title.  Unlike Shakespeare who named his text directly after his protagonist, Chevalier has chosen to title hers New Boy,  I think this raises some interesting questions:  Does using the protagonist’s name honour  the protagonist or publicly call out his conduct? Is referencing a status rather than a name a statement of universal applicability or does it buy in to the very prejudice that is described in the text?  Do these choices honour victims or name perpetrators?  Why does the manipulator not have his name or his title plastered across the front of the cover?

I think New Boy could be a really interesting text to teach alongside Othello in Year 11 Advanced, perhaps functioning as a precursor to an HSC study of The Tempest and Hag-Seed.

 

‘The Disappearing’

14 Jul

The Disappearing is an interactive website which offers a means of poetically representing places and experiences which are disappearing.  These places and experiences are sometimes disappearing due to the passage of time,  other times due to environmental factors, and sometimes due to urbanisation.

I think this would be an interesting related text to use alongside Go Back to Where You Came From for HSC AOS Discovery.   Go Back explores individuals renewed perceptions of self and world.  It takes individuals on a journey which causes them to confront their prejudices and beliefs and to potentially alter their engagement with the world as a result.  The Disappearing similarly invites individuals to reconsider their perceptions of the world they live in.  However, where discoveries in Go Back are largely emotional and social, discoveries prompted by The Disappearing relate first and foremost to man’s relationship with the natural world.

‘Hag-Seed’

28 May

I recently read Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed.

Initially, I wasn’t hugely impressed as it seemed like an unimaginative adaptation of The Tempest; like Prospero, the protagonist (Felix) was usurped and experienced a period of exile, albeit from directing plays.

However, as I continued to read I found myself getting sucked in.  Particularly interesting was Atwood’s emphasis on notions of imprisonment; Prospero is imprisoned on the island, Caliban is imprisoned by Prospero and the protagonist of Hag-Seed is imprisoned by the past.  I do think this notion was laboured a tad by setting Felix’s path as directing plays for prisoners.

I was also intrigued by Atwood’s representation of Miranda (Prospero’s daughter in the play, and Felix’s daughter in the book).  Unlike in the play, where Miranda is very much alive, in the novel she begins as a memory and them begins to assume ghostly form.  This was reasonably effective as a metaphor for representing the haunting spectre of the past, and the way in which the past informs present action.

Overall, I am not sure I loved Hag-Seed as a novel.  However, as a companion to The Tempest (as it will be in the new HSC) it does, definitely, have merit.

Comfort Zones

22 May

I recently read an article online about comfort zones.  This article sought to challenge the conventionally accepted wisdom that we should try move beyond our comfort zones.

While reading the article I couldn’t help but think of Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’.  In this poem, the persona desires to “disturb the universe” and challenge the boundaries of the unknown, but is unable to do; he is crippled by his anxiety and indecision.  In other words, he does not venture beyond his comfort zone.  For him, however, being stuck in the bubble of his comfort zone is not a good thing – when in his comfort zone he is not living to the fullest.  In fact, he is not living at all!

‘The African Doctor’

25 Mar

I recently watched The African Doctor.  This film explores the experiences of a recently arrived family of Congolese descent as they seek to find their place in a rural village in France.

Although overly simplistic at times, the text engages with ideas of tolerance, acceptance, identity and communal action.  For these reasons, I think the text has the potential to engage students.

That said, I think I would be reluctant to study this text in isolation.  I think it would work best either as part of a comparative unit, or as a related text for AOS Journey or Discovery.

Familiar environments

30 Jan

Alice Eather’s poem ‘My Story Is Your Story‘ is a powerful poem about the different ways in which Indigenous and non-Indigenous people view Aboriginal land.  Through a series of haunting contrasts Eather is able to communicate the tension between connection to land and destruction for profit.

This would be an interesting text to study as part of a unit about Australian identity as it highlights the fundamental disconnect between viewpoints and, in turn, flags the callous disregard corporations can have for established and entrenched cultural connections.

It would also be an interesting text to study in AOS Discovery for HSC.  Considered alongside The Tempest, for example, it could be used to highlight how perspectives shape discovery.  Considered alongside Go Back to Where You Came From, it could be used to enrich a discussion regarding discovery, Australian identity, racism and responsibility.

The text could also be used as part of a junior AOS with a focus on change, belonging or journeys.  Here, focus would need to be on the role of context in shaping representation and value.

Eather’s poem could also be studied alongside, or as part of a suite of poetry which includes, Selina Nwulu’s ‘Home is a Hostile Lover‘. Together, the poems offer interesting representations of connection to place and the role of corporations in threatening the physicality and sacredness of place.

 

‘Healthy Start’

25 Jan

I think I am on a short story kick!  I have read Etgar Keret’s ‘Healthy Start‘ and cannot help but think it would make a great related text for AOS Discovery.

The text centres upon a change meeting and mistaken identity.  Sitting in a cafe, our protagonist is approached by a man who presumes he is someone else.  Our protagonist does not correct him.

I like this narrative as it explores how chance encounters can lead to discoveries about self and the world.

 

‘A Ride Out Of Phrao’

23 Jan

Dina Nayeri’s ‘A Ride Out Of Phrao‘ is an interesting narrative about a woman who joins the Peace Corps and moves to Thailand in order to escape the embarrassment of her life in America.

If using this as a related text for AOS Discovery, students should explore the interlinked nature of discoveries about self, others and the world as Shirin, the protagonist, establishes herself in Thailand.  Students should also consider the possibility that the move to Thailand and the establishment of a life there offers Shirin an opportunity to rediscover herself as well as the values and relationships she holds dear.

This short story could make an interesting partner to Go Back to Where You Came From as it engages with discoveries made while journeying and exploring unfamiliar cultural contexts.  It could also pair well with some of Frost’s or Gray’s poetry, particularly in terms of discovering through reflection and experience as well as engagement with place.

For other related material ideas please click here.

 

Making updates

22 Jan

I am taking time during the school holidays to update some of related text lists.  Thus far, I have tackled Exploring Transitions and Discovery.

There are now over 30 related text suggestions for Exploring Transitions and approximately 60 related text suggestions for Discovery.

I would love to hear in the comments sections if any of these texts have worked for you or your students.  I would also love to hear if you have any additional suggestions for me to add to the lists.