Blue Corner and Red Corner, Metropolis and Province : Literature and Education in Contemporary Australia

My daughter recently finished high school in provincial Queensland, where she was exposed to two plays by Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth, principally by means of Baz Luhrmann's and Roman Polanski's eponymous films. Her assignment as regards Romeo and Juliet was to re-write a chosen scene in a modern idiom; as regards Macbeth to write an autobiographical response to events from the point of view of a minor character in the play: in both cases in effect to layer a second piece of creative writing on top of Shakespeare's. These were not empty exercises, but neither were they particularly profound ones - where coming to terms with Shakespeare was concerned, at least. At no stage, for example, did the tasks assume that either drama - in and of itself, irrespective of how Luhrmann or Polanksi interpreted Shakespeare's play -was an experience that might raise issues (psychological, existential, political, and so forth) worthy of her moral curiosity: that life 'is a tale I Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, I Signifying nothing', for example, might be an idea she might want to come to terms with, given that plenty of people come to share it now and then. Her assignments took Shakespeare for granted, like a corporate edifice or monument, and the means of contact they envisaged with his work was imitative rather than critical. There is a particular set of attitudes at work behind what she was asked to do: Shakespeare is an cultural inheritance of such magnitude that we have to study him, whether out of a sense of duty or some more positive impulse; yet he is too hard to read, so we must make do with a film; and we shall pay him no higher intellectual tribute than some modest, 'expressive' re-writing. People have been teaching complex works of literature in schools around the English-speaking world for a hundred years and more, to all sorts of students.

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Published 1 June 2013 in Volume 28 No. 1-2. Subjects: Australian literature - Study & teaching, Contemporary literature, English literature - Study & teaching, Literary canon, Impact and literary studies.

Cite as: Lansdown, Richard. ‘Blue Corner and Red Corner, Metropolis and Province : Literature and Education in Contemporary Australia.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 28, no. 1/2, 2013, doi: 10.20314/als.851947dd44.