Monday, February 4, 2013

Drunken Prophecies, Libel, and Dreams

The New York Times ran an op-ed piece this weekend in which a teacher wrote about reading Macbeth with her students. The line, "I've had to remind kids it's not the Super Bowl; there's no cheering in reading" bothered me from the get-go. Why would you dampen the enthusiasm of a kid falling in love with literature, especially literature that doesn't appeal to many middle schoolers? It didn't take long for her to be proven wrong on the world stage, either. At the conclusion of the press conference this morning that announced the identification of the remains of Richard III, the Plantagenet king perhaps most famously recalled in Shakespeare's eponymous play, the room broke into whoops and applause.

Of course there is cheering in reading.

The scientific and historical teams that worked on the project of identifying the human remains found in the architectural remains of what was believed to be the old Greyfriars church in Leicester took full advantage of the suspense of their press conference to give a really thoughtful look at the scholarly process and to show off to the public the value not just of history but of the painstaking research that it takes to write it. One of the geneticists mentioned the "blind alleys" that the project had sometimes taken him down — this sort of thing is never the straight path with the neat "aha!" moment that it looks to be on TV. 

Even better, a historian spoke about reconciling contemporaneous and later chronicles with the new material evidence. She did a close reading live on the BBC, pointing out particularities of Latin adjectives used to describe Richard III, talking about narrative voice and authorial intention. Careful reading of text  took center stage on the news. There was history and there was New Historicism.

Yes, there are questions  about the significance of the discovery. They'll be chewed over, I'm sure, in due time. But today, let's just let it be a really good day to be a medievalist and a cheerer of literature.

No comments:

Post a Comment