May 11

The Australian Language

At the Channel 9 public meeting in April concerning the campaign by Ray Martin against the Australian National Flag as a colonial relic, I mentioned that although that although our language came in 1788, it was no colonial relic.

How fortunate we are that the national language is also the world language. How disappointing then it is to learn that even in the United Kingdom, children are no longer being exposed to its treasures, particularly the plays and poems of Shakespeare.



Why is the UK allowing the world's foremost playwright and England's cultural figurehead to disappear from the classroom, asks Anthony Seldon. This was in an opinion piece in the London Daily Telegraph, “William Shakespeare: A king of infinite space” (23/4).   

He says that while Shakespeare remains central to the advanced subject English Literature at A-level, a declining percentage of students are now choosing the subject, preferring such subjects as media and film studies.

He argues that if the aim is to turn out, not civilised and sensitive young men and women, but unthinking automatons, then the dwindling of Shakespeare does not matter.

…in times of crisis…

He points out that in times of crisis, we turn to Shakespeare. He asks how many of today's young can quote Hal's Saint Crispin's Day speech: "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother"?  Most who revelled in the television miniseries Band of Brothers, he observes, would never have known the origin of the phrase.

Shakespeare he says  has given us so many of them – "more in sorrow than in anger"; "in my mind's eye"; "old men forget"; "a sea change"; "all that glisters is not gold"; "all the world's a stage"; "as dead as a doornail"; "vanished into thin air"; "fight fire with fire"; "wild goose chase"; "foul play"; "good riddance"; "in a pickle"; "more fool you", "mum's the word", "my journey's end", "sent him packing", "the game is up"; "the truth will out".

Studying Shakespeare, Mr. Seldon argues, opens the young to a world of language that will enrich their lives forever.

…the greatest psychologist of all time…

Shakespeare gives unparalleled insights into human nature – “the greatest psychologist of all time,” says Mr. Seldon. I would agree.  The dramas he says move deeply into the human psyche.

“They portray all the seven archetypal plots described by Christopher Booker: Henry V thus typifies ‘the quest’; The Tempest ‘voyage and return’; Richard III ‘killing the monster’; Twelfth Night ‘rags to riches’; As You Like It ‘comedy’; The Winter's Tale ‘rebirth and redemption’, while Hamlet gives us true ‘tragedy’, with the perceptive young recognising the same story as The Lion King."

Increasingly, he says, there are teachers joining the profession who hardly studied Shakespeare at school, and lack the same passion of older colleagues who were reared on him.

This is part of a “dumbing down “agenda which seems to have infected too much of our world.

In the meantime the other treasures of the English language, the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible are being abandoned by clergy who wish to be more “relevant” and in-touch.  I have heard that the new English version of the Catholic Mass will be closer to the Anglo Catholic English Missal, which is essentially based on the Book of Common Prayer.

English will of course remain our national language. But we should not deny future generations the joy of knowing its treasures.


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