Monday, November 5, 2007

KING LEAR, DENIS DONOGHUE, UCD, NYU

Tomorrow I am going along to listen to Denis Donoghue lecture in his Introduction to British Literature class at NYU. He will be talking about KING LEAR.

In 1964-65 Donoghue was a lecturer at University College, Dublin.
I heard him lecture on KING LEAR then and his theme was as I remember how Shakespeare tried to find language for feelings.
He quoted Cordelia's great reply in Act One Scene One: Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave/ My heart into my mouth. I love your Majesty/ According to my bond, no more nor less.

I might have it all wrong from back then but I have over all these years used Cordelia's sentence as part of my own refusal to reach for the ready made phrases after my parents died... and it allowed for many a tortured moment with this or that person...

On Thursday as Donoghue was finishing up his second lecture on TWELVE NIGHT he indicated that he was now interested in Shakespeare's use of the word "bond."

I learned from Donoghue the use of the phrase, "to tease out."

I am not very good at "teasing out" much of anything but I can admire someone who does it with the skill that Donoghue bring to this near lost art.

I sit in the back of the theatre where he is talking and notice the students hard at work shopping, messengering, annotating work for other classes, reading The NewYorker, and some are even taking notes with no text in front of them. To be honest there are many who do have the textbooks along with them and read along as Donoghue reads long selections from the various texts and shows how those words work and no other word is possible...

In 1964-65 he lectured in the old Physics theater at UCD there on Earlsford Terrace.

In the front row was the celluloid curtain of nuns and priests while ranged up to the rafters were the hundreds of other students...

Today as then Donoghue lectures from no notes and with only the text in hand speaks out perfectly balanced sentences that remind me of my own failures as a college teacher but also of all that is being thrown away as students are constantly directed away from the reading of the actual words in front of them by the far more fashionable ideologues of gender, class, race who would much prefer to harangue upon the racist, class and gender issues implicit in the yellow pages of the local phone company...

Donoghue began last Tuesday's class by asking if students had seen that film LAST TANGO IN PARIS which featured at that time the depiction of a controversial and unhealthy sexual act involving the use of butter. Only two or three students raised their hands as having seen the film. Donoghue reminded the audience that the Marlon Brando character is saying in the other famous secene in the film in the tango palace, "If music be the food of love, play on,"
Donoghue mentioned that the Brando character should have realized that this was a bit of foreshadowing of his death later in the film because of what comes later in that passage in TWELVE NIGHT...

In January YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS will publish Donoghue's ON ELOQUENCE. In the book he recounts--- among other things--- his own student days at UCD and how he came to lecture there and how inadvertently Donoghue would bring to a close the glory days of UCD by promoting the inclusion of modern writers in the syllabus. It had been the glory of UCD that they did not lecture on any writer from after 1900. It was thought that such writing could be talked about in the pubs... as indeed it was in McDaid's, O'Dwyer's, The Bailey...

that is all for another day

1 comment:

marydorey said...

Lucky you! Going to his lecture in NY. I was awed by him in 1955 or so when he sat on the teacher's desk in Earlsfort terrace swinging his long legs and really engaging with us. Apart from his gifts for teaching and 'teasing out' he was so human! I remember his confiding he had a wife and 2and 1/2 children. Mary O'Donovan