This week’s blog is by Dr Paul Wright, Assistant Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Performing Arts and Senior Lecturer in English.
It’s the start of the new semester and I am teaching my favourite course, a third year class on contemporary literature. In coming weeks we will discuss amongst other things Angela Carter’s macabre fairy tales and Harry Potter. Our small class sizes make this a particularly rewarding experience for me and the students. Discussion is always lively especially because much of what we study is directly relevant to our lives.
Thinking about the first seminar I happened to catch an interview with Daniel Radcliffe, who, as Harry Potter, often forms part of our discussion. As luck, or is that fate, or magic, would have it, he is currently rehearsing a role in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead for a 50th anniversary revival production at the Old Vic in London (http://www.oldvictheatre.com/whats-on/2017/rosencrantz-and-guildenstern/). This is one of the pieces we start with in trying to understand what is characteristic of literature in the second half of the twentieth century. Like us, Radcliffe confessed that when he read the play at first in downtime on the set of the films, he didn’t understand it, indeed he was baffled. This is interesting because it echoes the predicament of the bemused characters in Stoppard’s play, who, in the game-playing typical of much of the material on the course, are waiting in the wings, waiting to ‘go on’ to perform their roles in Hamlet.
In rehearsing the play, Radcliffe said, he is now no longer baffled but has become intrigued by the kinds of questions we address in the course: what is the place for books in the world of the internet, reality TV, and post-truth politics?
Picking up on this on this serendipitous cross-over I revised my opening remarks to make the link between Radcliffe as Potter and Radcliffe as Rosencrantz, drawing particular attention to the idea of celebrity which we also discuss on the course. And I paraphrased two lines from the play which go to the heart the course:
ROS: What are you playing at?
GUIL: Words, words. They’re all we have to go on.