Eternal summer, fading

1st August 2014 at 01:00

Very little is known about the day-to-day details of Shakespeare's life. In one sense that's a pity, but from another angle it's an opportunity, giving all those Bardologists a wonderfully blank canvas on which to paint their own pretty pictures.

Hence all the wacky and wonderful theories that pop up with such entertaining regularity. So, he never really existed but was one and the same person as Queen Elizabeth I - after all, you never see a photograph of the two of them together, do you? Or maybe it was the Earl of Oxford who turned out all those plays, despite the inconvenient fact that he was already in his grave when the later ones were written.

Not to be outdone, I have come up with my own idea about what Shakespeare was getting up to during all those blanks in his CV: he was a lecturer in a college of further education. OK, so I admit there may be one or two loopholes in this theory, but at least hear me out.

Like so many of the best Shakespeare conjectures, mine is based upon messages to be found in his work. For instance, just consider what he has to say about summer in these much-quoted lines from Sonnet 18:

"Rough winds do shake the darling buds of MayAnd summer's lease hath all too short a date:Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shinesAnd often is his gold complexion dimmed."

The Bard really didn't like summer at all: it's too hot, too cold, May's a bugger and before you know it, the whole thing is over. In this, of course, he is joined by every FE lecturer in the UK today.

Summer used to be the "nice" term. You did a few weeks' revision, the students went on study leave and you had four or five precious weeks of exam invigilation and preparation for the next academic year. Cherries were in season, Wimbledon was in full swing and every four years there was a World Cup to enjoy.

Looking back on the term just passed, I can't help but think how times have changed. Most FE courses now churn on until the bitter end, when the exam board moderators come in and all sins are revealed. As every college's motto is now "They shall not fail", you end up marking work non-stop, much of it from the so-and-sos who've done sod-all throughout the year and are now desperately trying to pack two terms' work into two weeks.

Simultaneously, you have results to collate and record, portfolios to prepare, next year's students to recruit, reports to write and parents to meet.

Assuming you have little else to do, your managers will present you with a packed schedule of meetings to attend and training sessions to participate in. With the thermometer rising and your nerves shot, you will then receive the inevitable email insisting that all your schemes of work for the next three terms be ready by tomorrow.

So what more proof do you need? Shakespeare was a lecturer in script-writing and sonneteering at the Stratford College for Bumpkin Artisans and Comical Mechanicals. And don't let any anachronism-touting sceptic tell you otherwise.

Stephen Jones is a lecturer at an FE college in London

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