I am currently reading, for the fifth time, one of my favourite books ever – 3 Men in a Boat. For those of you who don’t know (and shame on you, let me add), this is the story of 3 Victorian gentlemen and a dog who head off on the Thames for a boating holiday. The trip itself is funny, but far more hilarious are the small anecdotes all the way through, which had me actually laughing out loud.
I had never read this book until about 3 years ago. This is interesting, in that I studied “English” in school where we were supposed to have been exposed to things like this – examples of good literature. But no – instead we were exposed to the gothic charms of Wuthering Heights (quite a good book actually, despite all the hand-wringing and head-pounding) and the dubious charms of a Mr. William Shakespeare.
Just reading Shakespeare (and not actually performing or seeing it) is, to say the least, rather dry, and not the best way to get young minds involved in reading classic literature for fun. But this wasn’t the main problem. Oh no, you see, we were told in great detail that he was one of the best playwrights of all time, and then we were sent out to buy the books. Which were censored.
Yes, the Irish Catholic school version of the brilliant Mr. Shakespeare were snipped and poked to remove all the rude parts. So you pick out a famous bawdy playwright for 16-year-olds to study and then you excise all the bawdy bits, which, to be honest, was the fun part of reading that stuff in the first place? What would a Shakespeare play be without the innuendo, and smutty humour? Why, it’s simply a dry play with a few good one-liners and a rather daft and improbable story. And that’s it.
Isn’t it a big double message: that a great work of literature can be presented for consumption only after a room full of nuns and wrinkly moralists have been at it with a pair of scissors and a red pen?
Luckily I bought the unabridged and non-school version of King Lear. And I made a point of sticking up my hand every so often and pointing out – “But sir, what about that paragraph with the milk-maid?” To which my teacher, Mr. O’ Sullivan, would give a coy grin and say, “Mr. K, just put your hand down and read it quietly to yourself.”
“There’s not a note of mine that’s worth the noting.” – Mr. S