Tutor profile: Niall W.
How can you make Shakespeare interesting for today's generation when it is written in an obscure version of English from 400 years ago?
Curriculums in education are, mostly, focusing on becoming a means of making you learn facts that will help you pass exams. Rarely are you rewarded for truly thinking, or encouraged to learn something that makes you question topics like existence, love, death and pain. Shakespeare is the exception. True, when it is taught wrong it can seem like another obscure subject with no real connection to our lives. But whether it is the jealousy of Iago in Othello; the wounded pride of Lear, the ambiguity of the virtual world in a Midsummer Night's Dream, the reason why Shakespeare continues to be performed by cultures across the world is its ability to resonate with emotions and issues we still experience today. Learning Shakespeare should primarily involve discussions around these key themes of life. Only through those conversations can we understand the motive which drove the bard to write, and only then can we desire to unlock the meaning behind the strange, ambiguous yet beautiful words he used.
What is the purpose of studying Philosophy?
Look at the world today and it may seem of greater use to study Business, or Management, or Engineering. But look closer, and you will see how influential philosophers remain. Facebook, that leviathan of the online business era, is a social network derived from the theories of Rene Girard, a French 20th century thinker who analysed human being's desire to act mimetically - that is, the tendency for our thoughts and actions to not manifest themselves spontaneously, but to reflect those we see in others. We scroll aimlessly through the pictures and comments of others, addicted to the dopamine rush it generates and blind to our consumption of these unconscious But even Facebook bows down beneath the might of the stock market, the playground of billionaires around the world. Do these people read philosophy? Absolutely. For them, it is the ideas of game theory, chaos theory and concepts in the field of logic which help them to see the patterns and habits needed to operate in this modern wild west and make their millions. And of course, societies do not change, people are not liberated and anxieties are not relieved without coherent and expansive thinkers. Many of the world's most famous philosophers, from Socrates onwards, have ended up in jail or sentenced to death for daring to challenge the conventional wisdom of their societies. As our own one slides in to the grasp of a close-minded, algorithmic uniformity, the need for lateral, imaginative thinking remains more important than ever.
Why is the English language so special?
The English language isn't particularly special. Like other linguistic forms, it is a mongrel, borne from the influences of multiple parents. Around half of it traces itself back to Latin; it was then filtered through Norman, Viking, Celtic and Germanic dialects until it worked its way on to our tongues, with a name derived from the Angles, a tribe from Northern Germany that settled in Britain over a thousand years ago. I wonder if that tribe, long lost in the popular memory, would ever have envisioned the hold its language would have on the world today. Of course, the reason for this isn't down to its wonderful composition or sonorous features. English, an obscure tongue kept alive on an isolated land West of the European landmass, became the global lingua franca after the inhabitants of that island took control of the European colonial mission in the mid 17th century. Genocides in each of the other five other great inhabited landmasses on earth followed, and this obscure outpost in the Atlantic suddenly controlled an Empire stretching over 13 million square miles. Some of the civilisations it took hold of eventually rose up and assumed control of their own destinies. Others, destroyed by the diseases and warfare brought by those original settlements, ended up with those first arrivers forcing out the government who had once been their compatriots. Today, English is the language of medicine, sport, international travel, global governance and the most popular music and culture the world has ever known. But most importantly, it is the language which billions of people use to express the most intimate, passionate and secretive of humankind's thoughts in, and this is why it remains, despite the destruction, something we should all want to study.
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