Virtual Memories Show 450:
Robert McCrum

“People should be free to do Shakespeare anyway they like: in 5 minutes, 5 seconds, 5 days, 5 hours, underwater, in a desert, on a mountain. It’ll always work; he’s indestructible, in that sense.”

With his new book, Shakespearean: On Life and Language in Times of Disruption (Pegasus Books), author & literary editor Robert McCrum uses Shakespeare’s plays, poems, life and history to examine how Shakespeare is a mirror of human experience, and why his lines continue to resonate 400+ years after his death. We talk about Robert’s history with the plays (beginning with his role as First Fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the age of 13) and the 2017 performance of Julius Caesar in Central Park that inspired the book, the ways in which the Plays and the Sonnets complement each other, and how those works influence our understanding of the self and self-consciousness. We also get into the vicissitudes of literary reputation, the way Shakespearean fits as the capstone of Robert’s Disruption Trilogy, along with My Year Off and Every Third Thought, the first play Robert’s Shakespeare Club plans to see post-pandemic, the snobbery that drives Shakespeare denialism, how America became Shakespearean, and the urban myth that Shakespeare wrote King Lear during lockdown, as well as the ways plague influenced Shakespeare’s entire career. Plus: where I should begin with Wodehouse, what prompted Robert to finally finish Proust (and then re-read him), and the nightmare of interviewing Philip Roth! Give it a listen! And go read Shakespearean: On Life and Language in Times of Disruption (as well as My Year Off and Every Third Thought)!

“Any writer can tell you: if you write things down, you begin to make sense of things. If you’re surrounded by chaos and you begin to make notes, you begin to make sense.”

“It seems that Shakespeare and his contemporaries got used to the plague, so the plague references in his work are comparatively few and far between, and they’re not striking. And yet there’s no doubt of a connection between then and now.”

TUNEIN PLAYER TK

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

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About our Guest

Robert McCrum was born and educated in Cambridge. For nearly twenty years he was editor-in-chief of the publishers Faber & Faber, and then literary editor of the Observer from 1996 to 2008. He is now an associate editor of the Observer. He is the author of Every Third Thought, My Year Off, Wodehouse: A Life, six novels, and the co-author of the international bestseller, The Story of English. His new book is Shakespearean: On Life and Language in Times of Disruption.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Robert by Katherine Anne Rose for The Guardian. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 449:
Scott Newstok

“Let’s try to think our way into what we value about learning in our lives, in whatever realm: a craft, a sport, a musical activity. It’s about the complex joys of getting better.”

With How To Think Like Shakespeare: Lessons from a Renaissance Education (Princeton University Press), Scott Newstok explores the Bard’s schooling, how it contrasts with the No Child Left Behind model of today, and how we’re failing both students and teachers. We get into Scott’s love of Shakespeare and the history of education, why the drive for “assessment” is inimical to real learning, the false oppositions about education today, the value of play & conversation, and how the pandemic may have put the nail in the coffin for distance learning. We also get into his new project on Montaigne, the importance of having a couple of key teachers in one’s youth, the importance of student evaluations, why he’ll opt for Marlowe over Shakespeare if he needs to turn students on to Elizabethan theater, his thoughts on translating Shakespeare into “modern English, the scaleability of a Renaissance education, and more! Give it a listen! And go read How To Think Like Shakespeare!

“It’s rewarding to take any writer and speculate on what kinds of models and inspirations and practices they had as children that helped them do what they did.”

“I was lucky to have a wonderful range of teachers at an early age who modeled thinking, no matter the discipline or topic.”

“I’m incredibly sympathetic to teachers who go into the field these days who then discover the stultifying series of assessments and oversights that turn them off from the profession or sap them of their enthusiasm.”

“I would point to a peer of Shakespeare like Marlowe as someone who can draw students in, with the sex, drugs, rock & roll dynamic of Elizabethan theater.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Scott Newstok is professor of English and founding director of the Pearce Shakespeare Endowment at Rhodes College. A parent and an award-winning teacher, he is the author How To Think Like Shakespeare, which was named a 2020 book of the year by the Times Literary Supplement and was a finalist for the Association of American Publishers (AAP) Awards for Professional and Scholarly Excellence (PROSE). He’s currently working on an edition of Michel de Montaigne’s essays on education.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Scott by Chip Chockley. It’s on my instagram.