Transcript: Can life be both wonderful and terrible at the same time?

Prof. Shannon Murray

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Hi, I'm Professor Shannon Murray and this is my Garden talk. Hello and welcome to The Garden. I'm Sophie Edelman and I will be your guide for today's Garden talk today. I'm delighted to welcome to The Garden. Professor Shannon Murray. Shannon is an english professor at the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada. And as you will discover today, she is incredibly passionate about renaissance literature. From Shakespeare to Milton to early modern Children's literature. She has been awarded a three Am teaching fellowship for educational leadership and teaching excellence in higher education.

Today, Shannon is going to share her love of Shakespeare and show how Shakespeare is still relevant today, especially when grappling with many of the challenges and paradoxes that exist in the modern world, Shannon, it's great to have you here today in The Garden. Welcome. Thank you. I'm so glad to be here. Great! Well, I'm so looking forward to your talk but before I hand over to you, I just wanted to ask you how did Shakespeare become your passion? Oh my goodness! Well, it was probably when I was 15 and my parents who I think are listening now took us to London for six months.

My sister and I used to go and uh and and follow the actors at the Regent's Park, open air theater. So we saw a lot of Shakespeare but then I saw a performance of Hamlet that was just absolutely transformational. It was Derek Jacoby and I could not believe at the end that people could stop clapping. It was so extraordinary. So that really started my love of Shakespeare which hasn't ended yet. Well, I'm sure you're going to share a lot of that enthusiasm and love Shakespeare with us today and it's probably quite a different experience from most people's experience of Shakespeare.

So with that I'd like to hand over to Professor Shannon Murray for her Garden talk can life be both wonderful and terrible at the same time? Well, when I get up in the morning and I take my morning walk and I read my papers and I listened to the news, I can usually find exactly the same kind of evidence for one of two completely different conclusions. I can either believe that the world is a terrible place or the world is a wonderful place. And normally, because I'm a pretty hopeful person, I choose to lean towards the hopeful, but I can't ignore the bad stuff at the same time, I have to keep both of those opposing ideas in my head at the same time.

And that's because though I'm hopeful the kind of hope I'm thinking of is a critical hope. It's a hope that doesn't just ignore the bad stuff. It's a hope that it is clear eyes that's not looking at the world through rosy colored glasses, it's looking at the way the world really is, but also seeing its potential to be better. So that's the critical hope that I'm that I'm talking about and that's sort of what I'm going to be talking about today when I look at Hamlet two scenes from Hamlet and one portrait from the renaissance, I'm gonna be looking at the possibility that holding two opposing ideas in our heads at the same time can be valuable and can actually help us perhaps solve some of the world's problems.

So before I get to Hamlet himself, why was why would any of this matter? Um I think increasingly we are encouraged to think in terms of either or polar opposites, so you're either one thing or another, you're either with us or you're against us. And so that kind of thinking that polarized thinking is unlikely to solve any of the world's wicked problems. So imagine, for example what we what we see in the global pandemic, that we can either have everything locked down or everything opened up or in terms of climate change, that we can either look after the health of the planet or we can look after business.

So that kind of polarized thinking, it's an oversimplification of the world's complex problems. And the main problem with it, aside from the fact that it tears us apart is that it's unlikely to get us to solutions for wicked problems. Now, I don't know if you've heard that term before, that idea of a wicked problem, a wicked problem is a problem that's so huge, so complex, so multifaceted, but also so shifting and changing, but it resists any single way of of trying to solve it. So if we're gonna look at a wicked problem, like for example global warming, I like climate change.

We can't just approach it from one perspective, we need a variety of different perspectives and we also need an awareness that at any moment that can change that problem, the parameters of the problem could change. Uh if some of you can remember this far back to remember March of 2020 when all of the the global pandemic, all of this business was just beginning. Can you remember some of our leaders telling us that they had a solution to this problem that it was either going to be locked down or it was going to be herd immunity or it was gonna be a vaccine.

But of course then there's vaccine hesitancy and then we've got a delta variant and every time we seem to have a solution to the problem it shifts and changes changes again. That's the nature of a wicked problem and wicked problems can't be solved by polarized this or that thinking. One of the ways that we can approach wicked problems is with wicked thinking with, with the idea that we can hold two ideas in our heads at the same time. So that's what I'm going to focus on today with my two scenes from Hamlet and one example from a gorgeous portrait from the early part of the renaissance but before I get there.

Uh for those of you who either haven't encountered the wonderful play, Hamlet before or for whom it might have been a little long. I'm going to give you a brief prophecy of what happens in this play. So Hamlet is a student and he's come home because his father has died apparently, of natural causes. Poor Hamlet arrives home to find though that his mother has married with his uncle rather quickly and he's very unhappy about that. He's even more unhappy when the ghost of his dead father appears to him and says, you know what not natural causes the snake that bit me, that was your uncle.

Now you have to revenge my foul and most unnatural murder. So now Hamlet is a terrible problem. He has to murder his his uncle and all kinds of things happened between then and well, almost 3.5 hours later, at the end of the play, some people are worried about Hamlet. They say that he his problem is that he can't make up his mind. In fact, that's what Laurence Olivier famously begins his wonderful film with this is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind. But it seems to me that what Hamlet is doing through most of the play is really trying to get to the truth of the matter and that's not going to be by thinking that something is absolutely true or absolutely not true.

Just imagine that a ghost appears to you and says, your uncle murdered me. Now go kill your uncle. I hope that you would take a beat and try to determine whether that was actually true or not. And that's what Hamlet does through the rest of the play. Most of the rest of the play. He goes on to try to figure out is this true or not? Is this a really a ghost of my father? Or is it a spirit sent to damn me? So, a lot of this is him trying to hold those ideas in his head at the same time and figure out the truth of the matter.

By the end of the play, he's accidentally killed his girlfriend's father. His girlfriend has killed herself, possibly, possibly not. There's a trip to England. There are pirates. So all kinds of things happen and there's almost four hours of a play. But the point I want to start, start us with is a a scene where he's talking to his friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The issue for his his mother and his uncle is that he seems to be acting strangely. He's not behaving the way he used to. So what's wrong with him? And they enlist the help of his two school friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to go and try to figure out what's wrong with him glean what afflicts him.

So they come to Hamlet and they try to figure out what are you going crazy is depressed? What's what's what's going on here. And Hamlet gives them a speech that is so often taken out of context as an indication of the way the renaissance thought about human life and it's just gorgeous. So I'll read that to you. He says, what a piece of work is a man. How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty in form and moving. How express and admirable in action. How like an angel in apprehension, how like a god, the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals.

And you can see why that's taken out of context, context to show how gorgeous human life is. And isn't this what the renaissance thought of itself thought of the potential of human beings? We are like angels. We are like gods. But Hamlet follows that immediately with another line, which is, and yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust? So on the one hand, you have human life, which is so express and admirable. So like the angels. So like the gods, But really, what also are we? We are this quintessence of dust.

Quintessence just means literally means the fifth element, the ether, the thing above earth, fire. Uh and and water. But it's also the the the the height of the thing, the epitome of the thing. So what are human beings? We are the best of dirt. That's what we are. And I love that Hamlet in this one speech is able to hold those two ideas as if their their equivalents at the same time. Yes, we're like gods and angels. Yes, we're also ultimately just dirt. The best of dirt is true, but just dirt. And just before that, and remember he's talking to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern here, he's been talking about the world in the same terms.

He says, this most excellent canopy, the air, look you this brave or hanging firmament. This majestic Elrod roof fretted with golden fire. Well, look at the world, It is magnificent, Excellent, brave, majestic Als. And then he goes on to say why it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors. So again, the world is a wonderful place. The world is also a terrible place. And I always like to think that Shakespeare, sort of sneaking in a little joke there because he's got he says talking about the the brave or hanging firmament.

The majestic roof fretted with fire. Well, the actor is pointing up to the the tiring house, the roof of the globe stage and there is actually stuffed painted there. So he's actually looking at the that roof itself and the foul and pestilent congregation of vapors will remember there are no toothbrushes at this point. So things are gonna be smelling pretty bad in the globe theater at that point. So this wonderful scene that so often taken out of context to suggest how the renaissance thought of itself and thought of human life is really embedded in this idea that yes, human life is gorgeous.

Wonderful, magnificent. Look how wonderful we are. But also look how terrible it is. We are dust and the world is a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors. So what we have there is Hamlet suggesting to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that two things can be true at the same time, it's a kind of negative capability. Uh, this is a term that john Keats gave us and I really love it. He wrote the idea in a letter to his brother, in which he says that at once it struck me what quality went into form a man of achievement, especially in literature and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously.

I mean, negative capability that is when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact and reason is that a wonderful thing to be able to do? To be in uncertainties, mysteries and doubts. And that's what Hamlet is presenting us with here. Human life is wonderful. Human life is terrible. The earth is gorgeous and majestic. The earth is foul and pestilent, both of those things at the same time. Now, to illustrate this further, I now want to turn to my favorite painting, which is hands hold binds the Ambassadors.

If you don't know this painting and you have the chance to go to London At some point, I urge you to go to see it to visit it. It won't look as as magnificent on the screen here as as it will in person. It's huge. And last time I was in the National Gallery in London, it was in room four. So go visit room for to see this up close. Hence Holbein was one of the court painters to Henry VIII. And when you see the full painting on the left hand side, it is an absolute work of artistic achievement. It's a double portrait to ambassadors, french ambassadors to the court of England.

And they have a raid between them, a double table on which you can see all kinds of things sort of casually scattered there. It's as if they're in a zoom meeting and they just put a bunch of things there that just make a really good zoom background what they are. And entire books have been written about the stuff on this. On these tables. What's arrayed, there is really examples of all the most extraordinary things that humans have been capable of. There are scientific instruments. You'll see a globe there, that's a terrestrial globe and there's also a celestial globe.

So seeing the stars. You've got scientific instruments and instruments for exploration. You've got a lute and abrasive flutes and books, including the book of music. So unpacking this is really unpacking all of the most extraordinary things that the renaissance was able to do. So it's kind of saying as Hamlet does what a piece of work is a man. Look how extraordinary we are, look what we're capable of. But the most interesting thing about this is what you see sort of splashed across the front. And if you first see this painting, it looks just like this strange splash of paint.

When you resolve it, you see what's what's now on the right hand side of your screen. It's an an amorphous Isse and an an amorphous is's an artistic trick that has you sketch something and then elongated along a graph so that it's really only visible from one perspective. And that's why if you do go to the the the National Gallery, you'll see half the people staring straight on at this wonderful painting and half of them kind of squinting from right at the side, right along the wall to see what it looks like.

And only when you're at that wall, do you see that it resolves itself into a skull. So what is this painting saying to us? Well, it's like a kind of conversation very similar to what Hamlet has just said, what a piece of work as a man look at all the stuff we can do. Look at the best of humanity, but you know what's going to happen to us all. That's the memento mori at the bottom. We're all going to turn to into the skull, we're all going to turn to dust. That quintessence of dust. So this painting gives us a visual sort of explanation of what Hamlet is talking about here, holding those two ideas in our heads at the same time, because I think this painting is not saying human life is wonderful, but we die.

It's saying human life is wonderful and it's going to end and things are going to pass away and it's still wonderful and it's gonna end. So this is not a an example of Yes, but but yes, and so I want us to leave that painting now and come back to to our Hamlet again and to another scene in which you see another skull. Um I'm going to introduce you to my friend york here. This is something that one of my students made for me as part of a class project. Uh and I think he's just wonderful. If you see a performance of Hamlet, it's rare that either the poster or the publicity doesn't show something like this.

So, a young man looking into the face of a skull. It's the graveyard scene in Hamlet and it's justly one of the most famous scenes in all of Shakespeare along with Juliette's balcony scene or the The scene with the, which is in three weird sisters in in Macbeth. So, what's happening in this scene? Well, Hamlet has gone off to England and sent off to England and now he's made his way back again. He meets up with his friend Horatio and they're heading towards the court, The court doesn't know he's on his way back and as they are on their way, they passed to grave diggers who are digging a new grave, chatting and joking, but at the same time throwing out bones and skulls from the previous occupant of that grave.

Now they don't know what we know which is that graves being dug for Ophelia, who is Hamlet's beloved. So Hamlet comes upon the scene and he sees the grave diggers and he sees what they're doing and he has a moment of revelation, he says to Horatio, what do you think that alexander looked like this? What about caesar? So may it may not imagination trace the noble dust of alexander until he find it stopping a bung hole. And he says imperial caesar dead and turned to clay might stop a hole to keep the wind away.

He's imagining that even the greatest of us, the most extraordinary, influential powerful of us, we're all going to turn eventually to this, but then the grave digger shows him a particular skull and he tells them who it is, this skull was Yorick skull and we get that wonderful line of Hamlets. Um I knew him, Horatio, Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him, Horatio now this is brilliant of Shakespeare, He goes from this wonderful general, abstract Hamlet, thinking about death, thinking about the afterlife, thinking about what happens to spirits.

Then actually being involved in a murder himself. Then he's seeing generalized skulls of who, he doesn't know who, who they belong to. But then he meets an old friend and that's when this becomes real to him. Alas, poor Yorick, this is what York has come to and York was the king's jester. Hamlet says that when he was young, maybe eight years old, he hath borne me on his back 1000 times. I kissed his face, he made me laugh. So this is someone that he actually knew. So we've gone from the generalized interest in what happens to the body after death to this is this is actually somebody that I knew and Shakespeare here is doing the same thing that he did with the what a piece of work speech and the same thing that he was doing uh when he was thinking about the foul and pestilent congregation of vapors.

On the one hand, you've got this extraordinary character of caesar or this extraordinary character of alexander or someone that you actually knew. And isn't it terrible that life comes to this? On the other hand, this used to be perhaps a caesar, perhaps an emperor, but perhaps someone who made me laugh who gave me piggyback rides or who I actually loved. And isn't that wonderful. It's holding onto these two ideas at the same time. These two conflicting ideas that that Shakespeare does so well in general, that Hamlet does so well, that makes Shakespeare such a wonderful playwright of wicked thinking of the ability to hold those two ideas in your head at the same time without trying to erase the complexity to erase the ambiguity and to erase the nuance.

So what do we have? We have um a Hamlet who is able to see that human life is wonderful. What a piece of work is a man. We've got uh a we've got a gorgeous painting by whole bind which shows us that life is both wonderful and what extraordinary things a renaissance human can do. And yet there's also that memento mori, it's all going to come to dust as well. And then we've got this glorious graveyard scene in which Hamlet actually confronts the remains what's left behind. Um and it's just stunned by the by the reality of that.

So when we hold two conflicting ideas in our heads at the same time, we allow ourselves, we open ourselves up to that wicked thinking that's necessary to solve the wicked problems in life, those problems that defy simple solutions, those solutions that are either or that involves that Polaroid polarized thinking. So when I um when I go for my walk in the morning and I read my paper and I read the news or listen to the news and I'm struck by those two ideas equal evidence for two conflicting notions that the world can be a wonderful place and the world can be a terrible place.

I'm engaging in the negative capability that john Keats talks about and I'm engaging in one of the kinds of wicked thinking that Shakespeare is so good at and that I value him so much for. Um, so when I decide to choose to be hopeful, one of the things that I'm most hopeful about is that we can um we, we can look at the way the wicked problems of the world are and we can decide that we're going to hang on to even the complexity, the nuance and the ambiguity rather than trying to flatten them or to to ignore them.

So Sophie, I think that the world would certainly be a better place and a much more hopeful place if we all just thought a little more like Shakespeare does Shannon, thank you so much for sharing that. I haven't actually heard about this idea of negative capability. So I really feel like I've learned something, it's an idea that I think we can all apply in our lives. It's very, very interesting. I have so many questions for you both about Hamlet and about this idea of negative capability and how we apply it to our lives.

But I want to actually go to some of the questions that we've got from our members because I can see they're starting to populate on on the screen. So let's go to the first question which comes from Simon and Simon wants to know, do you think that Hamlet was really mad or just pretending, oh, I love that question. Um, and I love it because it actually comes, it's asked so often and probably actors have to make a decision about whether they're going to act mad or act only mad in craft. But the nice thing about the question is that it gets us to that idea of negative negative capability.

I think that in the play we have equal evidence to support the idea that he's just faking or that he's really mad. And so the play becomes much more interesting if we're able to hold onto that ambiguity. I think in so many different ways this play is about um not having to to resolve ambiguity or not having to resolve complexity and the longer we can hold on to it, the more interesting to play Hamlet is. So, it's hard to imagine a an actor playing it completely mad or completely saying most will choose something that to the audience will still seem a little uncertain towards the end and I think that's probably the best way to play Hamlet.

Very interesting. Well, Isaac has a question, what do you think was Shakespeare's prevailing worldview? Did he ultimately sway towards being an optimist or a pessimist? Because he seems to hold both those ideas in all of his place? Yeah, I like to believe that he is hopeful and and critically hopeful as well, that is able to to see the world as it is, but also to want passionately and actively to make it better. He seems to me to be absolutely a playwright of of critical hope even in and I might say, especially in the tragedies, you would think that those would be the ones that would be most pessimistic, but they show us so often what is greatest and most rich and most extraordinary in human life, even though, you know that there are a lot of dead bodies towards the end of them at the end, there's almost always this sense of hope that through tragedy, through terrible things happening to us, but we're still glorious.

We're, you know, we're still an extraordinary piece of work. So yeah, I think tending to the optimist more than the pessimist. Do you think that it was this idea of hope that made Shakespeare so popular at the time? Or what were the what were the other reasons that made Shakespeare so popular to a contemporary audience? Oh, that's that's a great question. I suspect there are a lot of things, one of which is just that he knows how to tell a good story. He took his stories from other sources. They had already passed the test of time and he knew which stories would play and he made them better.

So being a really good storyteller is absolutely essential for a playwright. But he also was, I mean, I think if he were living today, he might be a television writer for HBO or something like that because even though his plays were they pleased the audience, they were always better than they had to be. So there's always something more, something more complex or interesting or multifaceted, Something that speaks to the 17th century, but it speaks to the 20th and 21st centuries as well. So I think there are all kinds of reasons for for that telling good stories, leaving things open for us.

Um but also I suspect that the fact that he is a playwright of hope makes us come back to him over and over again because he's showing us what's wonderful about human life. When you talked about negative capability, you know, you showed us some examples that Shakespeare uses that throughout his place. But were there any points where Shakespeare? So it tells us to make a decision in any of his place. So we've got a question about whether or not he always makes us hold these two ideas in our heads, in all his all his work or sometimes forces us to get to a decision.

Yeah, and Hamlet has the same problem. And of course I'm not making an argument here that we should always keep the two opposites of a of a complex problem in our heads, Sometimes we just have to make a decision right? You have to, sometimes you have to do something in in Hamlet one of his problems, one of Hamlet's problems is that the moment he does act rashly act without thinking, he accidentally kills his girlfriend's father. So holding on a little bit further to make a decision is probably a good idea in that case at least.

But absolutely right. The thing you're trying to get to the oh, is the right solution and that either or thinking the quick decision of I think it's all this or all that, that's unlikely to get us to the right answer or the answer that's going to really solve a complex problem. Something's, it's easy, you just have to make a decision really quickly. But for huge problems for the wicked problems that we're all facing now that questions about the pandemic questions about climate change, being able to hold on to those questions, those uh the opposite evidence as long as as possible before we make our decisions is probably the better the better solution.

That's quite a nice way to jump into the question from Audrey and Audrey says, does this kind of ambivalent thinking apply to religion in the sense that believing in something, whilst also doubting is quite conflicting. And I guess there are two questions there. One is, do you classify this as ambivalent thinking? And the second thing is, do you think that holding an idea about faith and also holding an idea about doubt fits into this model? Yeah, I like that a lot. Um it seems to me that the strongest faith has to entertain doubt if it doesn't, if it leaves it out, then it's then it's at its most vulnerable.

So I think that that faith is a wonderful example to use their um and ambivalence sounds sounds like a fault when when kate is talking about being capable of being so existing in mysteries and doubts and uncertainties. Um, it's one of the hardest things for my students to come to terms with when they want simple answers to things they want to be, they want to know what the correct answer is for a question or a problem. And the more we show students with more we show in education that it's important for for us to to to wait to make our decision.

And some questions have multiple answers rather than just one answer, the more likely they'll become wicked students and wicked thinkers. So, I I like that question because I do think there's a there's a way to take this in the wrong direction, just never to make a decision about anything, you know, including what to have for breakfast in the morning. And that's just irritating. But what we're talking about here in um, in negative capability is that you're, you're all right, you're comfortable with mysteries or doubts, you're comfortable with with ambiguity, You're comfortable with complexity without immediately needing for it to be simplified or oversimplified, like the idea of us all being wicked in some ways, in a positive way.

That's a lovely idea. So I'm going to go into a question from steve, who wants to know about contemporary audiences for Shakespeare, He says would Shakespeare's audiences have been shocked at seeing skulls thrown around the stage. They might have been. Yeah, so it's possible that this was the first play, this first early modern play in which real skulls were used on stage and not just one, but multiple ones being thrown up. Um so the globe stage had uh an area in the center that could be taken out and so the grave diggers could, could be standing down in something that would look like a grave and throwing these things up within the, within, you know, sort of striking distance of the audience.

I suspect that that would have been a shock at first as it is for some contemporary audiences now when they learned that some Shakespeare companies actually have real skulls. This is not a real skull, this is a, this is a ceramic, but they have real skulls that they bring out and use in in Hamlet. There's a famous example in the royal Shakespeare company, the RSC of, I think piano pianist was called Andre Tchaikovsky and he bequeathed his skull to the RSC to be used in performances of Hamlet and and David Tennant for example, most recently is supposed to have actually used that.

So think of the difference between using a prop skull either as an audience member or as an actor right? And actually looking at not york, but in that case. Andre, so I suspect that they that it would have been shocking for them. Um there are a lot of jokes in that scene too. So it would have been the shock laughter that was coming through as well. Very interesting. So, I have a question about masculinity in Hamlet, can you talk a little bit about how you see Shakespeare showing the different types of masculinity through the play? Yeah, that's really interesting.

So we've got um we've got a Father Hamlet senior who uh by all accounts, but wrote from him and from others. Um saw every problem is something that could be solved with an ax or a sword. So when confronted with a difficulty from from Norway, he went out and and and defeated Old Fort and Brass. We've got a different kind of character in Claudia's, he's the one who um uh he's the one who actually killed his brother in a very sneaky way with poison. Um and he's much more the kind of diplomat. Uh and then you've got Hamlet who was really a thinker.

So I mentioned him as a student before, that's very much how his character is constructed as someone who thinks his way through things. But you've also got other models in late 30s and in a younger 14 brass And late 30s, who is ophelia is brother. I hope there are there are too many characters coming at you at the same time liberties brother is much closer to the rash action. My father has been murdered. Now, I'm gonna come and kill you too. So is that all of these different models of their models of masculinity? They're also approaches to problems and approaches to uh, to action.

Uh, and Hamlet is sort of looking at all of them and saying, you know, among all of these, which is the one that I'm going to, which is the one that I'm going to to to to work with. So, Hamlet always strikes me as someone who very much reflects on and reflects the masculine characters of his father, his uncle and the other younger men who are in the plane very interesting. So, it's sort of a masterclass in decision making in some ways, he's looking at all these different options and trying to decide which way to go.

Yeah, exactly. And that's why some performances of Hamlet are so interesting when they cut. This is a four hour play, if you use all the words and it's rare that you'll find all for four hours in any one performance. So, if you cut it, as franco Zeffirelli did for the Mel Gibson Hamlet, you can cut it so that this is not so much a thinker but an action hero. So Mel Gibson's Hamlet is much less a thinker and much more an action hero. But if you go to the other extreme and you put in all of the thinking, all of the decision making, then you're absolutely right.

The the Hamlet in the play itself is very much somebody who's trying to figure out how to know things in the world that's trying to figure out how to how to glean the truth from all of the evidence around him. I had no idea. It was a four hour play. I think I've only ever seen the shortened version. So that's a great insight there. I want to make a I want to make a segue actually into one of the questions that we've got here from Audrey and she wants to talk a little bit about, I want you to talk a little bit about the idea of wicked thinking.

You mentioned wicked problems, but also wicked thinking. How can we introduced the idea of wicked thinking into schools? Besides say Reading Hamlet? Yeah, that's right. I certainly recommend Shakespeare as a, as a wicked thinker. But it seems to me that the more we encourage young people from the earliest age possible not to go after the single um, simple answer two questions. The less we use multiple choice questions that in testing that asked them to come up with the right answer, the more we encourage them to think through difficult problems either by holding to composing ideas in their heads at the same time for awhile for trying out both sides of the debate, for example, the more likely it is that they'll train their minds to to accept things when they're complex and to accept ambiguities, What we really don't want is an entire world of people who cannot look at a complex problem with all its complexity still in it.

Um and so yeah, I think that that the more we offer texts and problems and questions and opportunities and assignments and assessments that encouraged them not to think of getting the answer right, But in framing the question, well, I think that that's that's getting us towards um towards more wicked students, which is more like what I'm thinking I want to do now, I want to think of myself not as someone who teaches Shakespeare, but someone who teaches students to be wicked, wicked thinking wicked students, Celia also has a question about wicked problems and wicked thinking.

She says, what does Shakespeare tell us about how chance factors into our decision making in the face of wicked problems, for example, how do we make good decisions when say pirates could happen to anyone? Yeah, I love that, that's right. Yeah, and and there is so much both in this and in other of his great tragedies that involves not just human beings making good or bad decisions, but in just, you know, stuff happening like yeah, the pirates, pirates could happen to anybody. Um yeah, so that I think comes back to this idea of a wicked problem as something that is not fixed, right? So, so a wicked problem is something that is huge and complex.

Yes, but even as you're trying to solve it, the parameters of that question are or their problem are going to change and that's really what happens to poor Hamlet. He figures out, okay, now I know what I'm gonna do, I'm gonna kill my uncle, darn, It turns out to be my my girlfriend's father instead and then he sent off and then he makes another decision about what's going to happen and then yeah, pirates. So it's trying to figure out how to continue to solve the problem even when the, well the circumstances change, even when your chance comes in because yeah, as you say, pirates could happen to anyone.

I just love that line. So unfortunately really, really got time for one more question and we do have quite a few questions still left, but I'm going to just skip to to one final question for you, which is really about how contemporary audiences the audiences at the time would have understood Shakespeare's place. We know that they're lovely stories, but they're quite complex. Would they have understood all the nuances. Were they studying his plays at the same time or was it just entertainment that people could really understand? I think it's a good thing to think of it as entertainment, but entertainment of a rich and complex kind.

Uh no, they probably were not reading at least not as as soon as Hamlet was coming out, for example, there wouldn't have been a play text published until a few years later, um, a quarter text. Um, but I think sometimes we make the mistake of believing that audiences 400 years ago must have been much less sophisticated than we are. And there is one real difference between them and us. And that is that we talked about going to see a play. They talked about going to hear a play. This is a culture that was much more attuned to the ear than to the eye, so we might have much more difficulty picking up by the ear things in a contemporary play than someone in in Shakespeare's own time would be.

So did they catch everything? No, but neither do I. Um, they catch a lot. Yes. And partly because there was such an oral culture that they were, they were trained to the ear and not to the eye. That's a fascinating insight actually, I don't think I didn't definitely didn't realize that that was the phrase that they would have used and maybe we can start using that ourselves when we go to the theater, that we would go to hear the theater rather than see a play. Thank you Shannon so much for joining us today.

That was a really fascinating, captivating talk. And you've answered some of our very tricky questions brilliantly. I hope that you enjoyed it and that you will come back and join us in The Garden again very soon and thank you to you for joining us here today. We hope that you enjoyed the talk by Professor Shannon Murray. I hope that you've got all of your questions answered and that you'll join us again at your next Garden gathering very soon until we see you back in The Garden. Stay curious.

Evolution of Language Collection

How do languages evolve?  From the origins of language to bilingualism, this series journeys into the mysteries of this uniquely human trait and the power it has to change our world.

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