This year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death; while he may be well gone his legacy continues to thrive in our cultural consciousness. His plays are still regularly performed, his texts are still firmly embedded in the curriculum and perhaps most importantly of all, his words still capture the gamut of human emotion precisely and poignantly. Scholars the world over have produced lengthy dissertations on why the Bard’s stories continue to delight; all boil down to this– the humanness of feeling rings true whether we are watching the drama unfold amidst the heat and stench of the Globe or enjoying the modern amenities of the Sydney Opera House Drama Space some 400 years later. But there is something else worthy of investigation as we celebrate what would have been 450 candles on Will’s birthday cake; the period of profound change that Shakespeare wrote in. Shakespeare stood at a crossroads– a junction between the medieval world of fairies and folklore and a more familiar modern one of Renaissance Humanism and empirical science. The Elizabethans were on the cusp of a shift in thinking, the 16th century undermined old ideas about man’s predetermined place in the world and, buoyed by the discovery of man’s agency, they set sail for new worlds under the banner of gold, glory and god.
While today the lens of colonisation tends to cast a more critical eye over the Elizabethan idea of nation building we too find ourselves in a period of change. Politically, we have confronted the shock of a potential British exit from the European Union and the ascension of an American presidential nominee who appears more as a caricature than a serious political candidate. Closer to home we have recently farewelled our Class of 2015 and welcomed the Class of 2016 into their new leadership roles. Change, whether large scale and confounding or part of the natural rhythm of life is necessary. It is fitting therefore that the Class of 2016 commence their senior studies with the English Area of Study, Discovery because as the cohort before then realised and the Elizabethans before them knew, ‘to reach a port, you must set sail’.
Words and the wonder and magic that can emerge from them have been very much at the forefront of our minds in the library as we have mounted our latest installation that draws its inspiration from an exhibition at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) in Hobart.
Not only have we aimed to honour the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, capture the curiosity and newness of discovery but also foreground the Advanced English prescribed text, Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Those of us in the business of the written word have a natural affinity with The Tempest because of the pivotal role Prospero’s library plays. Prospero’s moral pilgrimage of learning and self-discovery is punctuated with references to other great literary works; from Virgil to Ovid, Montaigne to Luke’s interpretation of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount– works that would have been lost to the passage of time were they not collected and protected. Since Alexandria in the third century BC, libraries have been seen as places that support the development of knowledge through their dedication to collection development and safekeeping.There is of course more to libraries than static repositories of knowledge; we too are changing with the times. Our recreation of Prospero’s lonely library at the end of the world demonstrates this change through the activities designed around the active construction of knowledge. Our Essential Guide to Discovery asks students to undertake four preliminary tasks designed to immerse them in the Area of Study– from locating a discovery quote pasted around the school and exploring what it means to them, to listening to a podcast where Geraldine Brooks discusses writing historical fiction, to visiting the ‘Key Garden’ in the library where they will unlock a creative stimulus that may just be the beginnings of their imaginative response. Finally they compose their own photograph that captures an aspect of the Discovery rubric.
It’s hardly a novel idea that student engagement is the key to good learning but nonetheless the idea that students must embark on their own journey of discovery in constructing new knowledge is sometimes lost to the pressures of time constraints and crowded curriculums. We hope to celebrate the good learning that is happening at Loreto, learning that takes its cue from educators who undertake a process of discovery with their students, plan for their students and allow decisions to be informed by their students.
Ms Elizabeth Green
Knowledge and Learning Strategist