Let’s do a quick pop quiz. I’m going to quote something from a hip-hop artist or from one of Shakespeare’s plays and you tell me which one it is. “To destroy the beauty from which one came” …If you said Shakespeare you are mistaken. Do you know Shaun Carter better known as JZ, that’s from a track called ‘Can I Live’? Another one, “Men would rather use their broken weapons than their bare hands” …That is actually a quote from Shakespeare’s play called Othello?.
Othello is one of a few Shakespearean plays that involve Racism and Xenophobia which is what many people and students in South Africa go through today. In the play Othello, Shakespeare creates powerful drama from a marriage between the exotic Othello, who is constantly called a “Moor” and the Venetian lady Desdemona that begins with elopement and mutual devotion and ends with jealous rage and death. Shakespeare builds many differences into his hero and heroine, including race, age, and cultural background.
Othello and Desdemona have love facing parental opposition because of Barbantio who is racist towards Othello and accuses him of using “witchcraft”. This happens in real life where for e.g. a Hindu wants to marry a Muslim, they experience rejection from their parents because of their cultural differences and emotional pain and are often forced to relinquish the relationship. Many grade 12 students could relate to the love theme because many of them would have been in love or are in love and also had to face many social challenges.
Most people who argue against Shakespeare talk about how irrelevant the language is in today’s modern world but firstly, Shakespeare is basically used in most hip-hop songs today because when we look at the language used, and the subjects spoken, it makes it difficult once the context and perception is taken away and we have to look at just the raw language of the two art forms. Secondly, the language is secondary, the primary thing about Shakespeare was the human experience he had and the deep insight in the psychology of human beings which he portrayed in his plays. This is why Othello should be studied.
The novel I have selected is, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The most important theme of To Kill a Mockingbird is the book’s exploration of the moral nature of human beings—that is, whether people are essentially good or essentially evil. The moral voice of To Kill a Mockingbird is embodied by Atticus Finch, who is virtually unique in the novel in that he has experienced and understood evil without losing his faith in the human capacity for goodness. Atticus understands that, rather than being simply creatures of good or creatures of evil, most people have both good and bad qualities. The important thing is to appreciate the good qualities and understand the bad qualities by treating others with sympathy and trying to see life from their perspective. The book teaches us four lessons. The first being that you don’t understand someone until you put yourself in their shoes. Second being don’t kill mockingbirds, because they don’t eat anyone’s plants or harm anything, all they do is make music. A mockingbird also has a metaphorical meaning for anyone weak or defenceless. To kill a mocking bird in that sense is to take advantage of someone weaker than you. Lesson 3 is to keep fighting even if you know you’ll lose. Atticus wants to teach them the lesson that true bravery is when you keep fighting and persevering even when you know you can’t win. The last lesson is that the world id unfair, which is true because, for e.g., there are 22, 000 children that die per day due to poverty. The social prejudice makes society look at itself.
Oswald Mtshali is a South African poet. He has written in both Zulu and English. He studied at Colombia University. He worked as a messenger as a messenger in Soweto before he became a poet. His first book Sounds of a Cowhide drum was one of the first books of poems by a black South African poet to be widely distributed. In this book he wrote a poem called An Abandoned Bundle which was about the pollution in Soweto and how he saw 2 dogs covered in blood fighting over a moving puddle which was actually a baby which he called “Baby in The Manger”, which is an analogy with the baby Jesus. Oswald wrote a second book called “Fire Flames” with which I have chosen 2 poems from, Always a Suspect and Boy on a Swing. Boy on a swing is a poem that places infernal racial discrimination on a moral slab. Oswald attempts to open the eyes of the reader to the mental agony that the apartheid system was suffused with. The last stanza where he says,
Where did I come from?
When will I wear long trousers?
Why was my father jailed?”
The boys asks these questions as if blacks have lost their identity and all sense of belonging, they were allowed only restricted cultural and social values and they were thrown in jail for inexplicable reasons. The final poem I have selected, Always a Suspect, follows a black man living in apartheid. Its written to show that despite what kind of person you are and what type of clothes you wear,
“I get up in the morning
and dress up like a gentleman –
A white shirt a tie and a suit.”,
if you were born black during apartheid you were considered as if you were up to no good. You were always a suspect of crime and were never innocent.
“I walk into the street
to be met by a man
who tells me to ‘produce’.
I show him
the document of my existence
to be scrutinized and given the nod”.