St Peter's 13-18
A couple of weeks ago I had an unexpected opportunity to go to the cinema and saw “All is True” starring Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench and Ian McKellen. With a script by Ben Elton it looks at the last year’s of Shakespeare’s and his return to his family in Stratford upon Avon after years spent away from them during which time he had become hugely famous and wealthy but largely estranged from his family and during which time his son, named Hamnet, had died.
One of the themes of the play is perception and in particular Shakespeare’s belief that Hamnet had written astonishing poems when in fact they were creations from his daughter’s imagination and only copied out by his son. The film has a tragic element in exploring the impact of his assumption that his genius must be seen in his son. For his daughter it threatens to destroy her confidence and self-identity and to his son it gave an impossible standard to live up to.
Elsewhere there is a reference to Shakespeare’s will in which he instructed that on his death, his wife should receive their second best bed. This has been used as a sign of Shakespeare having a dismissive attitude towards his wife but in the film it is used as a symbol of their love and affection. When Shakespeare returns to Stratford he has no close relationship with his wife at all. As they go upstairs on his first night home he hovers outside the main bedroom door but is told by his wife that he should go to the other room and sleep in the best bed, the one reserved for guests. As the film unfolds, their relationship becomes ever warmer until they go back to sharing the same bedroom and the second best bed. This idea is seen in a poem by Carol Ann Duffy, a former Poet Laureate, which is a beautiful evocation of the love and affection between Shakespeare and his wife and in the film it is clear that their rapprochement is only possible once he has overcome his wrongful perception of his daughter's talent.
Perception is one of the strongest factors in human experience, impacting hugely on how we view ourselves in the world and ultimately our self-esteem both positively and negatively. This is intrinsically bound up with language both in its power and its limitations. For example, the philosopher Edward De Bono criticises the English language for not having a single word to express a situation where people have come up with a great idea, a talented team has worked hard and sincerely to make it happen but due to various factors it just didn't work out on that occasion. De Bono points out that we tend to use the word “failure” in that context with all of its negative connotations and none of the real and positive elements of learning, commitment and the willingness to give something a go. Many of you will have studied George Orwell's novel 1984 in which he coined the idea of Newspeak, where a totalitarian government attempts to prevent people from having thoughts of liberation and freedom through banning the use of words associated with them. There is though an upside in that we can also use language to send ourselves positive messages. Think of how sportsmen and women use positive visualisation in creating images in their mind of hitting as perfect shot which translate to reality or of how musicians, actors or debaters put themselves into a positive frame of mind to influence the quality of their performance.
The stories we tell ourselves are the most powerful thing in the world so make sure the stories you tell yourselves and positive. And focus also on the positive messages you can give to others. A couple of days ago, one of the Reception classes in Clifton Positive went around the school performing acts of kindness and I was one of the lucky recipients. I came back to my study after lunch to find an envelope under my door, which I have brought along to show you this morning. On the front it had a sticker saying, “No act of kindness, however small is ever wasted. Love from Class RB, Clifton.” Inside one of the five year old pupils had written, in very good handwriting, ‘Have a great day.’ Well, that five year old child put a huge smile on my face, a spring in my step and affected my mood in a positive fashion all day and every time I look at it the memory of that positive feeling is re-kindled. I received another one later which read, ‘You are pretty’ which also put a smile on my face. After all, at my age any compliment is a welcome compliment.
So well done on a massively busy half term, full of a huge range of events and activities. It is one that has given me an incredible number of happy memories and I am sure you also, along with the inevitable challenges that are part of life. So in the words of that five year old in Clifton, ‘Have a great day’ and a brilliant half term.