Video Clips

Blog October 2009

On holidays at last, and I get to catch up on Hamlet. Act I Scene iii features the departure of Laertes for France. He warns his sister Ophelia to mind her honour with Hamlet, but she's a sharp one, reminding him to practice what he preaches, giving Shakespeare a chance to get in a dig at hypocritical clergy who don't follow their own teaching. Ah the timelessness of it!
" ... But, good my brother
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven,
Whilst, like a puff'd and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads"
I have found that saying farewell to family members going on long journeys is a special but sometimes painful experience. Laertes recognises how much of a blessing it can be, especially as he gets a chance for a second farewell:
"A double blessing is a double grace;
Occasion smiles upon a second leave".

Towards the end of the half-term, the first year student (see entry for 30/9) who promised to sing U2's Yahweh finally came up trumps. He did well considering that the student who was going to sing with him couldn't find the lyrics! I'm really taken aback by how much of an impact this song has made in this particular 1st Year class - they still request it! I must incorporate more music into this class.

Finally I get to Hamlet. As I'm doing this with a 5th Year English I thought I'd reflect on the religious references that abound in the play. When he sees a ghost (Hamlet's father) in Act I Scene i Horatio, Hamlet's friend, on seeing a ghost declares "Before my God, I might not this believe /Without the sensible and true avouch /Of mine own eyes." - this reminded me of the apostle Thomas not believing in Christ's resurrection until he could feel the wounds. The ghost disappears when the cock grows for dawn leading Marcellus to say that there's a legend that approaching Christmas the cock crows all night long so that ghosts can't appear at all, even at night: "Some say that ever, 'gainst that season comes/Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated, /The bird of dawning singeth all night long; /And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad". In Scene ii Hamlet is heartbroken that his father is dead and his mother remarried to his uncle Claudius. He won't however commit suicide as it's against God's law: "O … that the Everlasting had not fix'd /His canon 'gainst self-slaughter!" Needless to say Hamlet is shocked to hear that his father's ghost is appearing, and reckons it's a sign that evil has been afoot, but will be revealed: "Foul deeds will rise, /Though all the earth o'erwhelm them, to men's eyes". To be continued ....

At the moment I'm covering the Junior Cert Course material that deals with the events of the last few days in the life of Jesus. Apart from doing the scripture readings and seeing what the text has to say, I use video clips to illustrate the events. For the Last Supper I used the relevant clip from BBC's Passion (written by the late Frank Deasy), with Joseph Mawle as Jesus. I love the way they do the scene, and it ties in with the later Resurrection sequence where the disciples on the road to Emmaus recognise him in the breaking of bread. For the other scenes I use Jesus of Nazareth clips which haven't dated that much and still hold the students' attention quite well. The trial before the Sanhedrin can be viewed in the clip on left.

Have been covering the Sacrament of Reconciliation during the week, and among the resources I've used have been clips from various dramas that feature Confession scenes I've gathered over the years. Best of all is the scene from The Mission (about quarter way in) where the priest played by Jeremy Irons visits the slave trader played by Robert de Niro who is consumed by guilt after killing his brother in a fight over a woman. The priest challenges him to set his own penance - and there follows a painful trip up the mountains carrying a bundle of his armour that scene also is great for symbolism of guilt and forgiveness. I also use a clip from Ken Loach's film Raining Stones - near the end a man confesses an unintentional killing to a priest, played with dignity by Tom Hickey (anyone remember Benjy from The Riordans?). It's very intense and the emotions are raw but genuine. There's one F-Word in the scene, but in the context I think it's acceptable in a senior class, considering how effective the scene is. Argue with me if I'm wrong! There's a scene in Hamlet (click here to read it and hear an audio file) where the murderous King Claudius tries to repent of his sins but can't because he's not prepared to give up what he has stolen. Kenneth Brannagh, in his film version sets this scene in a Confession box, which heightens the whole repentance theme. The scene ends in the vision of a bloody stabbing (not in Shakespeare!) so I usually cut it just before then. A Confession scene from the old US drama series Nothing Sacred features a usually "trendy liberal" priest giving a hard time to a young student who has got his girlfriend pregnant. One student found the priest too heavy handed, but the young man probably needed a tough reality check. While these scenes teach a lot about the sacrament, I also use two clips that are more for focussing attention - one from the X-Files where Scully seeks advice more than reconciliation in the Confession box, and a similar one from Prison Break where Michael Scofield is having moral quandaries about the way he is letting the ends justify the means, and is having difficulty letting go of his guilt, not quite willing to sin no more. There's certainly something about a Confession box that lends itself to intense drama!

It's rather unseasonal I know, but I've being doing Patrick Kavanagh's poem Advent with a 5th year English class. Sometimes I think I teach more religion in English class. I introduce Advent as a sort of mini-Lent, a time of fasting before the feasting of Christmas. Thus we have the "dry black bread" and the "sugarless tea", symbols of the self-denial that can make us spiritually fit for Christmas (hinted at in imagery like "stables where time begins"). And there is a reward - the recovery of innocence and freshness. Kavanagh makes the need for repentance clear: "We have tested and tasted too much". There is a sense that the poet has overindulged, has become satiated with experience, like a person who feels uncomfortably bloated after too much food or fizzy drink, and so needs to cut back. But Kavanagh is concerned more with inner well-being: "penance will charm back the luxury of a child's soul". And then there will be a change of perspective, once again he will be able to see things as he did when he was a child, he will rediscover "the newness that was in a every stale thing", for example "the spirit-shocking/ Wonder in a black slanting Ulster hill". Towards the end of the poem Kavanagh opts for an experiential approach to religion, rather than one that is too analytical/intellectual (Artists 1 - Theologians 0). He wants to experience God and His creation with the heart rather than the head: "we shall not ask for reason's payment … Nor analyse God's breath in common statement". Ironically he rejects another kind of experience - that of sin). He might seem to have a thing against knowledge, but he seems to be reacting against his own over indulgence, negative experiences, knowledge of sin: "The knowledge we stole but could not use". It's not too much of a jump to see a link with the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. Now the "wages" of sin are to be "thrown into the dust-bin" so that Kavanagh can move spiritually refreshed into Christmas and the new year: "Christ comes with a January flower".

I got to use clips from Kings (see below) in class at last! I'm doing the theme of forgiveness and reconciliation with 6th year students and two clips were useful - one from The New King 1 where King Silas forces his son Jack into a humiliating apology. "Forgiveness is an act of love, and I don't love you" he says, imperiously, much to the annoyance of his wife, and follows it with a crude remark. It's unsettling stuff but fitted right in with what we had been discussing in class. In this case neither the apology nor the forgiveness were genuine, but in the next clip, from The New King 2 Rev Samuels makes a heartfelt apology to God for his sins - a model of genuine repentance.

Kings Episode 12 - The New King 2: And so it ends. This episode sees the end of the series and it won't be back - it was cancelled in the USA when it didn't get enough audience support. It was obvious from the finale that certain plot threads were opened up for the second series that was originally envisaged. There are some interesting comments from the show's creator Michael Green (also involved as a producer on Heroes) on the Kings website.
On the religious angles here's what he had to say: "The network had no negative reaction at any stage to religious content within the show. In fact, they encouraged it and found it hopeful…. It was only when time came to market the show that a decision was made not to promote the show as a biblically inspired tale. Fear of reprisal from the religious audience was the described cause. Something NBC has had bad experiences with before. As such, any references to 'King David' were actively avoided, in favor of the limited marketing campaign that many of you saw and have commented on with derision … There was no "religious agenda" among the writers. The writing staff was deliberately comprised of a diverse group of geniuses. Including believers and non-believers, lapsed and actives, people who are atheist, Jewish, Christian, Muslim. All had done their homework. All their perspectives were invaluable…. Most religious viewers actually quite liked the show. Understanding that our creative task was not transcription".
And what a finale! (see highlights in video clip above) It was high-tension stuff all the way as the political and personal conflict between King Silas and his son Jack came to a head. Rev Samuels pays the price for being involved in the plot against Silas - but before that he has an excellent scene of repentance - a heartfelt prayer to God. I'll certainly use that in RE class when I'm doing the topic of repentance. Samuel's remorse is certainly genuine, and it's a powerhouse performance by Eamonn Walker in the role. And his character has a really interesting role to play towards the end of the episode. Samuels wouldn't give his blessing or benediction to the crowning of Jack as King and so fell out of favour with the arch conspirator, Silas' brother-in-law. We got the incongruous scene of a civil servant reading out a pre-prepared blessing instead - saying something about church-state relations perhaps, or about how some states and some politicians can use the trappings of religion to suit their own very secular purposes.
The presence of God is felt strongly in this episode - at one stage Silas begs God for a sign, challenging Him to knock over a whiskey glass! God appears to oblige, but Silas wasn't looking. Later in a knockout scene reminiscent of King Lear, we see Silas in a thunderstorm, talking to God, and apparently being told by God that David is the chosen one to take over the kingdom (no spoiler to those who know their Old Testament David!) - this has been pretty obvious all along, but David hasn't seen it - has just doggedly persisted in his duty to be loyal to the King. He now knows of Silas' evildoing but helps him back to the throne because the plotters are worse and planning war when Silas favoured peace. Silas is not pleased at this news from God, and while at first he seems grudgingly resigned, he declares himself an enemy of God and plans to stop David who must escape into exile.
I hope these reviews have been of interest. After going back to school and having less time I sometimes regretted committing myself to reviewing every episode, but at least the work is done now. Maybe when I get more time I'll write a shorter article to bring all the threads together in a more compact way.