A former academic favours Aladdin

In the University of London’s stunning new alumni magazine, I’ve described myself as ‘a former academic’ – even if I look like a Spotlight whore. Have I crossed the line?

Alumni Contributors

I tick most of the boxes – teaching, assessment, lecturing and publishing. (I’ve a full list of dubious credentials.) The only thing I didn’t achieve was a full-time contract.

Speaking of teaching, most of the last cohort I taught from Leicester will have recently graduated. I have fond memories of our classes in Renaissance Drama and I hope they do too.

One lecture in particular sticks out in my mind. Not one on rhetoric that raised a round of applause (though that was amazing). Not even that on history which featured Assassin’s Creed and Crytek Off the Map. Oddly, it’s one on ‘Exam Preparation’.

But, but GENIE!

Leicester has a great habit of introducing interdisciplinarity at an early stage. The first year Renaissance Drama exam typically included a question about how the students would direct a passage from an extract provided. It invites them to think about setting, staging, context, and interpreting the lines.

Since we had studied The Merchant of Venice, a great example came to mind from the opening scene, which I felt compelled to share.

Bassanio pledges to be responsible after dwindling away his wealth to a lavish lifestyle. But he’s soon pleading for more funds to challenge for Portia’s hand, extolling her virtues.

ANTONIO: You know me well, and herein spend but time
To wind about my love with circumstance;
And out of doubt you do me now more wrong
In making question of my uttermost
Than if you had made waste of all I have.
Then do but say to me what I should do
That in your knowledge may by me be done,
And I am pressed unto it. Therefore speak.

BASSANIO: In Belmont is a lady richly left,
And she is fair, and, fairer than that word,
Of wondrous virtues. Sometimes from her eyes
I did receive fair speechless messages.
Her name is Portia, nothing undervalued
To Cato’s daughter, Brutus’ Portia;
Nor is the wide world ignorant of her worth,
For the four winds blow in from every coast
Renowned suitors, and her sunny locks
Hang on her temples like a golden fleece…

O my Antonio, had I but the means
To hold a rival place with one of them,
I have a mind presages me such thrift
That I should questionless be fortunate.

ANTONIO: Thou know’st that all my fortunes are at sea,
Neither have I money nor commodity
To raise a present sum. Therefore go forth –
Try what my credit can in Venice do…

(1.1.153-180)

It reminds me so much of a scene in Disney’s Aladdin. Once rescued from the Cave of Wonders, the eponymous hero starts pleading to the genie for something he knows he probably shouldn’t ask for and that he probably won’t get.

ALADDIN: But, but Genie! She’s smart, and fun, and…

GENIE: Pretty?

ALADDIN: Beautiful! She’s got these eyes that just… And this hair – wow! And her smile? Ahhhh!

Aladdin "Wrong"

There’s a particular sort of comedy to the excitement, so consumed are both young men by their love interest.

It underpins the seriousness of what they set in motion: in one story, a bond that threatens the life of a dear friend; in the other, a deception that is clearly unsustainable.

Whether this sort of comparison is genius or insanity, I’ve no idea. But when I do have an idea, I commit to it. I stayed up all night to produce a clip I needed. (For where was YouTube’s ownership-disavowing public when I needed it?)

I suppose this confirms how I’m as unlikely an ‘academic’ as you’d be likely to find. Or batshit crazy, if you prefer.

(Though it could be said that I learn from the best!)

While there can be rewards for being unconventional, I would silently repeat to myself, “stick to the day job”.

I’d be quite happy to do that now. A beautiful recreation of my Shakespeare 400 commemoration sits in the alumni magazine. It does me very proud indeed.

I think I’ve found my place, at long last. ‘Former’ academic it is, and at peace with it.


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