…an undisguised attempt to overthrow the established and recognised figure of authority
One of the best pieces of advice Henry had ever received, at least it was the one he found to be most useful, the piece of advice he tended to rely on most as a teacher, especially as a teacher at Didsbury Girls, was that no matter what, discounting any intellectual advantage or diligence on the part of the pupil, you, the teacher, know far more than they do.
It was by now an article of faith for Henry. He clung to this piece of advice as though it came directly from the mouth of a deity he implicitly believed in. However, the manner of his hanging onto this piece of advice was at times more redolent of a drowning man clinging to a rather insubstantial twig in the midst of a raging torrent. But it was, nevertheless, something to hold onto.
That he knew a great deal about Shakespeare’s Macbeth, was the thought which filled Henry’s mind as the pupils arrived for the first lesson after lunch. There were other thoughts jostling for position – the level of noise being generated by the few girls that had arrived already; the inappropriateness of the topics of the girls’ conversations; the fact that several girls would be late arriving and would most likely wander in so late that he would have to make a point of it; and then there was the clock ticking; the likelihood of the Headmistress bursting into this room, with red face and bloodshot eyes, pointing to this, that and everything else that were completely inappropriate for a school like Didsbury Girls; and the fact that he hated making a point of anything; as well as the fact that the girls knew this and took advantage of it; the fact that he was always being taken advantage of; and finally, the thought with which he seemed to start every lesson these days, the fact that no one was listening to him – that not one of the girls seemed aware of him standing at the front of the room, beginning the same sentence several times and clearing his throat as loudly as he could.
“Girls! Really!” was what Henry forced himself to shout out. It was a formula he had arrived at, upon discussion with Oscar one evening. Even though he realised that Oscar was being facetious, Henry immediately saw the beauty and efficacy of such a decree. It fitted with Didsbury Girls to the tee – which was why Oscar could think it an excellent parody. Also, it had very little of the desperation which all of his other orders seemed to cry out with.
After three more such cries Henry had gained the upper hand, but this was immediately lost again upon the arrival of the late girls, who had obviously been standing in the corridor doing nothing more than waiting to be late. This was clearly a case for the next level of decree – “How dare you!” – which Henry shouted out with gay abandon at this point. On receiving no reply, no acknowledgement, not even a titter of awareness, Henry was momentarily at a loss. But he quickly countered with another such cry – “How dare you!”
That the girls dared was never really at issue. Henry would have been the first to acknowledge that the girls did indeed dare, should he have been questioned, later that day, about the situation he then found himself to be in. They had dared… they dare now… and they will dare again. This was rebellion, pure and simple. And every rebellion must be put down – put down rigorously, smothered completely, lest the embers continue to glow and lead to another conflagration.
Each of the girls took upwards of a minute, their backs to Mr Bridgewater, taking off their blazers and rooting about in their bags.
The problem was that Henry at this point, in the thick of it, up to his neck in it, surrounded on all sides by it, cornered by it… He was not, at one remove, partaking in a calm discussion of the power politics of the classroom. He was acting out his part with little skill and sometimes forgetting his lines. All he could think to do was to once more rely on that ultimate of decrees – “How dare you!” He could have, of course, added some form of elucidation, such as “arrive so late to my class” or some other few words, in order to specify the exact nature of the girls’ offence, on the off chance that such elucidation was necessary. But of course it wasn’t. This could easily be discerned in the faces of the rebels when they turned to face their accuser, who was by now irritated to the far side of common sense.
“Wha?” was all their leader, a girl by the name of Rebecca, had to say. But it was a potent reply. Never had one syllable held such force in a verbal conflict. Because it was the tone, pitch and volume which held all the meaning – all the audacity and sheer cheek.
Henry decided to counter with a dramatic pause. But he was really only playing for time.
“Macbeth,” Henry began in a preternaturally calm voice, “is one of Shakespeare’s finest tragedies – perhaps because of its simplicity, perhaps because of the ease with which it can be understood, even by the modern audience.”
Rebecca – the glowing ember, the leader of the rebels, the arch irritant in Henry’s life at this point – smiled. She smiled. And this smile was a clear declaration of victory. It was a statement. It was a barb. It was another deftly delivered missile across the bows of Henry’s faltering vessel. It was a savage blow, it was below the belt, it was a poke in the eyes.
“And what…” Henry took aim. “And what do you know about Macbeth… Reh…beck…ka?” Henry countered with a look of mock concern. “Perhaps you could fill us in on the fundamentals of Shakespearean tragedy.” Henry’s look of mock concern softly melted into a look of mock surprise when it became evident that Rebecca couldn’t fill the class in on the fundamentals of Shakespearean tragedy.
Reh…beck…ka was surely defeated. She would sink beneath the waters. She would nod her head in shame. She would…
She would not relent. She would not give in. She was a fighter. The rebellion would live on. The ember would glow, would glow within her fiery heart forever. She would stand up, though remaining in her seat, and be counted. She would not be put in her place, any place, not told what to do… She was… She stood for… She was Reh…beck…ka.
“I didn’t think so,” Henry finally countered with, but it was too late and it was too little and it was an empty statement and there were already murmurings of dissent which would become decipherable words in time, become assertions eventually, become shouts and screams all too soon, and become a revolution under which he would be trodden into the ground when the final bell rang out.