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My English teachers 3

22 Oct

As best I recall I first encountered Dr Derick Marsh in 1962 when he was tutor to the Distinction Course group I was then in, which included future High Court Justice John Dyson Heydon who went on to pursue History rather than English, I believe. Back in those days tutors tended to smoke pipes, and Dr Marsh had mastered the art of volcanic eruptions of smoke whenever things were getting dull. He would also sometimes start on a quite risible interpretation of a text just to see whether we dutifully agreed with him, a technique I have since used with cleverer senior classes.

He came to us from South Africa where he had been, it appears, a supporter of Helen Suzman and an opponent of apartheid. He was jailed for his efforts; while in jail he was apparently allowed access to pen, paper, and an unmarked complete works of Shakespeare, the result being The recurring miracle; a study of Cymbeline and the last plays in which he thanks the South African government for affording him the time he had been vainly seeking to write the book.

I recall one tutorial where he alluded to South Africa. We were reading W B Yeats:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

“That’s the problem with the South African regime,” he said. “It is not that they are totally evil. It is that they are so sure they are right.”

His lectures later that year on Shakespearian tragedy were simple in structure. He would come in with no or very few notes, just the play in hand, and scene by scene would begin an explication and discussion. We never did quite finish all the tragedies, but the plays were opened up for me in a way that lives with me still.

I notice Latrobe University now has an annual prize in Derick Marsh’s honour for the best undergraduate essay on a Shakespearian subject.



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Posted by on October 22, 2007 in inspiration, my English teachers, reminiscences, Teachers Who Change Lives

 

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