Sunday, 3 May 2020

Standing centre stage

Watching the national updates of our current crisis, I cannot help but think of what is being foregrounded and what is being placed in the background. Nothing hit me harder than the way that the number of deaths in care homes had been hidden and placed in the national background.

The relationship between the foreground and the background is an important thing. Putting something at the front makes you forget what’s at the back. It is a statement of importance. Just think of where you are sat in a wedding party. Sorry to say this but the level of proximity to the bride and groom marks you level of value to them.

I love looking at Shakespeare from the view of choices. I like exploring why Shakespeare made one choice over another. Now, one choice I think is more challenging and conceptually perceptive is the choice between putting something in the foreground or in the background. What’s pushed to the back is interesting too? Poor Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Or, is it Guildenstern and Rosencrantz?

In the world of storytelling and sometimes things are pushed to the sides so another part of the story can be told. In some cases, the men are in the background and the women are in the foreground. In others, the young are in the foreground and the old are in the background.

I think looking at Shakespeare’s work in terms in what is and isn’t in the foreground is really interesting. I find ‘Macbeth’ interesting because it shoves King Duncan to the background largely in the plot. He even suffers the indignity of dying off stage. How unimportant must you be to die off stage? Yes, King Duncan features in scenes and talks, but if I got the part of King Duncan I’d be asking for more lines.  Go on – let me be the Porter too.

So why is King Duncan relegated to the background? Well, it could be because Shakespeare wanted to foreground the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. It could be because Shakespeare wanted to protect the divine nature of the true king and not treat him in human terms. It could also be because Shakespeare was placed on a table as far as way as possible from the actor and his bride at their wedding.

Looking at the relationship between the foreground and the background is an untapped seem of ideas and thinking we neglect. Foregrounding occurs all the time in stories and we can mine them more in lessons. Foregrounding is happening with characters, events, relationships, feelings, language. We know that foregrounding is just emphasising, but talking about ‘emphasis’ is a hard thing to articulate for students because in some students’ eyes everything is emphasis. Looking at foregrounding allows students to see the bigger picture. They are comparing one element to another.

I study ‘Romeo and Juliet’ with Year 10 so here are some possible choices. I am aware of the clunky sentence – but I wanted to show the foreground and background element. Of course, you only need to use one in writing, but students to know both.

Shakespeare places the Capulets in the foreground and places the Montagues in the background.

Interestingly, the Capulets are at the foreground of the story which could largely indicate the role parents have in a daughter’s life. They control her and dominate her life. It could also show males aren’t really controlled by their parents and are largely independent and have freewill.

Shakespeare places the developing relationship in the foreground and places the wedding in the background.

I love a good wedding, unless I am position furthest away from the bride and groom, but the wedding is absent from the play. We know it happens, but we don’t see it. Could this be a way to undermine the purpose of marriage? It is not important enough to see. Instead, what we see is the relationship and all its ups and downs. In fact, we could even suggest that this foregrounding negates marriage completely. The greatest love story of all and yet there’s no weddings on stage.

Shakespeare places the physical appearance of Juliet in the foreground when Romeo speaks about the dead Juliet and takes the poison.

I don’t know about you, but if I saw my loved one supposedly dead before me I wouldn’t be obsessing over her appearance. I’d probably thinking of things I never say or do with my loved one. Yet, her the emphasis is on her physical appearance. It could suggest how na├»ve the relationship is. It could suggest the love is physical, which contradict much of the imagery of the story. It could also show how young their relationship is that they cannot see beyond the physical.

When looking at whether something is in the foreground or in the background is some complex engagement with a text. It then leads to other discussions. If it isn’t in the background, then where is it? Where is it in the writer’s ideas and view of the world?

Thanks for reading,


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