The former American president Barack Obama was a master wordsmith, one who knew the power of language and clearly understood, just like Jonathan Swift, the Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist and political pamphleteer, that ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’, when he laid claim to the positive phrase ‘Yes we can’ prior to his winning campaign of 2008. One could even argue that Boris Johnson’s ‘Get Brexit done’ was the game changer in the 2019 British election. Whatever one thinks, no one can deny the power of language and especially not the power of language in the hands of a master.
It is hard to argue that the greatest master wordsmith of all time didn’t know a thing or two about the art of rhetoric and the power of language. He did. However, more importantly, he understood the power of individual words as well as the effect of syntax. Shakespeare understood the effect of language and how a pithy turn of phrase or even a sound bite can persuade. From laying bare the futility of our existence in Macbeth (“a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”); to the preaching of the importance of integrity in Hamlet (“this above all; to thine own self be true”); to warning of speaking without thought in King Lear (“mind your speech a little lest you should mar your fortunes”) as well as urging us to take control of our dreams in Julius Caesar (“it is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves”): Shakespeare’s grasp on the power of the English language is arguably still peerless. Nevertheless, six virtuoso speakers from Shipston High School have learnt their lessons well and presented a stellar public speaking performance at the Rotary Youth Speaks competition held in late January which even the Bard would have admired!
Shipston’s Year 10 speakers (Sasha Turner, Emelia Berry, Cameron Collie, May Redshaw, Jasmina Lichem and Jonty Guise) delivered incredible performances in the Senior Competition (14–18 years old) at The Croft School on 22nd January, 2020. Shipston’s speakers competed against three other teams, two from King Edward VI and one from Stratford Girls’ Grammar School, but more importantly they competed against and beat sixth form teams. The winning team, Turner, Berry and Collie, delivered a formidable tour de force fifteen minute debate in which they spoke extempore on the subject: ‘This House believes the youth have never had it so good’, as well as expertly handling an unseen and unknown question from a member of the audience. Redshaw, Lichem and Guise also spoke with great authority, wit and energy on their chosen topic of ‘Materialism’, with Lichem possibly delivering the individual speech of the evening.
Overall, our Year 10 students once again presented all that is excellent about many of the students at Shipston High School: endeavour, fortitude, desire, and we commend them for their sterling efforts. In Shakespeare’s dark comedy Twelfth Night, Malvolio claims:
“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”
However, at Shipston High School we value and know that hard work and application is the recipe for success. So, to borrow from the Bard again:
“We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”
(Hamlet Act 4 Scene 5)
The mantra for every student in our school or as Obama put it ‘Yes, we can’ and ‘Yes, we did’!
By Mr A G Warren