“Banter is often a proof of want of intelligence. ” – Jean de la Bruyère

It has been a week of anniversaries. Most obviously, given the profusion of poppies and bleuets in school it is clear that we are in the important season of remembrance. A time in which anniversaries both individual and collective are observed. A time to consider the cost of conflict and the impact that it has on families and communities. A time to keep silence, if only for a minute. When we have the opportunity to meet together as a community, as we did during our assembly and observe silence then we are reminded of the power of the collective will. Whilst our school is generally a joyful place, it is important that we have more sombre moments too. Our thanks to Max whose rendition of the Last Post made the occasion all the more memorable.

Four hundred years ago Shakespeare’s First Folio was published. Arguably one of the most important moments in the development of English Literature and an event that enhanced the world’s cultural wealth. Also a moment when, not only memorable phrases entered our language, but when a rich vein of (as yet unheard) insults were recorded for posterity. Shakespeare was both famous for his invention of words and for the savagery of his quill. Among the seventeen hundred words he is said to have invented are words that are part of our everyday lexicon, words that are so everyday as to be unremarkable: addiction, arch-villain, bandit, fashionable, gossip, hint, majestic, swagger, tranquil, unreal and zany to name but a small selection. The insults might not have dated quite so well, although there is a certain style to “I scorn you, scurvy companion”, and “More of your conversation would infect my brain”, has a certain brutal resonance. Who wouldn’t feel a sneaking satisfaction in having come up with “You starvelling, you eel-skin, you dried neat’s-tongue, you bull’s-pizzle, you stock-fish–O for breath to utter what is like thee!-you tailor’s-yard, you sheath, you bow-case, you vile standing tuck!”

Much of what was written by way of insults by Shakespeare would perhaps count in modern parlance as banter. A phenomenon that has taken root in schools across the world, a bit of fun, a source of amusement, a laugh and almost always the source of mean, unkind and bullying behaviours. Jokes are not always shared or understood and pain results. More often than not this happens without the Shakespearean wit and from behind the emboldening shield of the keyboard. Next week we will have anti-bullying week, we will sport odd socks and we will talk about banter, about how, all too often these supposedly harmless words can cut as savagely as any well-wrought Shakespearean insult. About the fact that we need to be as kind with our words as we are with our actions.

At this time of remembrance, it is important that we look to the healing power of dialogue and recognise that our words have the power to create peace and provide kindness.

Nicholas Hammond