I’m mid-way through painting an A. It’s a prop for Memorandum. It’s yellow. Very yellow. And it will soon be yellow and red. I haven’t painted anything for years and I’m really enjoying this simple task.
The A is used in a range of scenes set in the Ptydepe classroom. Ptydepe is an artificial language that is introduced into the company in the play with the aim of making office communications simpler and more precise. All the employees have to learn Ptydepe and, thus, they have to attend classes. These classes are taught by Mr Lear and the classroom scenes are some of the funniest in the play as – for the most part – they are sheer nonsense.
I say “for the most part” because through these scenes, I do think Havel is satirising poor teaching and useless learning. Mr Lear is the kind of teacher who simply lectures (the scenes are largely monologues). He doesn’t notice if his students misbehave. He doesn’t really seem to care if they learn, though he is very pleased to be able to give an A to the only keen student in the class – Mr Thumb – who shows off his knowledge to the teacher by simply repeating back exactly what has been said, however nonsensical . Mr Lear just enjoys the sound of his own voice and, though commendably passionate about his subject, makes no attempt to connect with the class in front of him. He appears to live in an almost completely theoretical world and doesn’t ever use real-life, relevant examples to bring the lesson to life for the students, such as those used in the best modern classrooms today.
Here he is in action with some of his class: