The Pastoral in Jerusalem: Butterworth

I have asked students to write on the topic of the pastoral in the play as an exploration and context exercise.  I append 2 essays here for critique and comment.  One does lose itself a little when discussing the possible Greek antecedents of Johnny and is a little confused re Phaedra in MSND, but for essays in the lower 6th, I find these impressive and interesting.  For their privacy, I have not named the students, but H and A know who they are!

Consider the presentation of the Pastoral in ‘Jerusalem’ 

In Jez Butterworth’s modern interpretation of a Satyr play, the pastoral can be considered in many different themes. The audience can use ‘Johnny’s’ frequent medieval references as a notion for a nostalgic look on an idyllic past, as well as the references to ‘Rooster’s wood’ signifying a longing for refuge in a rural paradise, furthermore the ‘feral’ nature of ‘Rooster’ also highlights the differences between social and natural law. Finally, we can view the pastoral as a celebration of life that is free from social constraints by interpreting the nature of the play itself; it is a form of satyr play that were often displayed at pagan festivals to celebrate an auspicious occasion thus showing the entire play may be a comment which symbolises the author’s views on the pastoral.

The pastoral can be considered in the play if we explore the idea that Johnny’s constant references to medieval England create an idea of nostalgia for n idealist past. Johnny is often referred to as an ‘ogre’ and is fixated with stories about ‘giants’ and other medieval fables such as the construction of Stonehenge as well as owning an ‘old Wessex flag’ with the play celebrating St Georges day. For example Johnny says, “I once met a giant that built Stonehenge.” The short sentence shows that Johnny is trying to convince people that his story is reality, there is no question about whether it is true or not, it is just a fact. When others try to question him about it he further justifies that he is correct with more presumed lies until they eventually believe that Johnny is telling the truth. He has essentially hypnotised them into believing what he does.  This causes parallels to be drawn from Merlin’s tale of how Stonehenge came into existence; that Giants had taken these stones from Africa and built them in a circle in Ireland, Merlin then fought the giants for these stones, won, and floated them across the sea and recreated the healing circle near Salisbury.  Johnny’s claim that he ‘met a giant’ shows how connotations can be made that compare Johnny to Merlin; they both convince people of things which probably did not happen, they both seem to see and interact with mythical creatures and they both seem to reject social law as Johnny lives in a caravan and we can presume is a subsistence farmer (as well as a drug dealer), and Merlin practised magic which was outlawed at the time, yet both men seem to be outwitting the law.  Johnny’s very acceptance of breaking the law also brings a sense of nostalgia; he aggressively makes the threat “I’ve been here…since before you were born. I’m heavy stone, me. You try and pick me up, I’ll break your spine.”  His reference to being a presence ‘before you were born’ coupled with him referring to himself as ‘heavy stone’ further links back to Stonehenge. It seems as if Johnny represents the idea that no one knows exactly how long he has been around, and exactly what he does but as he has been around for so long he must have some purpose in society however obscure and therefore we should leave him as he is, a common way which people of the medieval era would treat outcasts of society. Perhaps the reader is making a comment, that by allowing one to do what they wish to do with their life, if they are not harming others than they should be allowed to do so without the government or ruler intruding on their opaque nature.  The reference to Johnny’s obscure and unusual nature is further shown by his name ‘Johnny Byron’, he shares the same surname as the infamous Lord Byron. Educated at harrow school the womaniser was renowned for his eccentricities and partaking in events that affected him or England in almost no regard, he became involved with them because he wanted to rather than out of necessity. For example he died fighting alongside the Greek Insurgents against the Ottoman Empire, he had a daughter with his half sister and had an affair with the wife of the Italian Noble man who allowed him to stay with them when he had gone bankrupt as a result of his separation from his wife, which was again due to another scandalous affair with the wife of an English nobleman.  Lord Byron clearly showed no regard for the law or had any grace when regarding societal etiquette, however he was still hailed as a national hero because of his poetry.  The reader’s comparison between Johnny and his name sake Lord Byron could explore the author’s comment on the pastoral, perhaps Butterworth would like to return to a time where people could live according to their own moral codes whilst rejecting societies, and yet still be praised for their actions; rather the opposite to how Johnny is perceived. He follows his own moral codes yet is criticised and used as a scape goat for any wrong doing in society, even if his wrong doing are morally justifiable.   This shows that the author considers the pastoral by suggesting, in the past people who were outcasts of society or slightly different such as Merlin or Lord Byron were celebrated rather than scrutinised for their actions. Perhaps the component of the pastoral that is a nostalgic look on an idyllic past, in this instance would be to ensure that people like Johnny are no longer scrutinised and made a societal scapegoat just because they live their life in accordance with a different set of laws.

Another method in which Butterworth allows the audience to consider the pastoral is by exploring “Rooster’s” longing for refuge in a rural paradise. Johnny lives in a caravan in what he ‘declares…is called Rooster’s wood’, the audience can think of the ‘wood’ as being part of Johnny’s rural refuge where he has created his own paradise where magical things happen in relation to the Merlin-esque ‘ogre’. One can assume some of the ‘feral’ things that happen in ‘Rooster’s wood’ include the ‘drinking, smoking, pilling…and shagging too’. All of these things in some form allow the people involved to escapes the realities of life and be absorbed into the mysterious yet artificial world that is ‘Rooster’s wood’. This wonder and mystery links in with 19th century German literature when writers such as Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were writing fictitious tales that include Snow White, Hansel and Gretel as well as Sleeping Beauty.  All of these stories included wondrous, gruesome and supernatural events occurring in forests. For example in original version of Sleeping Beauty, the princess is left in the ‘wood’ unconscious, the prince then rapes her and returns home and marries, nine months later the princess regains consciousness gives birth to the prince’s bastard children, when the prince hears of this he burns his wife alive (after she tried to kill and eat his illegitimate children) so he can reunite with the princess. Another example is the poisoned apple Snow White eats which she finds in the forest, the mystery and wonder of her dwarf friends as well as (in the original version) her evil mother who sends a huntsman to return Snow White’s liver and lungs (which she will then eat) to ensure she has been killed. These stories were designed to give a 19th century adult audience a diversion from their lives and divulge into the mystery and wonder of a rural wonderland.  Links between the forest and “Rooster’s wood’ which demonstrate links between the pastoral also include the specifically chosen name “Phaedra” despite being a woman steeped in Greek Mythology, the name was also used by William Shakespeare in his 1605 Comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The character is a fairy who lives in the ‘wood’s’, and she plots and schemes to cause confusion about love between key characters in the play. Her name means bright, however this can be seen as ironic as if anything she provides no light in uncovering the truth about what is happening in the play, this is true for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Jerusalem, instead she is rather an opportunistic temptress. She can be seen as this because in Jerusalem one could argue that she seeks refuge with Johnny is “Rooster’s wood” because she does not want to face the reality of her real life with her supposedly abusive step father Troy and would rather seek the help and pastoral care of Johnny because it easier than going to the correct authorities and she has access to ‘spliffs…whizz…and the rest of it’. She can be compared to a snake such as Ka in Rudyard’s Kipling ‘The Jungle book” who tries to tempt Mogli into being eaten by her using her hypnotic forest powers, further linking back to the enigmatic and deceptive ‘wood’. She can also represents the snake in the story of Adam and Eve in the Bible, who caused them to pick the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden (another magical and unprecedented ‘wood’).  All of these stories show that the ‘wood’ is a place where innocence is lost and children learn valuable life lessons. Perhaps Butterworth’s view on the pastoral being a rural refuge and paradise is more a comment on it being a paradise from urban problems, which we create with things such as work and mortgages. Rather it is place where humans can find refuge from these trivial and man made problems (be it in a book describing a wood, or a physical wood) by testing the laws of nature (such as seeing how the human body will react to drugs in the 21st century or the tales of the 18th and 19th century literature).  Therefore ‘Rooster’s wood’ may not denote a rural paradise, rather it is a metaphor for the magical things that happen within a ‘wood’ which makes some of the audience feel safe and is their and certainly Johnny’s idea of a rural paradise.

Butterworth may also consider the pastoral by using Johnny’s ‘feral’ nature to accentuate the differences between social and natural law or civilisation and savagery. At the beginning of Act 1 Johhny is does the following things “…sticks his head in the trough…fishes around for an egg…lets out a long, feral bellow from the centre of the earth.”  The verbs that are used to describe his actions such as ‘sticks’ and ‘fishes’ denote actions that have a sense of inaccuracy or uncertainty and that he does them in hope of a result, rather like what an animal would do when hunting.  The use of  ‘bellow’ further likens his action to that of a ‘feral’ animal. This clearly shows that Johnny has untamed traits and the audience can also see this when we look at his lifestyle, he lives in a ‘caravan’ selling ‘spliffs…and whizz’ to underage children, whilst having very little to do with his son ‘Marky’ and using his days to spite the council and promoting his ideas to ‘fuck the new estate’ so that he can remain in ‘Rooster’s Wood’. Johnny is clearly a man of nature, and he can also be considered a leader by the ‘rats’ who follow him around, perhaps due to his superhuman abilities the audience may even think of him as a potential god of the wild with his ‘rats’ being considered as acolytes. From this parallels and comparisons can be drawn between Johnny and the Greek God of hunting and nature called Pan (whose name is a derivative of the verb to pasture). Parallels which are observed include: Firstly, Pan ruled over a mystical land called Arcadia which was a woodland utopia where mythological beings such as nymphs lived, Johnny rules over ‘Rooster’s wood’ and allows children to experience magical hallucinations by giving them drugs and alcohol. Secondly, Pan often perused nymphs in order to seduce them, Johnny has a following of several young girls, a wife, ‘red in the face…Kelly Weatherly’ and most other women in Flintlock as well as Phaedra. Thirdly, Pan if half goat and his animalistic feature are easily observable, Johnny although not physically an animal, can be portrayed as an animal in the mannerisms and etiquette which he uses to convey himself. Next, Pan ruled Arcadia on behalf of Zeus (the King of the Gods) and was technically never entirely in charge, the same can be said for Johnny as despite what he may think and say, the council hold authority over ‘Rooster’s wood’. Furthermore pan was considered the God of the wild, and he would help to make land and animals fertile so could be considered as an unorthodox father to the lands, Johnny although not a father to his ‘rats’ can be considered as an unorthodox father as he guides them about what to do in life albeit if it is regarding use of alcohol and drugs. Also, Pan was the god of rustic music and Johnny likes playing music and causing a ‘fracas’. Finally,  Pan was often considered ‘feral’ and enjoyed causing havoc and Johnny does the same as shown by his ‘rural display’ when he slaughtered a pig with a ‘flair gun’. After the reader has considered and accepted all of these similarities they may accept that Johnny is a metaphor to shows the differences between natural law (which the audience would consider as savagery) and social law (what the audience would classify as civil), however if one were to consider the meaning of the poem Jerusalem by William Blake the audience may arrive at another conclusion to what the author views as the pastoral. The poem states “And did those feet in ancient time Walk upon England’s mountains green…And was Jerusalem builded here Among these dark satanic mills?” This shows that Blake is considering the new building of factories to be bad or savage as he describes it as ‘satanic’ but England’s countryside is lush and verdant and this is what a civilization and social law should be founded upon. Perhaps Butterworth is suggesting that although the audience may consider Johnny to be barbaric, uncivilized and an enforcer of natural law perhaps if we review the situation from Johnny’s perspective we can see that he feels this new civilization with city dwellers and ‘phones’ (that Johnny can not work out how to use, further showing his dislike of modernity) is ‘satanic’ and barbaric, and he wants to revert to the days when life was more simple. The author may feel that modern civilization is barbaric, and ancient rural civilization was the height conformity with social law. Butterworth’s view on the pastoral could perhaps be looking back on the differences between natural law and social law but with a reversed perspective to that of most of the audience.

Finally, Butterworth may consider the pastoral to be a celebration of life free from social constraints. He shows this by using the nature of his play to aid his argument; the play is in a Satyr form, which often consists of a tragi-comedic plot with bawdy and raunchy jokes with elements of sadness. The ancient Greeks in 500BCE first used this form of play and can therefore be described as a pagan ritual; it was often used to celebrate things such as the time of the harvest or the coming of spring.  These plays often included mythical creatures and heroes.  The audience can once again draw parallels between Jerusalem and the original form of Greek Satyr plays as the plot of the modern Satyr is similar to that of a Greek Satyr and Johnny can also be seen as a mythological hero.  Johnny can be considered a mythological hero because: he meets mythological creatures for example when he “once met a giant who built Stonehenge”, rather like when Theseus met the minatory. Next, he escapes from captivity when he “had a run in with four Nigerians…and I escaped” as he got ‘’thinner and thinner…I didn’t swallow nothing”, this is reminiscent of Jason and the Argonauts when they met the Cyclops and cunningly escaped. Then Johnny is said to have cheated death when ginger explains, “they pronounce him dead…He walks it off” rather like when Hercules cheated death at the hands of the Nemean lion. Johnny is also said to have had a magical birth a “rare blood” rather like Achilles who had a magical Nymph birth and a magical gift. Furthermore, Byron is said to enter the enemies lair and despoil their women for example when the council (Byron’s enemies) are complaining about him he says “I snuck in…she’s up there saying Johnny Byron’s a filthy menace…I swear to Christ I was shagging her only last June”, this is reminiscent of what war heroes such as Alexander of Macedon would have done when they conquered their enemies, and was an accepted practice of the age. Finally Byron is made to appear super-human as he drinks a concoction made of ‘half a bottle of vodka…milk’ and ‘eggs’ taken from the ‘chicken coop’ and ‘downs it in one’ then gives a ‘long, feral bellow from the center of the earth’. One would think that a mixture of this would probably kill most people, but Byron doesn’t seem to be affected, this coupled with the ‘feral’ nature of the ‘bellow’ makes him seem as if he is a cross between an animal and a man.  All of these feature combined make Byron appear as if he is a hero, which raises the question in the audience that perhaps Johnny is a hero in his own unorthodox manner. It allows the audience to perceive Johnny in a new manner, as he does save Phaedra from Troy, and act as a guardian to his ‘rats’ so perhaps Johnny is a hero. The audience then remembers that the heroes in Greek Mythology were often celebrated in forms such as Satyr plays during pagan festivals. It makes the audience think that perhaps Butterworth comment on the pastoral is that we should celebrate people for who they are according to what they do and how they help, regardless of how they fit in to the social hierarchy that is society, his point could be that he pastoral is a celebration of life free from social constraints, and he uses the play as an anecdote to explore this notion.

To conclude the presentation of the pastoral is considered in many ways in Butterworth’s play ‘Jerusalem’, however it is the connotations behind the initial views of the author that allow the audience to truly understand the full presentation of the pastoral in the play.

CONSIDER THE PRESENTATION OF THE PASTORAL IN JERUSALEM 

At the heart of Jez Butterworth’s play ‘Jerusalem’ is a forest, and what goes on within it. The idea of the pastoral goes back to ancient Greece and conveys the idea about going back to nature. This thought in itself incorporates ideas of nostalgia, refuge and a time without modernity. In the world of ‘Jerusalem’ and our world, it seems that the countryside is under threat from urbanisation, and in the play it is under threat from the “New Estate.” In the play the pastoral can be seen as something that was glorious, but is being destroyed with dire consequences. Alternately, it is also presented as a wondrous land where many mythical and magical creatures reside, as well as a safe haven for adolescents and Johnny Byron himself.

The first words that are heard in the play are that of Phaedra, who purely and innocently sings about the “mountains green” and “pleasant pastures” of England. Here, the pastoral can mean going back in time, to nature, where the world was far more wondrous than it was today, in those “ancient” times. The prologue sets the tone for the first act; carrying the theme that life was better in the old days, when there were beautiful sights to be seen. It immediately makes the audience identify Fawcett and Parsons as villains, as they wish to disturb what is left of the past, and the pastoral, which is pure and divine. After losing the Garden of Eden, it became a lost unobtainable past for Adam and Eve, much like countryside is for us today. However, some characters in the play, such as the Professor, remember the past and drinks with Johnny to “St George” and the “Lost Gods of England.” It is their memory and love of the pastoral that brings Johnny and the Professor together here, despite their different realities and generations. They drink to an unobtainable, better past, which they both knew existed. This acts as something the two characters share. It appears that for the characters, the pastoral is a different country or state of mind, and is also a time when things were better and a great deal easier. Ginger talks about the fair when he was a “boy” and remembers hoofing a man “in the bollocks,” and if he faltered he would win a “pound.” Lee remarks that this was “Simple. Pure,” and these two words can be used to describe the past, as it fits with the theme of the past being better than the world we have today, even in the smallest of cases. Even for Wesley and Johnny, the past is a much more pleasant place, due to their “summer of love.” At first Wesley tries to disassociate himself from the past, as if ashamed of it, but is brought back into it by Johnny. There is a moment in which “they remember” the past fondly, and it again reinforces the idea that the pastoral is used to represent a much happier, easier past for all the characters, and that it is now being disturbed. The two enjoy casting their mind back into the past, as for them it was a time of simple, uncomplicated happiness, unlike the world they live in today. Dawn notes that Byron is “still here,” in the forest, and it could be argued that Johnny doesn’t move because he is still clinging onto the old days, and living in the woodland is the closest he will get to those days ever repeating, as the fonder memories of the easier, simple days all lie in the past.

It is also abundantly clear that our time with the pastoral is presented as something that is ending, and coming to a dramatic, tragic close. The “dark satanic-” mills are commonly seen to allude to the Industrial Revolution, from Blake’s perspective, and here can be applied to the expansion of the New Estate and the destruction of the English countryside. It is here that Phaedra is interrupted, as if Johnny wishes not hear of the idea, and wishes to stamp it out. Due to this abrupt end, the idea does not carry through the whole act, until the entry of “Kennet and Avon Council,” in the form of Fawcett and Parsons. Fawcett is trying to flush and force out Johnny from his caravan, and therefore eliminate the remaining country for purposes of the New Estate. The New Estate links to the idea of transience, the inevitable loss of paradise due to change and decay, as the countryside is being destroyed. It appears that the English landscape is being trampled on, and the culture of the countryside with it. The idea of time also comes into this, as it is clear that the time we have with the pastoral is limited, due to the length of the play itself, as well as the time in the play Johnny has to prepare for the council. In this sense, the pastoral is presented as something that is tragic, within a play that is a tragedy. Liebler, author of ‘Shakespeare’s Festive Tragedy’ writes that ‘tragedy performs an uncontrollable breakage at great expense despite human efforts.’ It is Johnny who is trying to stop the breaking up of the pastoral, and he who is trying to stop our time ending with it, although Phaedra does remind him in act three that “time is running out,” a fact that he is solemnly aware of.

Clearly, our time with the pastoral is ending, and although the characters may not see it for themselves, it is clear to the audience that this is an awful thing. This leads to the fair and ideas about identity. On seeing Johnny’s home in the opening minutes of act one, Parsons remarks, “it’s a lovely spot.” It is terrible that we could lose this spot to council flats, yet the council doesn’t think of this, as their priority is to their work, and for Fawcett, ensuring that she does her job correctly. Paul Kingsnorth, who wrote the programme notes for ‘Jerusalem’ also discussed the idea of identity, referring the Union of Scotland and England n 1707, creating Great Britain. He suggests that the individual identity of the countries was lost, and this loss of identity can be seen in the play, as we are “losing sight of who we are.” This can be seen in the context of the fair, and especially in the idea of the May Queen, which is an idea that has stemmed from the Middle Ages. Pea is adamant that Phaedra will “turn up” as she “has to,” as without her, the traditional succession of the May Queen is lost, and a piece of Fintock’s identity is lost also. The loss of the pastoral, also extends to the “Men in Black II” and “X Factor” floats at the fair. It appears that the pastoral is no longer a refuge from modernity, as our cultural identity is being lost through these floats. In”1978” Ginger claims Johnny “was” the Flintock Fair, and whether this be true or not, the group feels that the identity of the fair has been lost as the “Council put a stop to it.” The italics emphasise the importance of Johnny to the community, and provides reason for Johnny’s hatred for the council and fond nostalgic moments. As the fair has changed, it has become “shit on toast,” as its identity has been lost, and this case, its identity was the “daredevil” Johnny Byron. It is due to the ending of the British countryside and the pastoral that ideas about the fair and Phaedra follow, as the old identity of Flintock has been destroyed and replaced with a modern world.

The destruction of the forest could also mean the loss of a mythical place, which harbours terrifying creatures. Much like ‘A Midsummer Nights Dream’ the pastoral setting allows for ideas and hints towards mythical and magical creatures in the forest. At the start of act two, following Davey’s “Werewolf” story Phaedra sings ‘The Werewolf’ by Barry Dransfield. This provides a darker tone to act two, as it is clear that the forest could be home to vicious predators, who, to us, take the form of human beings. There is no clarity as to whom the Werewolf represents, but it is an idea that should not be ignored in such a mythical setting. Johnny is also referred to as an “ogre” and “free troll” at the end of the garden. Johnny does not have the form of a troll, but certainly does have some traits to fit the idea as he has been living in his caravan, and has not moved, for many years. This begins to open up the idea that Johnny is the mythical figure hiding in the pastoral setting as comparisons can be drawn between him and many mythical characters, most notable the Lord of “misrule,” Pan. In classical Greece he was the God of nature, and was shown to be riotous and in the company of nymphs and music. He has his group of “onlookers” that help him, and it is his unruliness the council wishes to tidy up, as they wish to reclaim a positive view of Englishness. Again, the council threatens to destroy the pastoral and the mythical inhabitants within it.

The pastoral is also presented as a wondrous and magical place, which appears more light-hearted than the dark mythical creatures it could harbour. The professor feels that nature in itself is magical, as he speaks of the “wild garlic,” “bluebells” and “blossoms” in a way that other characters don’t, as he greatly appreciates the natural pastoral world for what it is. To him, nature is enchanting, and it excites him to think that “summer has begun.” The contrast of the darkness of the mythical and joyousness of the magical is a thought provoking one, and it demonstrates to the audience the vast amount of life that could exist in the forest, and in the pastoral.

As it is sheltered by trees and woodland the pastoral is also seen as a safe place for adolescents and Johnny himself. As they are safely hidden away and concealed from the world they are separate from it, and have their own space to do as they will (much like Titania and Oberon from ‘A Midsummer Nights Dream). “Rooster’s Wood” is Johnny’s land, in which he feels safe and secure. As his home and solace is being threatened, Johnny defiantly stands up to the council, and appears to defend it from the threat of contemporary England. The pastoral keeps Johnny safe, as Johnny keeps the pastoral safe also. They appear to be two forces or beings that need and depend on one another, as if one were to be lost, the life of the other would dramatically change in a negative way (from their respective perspectives).  Wesley later calls Johnny’s morals into question, as at his “Gathering” he can be seen giving drugs to people such as Ginger’s “Little sister Rosie.” Johnny claims he is protecting the teenagers, as they can’t be “wandering around at night pissed.” Johnny appears to be kept safe by the forest, and he keeps adolescents safe. He argues that at least in the caravan they are warm and dry, making the pastoral appear as a safe haven.

Primarily the pastoral is presented as something that was glorious and is now being lost. This then leads to a loss of identity for Flintock as well as its individual characters. However, the pastoral can also be interpreted and seen as a more magical and mythical place, and the extent of this mystery cannot be quantified or known, as our time with the pastoral is always ending. The evolution and the progression of the pastoral is a key force that drives the play, and is what calls Johnny Byron to arms, highlighting its importance.

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Filed under jerusalem, ks5, OCR NEW English Literature

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