Category Archives: OCR A level

Unseen Practice for A level: possible links.

 

This is a work in progress table to help OCR A level students prepare for the Unseen in Dystopian Literature.  The texts cited have either been used in part as unseen practice or have been read by the students.

Typicality and textual reference in unseens

Narrative voice 1st person: Handmaid, Delirium (Oliver), Divergent, Maze Runner

 

  3rd person: 1984, Station 11, The Road
Narrative tone Factual: We (Zamyatin), NLMG
  figurative: time  machine,
Setting:  
Future improved

 

Brave New World, we, Ender’s Game
Past  
Future degraded The Road, (anarchic, post-apocalyptic), I am legend, Station 11, Riddley Walker, The time machine, Delirium, F451
Location Earth?

 

Totalitarian/ police

 

1984, Fahrenheit 451, Handmaid, Delirium (?)

Hunger games, the dispossessed

Location elsewhere Ready Player 1,
Location town (protection) 1984, Handmaid, We, Hunger Games
Location country (to be feared or a sanctuary)  

1984, Station 11, The Road, I am legend, Logan’s Run (sanctuary)

Time of day  
Character types  
names Ofred (offered and belonging, (Regal), Winston Smith, anonymous so universal – The Road, F451 Guy Montag – new beginnings, August (Station 11) -power
jobs 1984/F451 – destruction of (written) language, mundane employment: 1984, We, Handmaid, F451(?), War of Worlds, Wyndham novels, Children of men: Lippiatt has a high status role, Station 11 – ‘the prophet’
skills In YA skills can be more evident-  Castniss
Action Passive Handmaid
Action Active Winston Smith
Past was better 1984 – Winston perceives past as better, official documents disagree. Handmaid. Delirium, Brave New World – reservations The Road, Riddley Walker, NLMG
Capitalist or Communist takeover F451, There will come soft rains, Body Snatchers – USA 1950s/60s, Animal Farm, 1984
Destroyed individuality NLMG,1984, We, Hrarison Bergeron, Cloud Atlas (Sonmi 451)
Control by state NLMG, 1984, BNW
Mankind corrupted The Road, Chaos Walking trilogy, F451, Handmaid, Time Machine, Maze Runner
Individual against corrupt society The Road- Man and child seek redemption
Class ‘warfare’ Hunger games, Time Machine, 1984, brave new world

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Oral commentary: Merchant’s Tale lines 945-999

In my endeavour to focus Y12 on AO2, I recorded this today in a lesson. Please take a lesson – it was not pre-prepped and I make no apologies for the rough edges…

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Chaucer: discussion sound file. Lines 943-999. Merchant’s Tale.

A discussion of an essay submitted to consider the presentation of Januarie and May at a turning point in the poem.

The discussion is 35 minutes long and there is a slight corruption of the file at the end of the session. Plenty of interesting stuff here though.

 

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Unseen: Station Eleven for OCR A level

This passage is taken from the 2014 novel Station Eleven by Emily Mandel.

station 11 extract.

From the outset of the passage the reader is given information about the setting which establishes mood and location. The passage is set ‘twenty years after the end of air travel’. A reader immediately recognises a common trope of Dystopian Literature in that the passage is clearly set in the future, but a future in which the conditions in which people live have been reduced with a subsequent loss of  technological knowledge. This is reminiscent of a number of Dystopias such as Mac Carthy’s The Road, Hoban’s Riddley Walker and Wyndham’s The Chrysalids to name three. The description of ‘caravans’ and the ‘symphony’ are perhaps reminiscent of the world of Riddley Walker, with itinerant players reproducing the Punch and Judy plays as a means of connection with the lost world.

The conditions in which the travelers are living are harsh and hostile: The heat is described both as metaphorically ‘white-hot’ and then again in a more prosaic yet equally alarming clarity as ‘106 Fahrenheit, 41 Celsius. We note that the thermometer is ‘twenty-five-year old’ suggesting a date for the event which plunged the society back into this un-technological state.  Within this world, the travelers are surrounded by trees which ‘pressed in close’ suggesting further stifling actions and which also are seen to have ‘erupted’ through the pavement.  Nature is reclaiming the manmade world and doing so in a violent fashion – the verb suggesting speed and violence in equal measure. Just as in The Road, where we see the manmade infrastructure of modern USA returning to the wilderness, so here, the same action is evidently taking place. However there is contrast – trees provide shade and the leaves are described as’ soft’ as they are ‘brushing’ the legs of horses and Symphony alike’. This gentle description of the emerging foliage possibly suggests that there is hope for the future and that some succour will be found in time as nature reclaims the land. At this point, though, the landscape is seen as dangerous – or in the typically understated tone of this narrative as ‘questionnable territory’.

Perhaps for this reason the group contains scouts who carry ‘weapons’ and there is a recognition that this group serve to protect the ‘Symphony’ – a group of travelling players, it seems- named after the prime artistic endeavour of the 19th century – the musical whole- who seem to be made up both of musicians and actors. Names are shared and the passage focuses on and elderly ‘director’: Gil, aged 72, and two other players: Kirsten and August. The latter name conferring a level of respect on the character with its meaning of reverence and carrying its root back to the Roman emperor Augustus. This man is seen as both a musician and an actor and also as a ‘secret poet’, an interesting designation. This is a time in which to be a poet was thing to be kept hidden, possibly because of the overt exploration of private emotion to be found in that art form. The narrator is not named – a third person narrator, seemingly omniscient tells of this unusual group of artists trekking slowly across America in the past tense. Presumably their fate is known to the narrator and the reader is engaged in finding out what will happen to the group. In many Dystopian novels the narrators or the protagonists are deliberately ordinary citizens, working in ordinary jobs – Winston Smith, for example. Here the characters are far from ordinary, and seem also to have lost an element of their identity – not only are there no surnames, but another character is referenced solely as the ‘seventh guitar’ – no name, no identification, only a job.

The characters are suffering a degree of deprivation – their shoes made from ‘automotive tyre’ which helps to explain the condition of the vehicles in which they travel. These wagons, the caravans of the Symphony, are made from functional 21st Century vehicles, such as ‘pick-up trucks’, chosen for their capacity rather than for their comfort. They have been stripped back to the basic level of function and now resemble the covered-wagons in which the American pioneers crossed the continent in the 19th Century. We learn that gasoline has come to an end, recalling again The Road and also that the trucks are pulled by horses, much as John Wyndham writes in his novel ‘The Chrysalids’. Practicality is evident in that despite the stripping-out of weight, the toughened glass remains as protection against an unnamed potential foe. As in  so many tales of a ‘fallen world’, danger lies everywhere.

Kirsten and August pass time by running lines from their production: King Lear. Again a layer is added to the intertextual subtext here as we recall a banished King wandering on the heath and slowly losing his wits as a medium for recognising the fragility and vanity of the world he has lost – the ‘pomp’ of the royal court. We assume that the message here is not dissimilar and that the Symphony are recognising the overblown and empty grandeur of the mechanised 21st century world, now ‘rendered useless’.

Their journey is laborious and dangerous. The heat is ‘relentless’ and they need to rest the horses ‘more frequently than anyone would have liked’ suggesting a compulsion both of time and also of potential danger on their journey. We know they are at Lake Michigan, but we know no end-point for the journey in this section of text, and we recall that for many, the end point is not known. For The Man and The Boy in The Road, the West Coast is a potential destination which takes on great spiritual significance. In this passage, the Symphony just walk, ‘weapons in hand’. They talk little. The only direct speech is in the form of the lines from Lear and a statement from Gil relating the action of their walking to performing on stage. There is  a sense of a world with the comfort removed – the ‘tarps’ have been painted ‘gunmetal grey’ a far-cry from the painted caravans of a travelling circus or the groups in Riddley Walker, and the vehicles have lost their comfort: the glass is a necessity and the seats removed, replaced by a bench on the roof. The name of the group – printed in capitals for emphasis – acts almost in the same way as a red cross sign – a request to leave them unmolested since they come in peace.

The passage is written in an understated manner though in no way similar to the terseness which categorises MacCarthy’s writing. There is little figurative language, and moments are often undercut by the choice of language, possibly as euphemism, to avoid unnecessary fear developing. To this end, the danger of the ‘questionable territory’ is described also as ‘fraught’ and the glass is left because it is ‘nice to have somewhere relatively safe to put the children’. In this phrase the weak adverb ‘nice’ is further reduced in impact by the adjective ‘relatively’ before the sentence reaches its true purpose by the arrival of the noun ‘children’ -the only mention of the children in the passage which has focused solely on adults of indeterminate age to this point. It is as though the passage is narrated in a tone designed to reduce the potential anxiety of the actual situation. The sentence length increases with added subordination in the fifth paragraph as the narrator seeks to give explanations for some of the changes being made -the reader becomes increasing complicit, therefore as he understands and accepts the rationales behind the vehicles being described.

The passage considers the difficulty found in surviving in post-apocalyptic world. The passage gains more interest in that the survivors focused upon carry the cultural capital of society with them. In this they resemble Riddley Walker himself – often ignorant of the heritage of the culture he carries yet driven to defend it. There is no overt Christian message or sense of a coming redemption here, just a struggle for survival of a culture, the current enemy of which is Nature itself.

 

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On learning quotations for exams.

There has been a lot of traffic on Twitter recently around this topic. The new GCSE exams are requiring students to sit closed-book exams in all elements of English Literature and there is understandable concern from teachers that the children may not be being prepared sufficiently for this task.

So, before my ha’pen’orth of advice as to some strategies, my cards on the table:
I like closed book exams. I sat them as a child and have taught them at A level, IB and IGCSE for many years. I have never understood why the old CIE Literature IGCSE was closed for one paper and yet open for the modern drama paper – it seems unnecessarily confusing.
Yes, learning quotations is potentially arduous and may result in a large amount of unnecessary material being consumed and committed to memory, but there is a purpose. It seems that a student who has committed elements of the text to memory – who really ‘knows’ the text – is better placed to respond to the unexpected in an examination. Not only that, but the time wasted leafing through the text in search of the perfect quotation is significant in examinations which give only around 45 minutes to assimilate, plan and write a response. There is also a significant risk that students will give scant weight to revision of the texts involved, on the grounds that they can look up the necessary material in the examination.
That said, I see no reason not to give the text of a poem read as a disparate group of poems in an anthology – there is little to be gained from memorisation of all 16 or 20 poems and the responses need to focus on poetic techniques rather than on memorisation. Whole texts are different and need to be addressed from the outset with the aim of embedding knowledge of the text as habit. Moreover, since most poems are relatively short, regular reading and discussing will embed quotations in the long term memory, aided by any rhythmic or rhyme=pattern which can be discerned.

So, that said, how do I try to help my students with the task of ‘learning quotations’.

1: Avoid the ‘this is hard’ approach. It is worth recalling that a quotation my simply be a single word. Often open book exams result in two or three lines of a poem or a play being cited with the focus being on a single word in the second line. Students do not need to quote at extreme length and should be aiming for neatly embedded quotations which can be further discussed. They are not being tested on their recall per se, but the inferences about writers’ craft which they make from their chosen quotation. Keep it short and keep it simple.
2: Start early. Habitual retention of quotations can be made into regular practice in KS3 quite easily.
3: From KS3 be explicit about the regular use of quotations in discussion and all oral activity. Use questions to reinforce the students’ ability to recall and deploy quotations in all aspects of lesson time. When a student paraphrases in an oral response, offer the question back and require a quotation- as in the exam, this need not always be word perfect if a longer phrase, but should be discussed with the key word shared around the room.
4: Build confidence with unfamiliar language. I try to use Shakespeare’s language in my questioning and discussion – the more the language is heard and utilised, the easier it becomes to recall at a later date. The same is particularly true of Chaucer (at A level currently) where I find students struggle to recall accurately the spellings of Middle English. Here there needs to be a mixture of aural and visual stimuli.
5: Regular low-stakes testing of recall can be built into lessons – starters and paired activities are good for this.
6: Whilst I can offer a list of ‘key quotations’, I tend not to do so. I believe that students will recall with greater ease those quotations they ‘find’ for themselves. The fact that certain quotations will have received greater ‘air-time’ in class than others can help to ensure that the ‘key quotations’ are learned, but others will be remembered because the students themselves have ‘discovered’ them.
7: All quotations must have a purpose – simple memorisation is not enough. Consider the ‘key quotation’ ‘…it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird’ much beloved of students reading TKAM. This is often used, and often misses a key point because the first half of the quotation has been ignored – ‘shoot all the bluejays you want’. It can be very useful to use both ends of this little balanced phrase if only to note that society is far from a kind and gentle place, even in Atticus’ ideal world. Another example would be the wanton use of “To be or not to be” without the succeeding lines in which Hamlet engages in exploration of the actual alternatives on offer, focusing on the idea of one choice being ‘nobler’ than another. The essay becomes much deeper and more interesting as soon as one expands the selection.
Whatever is chosen, the focus of the writing must be to explain why the quotation has been chosen to illustrate the specific point being made.
8: To aid more than simple memorisations, I encourage students to buddy-up for revision:
a) Top Trumps. When my children were young I used to loathe top trumps with a passion – it all seemed so futile, to sit down and get roundly trounced on my knowledge of Tall Buildings because my sons had played so often that the material had become second nature. I use this to suggest a good use of cue cards. On one side the Quotation, on the other a list of bullet point comments – speaker and interlocutors, place in the text, contexts, thematic links, and other potential character references. The game is played in pairs with the responder needing to hit the bullet points in whatever focus the questioner requires. This can lead to a further development, that the responder needs to list all the material on side 2 AND to add further material. When played alone, the quotation is displayed and the player writes a list of bullets to compare with the flip side. Memorisation for exam use should not be simply about chanting quotations without context.
b) The stakes can be raised on the game above by playing slaps or a variant. As before the quotation is displayed before the pair take it in turns to present alternate contextualisations and elaborations. The one who falls silent first receives a ‘slap’ or similar non-physical forfeit.
c) Larger groups can play classroom cricket…
9: It is vital that students do not confuse reading with revision. Revision needs to be pro-active and I am keen to clarify that simply reading will add little to one’s long term memory, and therefore one’s ‘knowledge’ of a text. I encourage this technique: read a pre-determined section of text with a focus in mind form the outset. For example, read Much Ado About Nothing Act 1.1 with a focus of noting references to status. As they read, I want them to make notes – jotting down every thing which sparks their interest whether a quotation or a comment about the text itself. At the end of the reading, there must be engagement with the notes. These should be read through and turned into more useful and focused notes on that scene – filled out and given some explanation. IN doing this, the material will hopefully be retained in the long term memory and the student will have more ammunition on which to call in the exam.
10: Utilise your windows and other ‘dead’ areas. get the students to create window displays based around use of quotations – not just lists, but little contextual discussions if possible. The more these are seen and used in discussion, the more natural it becomes to utilise the material thereon.

I am sure that many of you will have developed these and other techniques far beyond the level of this post! Good luck to you all.

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Merchant’s Tale draft essays for comment

The task: Explore the presentation of the character of May in lines 734-774.  Be sure to comment on the typicality of Chaucer’s writing in the extract.

This is an extract from a student essay: I’d love some feedback and suggested marking comment.

This passage comes after it is revealed that Damyan is lusts after May and is one of the first times in which the character of May is properly developed by Chaucer and used as a bathetic, ironic tool within the fabliau and satirizing the common tales of courtly love.

The passage begins with the description of how Januries ‘taketh hire and kisseth ful ofte’. The use of ‘taketh’ is akin to how one may handle a possession and perhaps indicates to the reader that the displays of affection which Januarie show’s by ‘kisseth ful ofte’ is not requited and instead the quote portrays May as an unwilling submissive partner in the relationship reminiscent of the scene earlier in the tale in which she is described as ‘still as stoon’ during the consummation of their marriage and the fact that the garden which acts as an extension of the bedroom for Januarie is described as ‘walled with stoon’ demonstrates that May to an extent, is portrayed as a prisoner within the relationship and this image is recurrent in this passage with the possessive verb of ‘taketh’ which shows that May is handled as a possession. The submissive nature of May within the relationship is further explored within the passage through the use of ‘How that he wroghte, I dar not to yow telle , or whether hire thought it paradys or helle’ in reference to Januare’s love-making.  The ‘how’ is stressed with the trochaic substitution and the sentence encourages the audience’s imagination to run wild whilst implicitly stating that the act which Januarie performed can be likened to rape. Furthermore the reference to May’s ‘paradys or helle’ forms a parallel phrase with the earlier statement in the passage in which Januarie describes how her clothes ‘dide hym  encombraunce’ and how she obeyed with ‘be hire lief or looth’. As both of her thoughts are likely to be the latter in the parallel phrases, Chaucer emphasizes to the reader that May as a character is dominated by Januarie and his demonstrations of affection are not requited by May showing how she is perhaps unwillingly dominated.

Furthermore, the ironic nature of May’s character is explored in this passage as the satirical nature of the tale begins to unravel. The ironic nature of her character is illustrated by the epithet ‘faire fresshe May’ with the alliterative epithet presenting May as wonderful and ‘faire’ however this is ironically undercut by the fact that she later plans to cuckhold Januarie in the passage by having an affair with Damyan. Thus the epithet can be seen not only to be seen as the ironic undercut provided by the Merchant who is aware of what she shall do next but also representing her deception as Januarie certainly holds the opinion that she is ‘faire’ and ‘fresshe’ but perhaps in actual fact she is rotten. The ironic undercut is prevalent later in the passage as Chaucer describes how ‘pitee renneth soone in gentil herte!’ when she reads Damyan’s letter. This is ironic as ‘gentil’ refers to the virtuous actions of a noble woman commonly seen in courtly love however in the particular setting May is anything but noble as bathetically the letter is read and discarded whilst upon the toilet and her supposedly ‘gentil’ heart looks onto Damayan’s ‘lust suffise’. Irony is seen throughout the Merchant’s tale demonstrated by the prologue in which the merchant references women from the Bible in what appears to be a glowing appraisal of women however this is ironically undercut by the infamous actions these women such as ‘Eve’ and ‘Rebekka’ performed – often acts of deceit. In this passage we see May being showered with positives epithets and the praise of having a ‘gentil’ heart however this is undercut by the fact that her ‘gentil heart’ seeks lust and not the typical romantic love shown in a traditional courtly love tale. Whilst on the surface May is presented as ‘faire fresshe’ and having a ‘gentil’ heart in this passage, this passage is perhaps notable for the development of the ironic and satirical purpose of her character.

I like it a lot – plenty of AO2 emerging and a clear understanding of how iambic pentameter works in the trochaic substitution comment. Is there enough explicit ‘typicality’ here?

What of this one?

“IN LINES 943 – 999, HOW ARE THE CHARACTERS OF JANUARIE AND MAY REPRESENTED?” 

   Towards the end of the fabliau, the titular characters of Januarie and May can be seen to develop and change. It is the setting that aids their ever-changing representation, as well as events that have taken place before they enter the “gardyn.” The garden is successful in satirizing that of the Garden of Eden ironically, [considering the acts of debauchery and adultery that occur within it.is it ironic? It is a satire, so I would expect something of this kind. ] Despite the negative connotations of the irony of the garden, Januarie appears to show, maturity, pragmatism and affection towards May, and in contrast she betrays him with the “lechour in the tree,” Damyan. 

   At this point Januarie is as “blynd as a stoon,” and walks into the garden with May in “hand.” It can be argued that Januarie has been ‘metaphorically’blind throughout the whole poem, as he has not recognised the deceptive nature of May and Damyan. Januarie and May enter into, what is called, the “fresshe gardyn.” Considering “fresshe” is frequently tied to the character of May, the irony that Chaucer wishes to create is apparent, as only filthy acts of sexual corruption occur in the garden, at the hand of Januarie or Damyan, or later at the command of May. The idea also makes May assume the role of Eve, and insinuates that she could become impregnated in the garden, but is unclear who. This represents May as an important character, as she is the one who could continue Januarie’s line as he wishes her to, but due to the debauched nature of the garden, it is unclear how this will be achieved.

    While Januarie displays a genuine affection for May in this passage, she can be viewed in the opposite, and therefore negative, light. Januarie initially wanted to marry to ensure that his acts of debauchery were not judged negatively, as they would have been permitted within the “bond” of marriage. However, by declaring that May is the “creature that I best love,” Januarie appears to have cast his old desires aside, and appreciates May’s presence as well as her beauty. Januarie would rather “dyen on a knyf” than “offende” his “deere wife.” The rhyme and iambic stress of the couplet emphasises his strong feelings for May, and makes it clear that he does have genuine affection for her, and doesn’t just view her as a sexual plaything. However, sexual undertones can still be detected with the use of “dyen,” which could be a reference to the orgasm, as well as “knyf,” which on their wedding night was used to label Januarie’s genitalia. This could be perfectly innocent and accidental, but does make the reader consider whether Januarie could ever fully purge his desires. This quote is also relevant to May, as it is she who will wield the ‘knife’ as she is about to stab Januarie in the back, as she is soon to betray him with Damyan up the pear tree. Their roles have appeared to change since their marriage, as it is now May who has the power to inflict such pain on Januarie. She does not escape the label of the adulteress because of this, unlike Januarie who can be seen to change and show his wife genuine affection. [Well written, though I would like you to be clearer about the atypical presentation of Januarie here.]

    Januarie can also be seen to be thinking about the future of himself and his family. Januarie is seen to trust May so much that he “chartres a yow leste.” He makes her heir to his estate and promises that this will be complete “sonne reste.” The rhyme and iambic stress of the couplet emphasises the significance and the importance of this action. He asks that she kisses him to seal the “covenant,” and this also can be seen as a small act of affection. Although this seems to be a normal act between a husband and wife, as they share everything, Januarie could be seen to be attempting to buy the loyalty of May with his belongings and wealth. This could be one of the reasons she agreed to marry Januarie, and if Chaucer considered this idea, it inspires pity from the audience for Januarie, as he appears to be so desperate for companionship. He can be seen to be thinking of the future of his belongings and heritage here, as he has assigned them to May. This is just as Justinus warned. At the beginning of the fabliau Januarie noted that a positive feature of marriage is that it could result in an heir for himself, and when listing the reasons why May should be “trewe,” he mentions “myn heritage.” Januarie is also thinking about the future of his family line, and is hoping for a legitimate heir. He acknowledges that if May were unfaithful he would be raising an illegitimate child. [ I’d like to see a little more context emerging.  The AO2 is excellent and well considered…]

    Januarie is also represented as a mature and repentant character. He apologises to May if he seems “jalous,” and encourages her to take no notice of it. Januarie appears to realise that he does not want to lose May, as he is increasingly old and lonely. He later frankly tells her that her “beautee” is unparalleled to the “unlikely elde of me.” The contrast of “beautee” and “me” emphasises the difference in age and appearance of Januarie and May, and insinuates that Januarie does realise that he was wrong in marrying her. The rhyme and emphasis on “beautee” reminds the reader of what attracted May to Januarie, but it is now used in a different context, and not one that is concerned with sexual attraction but more her “compaignye.” This further emphasies the fact that Januarie doesn’t want to lose May, and that perhaps going blind has made him realise this even more, as without her he will have absolutely nothing. He appears to mature, which encourages sympathy for him from the audience, as just when he appears to be genuine, May proceeds to be more deceptive than ever.[ Contextual humour found in old/young marriage plots from drama back to 4C,BC]

 While May is represented as a slowly maturing character, May is represented as the stereotypical conniving adulteress, perhaps because it was Eve who sinned and ate the forbidden fruit first. The Merchant was correct in saying that marriage causes “wepying,” in the prologue, but May’s “wepe” is seen in a much more deceptive light. She is aware that Damyan is present, and further wishes to deceive Januarie. The use of “benyngely” also hints at her deception, as the word is commonly used when she is thinking about Damyan. She notes that her “wyfhod” is like a “tender flour.” This is ironic, as flowers can be cut and destroyed, much like her “honour” and virtue. In a hyperbolic fashion, she claims that if she does “lak” virtue, Januarie should “strepe me and put me in a sak.” This rhyme emphasises her dishonour and lies, and insinuates that she should be thrown into a sack, as she does lack honour. Her declaration that she is no “wenche” is humourous for the audience, as they understand the dramatic irony behind Chaucer’s words. As Januarie is a poor judge of character, and responds well to flattery, as seen in his conversation with Placebo, Januarie believes the deceptions and lies of May. However, one could argue that it would be foolish for her to behave any other way, as she would not want to become a social outcast because of her adultery.

    After insinuating that women are untrue and can be unfaithful, May is represented as offended, and takes considerable action in response. Januarie previously listed the reasons why May should be true to him, which could imply that he is aware of her adultery. May seems offended that he would even allude to such a thing, and claims that “men been evere untrewe.” As men have always been unfaithful, May argues that Januarie has “noon oother countenance,” or reason to accuse her. It would have been more serious for May to become pregnant by Damyan, as the baby would be illegitimate. However, if Januarie was adulterous and fathered a child, the baby would still have his blood, and therefore could be seen as legitimate. This is the reason why it was more serious for a woman to be adulterous, and it is this idea, coupled with Janurie’s desire for an heir that makes him list the reasons why she should be faithful to him, which clearly offends her, and could explain her next actions.

    Immediately after this, May notices Damyan. She “saugh” him, and with a “cough” and “sygnes”

 45 MINUTES

 he understands that she wants him to get up the tree. May is represented here as a sexually corrupt character, as it is she who is commanding and orchestrating the affair. She is totally in control of Damyan, and takes advantage of Januarie’s vulnerability, which makes her seem even more cruel, especially as he has begun to show genuine affection for her. The speed in which she signals Damyan to get up the tree emphasises the desire that she “longeth” and has for him. The fact that the “fruyt” on the tree are pears also emphases her corruption, as they have the appearance of the scrotum. [Rather an abrupt statement which suggests yourt thoughts rather than an awareness of medieval plant lore.]

Januarie’s insinuation of her adultery could be the reason she speedily signals Damyan, as she may wish to get back at him for his assumptions, as well as the grievances she has also suffered with him, such as their wedding night. Whether this be true or not, it is clear that May is represented as an increasingly sexually corrupt and cruel character.

    Both Januarie and May appear to develop in this passage, and can be seen to change in contrasting ways. Januarie’s growing maturity and acceptance of his own actions allow the reader to sympathise with him more, especially as May appears to be more deceptive than ever as she continues her adulterous affair.

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Jerusalem (Butterworth) feeling the ‘beat’ extracts

6 extracts pdf’d for students to work on to disucss the significance of the Beats as outlined in this post.

new doc 2017-04-03 18.57.33

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Jerusalem (Butterworth): feel the ‘beat’

Following a comment by Martin Robinson in his excellent presentation at Research Ed: Language, I am going to engage students with some specific focus on the ‘Beat’ stage direction which appears throughout the text.

Students can be confused by a text which contains both the word ‘pause’ and the word ‘beat’ in stage directions.  We need to explore what the play-write intends by the altogether stronger word.

Robinson was very clear: the BEAT suggests a pause of enough significance to show a shift in the prevailing atmosphere of any scene.  Something is different, in other words, because of the beat. I thought I would look at  a couple of sequences from the beginning of the play and in the lesson, ivite lower 6th boys to focus on 1 or 2 beats and explore the possible shifts.

new doc 2017-04-03 17.04.22_1

This is the first meeting between Johnny and Ginger, his loyal sidekick. The atmosphere is still light – the previous scene has seen Johnny thwarting the jobsworths from the council imitating a dog -Shep- and generally establishing himself as the Lord of Misrule   – filthy language and spectacular drinking habits.  Ginger enters and asks about the detritus-strewn setting. For the audience this is the next humorous encounter, but after the initial sparring – 4 lines of stichmythia – something alters.  The audience need to notice that Ginger has challenged the veracity of Johnny’s position and that Johnny does not like it.

At this stage not much comes of it, but the line ‘It was a gathering’ must be more significant than a simple exercise in telling the truth: it establishes several things:

  • Johnny does not like being challenged directly
  • Ginger is aggrieved and feels let down by Johnny
  • Johnny does not expect to be further challenged and feels that his position of power is undermined.

He moves on and avoids confrontation by claiming a headache and his intrerrupted ‘Ginger-‘ at the foot of the page suggests something of a backing down and will lead to the Girls Aloud story and the establishing of the ‘sexual prowess’ myth.

A little later in the scene we read

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Here the same thing happens again – Johnny is making his excuses and devising stories to aggrandise his behaviour and Ginger challenges him with the bald statement ‘that’s not the fracas I’m talking about’. Once again Johnny is on the back foot and Butterworth wants us to notice this as significant. As the scene moves on, it is Ginger who tells the tale and it is one that does not show Johnny as a ‘Hero’. Half way through there is another ‘beat’. This one establishes the humour of the scene – the ever more hyperbolic stories all leading to the fracas – but also draws attention to another element of Johnny’s character – Johnny as a feral being with the morals and responses not of society but of an animal. This is not just adulterous sex, but it is sex with the wife of a soldier away serving his country. We laugh, but we notice.

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In the pair of pages above we read a typically fast-paced passage of stichomyhia ending in the beat as the Professor tries to get Johnny to simply say ‘Ginger’s a DJ’ to keep the peace. The passage has moved quickly with Ginger clearly desperate for Johnny to give him this affirmation.  As the squabble breaks down to childish proportions, so the pace builds and the tension increases.  The beat allows for a pause, but one which has weight. As we turn the page, Johnny remains silent and Ginger: ‘(points to Johnny) You’re a cunt. (points to the professor) You I like.’

This moment, though designed to produce  laughter and signal Ginger’s defeat (Johnny may well have been saving this up after the challenges already discussed), is echoed at the end of the play: ‘Once a cunt, always a cunt’ says Ginger as he leaves the stage. Ginger is Johnny’s only loyal disciple, but here we see him emotionally respond to Johnny’s cruelty and use the taboo language as a weapon, rather as punctuation in banter.  The audience laugh but will also recognise Ginger’s hurt. The second half of the quotation shows him restoring his equilibrium and coming back for more. This is significant and will not happen at the end of the play.

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Enrichment: American Literature Day

Recently we hosted an American Literature Day for students from our school and a local school. We had around 50 Year 11s engrossed for a whole day in a range of activities designed to wet their appetites for A level study of English Literature and /or History.


Here is our collection of materials, from me, Maria Trafford (who organised the whole thing, Bethan Davies and Jonathan Pepperman.  A group of our current Lower 6th boys presented in the afternoon and covered a broad spectrum from the influences of Jazz on literature to exploration of the American Dream.

the american dream presentation (1)

usa lit extracts

chopin intertextuality

Women

Hardship and the American Dream

Jazz2 (1)

Prohibition and Alcohol in literature

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It was an exciting day for all concerned: as teachers we rarely get the chance ot talk about our passions with no ulterior motive attached.

One of the delegates, from Burnham Grammar wrote this appreciation of the day:

…It’s not the first thing you think of when someone says English literature is it? Well it wasn’t until I found myself in the pristine rooms of John Lyon listening to American History explained through major literature. Of course, the John Lyon teachers took us brilliantly though the American Constitution, but did you know that all through the Civil war and the American divide, authors were taking inspiration from real life to portray society and the American Dream?

To most, the dream that you can build yourself up from nothing, if you’re willing to work hard, is an appealing idea. This idea is the basis behind the American dream and it promotes freedom, ambition and equality, so why wouldn’t it work? Well, look into the classic works of American Literature and you can find symbolism of hardships, struggle, collapse of a dream, and the idea of hope, and where it will always get you. Take The Great Gatsby for example, a novel that not only presents these themes but also mirrors the change in American culture and attitudes through the ‘Roaring Twenties’.

Delve deeper into works of famous American authors and you find allegories depicting the role of women; the effect of prohibition; losing hope and even works that, when interpreted in different ways, hold parallels to key events in American History…and it’s all easier to understand than Shakespeare!

To Kill a Mockingbird, Little Women, The Awakening, Of Mice and Men, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Invisible Man and so many more. There are so many classic works of literature that not only tell captivating and shocking stories, but also give insight into what state America was in at the time. Yes, you can use geology to find out the history of a place, but you can also discover the divide in opinion, the prospects for the future, and the struggle of the people of that time through literature. These works can give insight into consequences in the future, help see why history shaped out as it did…and give you a really interesting A Level essay to write which is, let’s be honest, a big positive when you have to write lots of essays.

At John Lyon, I learnt masses about the impact and inspiration of American literature. I found the experience very educational, shown as I knew little of what I have written above before attending the event. I found myself immersed in the story of a place outside where I live, saw WWI from another perspective. No more Henry VIII, no more king and queens. I was given a new story to read, a story with adventure and mystery, but most importantly, I was taught about a story that shows a place most unlike the one I thought I knew.

I was presented with a story at John Lyon and there’s nothing like curiosity to entice you into a new book. And I can say right now that I want to read it.

Written by Ananya Year 11 BGS.  What a great piece of writing.

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Draft plan for through teaching at A level

This is my draft plan for teaching of A level English Literature for OCR, beginning in September 2017.  I would really appreciate any feedback and/or suggestions for improvement,

A level through teaching outline

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