Tag Archives: Jez Butterworth

Contexts in Jerusalem: WOMEN

This year OCR included a question about the presentation of women in Butterworth’s play.  In a play which is so masculine, the women can seem semi-peripheral – after all around Johnny Byron, everyone is somewhat reduced in presence.

I don’t want to write a model response to this question, but I thought some ideas might be useful to point students in the direction of a response.

Taken in turn, the women emerge as certain types:  Fawcett – powerful and dominant and a threat to Johnny’s idea of his future; Pea and Tanya – not just comic relief, but having to tone down their femininity in order to fit in; Dawn -the mother of Johnny’s child and still struggling with motherhood despite having a new partner.  She seems trapped by her child and by her fascination with Johnny and his drugs; Phaedra -victim, yes, but whose?

Fawcett:  from the outset, Fawcett is caught between femininity and the need to project something beyond her fundamental power due to her position.  Her first interaction with Parsons and Johnny shows her as powerful and commanding, yet also needing to apply her make up and later to look good for the camera.  Parsons assumes that she needs protection – “we can cut that out”  – rather than simply helping her to address Johnny in the manner required.  She is in charge and she is trying hard to show it.  Recently, studies of women in power and the perceptions of them have shown a marked difference in response to female authoritarians when compared to men  – women are “shrill, strident bitches” whereas men show authority: what we call women

It’s also clear that Johnny, who has little respect for anyone, sees Fawcett as someone who he needs to belittle.  There is humour in the Jack in the Beanstalk story of wandering hands in the stalls, but it hides another aspect of the unfair attitude to women shown by the patriarchy: Johnny’s sexual conquests are seen as heroic and as an aspect of his character which amuses and impresses the gathered group of “onlookers”.  Fawcett may have had an affair – the only evidence is the male’s wandering hands – yet Johnny uses this to attack her and to put her on the defensive.

This trait is seen in Pea and Tanya as well.  The two teenage friends first emerge from under the caravan covered in shit  – much innocent humour ensues as they try to identify the animal.  Gradually we see them as a pair but with one crucial difference. Tanya seems obsessed with the idea of giving Lee a “free one” before he goes.  It is as though her friendship is focused on achieving a “masculine” attitude to casual sex.  Interestingly Lee seems embarrassed by this and the audience pick up on the difficulty implied by a teenage girl who needs to use sex as a bartering tool for friendship.  Conversely, Pea does not engage with this banter at all.  She then becomes the victim of Troy’s vile sexist abuse – his use of sexual lexis is designed to scare and embarrass a girl who seems innocent.  It develops my thinking that he is a threat to Phaedra and to all innocent girls – a male who lust to desecrate purity is different to an amoral philanderer and these two allow the audience to pick up a crucial difference between Troy and Johnny.

In the deeply patriarchal woods, sex is the domain of the male – animal and predatory alike.  Women are not seen as more than sexual objects of desire.  However for Tanya to wish to act on her desire is enough for her to be an object of comedy – it is the pure “feminine” of Pea and Phaedra that is at risk of being defiled.

Dawn is of a different group.  we know little of the past relationship, yet it is clear by her use of Johnny’s real forename and of her care for him that there has been genuine affection between the two and that Marky is not simply the product of physicality alone – at least on Dawn’s part.  As ever, Johnny is enigmatic and is quick to use his power – “look into my eyes” – to achieve control over Dawn.  This is woman in thrall to man.  Dawn is trapped by her motherhood and her feminine gender in this man’s world.  Marky is an obstacle to her new relationship and a link to a past she would be better off without.  In the course of a single day she is let down by Johnny, takes drugs with him and then fails to keep Marky safe at the fair – he is able to wander off to the woods in Act 3 – the next generation of males is shown as swiftly moving away from his mother and seeming to cope well.  It is not clear, as he leaves the clearing in Act 3, where he is going – back to his mother may just as well refer to Nature – a wild “Byron boy”-  as to Dawn.

Finally Phaedra.  She is a victim of unwanted masculine sexual aggression.  As the Queen of the Fair she is objectivised as a sexual object despite her youth.  Indeed for many of the men who comment and who we assume saw her that day, her youth and innocence is the prime attraction for many, as Johnny is quick to point out to Troy – “is she in your dreams, boy?” Much of the text engages in tales of sexual congress and the notion of under-age sex is rife – Johnny and Wesley share the memory of losing their virginity at the age of 12.

What Phaedra introduces is the grey area between societal response and reality.  No one knows what has happened.  Much sexual abuse is undertaken by men known to the girls they prey upon.  It is rarer for the abuser to be outside the family unless the internet is being used to groom the victim.  This is not the case here.  Yet we tend to assume that Johnny must be in the wrong since she is in his caravan.  There is no direct evidence.  For me, Phaedra is used by Butterworth partly to focus on the issue of underage relationships as opposed to actual physical abuse.  She seems mature and dominates the short scene with Johnny prior to his branding – she leads him on, not sexually, but with a quiet assurance.  Troy has already shown himself to be a vile sexual bigot in his treatment of Pea, it seems fair to assume that the innocent and fragile Phaedra is precisely the sort of young girl on whom he might prey.  Johnny will bed half the adult female population of the town in the amoral manner of the alpha male leader of a pack of dogs.  I am not sure that the women who pay for his services as a decorator are victims, they know full well what they are letting themselves in for.  Phaedra has not reached this age and should not be needing to seek shelter from her step-father.  She is still young and fragile  – a child and a child who needs a St. George to protect her.

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That’s how we speak: Jerusalem and Shakespeare. Language in drama and other musings.

Caution: Explicit text!

By my life, this is my lady’s hand these be her
very C’s, her U’s and her T’s and thus makes she her
great P’s.

Lady, shall I lie in your lap?
No, my lord.
I mean, my head upon your lap?
Ay, my lord.
Do you think I meant country matters?
I think nothing, my lord.
That’s a fair thought to lie between maids’ legs.
What is, my lord?

I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap, and be
buried in thy eyes.

and I have not even begun to explore the nurse… (ooh matron!)

All of the above are pleasingly filthy yet most students pass them with hardly a second glance. Depending on age we may discuss the double entendres, but the impression is that this is Shakespeare indulging in literary games for his own pleasure and to allow school children 400 years on to write essays about metaphor and Elisabethan puns. This misses the point, surely. For these jokes to work they must be recognisable to the audience and for any play to “work” the dialogue must needs reflect the common speech patterns of the audience to enable easy assimilation.

What we have here is filth, but recognisable filth from everyday parlance. Malvolio gives Shakespeare’s version of the coy “see you next Tuesday” gloss on the biggest taboo word in our language (though Chaucer of course knew no such taboo when he allowed Alisoun to be grabbed by the “queynt” -fashions change.); Hamlet repeats the same joke in his “country matters” and then employs the common reference to Nothing as representing the vagina – no “thing” -ha ha ha – which leads neatly to Much Ado About Vagina or Nothing and the common use of the verb to die to mean orgasm. Benedick’s offer to “die in Beatrice’s lap is not really the romantic gesture that it sounds.

One could go on and on and on. Shakespeare is writing in the language of the day for people of the day and it is this which i want to consider in terms of Jerusalem, which I am teaching in the Lower 6th this term.

At the recent English Association conference I heard David Hahn and Gordon McMullen speaking variously on “Language and Literature -a perfect match” and “Shakespeare today”. Both were engaging and thought provoking and this discussion was prompted by the talks. It is not an attempt to precis their presentations in any way, but rather is a riff on the ideas I heard as applied to my current teaching.

First then, to the aspect of language that many may find off-putting when bringing Jerusalem into the classroom. The first pages contain several “bollocks”, ‘fucks’, ‘fuckings’ and even a “cunt”, alongside the minor oaths – “bloody” and so on. The action depicts a feral outsider taking drugs and trying to humiliate authority figures in the shape of Parsons and Fawcett. But when the other day I suggested to my class that this was Shakespearian, they were surprised. I would argue that we don’t recognise Shakespeare’s oath strewn vernacular for what it is – everyday speech. All those “by’r’lady” or “God’s Wounds” no longer carry any cultural capital designed to shock.. and Falstaff is seen as a loveable old sot who, despite his appalling debauchery, is looked on with pleasure by theatre goers today. My point is this: if you record an evening in any pub across the land, the language is that of Rooster. If you record any group of schoolboys relaxing and engaging in “banter”, the language is that of Rooster. There is nothing intrinsically offensive in any word in the language other than society makes it so – and fashions change. Chaucer can write “queynt” quite happily, it seems, and Shakespeare can scatter sexual slang and blasphemy in the mouths of his characters. Interestingly, the sexual slang is now considered too graphic for many classrooms but the blasphemy has lost its potency. Drama must reflect the language of the day. Perhaps a good example would by to imagine Alan Bleasdale’s Boys’ from the Blackstuff with the language of the Liverpool streets removed:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6I8-0eDxaY Indeed, I suppose that a post on Yosser and Byron as characters might be interesting to write…

Everyone swears in the play. But the language is needed if we are to believe in the authenticity of the characters. What I love is the inventiveness of the swearing and Rooster’s way with alliteration and use of animal imagery. There is genuine flair in his language once we move beyond the initial hurdle of allowing our students to say “rude words” in the classroom.

One of Dahn’s comments reflecting the work of Lakoff and Johnson explored briefly the idea that metaphor is a vital thought process in life and considered how common metaphor is in our life-journey (see?). Again there are links between the idea and the writers here – metaphors of travel – often sea travel- fill Shakespeare alongside metaphors of health, food and animals – hardly surprising that this should be so, given the society of the time and the main concerns of life in Tudor England. The point is that they are not somehow the magical choices of a unique writer, but rather the common ideas of the street, interpreted and raised by one writer amongst many writing for the stage in London at this time. They are the cultural currency of everyday speech – albeit recoined often as little sparkling gems. So, can we find the same thing in the Butterworth?

Certainly there is much to enjoy in the animal imagery abounding in the play – I want students to find their own, so no lists, but so much is made of cats, dogs, rats and so on in relation to young people that it is not hard to find. What Butterworth can do, when necessary is convey the “something special” about Johnny by his use of metaphor which deepens thought. In act 2, in his glorious challenge to society, he calls on his “beserkers” to rise “snout by jowl”. Given the common use of “cheek by jowl” and Rooster’s avoidance of the idiom in favour of the altogether more interesting and somehow darker use of “snout”, immediately implying hunting dogs or even pigs, we can begin to feel the extra depth and mystery which the character is required to convey. This is set in contrast to his acolyte Ginger, whose entire speech patterns seem to be based on what other people say – usually by referencing film and TV or the patter of those DJs so much more capable than he. This disparity of imagination in their individual narrative voices is an immediate indicator of their respective powers and depths – just as it is in poor Lee, whose narrative seems to consist of rare moments of lucidity amongst an utter inability to communicate at all.

The final idea to present here comes from a discussion that McMullan presented relating to Shakespeare’s “woods”. He covered ecocriticism and the need to see Shakespeare as part of a whole, when considering Elisabethan and Jacobean England. Again I shifted on to Butterworth and began to formulate ideas about woods and about the play being seen as part of a tradition starting with Chaucer and moving through Shakespeare and Bleasdale (and others) onto Butterworth and our world today. This is realism and is not therefore the stylised language world of Brecht or Absurdists, for example, and because of that we must recognise and value it for what is presented. Since Jerusalem seems to hark back to a “time before” throughout, both in content and in Johnny’s speech patterns, we must see the wood in this light. For Shakespeare the Wood was frightening even when being used as a Pastoral retreat, and this echoes the ideas from legend such as Robin Hood, where the hero creates his pastoral idyll in the very place which all fear because of highway murder and robbery- by Robin Hood… England has never had the fear of woodland of our North European neighbours, possibly because of the deciduous nature of our trees – much better at producing fertility figures and green Man than wolves and lonely grannies being devoured by predators… But here, the wood is frightening – not to Johnny and his nymphs and satyrs, but to the villagers 450 yards away across the stream (such liminal boundaries being common in all good stories of this kind). All those visiting Johnny have, therefore chosen to cross a boundary between society and the wood – they have entered an older and much darker place by doing so. For Shakespeare, wood was a prime building material and would later save the nation by being made into ships for Nelson’s navy- thus there was an intrinsic value to the woods which is recognised in plays like As You Like It, where Arden is such a positive place. For 21st Century readers, we wonder “what the fuck an English forest is for” – they provide little in the way of raw materials and are no longer the pleasure parks of Royalty that Chaucer would have known. For urban dwellers they are sanitised places of “nature” without danger and children being allowed to “Go Ape”. No wonder that modern society has few qualms about removing Rooster’s Wood to build houses – it adds nothing in our materialistic view of society. For Johnny, and his heritage through Falstaff or oberon all the way back to Pan and Dionysus, it is vital and integral to the world at large – a place of danger and safety, or life and death. A place in which Nature is presented in all its glory -red in tooth and claw. Closer to Ted Hughes than Wordsworth, perhaps… but that’s another post for another day.


Filed under AQA LitB 4, jerusalem, ks5, OCR A level, OCR NEW English Literature, Paedagogy

The opening of Jerusalem (Butterworth): a stimulus for discussion.

This is not a model essay, it is a stimulus piece, designed to provoke debate and get my Yr 12s thinking…  Feel free to comment.

Just what is going on in the short prologue to Jerusalem?  Students need to analyse the language used as well imagine the thought processes of the audience awaiting the performance.  It is vital, therefore, that students pay particular weight to the stage directions and the manner in which Butterworth has expressed his wishes.

We know that Blake’s original poem is much more of a criticism of England at the dawn of the industrial revolution than a paean in praise of Englishness – the way that the Last Night of the Proms and the ubiquitous use of Parry’s setting at sporting events would have us believe.  How is this portrayed prior to the beginning of the play?

Looking at the opening direction we are faced by the “faded” St George’s cross.  The symbolism is obvious – that England has seen better days.  The adornments to the prosc are, therefore interesting:  on the one hand, the emblems of a Pastoral idyll and on the other creatures of Myth and pre-history.  This seeming dichotomy is possibly resolved by the recognition that the foundation myths of the country require references to Giants – Gog and Magog for example and that such myths are always going to be filled with creatures designed to scare and keep people in a degree of awe.  Next to these, the Pastoral tradition of sanctuary and a return to a “time before” suggest a space in which the two worlds – the “time before” and the “time now” or “time future” are going to be in opposition.

Music is used to develop this idea and the audience are at first lulled into a simple, pastoral reverie by the folksy accordion and pipes -possibly a modern interpretation of a past that never really existed, in the same way as Morris Dancing is rolled out at all  suitably “historic” festivals, before the innocent solo voice of a young girl takes up Blake’s “hymn”.  Alone on stage and wearing the costume of a fairy, Phaedra embodies an innocence which is in danger of destruction.  She might be said to embody the purity of England before the “fall”, however, her innocence is rudely shattered by the “Thumping Music” which interrupts her song.  The modern world has intruded and she “flees”.  Butterworth is careful here to suggest her terror in this verb – she is not simply leaving but flees – a sense that her innocence is endangered unless she manages to escape.

Butterworth has not specified music here (he will elsewhere) and we are free to imagine the sound for ourselves and need to focus on the idea of “thumping” music, with all the violence implied in the verb.  Our thoroughly disoriented audience are faced with a scene of a Bacchic frenzy as the curtain rises.  The music can no w be identified as a violent rave taking place in a moonlit clearing, dominated by a vast mobile home.  The scene is one of violence, frenzy and squalor.  In short, everything that Blake was opposing in his poem.  Phaedra broke off on the words “dark Satanic – ” and the audience sees exactly that in front of their eyes, not mills, but a nocturnal rite redolent of Hellish frenzy.

As soon as it is seen, the scene changes and the other side of England 2009 is revealed:  the music is replaced by birdsong and peace descends.  Nature reasserts itself, though the carnage around the caravan suggests the negative impact that humans have on such a potentially fragile space.  It is into this space that the two authority figures appear, armed with clipboard and camera to challenge the power of the central figure of the play – his entry delayed by his spectacular challenge to their authority – Johnny “Rooster” Byron.  In his figure we will see the “time before” (part devil, part charismatic leader, part force of nature) face to face with “time now” (nanny state and scripted rules and regulations).

Butterworth challenges his audience from the outset.  His stage dressing presents the past as potentially violent and evil, but surely nature has its dark side and no one can legislate that away.  He is also clear that Phaedra is a very knowing innocent.  She acknowledges the boxes and clearly is seen to manipulate her wings between verses.  There is no attempt at illusiojn as there would be were we watching Tinkerbelle appear – no magic here.  The world is real, fairies do not exist, they simply appear in costume as young innocents.  Remember that the audience have no idea who the fairy is – she may represent the pastoral world of plays liker A Midsummer Night’s Dream or the Fairy Queen.  Only as the play progresses do we hear that a young girl is missing.  It is not until act 3 that we are certain who this is.  By then the spectre of parental abuse and paedophilia will hang over the character and the audience may be wanting to reassess their opinions of the “innocence” seen at the start of the play.

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Jerusalem 6: Dragons and Dragonslayers

Here is a PowerPoint in which we explore the St George element of the play.  I want to explore the idea that the dragon is the hypocritical town council and to begin discussion of the nature of the pagan/Christian transition and hence, the very idea of Englishness…

Jerusalem 6


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Jerusalem 4: Introducing Carnival

In this Powerpoint I am introducing the concept of Carnival and the spirit of misrule. I grew up in Marlborough and the lure of the Pewsey (Flintock) carnival was tangible. It was renowned for 6X driven debauchery and revelry. All things change. I hope I have begun to present useful ideas here.

Jerusalem 4

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On Contexts and Jerusalem

Whilst thinking about the heightened AO3 in the new A level syllabi, I thought a few comments would be appropriate regarding Jerusalem, by Jez Butterworth.

This http://www.evernote.com/shard/s211/sh/4d5fbc31-807f-4a57-829f-7d9e1df123a8/a12e3f4d73b0a987e98766589159ea2c should take you to a BBC interview with Butterworth, who joins the conversation around 11.40 into the programme.

Contexts Power Point:

Jerusalem 3

This is designed as a brief introduction to the contexts of the play.

Butterworth on Englishness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efbHIyk4Nx0

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Andrew Marr reviews Jerusalem: Contexts

This post is in the public domain at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-15427879

Evictions, protests, unrest – how Jerusalem saw them coming

By Andrew MarrBBC News

  • 24 October 2011
  • From the sectionMagazine


Jerusalem has returned from Broadway to the West End, but how does the tale about a drug-dealing, drunkard rebel in the English countryside capture today’s political mood?

Some call it luck, others might say it’s the flash of literary genius – the moment when a work of art predicts what is coming next. HG Wells reported on World War I before it had actually started.

At a rather less apocalyptic level, Jez Butterworth’s now-famous play Jerusalem describes the Britain of right now, with her financial hangover and confrontations with travellers, even though it was written more than three years ago.

“Genius” is a slippery, over-used word. I think it’s less that the artist is “the antenna of the race” (Ezra Pound), rather that a good writer, film-maker or painter, is looking around so intently that they are sometimes able to see things before the rest of us. Art may not change anything, but it can peel back the skin.
Byron is a modern-day Pied-Piper to a chaotic band of hangers-on

I saw Jerusalem right at the start of its first run at London’s Royal Court and felt immediately that this was something special. And not only because the main character, the low-life aristocrat of drug dealing and binge drinking, Johnny “Rooster” Byron is played by Mark Rylance in a performance of stomping brilliance.

I went about begging friends to go and see it because it was funny, desperately sad, verbally astonishing – and because it depicted a rural England we all know is all around us, but hardly see on the stage.

It’s set in Wiltshire, but the officious council bureaucracy, the under-age drinking and drug culture, the emasculated local festivals, corporate pubs and the smashed-up families can be found pretty much everywhere.

It’s the difference between the idealised rural England (slivers of tour-bus Oxfordshire) and the real countryside of bungalow-sprawl, derelict factory units, impromptu rubbish tips in woodland glades, sinister hamburger-tossers in laybys, empurpled stand-offs over travellers’ sites and local people who find themselves stranded by everyone from bus companies to banks.

Add to this the stuck, cyclical nature of Butterworth’s camp and village of derelicts and deadbeats and you might expect a deeply depressing evening. But Butterworth’s England is also soaked in the fiery poetry of myths of revolt – “and behind them bay the devil’s army, and we are numberless”.

Find out more

  • Jez Butterworth joins Andrew Marr in Start the Week on Monday 24 October on Radio 4 at 21:00 BST
  • You can listen to Start the Week again via the BBC iPlayer

It’s the England of tall stories and outbreaks of anarchy, the country of rural dissent which is audible in good folk music, such as Show of Hands or PJ Harvey’s songs, and visible on the inside pages of the last surviving proper local papers – but sadly invisible across most television, drama or radio.

“Rooster” is hardly a hero. He’s a drug dealer, rotten father and a maniacal drinker with a tendency to violence.

Yet there’s something huge about his imagination and defiance that recalls a Shakespearean protagonist, in a play which is partly a grimy contemporary Midsummer Night’s Dream. I think anyone who has seen him will dream about him.

Since, almost self-evidently, things are going to get harder in this country in the years ahead, and since, entirely self-evidently, we have meanwhile become a largely infantilised culture (babyish entertainments, babyish architecture, babyish language) a serious play like this, with its sadness, obscenities, anger and humour, comes like rain after a drought.

There is no simple political “position”. It mocks the rules ‘n’ regulations mentality as vividly as any right-wing columnist, and it’s as relaxed about under-age boozing as the most laid-back Islingtonian liberal. It just kicks pretty hard.
The attempt to evict Johnny “Rooster” Byron echoes the recent Dale Farm evictions

As I’ve already mentioned, there are tough times coming and the ceaseless debate about Englishness – what’s essential to it and what threatens it – is rising in volume again. Whether we are talking about arguments over traveller encampments, Europe or the City, there is a stroppier mood about.

The news coverage remains, inevitably, headline-shallow, but there are deeper waters too.

The nostalgic equation between Englishness and the countryside has been going on for so long I imagine Alfred the Great writing to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: “Dear Sir, can I associate myself with Simon Jenkins and protest at recent Danish house building, utterly insensitive to local traditions.”

A sense that English freedoms are being thieved by continental upstarts and their local lackeys goes back almost as far. Time for an update?

I hope that the majority of people who haven’t had the chance to see Jerusalem might get enough of a dim, distant echo to perhaps go out and read the play.

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Jerusalem 1: the Pastoral

This is an introductory Power Point to engage with the Pastoral and Butterworth’s Jerusalem. It covers Pastoral, anti-Pastoral and post-Pastoral in brief and leads to a discussion of the play as a Satyr Play and the role of Johnny as representing Pan, which will be a second Power Point.

Jerusalem 1

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The Forest: Butterworth’s setting for Jerusalem or “What the fuck do you think an English forest is for?”

The Forest: Butterworth’s setting for Jerusalem or “What the fuck do you think an English forest is for?”

To Shakespeare, the forest is a place of opposites and a location for clandestine activities. In his plays Midsummer Night’s Dream and As You Like it, the forest can be seen as an antidote to the “new world” of a harsher time. The fairies operate beyond the human sphere and are linked to mischief and to nature, without any of the restrictions – moral or temporal – placed upon Theseus or the lovers. Puck can defy time and space and the fairy world will survive its invasion after playing with the interlopers, who might leave a little wiser than before. In As You Like It, the forest of Arden hearks back to a “time before” – a better time in which a wiser ruler has returned to nature with his court as an echo of the brash modernism of his brother’s urban court.
Butterworth’s play seems to be a natural descendant of these forests. We have a forest clearing, which is threatened by the forces of urbanization and modernism. However, the water is muddied because of the spectacularly ambivalent reaction of an audience to Johnny, whose domain this is – the Oberon of North Wiltshire. However much one wishes to sympathise with Johnny, one is equally appalled and can understand the wish of the council to move on a drug dealer/potential paedophile. That said, ultimately Johnny wins over the audience – his personality is simply too huge and his ultimate fate at the hands of Troy is too grotesque for us to harbour hatred for the character.

The play opens with a fairy in a forest as Phaedra sings Blake’s poem, which gives the play its name (and Johnny his only weak moment when playing Trivial Pursuits). Blake’s poem is a poem of questions and a poem, which clearly locates the play in England (where the poem has become an unofficial National Anthem) and in a world which is reflecting on the past. As the word “Satanic” is sung, the hymn is replaced with thumping music and the curtain opens to reveal “Waterloo” – an old caravan in a clearing. There is some form of rave taking place, which continues until peace settles on the scene and nature establishes itself in the form of birdsong. Into this world come two outsiders who are on a mission to purify the forest and rid it of the demon who lives there. Fawcett and Parsons are apt names for these moral cleansers. The illusion of timelessness in this opening which moves seamlessly through the passage of one night is shattered by the first words uttered: “Time” (Fawcett) which establishes the opposites at work. In the forest time is not important, but to the outside world it is the measure of all things.

Which came first, Rooster or the wood?

Johnny is a figure of power in this wood, he pulls the youth of Flintock to his call and also has enthralled Ginger – old enough to know better as a lieutenant – though one who seems perpetually to be let down and who will eventually have to be pushed away before Johnny’s final destructive clash with the world. In his Wood, outside power does not exist, but throughout the play the reminders of the council and the waiting forces of the police are a threat which never lifts despite his braggadocio.
The play is set on 23rd April, St George’s Day and Shakespeare’s Birth/Death day and both readings are clearly relevant in an England which can turn a “rural display” into slaughter in the car park or couple floats representing the myth of St George with others reflecting the invented fantasy world of Lord of the Rings or the rush for meaningless celebrity embodied in the X factor.
In the wood, none of this exists. It is all discussed and shown for the tawdry money making operation that it is: Wesley, when discussing his role of the “Barley Sword Bearer” is embarrassed by Johnny (“something is deeply wrong”) and hides behind the excuse that this is a “Swindon level decision”, thus evoking a larger urban authority than the parish council. In the face of such power, it is suggested, we are helpless.

But Johnny belongs to a different world. He has taken over this corner of Wiltshire and squatted in the wood for 27 years. Even his piss seems to be a marking of territory like that of some great feral beast and some form of libation to the Gods of the past (it is greeted by a choir singing off stage). His world is inhabited by losers and dropouts and by those for whom the urban world does not offer enough. He works as a force of nature and has clearly worked his way through many of the bedrooms of the town and is clearly selling drugs and alcohol to the underage children who sit on his doorstep. In a curious way he is also protecting them: the mysterious Phaedra is evidently safer with him (whatever that means) than with her predatory step-father and the others are given a chance to experiment and taste life in a relatively controlled environment. It is not Johnny who has caused Tanya Cawley to drink, but he has provided the means. He and Wesley reminisce in Act 1 saying “Of course they’re bloody drinking” when reminded of the age of the children and recalling the days when a less puritanical attitude ruled the country and the Flintock fair of 1969 was a scene of sexual license and debauchery. The suggestion is that the Puritanical outlook of the modern world has resulted in kids “sit[ting] in bus shelters, freezing their bollocks off” or being barred form Wesley’s pub or visiting Johnny as a place of safety. Nature, says Johnny, will always have its way even when outsiders try to impose a new order upon it.

Rooster’s Wood is to be bulldozed to make way for homes. Many have been built recently and the incomers are complaining about Johnny (despite or because of his effectiveness as a handy man). In the 21st century so many villages within 100 miles of London have become dormitory villages for commuters the soul of the rural life is being destroyed. The reality is that village shops close, pubs lack regulars, petrol prices make it hard for the villagers to travel around and employment is almost non-existent in many cases. In the wood, time has not moved on and Johnny is still ruler of misrule over a group of outsiders whose village is being taken over by puritanical forces who wish there to be nothing to represent nature to the natural in their new environment. The “green and pleasant land” is both less green and considerably lass pleasant in this new version.

“What the fuck do you think an English Forest is for?”

In Act 3 Johnny poses this question to Fawcett and Parsons. His time is running out and he has heard the litany of names who have signed the petition to be rid of him. He has had to stop Fawcett from reading the list. His only defense is the one cited earlier that the forest is a place of refuge and that many are safer here than at home. He cries “Bang your gavels. Bring your warrants. You can’t make the wind blow”. The suggestion is both that the law is transitory in the face of nature and also that perhaps he can do this. Indeed the end of the play with its majestic chant and curse over the giant’s drum certainly suggests forces of a higher level than Kennet and Avon Council being summoned into battle. Johnny might be delusional, but there is a clear suggestion that we should not meddle with forces we do not understand. The forest allows Johnny to be such a force. He is the product of a spectacularly mythological insemination and carries hugely rare blood (or so he says). Throughout the play the forest has been a place where fantastical stories can told as though they are truths and where a man can live who has already died twice as a result of his Dare Devil riding. Might it not survive this latest setback?

However, we should not overlook the Forest as a place of potential evil. Though Shakespeare uses his forest as a critique of an overly Puritanical world, the 19th Century German forest is a place of nightmares and terrors as explored in much Gothic literature and true fairy tales. Nothing good ever comes from a visit to the hut in the woods! If Johnny is the Wolf, is he also a dragon? At the end of Act 2 the professor is left alone on stage to recount the tale of St George. The dragon lives in a “swamp” on the edge of a city and St George is serving all by clearing the city of this nuisance. Again, should we see Johnny as a dragon polluting the charm of the rural idyll? Certainly his drug taking and drinking have little to do with a pure nature which might refer back to the nymphs and shepherds of Virgil’s Eclogues. However isn’t it the case that the Forest and nature is always sanitized for the comfort of the urban elite? Real rural poverty offends – look at Tess of the D”Urbervilles – and the idea that rural dwellers are all somehow pure and fairy-like is an utter nonsense.

The forest tells us that Nature was here long before the modern obsession with the urbanization of the country seen in building projects and a need to reflect a “time before” in all celebrations of Englishness. Does anyone take Morris Dancing seriously as a link to heritage? Does anyone pause to consider what life was like in the 1940s when a Spitfire sweeps above our heads? The message I take from this play is that we have lost touch with our heritage and that the Forest setting represents an exploration of the difference between us and them – they might be uncomfortable to recognize as a rawer version of ourselves, but we need to be aware of the existence of a less sanitized and potentially less safe world that has existed and will exist again.

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Filed under coursework, OCR A level, OCR English Literature

Jerusalem: Butterworth

I am very excited about the appearance of Butterworth’s play on the OCR A level teaching lists. Yes, I am a Wiltshireman and proud of it, but this play is a radically new step in terms of the material often being taught. I can’t wait.

Except that I have no idea where to start – quite apart from anything else, Butterworth refused to allow the play to be filmed when it was running in London…

I have put together some thoughts and begun to put documents from the internet into a document to be found here. I would love some help with this. If anyone is teaching this play next year, please get in touch.

An article on the play by Julia Boll: jerusalem article

A group of articles on the play found online articles on Jerusalem

Name, comments

Phaedra: The 15 year old who introduces the play and brings a chill to the end of act 2 before dancing with Johnny in Act 3, a possible indication of a sexual relationship, though the writing in its calmness suggests something less depraved than that, although Johnny’s branding by Troy is certainly suggestive of a punishment for assumed paedophilia and therefore recalls the mob justice meted out in the 1990s to supposed paedophiles – actions which led to paediatricians being hounded from their homes due to the thuggish ignorance of many of the self elected vigilantes. Her name (meaning “bright” in Ancient Greek) is that of a woman of ill omen in Greek tragedy – she married Theseus, King of Athens and fell in love with his son Hippolytus. When this was discovered she accused Hipploytus (who was utterly virtuous and associated solely with Artemis, the goddess of the hunt) of rape and brought about his death possibly at the hands of his father.

Johnny “Rooster” Byron: his surname is that of the Romantic poet who is famed both for his prodigious sexual appetite and his wonderfully Romantic lifestyle – poet, soldier, freedomfighter, rebel… Yet his nickname suggests a more focused idea: A rooster is the alpha male of the cockerel world. He exists solely to impregnate the hens in his coop and he guards it against all comers. He is always polygamous and guards an area rather than a specific nest.

Flintock: The village at the heart of the play is based on the village of Pewsey in North Wiltshire. The name is an interesting choice, harking back to the flintlock guns of the 19th century and to the flint which dominates much of the landscape over the North Wiltshire downs. There is also a suggestion of heard heartedness in the name- flint-hearted. Pewsey is famous for its carnival in the Autumn, which culminates in the celebration of the Feaste at the end of the revels. It straddles the Kennet and Avon canal and has a regular train service to London, possibly marking the end of the convenient commuter belt.
Other towns are given their real names – Swindon, Wootton Bassett, Bedwyn, Marlborough, Devizes. This helps to root the play in a rural “backwater” representative of a lost or a dying Britain.

named for Blake’s poem which has become an unofficial anthem for the English.
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England’s pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green & pleasant Land

Even when read as a religious/moral text, based on the myth that talks of Jesus and Joseph of Arimathea visiting England and of Joseph being buried in Glastonbury, the poem clearly seems to set up a dichotomy between the heavenly “green and pleasant land” and the ever encroaching “dark Satanic mills. That Blake’s imagery is opaque has meant that the poem has taken on a significance to many varied groups. To many it hearks back to a time of purity and innocence in England, before the industrial revolution. This idea is continued into the last stanza which seems to suggest that the speaker will ever strive to create a new Jerusalem in England, presumably based on this former purity. It is fitting that Rooster’s wood should be set in or around Pewsey. The landscape is still untouched and bares many remains of Neolithic England – Silbury hill and Avebury, between Devizes and Marlborough and Stonehenge near Salisbury. Pewsey lies directly on the route between these monuments, just beond the end of the Ridgeway path, one of the earliest known roads in England. If Rooster is to be seen as somehow a reminder of a lost time, the setting is certainly apt.
However, the title takes on a heavy irony through the reality of Rooster’s existence: Shunned by most of society, seen as a drug dealer and possible paedophile, there is no romance in his existence. If he represents England’s green and pleasant land, is it a land worth saving?

Some teaching notes from English Review: English Review: Jerusalem


Filed under OCR A level, OCR English Literature