Tag Archives: #revise2017AS
This seminar allowed 2 students to present their recent essays for OCR AS literature. Neither are perfect representations of the AOs, but this was the first time I have tried this as a support exercise with this group.
Not a perfect examination response, but I know that I would not have written with such assurance in the lower 6th. Take a bow Karan.
L783 (“This gentil May”)- 825 (“under a laurer alwey greene”)
Examine the use of setting in this extract and consider the typicality of the extract in terms of the whole tale.
In this extract Chaucer introduces us to Januarie’s grand idea of making a garden for him and May to be alone. The garden is filled with references to the Bible and nature as well as promiscuity and fertility. The setting used is symbolic, and creates a garden that seems to be littered with sin. At this point one must decide whether this is the Merchant simply telling the tale, or perhaps Chaucer giving his opinion on marriage, and the façade associated with its apparent holiness.
Considering Januarie’s garden is designed for the purpose of isolation so he and May can have sex, the repetitive sexual innuendoes and references should come as no surprise. The most obvious case of this is the “welle” in the garden the lies underneath a “laurer alwey grene”. Here, Chaucer uses the idea of a “welle” as a vagina, and a “laurer” as a phallic symbol. The purpose of this garden, therefore, is very clear. Furthermore, the iambic stress falls on “alwey” and emphasises the fact that this garden is not intended for holiness or love, but for lust. The line then crescendos to the “grene” tree, which once more emphasises the idea that this phallic symbol is always erect. In these two lines alone, Chaucer provides a very clear and precise indication as to what this garden was built for- pleasure and lust. One might also link this “fair” garden to the Garden of Eden, which was intended to be “hooly” but instead became sinful. If Januarie’s “gardyn” is accepted as a direct Biblical reference to Eden, then perhaps this could be Chaucer foreshadowing May’s deceit and sin, much like Eve committed sin in the Garden. We see something that is intended to be holy and pure become the opposite earlier in the Tale with the marriage ceremony of January and May. Their so-called “hooly” ceremony has such a build up before the event, only to last just seven lines.
We later see similar symbolism when Chaucer introduces the idea of a “wyket” and “clyket”. This reference to a key and keyhole is a clear sexual innuendo designed to once again emphasise the garden’s sin and irony. Furthermore, the words “wyket” and “clyket” are a heroic couplet, and are also arguably used to demonstrate Januarie’s obsession with sex, which is why the garden is so important to him. We see this when Chaucer uses exemplar when mentioning “Priapus”, the Roman God of garden and claims that January has made a better garden than Priapus could ever make. Januarie’s obsession with sex may also be shown with the reference of the famous French literature on courtly love, the “Romance of the Rose”, which teaches the reader about the Art of Love and how to please the “Rose” (a common symbol for the vagina). If Chaucer is implying Januarie has read this book, much like he has read “De Coittu” (translating to ‘About Sex’), perhaps it shows his insecurities with regards to his own sexual abilities and belief that this garden will somehow better his sexual performance. However, this reference may just be for ironic purposes or maybe Chaucer demonstrating auctoritas, as it is mentioned in a fabliau text that is designed to mock courtly love.
Chaucer also uses setting effectively when considering the time at which he introduces Januarie’s “fair… gardyn”. Before we are introduced to the idea of a garden, we see May write a “letter” to Damyan about her feelings towards him and then decides to “visite this Damyan”. The juxtaposition between May’s concern with Damyan, and Janurie’s concern with his “fresshe” May is quite ironic and makes it very clear that their marriage is slowly falling apart and is far from “paradys”. We then see Damyan rise “Up..the nexte” morning, with iambic stress falling on “Up” which make have sexual conations of an erection, thus showing his passion and “desyr” for May. Once again we see irony, as if we accept that the stress falls on “Up” to emphasise Damyan’s erection, it becomes even more apparent that Januaries has trouble with sex and must drink “ypocras, clarree and vernage” in order to enhance his sexual feeling and even with these enhancements, May still considers his performance “not worth a bene”. This setting and juxtaposition makes us empathise with Januarie to an extent, and feel sorry for his naivety.
In conclusion, the description of Januarie’s garden demonstrates complete irony between holiness and religion with regards to sin and promiscuity. Furthermore, the countless sexual references and innuendoes clearly show that the garden is a place of pleasure, lust and fertility and is, in truth, unholy. However, the garden also demonstrates something about Januarie’s character. Gardens come about naturally and are not “made” or built. This is arguably a metaphor for May and Januarie’s marriage- that it is not natural, but instead manufactured and fake. Personally, Januarie comes across as a man who doesn’t fully understand beauty, and believes that everything can be manufactured and built to fit his liking.
Students are usually aware of the narrative form of the poem, one which blends the realistic with the fantastic and the symbolic, yet there is often room for discussion of the symbolic importance of the Love Garden which Januarie builds to allow he and May to perform the acts not done ‘abedde’. Not only does this suggest a certain freedom from societal convention, but we also learn that it is in the garden that Januarie’s love making ‘spedde’. This word has obvious 21st century connotations in terms of speed, but should also be read in the sense of reaching a successful conclusion. In the marriage chamber he makes excuses for the slow ‘labour’ he will perform. We assume that his singing in bed suggests a successful end to the coitus, albeit with the use of ‘ypocras’ and other herbs and suggestive reading matter, and here we read of him completing the act – the speed connotation may be relevant, as well, but completion is the root meaning of the word.
So, what is it about the garden?
I want to look at both the symbolic Eden reference and also at the symbolism associated with the family and thus with Januarie’s heirs which follows from this.
The garden ‘walled with stoon’ is a clear Eden on earth. The idea of the locus amoenus (intro post) appears as a trope of Courtly love literature and was also an architectural feature of many dwellings of the wealthy and powerful through the 12 and 13 centuries. Essentially a private area in which the lovers could walk without being observed by servants or other hindrances to freedom of action, such gardens were as much a statement of wealth and degree as an attempt to create a little piece of Paradise.
Januarie’s paradise is a limited paradise. It is bounded by stone presenting a strong and rather cold boundary which cannot be easily crossed and is locked by a ‘wicket’ and ‘clicket’ (itself suggestive of sexual penetration) with Januarie holding the clicket for himself. In the centre is a pear tree, rather than an apple, which will become the focus of the action in the garden at the end of the poem. The garden is already inhabited not by representations of the Christian Divine but by Pluto and Prosepina, the Roman Gods of the underworld.
They provide a context for this paradise. Pluto raped his wife, having lain in wait for her on the slopes of Etna, an echo of Januarie’s rather bathetic mirror in the market place and subsequent brutal and unfeeling wedding night. Potential blasphemy would prevent Chaucer writing in indelicate terms about God and Scripture, but her ewe see a symbolic allusion to this garden not as Eden, but as a kind of anti-Eden – one built on male force, lust (since Januarie is ‘Venus’ knight’) and a total mistrust of women. Here alone is there an echo of the patriarchal misogyny of Genesis.
Once Januarie is ‘soddeynly’ blinded, he has a problem. He does not trust May and seeks never to leave her side, indeed he goes further and ‘hadde an hand upon hire everemo’. She, on the other hand, after some months of sexual frustration finally manages to deceive him: to steal the clicket and obtain a duplicate through the offices of Damyan – ‘the lechour in the tree’. Just as in the Biblical paradise, the serpent is already in situ. All this is perfectly to clear to a student of the Pastoral genre – even in Paradise lurks death: et in arcadia ego. There is no need for Chaucer to digress about the state of the garden or to provide a quasi-Miltonian debate about gardening and gender roles, instead the action moves directly to the tree.
The tree stands at the centre of the garden, a garden ruled not by God, but by pagan Gods of the underworld and death whose fairies use the space as their playground. Nothing good will come of this. They ‘maken melodye’ in a garden more beautiful than even Priapus could build. Given that the conventional image of Priapus is that of a Satyr-like figure with an immense erection, the sexual connotations of the purpose of the garden seem obvious. Priapus (from a fresco in Pompeii)
Once ‘fresshe May’ has the clicket, the rest is easy. Damyan at first hides under a bush, presenting a stock Satan-as-serpent image and then climbs into the pear tree itself. The choice of tree is significant, having a clearer sense of lewdness than other fruits. Possibly due to their pendulous shape, somewhat scrotal in appearance, pears were seen as a somewhat lascivious fruit and the choice of this tree again increases the sense of the garden as a setting for lustful congress rather than for any manifestation of Courtly Love. It is Januarie who sets up the visit to the garden and is completely deceived in his blindness. May, just as Eve in the biblical model, is quick to deceive him, suggesting her innocence and her claim to be ‘no wenche’, as she says that she craves fruit. Indeed she ‘moot die’ if she does not get a pear – ‘die’ having the same orgasmic connotation that students are used to from the study of Shakespeare. She finally conquers Januarie who stoops to let her climb onto his back, thus establishing her as the dominant figure at this stage. The action is swift and utterly without emotion -‘in he throng’- and the satirical image of Eden is now complete.
However the Tree itself can be further discussed.
When May mounts Januarie to climb into the tree, he is quick to agree to her somewhat bizarre wish. May suggests that he ‘The pyrie inwith [his] armes for to take’ which suggests the image of Januarie embracing the trunk of the tree – the ‘stock’ – as she climbs up.
Given that the image of an apple tree was a common model for the depiction of family trees in Medieval and later painting s and documents, the image is again clear. Januarie is desperate to have an heir, a branch from his stock – to use the biblical term. Here we see him symbolically guarding his heritage from the interlopers who have already, cuckoo-like, destroyed his blood-line. Early in the tale he likens himself to a tree -a laurel – which ‘blosmeth er that fruit ywoxen be’. The link to the tree in the garden is clear. If we accept this idea, that the lovers are tainting the blood-line in this way, then we can further suggest that at the end of the tale, as he ‘hire wombe… stroketh full softe’, he is settling for a compromise. The children will not be his offspring, but he can acknowledge them, safeguard his heritage and keep May as his plaything. She has everything to lose from being uncovered as a wanton cuckolder at this time, so she will not complain.
The message of marriage is one of compromise and not forgiveness. Women will always cheat and, thanks to Proserpina, will always get away with it… That seems a suitable attitude for a man whose wife lived apart from him, possibly as the Mistress of John of Gaunt and from whom he was estranged for much of his later life. Chaucer could not divorce her and benefited from Gaunt’s stipend for much of his life.
This is an essay by my colleague Laura Dunn. In it she has written a response to an OCR AS-type question about The Merchant and then added the AO assessment in the manner of an examiner… use at will!
I am putting together an introduction to Butterworth’s play. This is the beginning s of the first draft… it is definitely work in progress, but I welcome feedback.
The play appears on the OCR set text list for AS and can be used, therefore for the coursework element at A level, yet there is no published material on the play and OCR have not produced one of their useful guides to give us a hint at what areas of a splendidly rich text they will be focused upon.
I hope some who read this will get in touch with suggestions and corrections… I am still working on it as you can see.
“Jerusalem is the most Shakespearean of Butterworth’s plays”. Looking at the play, what are the features which reflect this cultural heritage.
A series of student essays in response to the above.
I like the discussion of double entendre and sexual allusion in this one
It is said that Butterworth’s ‘Jerusalem’ has irrefutable references to Shakespeare and cultural literary heritage. Like Shakespeare, Butterworth also makes crude and yet humorous sexual innuendos alongside profanities, the only difference being Shakespeare’s are subtler. Furthermore, Johnny and Ginger resemble characters from Shakespeare work and resemble what ‘real Englishness’ truly means.
Whilst the language in ‘Jerusalem’ is so clearly offensive, the rudeness in Shakespeare’s plays are often overlooked or misunderstood. Throughout ‘Jerusalem’ we hear Byron and his battalion of “rats” utter all kinds of crude words. From a simple “bloody” to a more aggressive “cunt”, the characters in this play feel more than happy enough to speak with such colour. One might expect that Shakespeare plays, ones that have been approved by a Queen and now taught in schools, to contain no sexual innuendos or profanities at all. This is not the case. His plays were littered with various comments hat often go unnoticed. In arguably Shakespeare’s most famous work, Hamlet, we see the mad Prince make a racy comment concerning Ophelia and some “country matters”. In writing one would think nothing of this comment, however, phonetically it is clear that “country” is implied to replicate the word “cunt”. Shakespeare used profanities, the only problem being: our language has evolved. The same words that were considered ‘rude’ in Shakespeare’s time no longer hold the same context or meaning. We now live in a world full of “fucks”, “shits”, “cunts” and so on. Both Shakespeare and Butterworth use swear words to depict what the real world is like. People swear, especially the English. This has been part of English culture for centuries. In Henry IV we see the female anatomy being disguised as a “Pie-corner” and again “pie” is used in ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’ to describe the vagina. It is not abnormal that Shakespeare plants subtle sexual innuendoes or oaths that are almost impossible to find unless you know they are there. These jokes or references are only clear for someone of that time. Like in ‘Jerusalem’ with the “Mars Bar” story, only someone who understood the reference to a young and wild Mick Jagger would pick up on it. Shakespeare did the same and wrote for the people of his era.
As well as the free use of profanities and sexual innuendoes, Butterworth and Shakespeare share the same enthusiasm and engagement with the English forest. The woods in Flintock are dangerous and “strange”. From “a rainbow” hitting the “earth and set fire to the ground” to “a young girl…give birth to a baby boy” the forest demonstrates a degree of beauty and magic. The time throughout ‘Jerusalem’ goes ever so slowly and it seems as though the woods are a place outside the realm of ‘civilised’ people. The woods are a completely world altogether. Similarly, Shakespeare’s forest in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ contains magic through the use of fairies. One must draw similarities between the fairies in this play and that of the “May Queen”, Phaedra, dressed as a “fairy” in ‘Jerusalem’. Furthermore, the forest is often seen as a place to escape and find solitude. We see Phaedra “flee” from her arguably abusive stepfather into “Rooster’s Wood”. Again in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ Hermia and Lysander escape into the forest to be alone from the rest of the world. Ginger, Pea, Tanya and the rest of the Flintock misfits come to the forest to experience something they cannot otherwise experience in the ‘real world’. A place where there are no rules, no policemen and nobody judging you is what the woods provide. Despite its danger of a “Werewolf” in ‘Jerusalem’, the forest can provide an element of safety but also riot. After all “What the fuck do you think an English forest is for?”
As well as the language and imagery that have similarities, the characters in ‘Jerusalem’ demonstrate a significant reference to the characters in some of Shakespeare’s most famous plays. Firstly, characters like Pea and Tanya share the same names as Shakespeare character, such as Peaseblossom and Titania from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. These similarities mustn’t be overlooked and should be seen as a clear reference by Butterworth to English literary heritage and therefore the Pastoral.
However, Johnny can be compared to one Shakespearean character in particular, Falstaff. Much like Rooster, Falstaff creates riot and misrule, something Johnny has an expertise in. Many critics link the character of Falstaff to carnival and the spring festive season. Once again, Johnny is also associated with carnival and is described as “the Flintock Fair”, implying that without him fair day, carnival and riot are not the same.
On the other hand, Ginger also shows characteristics similar to that of Falstaff. He too takes part in riot and misrule, but also stands by Johnny throughout the years; despite the fact Johnny often abuses him verbally. Prince Hal insults Falstaff by calling him a “trunk of humors” or a “bolting-hutch of beastliness”, whilst Johnny tells Ginger “I’m not your friend” and calls him a “rat” regularly. Furthermore, it seems as though all Ginger wants is Johnny’s approval, and that’s the reason he’s stayed with him for so long. All he wants is for Johnny to say” Ginger is a DJ”, and yet Johnny won’t give in. Perhaps Rooster enjoys infuriating Ginger over small things like this or maybe it is friendly ‘banter’. Falstaff also wants approval from Prince Hal, and goes out of his way to impress and obey him. Even Falstaff’s occupation resembles Ginger, after all being a knight means you must obey the orders of the Prince. Similarly, it is Johnny who “winds the siren” and rallies the troops, therefore Ginger is just another one of his soldiers.
In the end, Johnny turns his back on Ginger and says ”We’re not friends” and orders him to leave “Rooster’s Wood”. Again, Falstaff is repudiated by Hal and never earns his approval. This cannot be a coincidence and must be seen as a nod to English heritage and the importance that Shakespeare has had on what it means to be ‘English’
In conclusion, Butterworth has written a play littered with references to the Pastoral, the Golden Age and of course to Shakespeare. It must be said that Shakespeare and his plays have had such an impact on England, so much so that it is still taught in schools today and has shaped the way we speak. I think Butterworth recognizes the importance of Shakespeare and tries to replicate the intrinsic nature of what it means to be ‘English’ in ‘Jerusalem’.
A knowledge organiser to support teaching of Butterworth’s Jerusalem on the OCR AS syllabus.
A class debate. The boys worked well to display an understanding of the text and a willingness to explore all sides.
I am not convinced by the Opposition line here – surely there must be more responsibility on society than they wish to concede, but I really enjoyed this. Dig in.
I found this on the board when I arrived to teach this morning….
This is an essay seminar on Jerusalem for OCR AS level English Literature. I think it is excellent and warmly offer it to anyone teaching the text as a basis for discussion.
The transcript is here: