Poetry and mud studies at Ashford Hangers Nature Reserve

By Lucy McIlwraith, Teacher of English
Photos by Matilda McMorrow, Librarian

In the English department at Bedales, we like to give students the opportunity to venture outside the classroom to gain a deeper understanding of literature. Over the last couple of years, we’ve visited Thomas Hardy’s cottage in Dorset while studying Tess of the D’Urbervilles; hosted a tea party as part of our work on The Importance of Being Earnest; enjoyed a midnight feast of exotic sensory delights to go with John Keats’ poem, The Eve of St Agnes; and held a fireside evening of poetry-by-heart for Block 3’s study of the oldest forms of English literature.

Our latest venture earlier this week gave a 6.1 English Literature class a first-hand experience of writing poetry in finest Hampshire mud. The set are studying Seamus Heaney’s first poetry collection, Death of a Naturalist, which includes lots of descriptions of water, slime and bogs. In order to get under the skin of poems that feature phrases such as ‘bubbles gargled delicately’ and ‘the squelch and slap of soggy peat’, it seemed like a good idea to don wellies (with thanks to Outdoor Work for lending some to white-trainered students) and wallow in the plentiful mud at Ashford Hangers Nature Reserve.

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Lectures on Othello, Ibsen and women in 19th century literature

By Thomasina Rowntree, 6.2 and English Don

Last week, the Sixth Form English Literature began their week with a trip to London to attend a series of lectures given on Shakespeare’s Othello. It was a brilliant opportunity which really enhanced our understanding of the play.

The first lecture was given by Richard Marriott on Dramatic Structure and the tragic pattern of Othello. He also spoke about the idea of ‘anthropological dualism’ which is transparent throughout the play, as characters are challenged by certain aspects of their personalities.

The second lecture focused on the importance of storytelling. This provided helpful context, as Dr Mason talked about Cinthio’s play, The Story of Disdemona of Venice and the Moorish Captain, which was Shakespeare’s only source material for Othello. She highlighted the changes that Shakespeare made and the significance these had, especially presentation of female characters.

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Poetry by heart

By Julia Bevan, Teacher of English

On 11 October, Block 3 students were invited to attend and participate in a poetry event in the Dining Hall. Welcomed by members of the English department dressed in sheepskins and cloaks, and surrounded by candles, students and staff stood up to perform a poem they had learnt by heart in front of the roaring fire. Some took on Shakespeare and others invited the audience to join them in a rendition of a nursery rhyme.

Lilibet Viner gave a dramatic performance of Helena’s speech from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Sam Coleman told us what it was like to be a cupcake cooking in the oven; Clara Gardiner-Cox gave a moving rendition of Mary Elizabeth Frye’s Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep; and Miranda Robertson sang a luxurious yet spine-tingling version of Bohemian Rhapsody.

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