This week, my Block 4 English set were given the chance to debate a subject close to the heart of every member of the school community: homework.
Having learnt about persuasive devices and studied speeches from speakers as diverse as Donald Trump and Greta Thunberg this half term, students have made their own speeches to their class on a wide and eye-opening range of topics. Kipp Bryan had researched fast fashion and advised us all to buy more from vintage clothes shops; Theo argued for a ‘back to basics’ approach to paying footballers; Stella Miller gave an illuminating account of what it has been like to be without a smart phone for the last month and how liberating it has been; and Masha Kulakova argued for more languages to be taught to primary school children. Having practised their skills as solo performers, the class moved on to a more tricky way to persuade an audience: team debates.
On the Eve of St Agnes – 20 January – 6.2 English Literature students were invited to Head of English David Anson’s house to listen to a reading of John Keats’ poem of the same name, which was inspired by the traditions and superstitions surrounding the date. St Agnes’ Day falls on 21 January.
Traditionally, girls wishing to learn who their partner would be, performed rituals on the Eve of St Agnes, hoping that their future lover would be revealed to them in a dream. Keats took this idea and created his poem, a fantastical tale which merges dreams and reality, ending with two lovers disappearing into the night. It links the ideas of the Gothic with Pagan rituals and witchcraft which surround St Agnes.
On the evening itself, we made our way down Church Road on a suitably frosty, starlit night, in keeping with the “bitter chill” described at the beginning of the poem. Greeted with a warming fire, we gathered round a feast, much like the one which Porphyro lays out in The Eve of St Agnes, to listen to the poem. There were “jellies soother than the creamy curd”, “lucent syrops”, “manna and dates”, served “on golden dishes and in baskets bright / Of wreathed silver”. Eating these delicacies while listening to the reading of the poem, we were transported into Keat’s imagined and magical world.
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.
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.
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.