Category Archives: Literary Criticism

Textual or Sexual?

English: Portrait of Virginia Woolf

English: Portrait of Virginia Woolf (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of my great interests in reading matter is how desire is handled.  After the huge sales of “Fifty Shades of Grey”, I had begun to wonder if readers needed their sex spelled out more nowadays, if so, does that mean that many readers are missing out on playful texts as titillating as Orlando by Virginia Woolf?  In this written piece, I hope to persuade readers to interact with text such as “Orlando” for a deeper and potentially more sexually satisfying read.

I have taken chapter 3 from Orlando (Great Classic Library, 1994) to demonstrate that often it is not what is said that conjures up fantasy but what is not said.  Also, I use the constant ‘she’ but this refers to both sexes, it is simply to keep the text tidy.

Cover of "Orlando"

Orlando by Virginia Woolf with the talented Tilda Swinton on the cover. She played Orlando in the film.

If we can imagine a courtship between reader and text, then it becomes obvious that the text (Orlando) is using details to entice the reader as love object.  Whilst the reader is consumed with the desire to see and know the text, it encourages fevered requests for knowledge by constant teasing.  It attempts to keep the reader interested by manipulative and provocative tantalisation which never allows the desire for textual knowledge to be fulfilled.  Subsequently the reader continues to endeavour to explore and undress the body of the text.  In other words, the text uses a playful strategy which depicts an innocence by using understated sexuality to allure and provoke the reader into the commitment of interpretation.  The signals are there, the reader merely needs to be seduced.

The text displays constant symptoms of needing the reader to become its love object.  Consequently, in order to overcome this, it must attain to interest its love object; therefore it is only by seducing the reader into the position of desiring to know the text that it can attempt to fulfill the desire for unattainable completion.  To initiate interest, the text suggests that it will become love slave to  the reader’s fantasies but only if the reader will respond by opening her psychic space.

 

“There was a hole in the manuscript big enough to put your finger through …. but it has been necessary to speculate, to surmise and even to use the imagination.” (page 54)

 

The language cleverly entices the reader to visualize that which is being suggested.  The beckoning finger attempts to coax the reader into penetrating the written sign and being seduced into allowing her repressed fantasy to filter through.  It invites the reader into its existence with a manipulative proposition which offers a text lacking in language, subtly suggesting that the reader fills in the gap for herself.  Subsequently, the text is pertaining to reach unity with the reader by a language of denial being impregnated by the reader completing the gaps.  However, the fantasy must remain fragmented as the text’s constant denial of knowledge defies fixed interpretation.

As the suggestive finger tempts the reader, so the text uses thresholds to tease and control the reader’s access.  Windows are used to allow a connived amount of voyeurism.

 

“The windows of the Embassy brilliantly illuminated.  Again details are lacking.” (page 57)

 

Windows are used to set a scene to draw the reader in.  They are used as a controlled promise of an insight into the text.  The text manipulates a sense of deviant excitement as the reader anticipates the fantasy of voyeur as illicit views through the windows suggest that the reader should not be in attendance, that she will be witness to a scene which is too prurient to be written about.  However, the text denies the details the reader is hoping for; in essence, the text leaves spaces for the reader to mould it into whatever is fantasised about.

As opened windows are used to lure the reader into the ranks of hopeful voyeur, so the closing of doors is a carefully operated device which causes the reader’s mind to engage itself in a frenzied thought process which hungers for knowledge of the text.

 

“The Ambassador was seen to go to his room, still wearing the insignia of his rank, and shut the door.  Some say he locked it, which was against his custom.” (page 59)

 

The narrative content of the text draws the reader in by locking her out.  The concept of the text as love slave is being played as the reader is only provided with alleged details.  The text essentially offers the reader the chance to create her own fantasy within the text.  In other words, the text is again using denial of details as a promise of adaption in order to satisfy the reader’s fantasy.

English: Entrance to Freuds consulting room

English: Entrance to Freuds consulting room (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a never ending craving to complete the cycle of lack and desire the text successfully employs the device of ellipsis to create more gaps to encourage the reader to allow her repressed fantasies to surface.  The use of ellipsis suggests events which are too shocking to mention.

 

“Wondrous… utterly beyond description… gold plates…candelabras…negroes in plush breeches…” (page 58) ( please note that I do not agree with racist labels and I am not suggesting that Virginia was racist either; I am merely quoting the text)

 

The language which is used paints a decadence to indicate indulgence; to add ellipsis creates a subjacent meaning for the reader which arouses the most dormant of fantasies.  Fundamentally, the text works the reader’s mind.  The lack of language in the text encourages the reader to search the decadent language which is present for signs which indicate what the reader is hoping to locate.  As ellipsis in the text intimates a joining of language and absent language, the marriage must result in a lack desire interchange which can never be fulfilled as both are always acting as chameleons in search of each other.

The text uses Orlando as bait for the reader’s desires.  The sexual titillation concerning Orlando’s body is ambivalent.  The denial of details can be interpreted as writing which is vaguely aware of sexuality but unaware of how to work it; similarly it can be interpreted as the love object who attempts to lure the reader by a provocative indication of sexuality.  The interpretation will be open to the reader’s own exploration of the text but it is ultimately a stimulation used to attempt satiation of the reader’s psychic erotic space.

 

“Going indoors again, withdrew to his bath.  An hour later, properly scented, curled and anointed.” (page 54)

 

The reader is denied access to the bathroom in order to fantasise about Orlando having his body prepared for the events of the day.  The connotations of the above quotations are erotic by denial of detail.  It is probable that nudity and genital washing is involved, but it is purposely ambiguous as to whether he is vainly paying homage to his body himself or whether another is used to cleanse and cream the crevices of the protagonist’s person.  The innuendo is perverse as the use of the two sentences allows the reader to act as voyeur (which can be regarded as a perverse act in itself) to the most personal erotic bathroom fantasies desired.

If the text entices the reader with suggestions of being voyeur to Orlando’s personal moments, then to have Orlando in position of ultimately any fantasy is the pinnacle of invitations for the reader.

 

“And still Orlando slept.  Morning and evening they watched him.” (page 60)

 

The text deigns to give details as to Orlando’s long sleep but using sleep is an indication of death which can be an interpretation of orgasm.  According to Sigmund Freud in “The Interpretation of Dreams” sleep also is a signal for repressed fantasies being released in the form of dream.  Therefore the written sign becomes cohesive with the code of sexuality which encourages the reader to embark upon a scenario of being the mistress of Orlando’s body.  In actuality, the text as love slave is seducing the reader into being the love object by stimulating the fantasy of control for Orlando’s sleeping body.

Finally, as Orlando undergoes metamorphosis from man to woman:

 

“THE SOUND OF TRUMPETS died away and Orlando stood stark naked.  No human being, since the world began has ever looked more ravishing.  His form combined in one the strength of a man and a woman’s grace.” (page 62)

 

The reader is denied details of Orlando’s perfect form except the fact that he/she is ravishing.  This implies that the text is again using Orlando to capture the reader as love object.  In other words, Orlando is there to be moulded and created into the reader’s version of that which would be desirable, a Frankenstein’s monster made in the form of beauty to the eye of the reader.  The denial of details are cleverly used to incorporate whatever the reader desires in the way of physical features.  Therefore, as details of Orlando are lacking, the reader will write the body of Orlando herself to portray her own fantasy of loveliness.  Subsequently, by continual denial of detail to the reader, the text ensures in a controlled and intelligent manner that the reader commits an interest to it by being whatever she desires.

In conclusion, with a text as fluid as Orlando, we can write our own sexual fantasies, in essence, this means that the text can be read as a sexual fantasy or simply as a fine story; fundamentally, it adapts to what its love object – you the reader wants – can this be said about text like “Fifty Shades of Grey?”

 

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A Summer’s Night Shakespearean Dream.

Dogberry painted by Marks

Do events ever happen to you and you feel as if you’ve dreamed it?  Well, that happened to me the other night.  Will (the fourteen year old) and I are doing an exploration of Shakespeare and comedy this summer.  Firstly, we are watching three different versions of “Much Ado About Nothing” to compare and contrast them.  We have watched David Tennant and Catherine Tate at the Wyndham Theatre  ( Turning Teenagers Onto Shakespeare) and also watched Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson in Kenneth Branagh’s film version. (Shakespeare – Sexy Or Strangely Funny?)  The other night we went to see an outdoor professional production – or so we thought before we went.

Beatrice

Over the years, I have been to many glorious outdoor theatre productions.  I thought I was going to something similar.  At this point I must say that I think there are times when I am a bit dense.  In the past, all the ones I have been to have been in the grounds of stately homes.  This one was in the grounds of a school but me being me; I simply thought that it was a way of getting people to watch more  theatre.

I had bought my tickets over the internet not chancing buying at the gate, in case of large crowds and a sell out.  My suspicion was aroused when I was given the shooting arrow eyeball look for buying tickets over the internet.  Four ladies, positioned like sentries, guarded the table that held the cash box.  There was a certain amount of disdain in the chief’s voice as she said “so you’ve been on the internet for your tickets.”  All their eyes were on us and I began to feel like a pervert to say the least for buying my tickets in that manner.

Benedick played by Garrick

Once we were inside and passed the bouncers, I was beginning to see what we had actually come to.  We were on a school playing field, the stage was a small platform which resembled a sheep pen but could have been set up for a hanging gallows and there were about sixty people sitting around it eating from their Tupperware boxes.  We set up our chairs and Will mentioned that this really was like going to a performance from the past.

Claudio accuses Hero of being unfaithful to him at their wedding.

I bought a programme from one of the actors and Will and I settled down to look at it.  Instantly, we were approached by a white haired, extremely well spoken lady.  She asked me if she might look at my programme.  So I handed it to her.  She then says “You don’t mind if I go off with it, do you?”  Will and I stared open mouthed as she sauntered off to her seat and started reading our programme.

Ellen Terry’s Beatrice will never be forgotten.

In front of us was an elderly man and his wife tucking into their picnic.  A hairy, round man in an Hawaiian shirt approached the elderly couple.  “George, you need to go up there and thank the town council, the Lions and the Ladies Guild.  Oh and tell them where the toilets are.”  George put his sandwich quickly into his Tupperware box and shouted “What?”  Hawaiian shirt then replied, “You’re the chairman – you have to go up and make a speech.”  George shouted “What do I have to say?”  After a lot of whating and  whoing – it was then suggested that George wrote his speech down.  At this point, I was beginning to wonder if that was part of the entertainment.  George frantically scribbled on his scrap of paper and Hawaiian shirt kept repeating town council, The Lions and toilets.

The actors announced that the play was about to start and Hawaiian shirt bustled back to his seat.  George looked flummoxed, he half stood up, hesitated and then landed heavily back into his seat.  I wondered if his moment of glory had passed.  White haired lady rushed over and handed me back my programme.

This version of the play was set in World War II with Beatrice and Hero as land girls and Dogberry and Verges as the Home Watch.  Incidentally, Beatrice and Hero doubled up as Dogberry and Verges with strong Welsh accents.  The play started and the audience had to sing “We’ll Meet Again.”  Well actually, “Much Ado About Nothing” didn’t start, it was a sub play which was about Land Girls waiting for Harold to come home from the war.  The sub play was performed intermittently in “Much Ado About Nothing” to give the actors time to change as there was a lot of doubling up going on.  It was a bit like having advertisements whilst watching the television.

Dogberry and Verges.

“Much Ado About Nothing” began and my heart sank as I watched Beatrice and Benedick in their movements.  For those who don’t know, to get a play ready for performance, the movements of the actors have to be worked out.  This is called “blocking”.  There was an obvious choreographed blocking sequence which was meant to look comical but it simply wasn’t rehearsed enough and it looked like a clumsy rehearsal.  Other times, actors were standing like spare parts waiting for their turn to speak.  Beatrice is one of my favourite Shakespearean characters but this one thought she was playing a principal boy in a pantomime.  All the way through the play, I expected her to heartily slap her thigh.

The interval arrived and the white haired lady rushed up to my seat and asked “You don’t mind if I take your programme again, do you?” and off she went with it.  This time she was standing behind the audience talking to another elderly lady and wafting my programme about proprietorially.

George rushed for the stage and very politely asked the audience not to use the trees or the grass as there were toilets in the school.  I think that was meant to be a joke.

In the past, I had always sought out very good productions for us to watch.  However, to help Will’s critical skills, I had told him that we will be going to all sorts of productions as I feel that it is as helpful to see bad productions as it is good ones.  I always feel it is helpful for children to go to live theatre if it is at all possible.  They have to study plays at school and it is a whole lot easier to write critical essays about drama if the teenager has been to quite a few performances to make it real for them.

Will’s eyes were wide during the performance.  He is very serious about both Shakespeare and acting.  His first words when we came out were “I thought we were going to a professional performance.”  It wasn’t irony; he thought that I had forgotten to tell him that we were going to an amateur performance.  He was happy to be there because he said that he had learned something very important.  He is appearing in a comedy on Saturday night and had been worrying about his comic timing.  He could see how off the actors were in their timing and that made him realise that he doesn’t need to worry about his comic timing because he obviously understands it.

Beatrice and Benedick from yesteryear.

The play did not get any better in the second half but I am glad I went.  There was a certain charm to sitting in the field watching the actors in the play and the people in the audience.  I never did discover what George was chairman of, but to be honest, none of it seemed real – it was more like a dream.  Maybe I went to see the wrong play.

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Shakespeare, Sexy Or Strangely Funny?

List of titles of works based on Shakespearean...

 

Shakespeare – Sexy or Strangely Funny?

 

This summer Will (the teenager) and I are exploring Shakespeare and comedy.  Initially, we are watching three different versions of “Much Ado About Nothing” to discover how widely interpreted the comedy can be by the director and actors.  Shakespeare’s plays were written to be performed not read.   The audiences were  the ordinary folks of the day, mostly.  I often think that objective has been lost.  I think all too often now, Shakespeare’s plays, for many people, are thought of as something which the kids do at school. Unfortunately, if we don’t demonstrate to teenagers and children that this is not so, that they are to be performed and watched with pleasure, even if we don’t have to, this notion will be perpetual.  (For those of you who are not fans of Shakespeare, I am not only referring to his plays, I also include plays by Marlowe,  Johnson, Aphra Behn and all the other wonderful playwrights from around the world of yesteryear.  It is our heritage.)

 

The first viewing was of a filmed version of a performance at the Wyndham Theatre starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate.  This version was hilariously funny using visual action to elevate the humour in the text.  For more on that read “Turning Teenagers Onto Shakespeare – David Tennant and Catherine Tate”, under “Shakespeare Diary on this site.

 

The second version is the film starring Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson.  This is made as a film in that the setting is an integral part of the whole performance.  Branagh’s version is mainly a love story as opposed to the one starring Tennant which is mainly a comedy.  Comedy in Branagh’s version is kept to Dogberry and Verges – the constable in charge of the watch and his deputy.  It is in keeping with much of Shakespearean comedythat the laughs come from the lower classes.  Well, that is how it is supposed to work out.Cover of "Much Ado About Nothing (1993) (...

 

I have seen Branagh’s version four times before I watched it with Will.  It is set in the beautiful countryside of Tuscany, Italy.  We see a large Tuscan home surrounded by lush gardens.  Girls in long, white, floating dresses languish around the garden and there is Tudor music playing accompanied by the sound of Hey Nonny Nonny.  The setting is a typical pastoral idyll.  It is a spectacle – there can be no other word for it.  Next, the men arrive.  We see young, handsome soldiers all in smart uniforms arriving in a perfect line on their horses.  They have got long boots on with tight trousers and buttoned jackets.  The whole scene is one of distinction between the sexes.  The ladies are at home waiting for the men to return and looking soft, gentle and dreamy.  The men ride in and look masculine and sexy.  Before I continue, I have to say that I have never been a floating, feminine, dreamy sort of girl.  My grandfather taught me to get a sneaky left hook in at the age of five and I can write feminist essays which will make the eyes run.  However, I have always thought that those men riding on their horses looked deliciously sexy and have always been transported by the whole scene.

I relished being transported to 16th century Tuscany and waited eagerly for the men to arrive on their horses.  They arrived, dismounted and marched up to the house in a line.  Will hooted with laughter.  He stood up and puts his hands on his hips imitating them.  He said “we are devilishly manly with our tight trousers and long boots.”   I wanted to shove the Crunchie I was eating up his left nostril.  I could see exactly what he meant but didn’t really want to.

 

His main criticism however, was the way Don John, the illegitimate brother of Don Pedro was depicted.  (Don John is the villain behind the plot when Hero is set up to look as though she is unfaithful to Claudio before their wedding.)  Will, rightly felt that the depiction was too much of a stereotypical villain to be believed.  We had a strike of lightening at one point before he entered a room.  Will was waiting for his villainess laugh – it came, although it wasn’t too cackling.  He felt as if the Don John in the performance at the Wyndham theatre was far superior.  He was slightly camp and not too obvious.  Villains of that nature work far better as they are far more likely to fool us.

DOHN JOHN

DOHN JOHN (Photo credit: URBAN ARTefakte)

If any readers of this have got teenagers, I would recommend that you try doing this yourself as an experiment.  It doesn’t have to be this particular play – it could be any.  Get your teenager to watch two or three different versions.  You will be amazed at how it helps their critical skills.  It is far easier to form a critical opinion of something if you have something else to compare it with.

 

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Turning Teenagers On To Shakespeare – David Tennant and Catherine Tate.

English: Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Strat...

English: Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-on-Avon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Will (the fourteen year old) and I are exploring comedy in Shakespeare this summer.  To begin with we are watching three different versions of “Much Ado About Nothing.” We viewed the one which was staged at the Wyndham Theatre last July on Digital Theatre, a few days ago.

David Tennant at Stratford upon Avon. This ima...

David Tennant at Stratford upon Avon. This image has been cropped from the original image. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The title of this post is Turning Teenagers Onto Shakespeare.  The reason for the title is that I believe that this version of “Much Ado About Nothing”, will get your teenager loving Shakespeare.  It might not seem important for teenagers to enjoy Shakespeare but it is on the curriculum and studying something which you enjoy is a whole lot better than having to put up with a subject which you detest.  I highly recommend buying a download of this and watching it with your teenager.  It is excellent. I have no association with Digital Theatre whatsoever, this post is written purely from the Loony Literature point of view of encouraging others to enjoy literature.  In this post I explain why I believe teenagers will enjoy it.

Catherine Tate 2006

Catherine Tate 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why would teenagers like this version of “Much Ado About Nothing”?  For a start, David Tennant plays Benedick and Catherine Tate is Beatrice.  At first glance, this can seem like a couple of very popular television actors from Doctor Who being hired to draw the crowds in.  However, I have to say that David Tennant is an accomplished Shakespearean actor. (His Hamlet is inspirational.)  He is so loved by the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) that £5,000 has been raised so that one of the seats in the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford Upon Avon is to be named after him.   Catherine Tate has done a fair bit of theatre also and has appeared in Goldoni’s “A Servant to Two Masters”, for the RSC.

Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy about love winning out in the end.  When we add that its main theme is deception then it starts to sound interesting.  This interpretation is set in 1980’s Gibraltar.  Most of the chaps are navy officers and are in a post Falklands party mood.  The plot is set around two couples. We have Hero and Claudio who are getting married but there is skulduggery afoot and Claudio is wrongly led to believe that Hero has been unfaithful to him. He makes a public spectacle of her at their wedding.   Also, we have Beatrice and Benedick who seem to be constantly sparring.  Benedick’s navy chums decide to bamboozle the pair of them into falling in love.

Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing (Photo credit: psd)

Josie Rourke directed this and she deserves the heartiest slap on the back for getting it right.  By this, I mean taking the text and utilising it fully to demonstrate how approachable and contemporary Shakespeare can be.   Tennant is a master of comedy.  He gets covered in paint whilst eavesdropping which sounds rather clownish.  It isn’t.  It is done so well that we can’t help but hoot with laughter.  In Benedick’s monologues, there are moments when Tennant’s  whole persona cries out that he is having the time of his life and that is infectious – we as an audience feel that way too.

David Garrick (another David) as Benedick in 1770.

Catherine Tate plays Beatrice as a “don’t mess with me” type of gal.  I loved it.  The reason for this is that today’s girls will be able to identify with her.  It is often hard for teenagers  (I am speaking here as an ex teenager) to get to grips with the way women have been forced to be historically.  As a teenager, I would often have problems truly sympathising, let alone empathising,  with women in literature for the way in which they acted.  I wanted them to speak out and to act more.  I could turn blue at times urging some of them on to get more agency.   Sometimes I found them impossible to identify with.  It was only through years of both literary study and historical study that I could come to understand them and their motives.  So watching Tate as Beatrice truly felt like a breakthrough in getting  more teenage girls to identify with Shakespeare’s female characters.

When we are in our teens, because of raging hormones, we can often feel truly unattractive.  It seems as if everybody in the world is fancied by someone, except us.  We turn to fiction and film and often it is the handsomest, bravest hero who gets the chocolate box looking girl.  It can be soul destroying and do nothing for our confidence.  This performance of Much Ado About Nothing is the champion of the plain best friend.  Benedick dresses in drag and gets covered in paint –he certainly is no-one’s dark, silent hero.  Beatrice dresses as a man for a party and ends up flying in the air with the grace of a fairy elephant.  She is no gorgeous femme fatale or pale interesting type.  Yet she gets the boy.  The message is simply be yourself, no matter how clumsy and plain you feel , one day, someone will love you for you.  What teenager could resist that?

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare (Photo credit: Newton Free Library)

 

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Filed under Education, For children, For Teens, Inspiration and Us, Literary Criticism, Self Esteem and Literature, Shakespeare Diary

The past is a different country, not today in funny costumes

The past is a different country, not today in funny costumes.

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My Frankenstein Diary (9) – Can an author inspire us?

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Percy Bysshe S...

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Stipple engraving. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the aims of Loony Literature is to use Literature as a springboard for our own creativity.  We hope to encourage people to read great Literature creatively and then to go on to write, film, act, paint or make music from their own impressions of the piece.  In this post, I want to show you how not only an author’s work can inspire us but the life of the author itself.

Over a year ago, I decided to write a play which would encourage children to embrace Frankenstein.  I think it is a great text for children as it demonstrates how harmful prejudice is.  I also wanted to demonstrate that the monster of the book is actually eloquent in his speech as nearly all popular films depict him as a mindless grunter.   Before I set out to write the play, I decided to do some background research on Frankenstein’s author Mary Shelley.

Her life story is much more intriguing than a lot of fiction.  I hungrily devoured page after page of this great woman’s life as if it was a page turning novel.  By the time I had finished reading about her, she was firmly ensconced in my mind and sitting on my shoulder defying me not to put her in my play.  Her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley was no better, his voice was ringing in my ears.  I did not have to think about it, the idea for the play shouted at me, it walloped me around the head and then I gave in – okay Mary, I will write a really funny play for children which demonstrates what happens when Dr Frankenstein meets his creator, Mary Shelley.  The play Frankenstein’s Revenge will be published in the next couple of months, along with teaching ideas.

Okay, so that was what Mary Shelley did to yours truly.  I’m not sure if something a bit cosmic has been happening but at around the same time the playwright Helen Edmundson was writing the play Mary Shelley.  Obviously, I was intrigued.  I went to see it last night and I was totally transported into the lives of Mary Shelley and her family.  I am not going to give a synopsis of the play as this is a piece about creative writing and not a review.  I do however, want to point something out which particularly delighted me and is a writing point

Mrs Godwin

Mrs Godwin (Photo credit: Wanganui District Library)

.Mrs Godwin is Mary Shelley’s (Wollstonecraft Godwin before her marriage to Shelley) stepmother.   When I have read about Mrs Godwin in the past, I have not had much sympathy for her.  She is often depicted as being jealous of Mary and not up to the intellectual heights of Mary and her father, William Godwin.  Helen Edmundson intelligently depicted Mrs Godwin as a woman who was caught on all sides, a woman who lived in fear of being sent back to the debtor’s prison.  She had really and truly thought about this woman’s position in life.  Subsequently, she successfully brought to life someone who had always been depicted as a two dimensional character before.   The point I want to make is that when we are inspired by author’s lives, we must make sure that we don’t simply focus on how the events of their life affect them but we must do it with all the other characters around them.  If we do that, we are on our way to creating what I could only deem as a masterpiece by Helen Edmundson.

Page from William Godwin's journal recording M...

Page from William Godwin’s journal recording Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin’s (Mary Shelley’s) birth on 30 August 1797; held at the Bodleian Library (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Looking into the life of Mary Shelley and her family will inspire anyone.  For those interested there is a wide range of letters and papers from the family on-line.

www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/dept/scwmss/wmss/online/1500-1900/abinger/abinger.html

The journal kept by Mary and Percy Shelley when they eloped to France has been published as: The Journals of Mary Shelley,  ed by Paula R. Feldman and Diana Scott-Kilvert (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press; Clarendon Press, 1987) Mary went on to keep the journal up after the return from France.

William Godwin’s dairy is available on-line at http://godwindiary.bodleian.ox.ac.uk

Schools with A level students studying English or History associated with the Shelley-Godwin circle can get in touch at:godwindiary@politics.ox.ac.uk

A Mary Shelley Resource pack is available to download FREE from Shared Experience website at www.sharedexperience.org.uk

A copy of the Mary Shelley script can be purchased at: www.nickhernbooks.co.uk

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Why It Is Good To Perform Shakespeare As Terribly As Possible!

A circa 1884 poster for William Shakespeare's ...

A circa 1884 poster for William Shakespeare's Richard III, starring Thos. W. Keene. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before you decide you have never heard as much rubbish in your life – lend me your ear and I will explain.  I am positive that children can really enjoy Shakespeare if they are primed properly for it before they are thrown head first into the text in their teens.  Acting out monologues can be a useful starting point.  However, to get our wisdom across we have to have laughter and lots of it.  If we tell children they have to do it badly, they lose all their fear – they cannot get it wrong.  As confidence affects every decision we make, trying to be good at something as odd as Shakespeare when you are ten means that you want to disappear.  When you are told you have to be as terrible as possible at it, it doesn’t matter if your peers laugh at you – they is what they are supposed to do.  The bigger the laughs, the more successful you are.

Okay, so that deals with the confidence factor, now we can move onto actually teaching them something about the monologue and how it is meant to be performed.  I have added a Loony Literature video here to demonstrate what I am talking about.  The main actor is fourteen years old and is auditioning for Richard III.  The young actor in question is extremely serious about acting and can do a very convincing Richard III.  So much so, that when he performed the same monologue for a LAMDA exam, he got a distinction.  However, do you think he enjoyed filming this?  Indeed he did, he was in his element and he’s fourteen.  Younger children, therefore, will positively love being told to do something badly.

You can use the video to demonstrate how utterly badly it can be done.  Ask your child or group what is wrong with the way Horace Gaup is standing and delivering the text.  In fact, you can be sure that they will want to have a go too after seeing that!   If the children are particularly enjoying themselves, you could film it.  Playing it back would cause more hilarity and enhance discussion greatly.

Once the terrible deed has been done and the young thespians have done their worst, you can talk about the way they moved and held themselves.  We can ask them what they think is wrong with it.  How could they do it better?

We can talk about the manner of the delivery – would it be better if it was louder, quieter, slower or speeded up.  Why would that sound better?

We can talk about what the text means and what is the best way to say it – for instance when Richard III is saying that he is so deformed dogs bark at him – what sort of voice would he say that in?  He would he be feeling whilst saying those words?

I hope this is helpful,l but above all I hope that you have as much fun as we had whilst making the video.  Happy acting.

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Filed under Education, For children, For Teens, Literary Criticism, Loony literature videos, Parenting

How NOT to do a Shakespeare Audition.

Loony Literature is auditioning people for Richard III.  We show how Shakespeare should not be done by a guitar playing werewolf, a modest cat called Mildred and the incredible Horace Gaup.  We must stress that no children, animals or werepeople were harmed during the recording of this video.

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Introducing children to Shakespeare by using insults.

Thou art a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three suited, hundred pound, filthy, worsted stocking knave…” (King Lear)  I hope, dear reader, you don’t think I am referring to you.   Perish the thought, no, I simply wanted to grab your swan-like neck and swing it in my direction.  I don’t want to insult you but I do want to talk about insults and how they can be used to help children be comfortable with Shakespeare’s plays.

 Children love Shakespeare if they are introduced to his works properly.  Unfortunately, what should be an exciting journey with The Bard often becomes painful, embarrassing and boring.  I say painful, embarrassing and boring because if the background work is not done, Shakespeare’s language can seem unapproachable.  It then becomes embarrassing because the learner feels stupid.  We all know that feeling when something seems to be definitely “not for us”, we cut off and it becomes boring.  I am a great believer, therefore, of priming children with Shakespeare’s works well before they reach the teenage years.  Children who have been introduced to the stories   (it is important that children know what is happening in story form well in advance of reading a full blown play) and aspects of the language are ready to read one of Shakespeare’s plays.  It is thoughtless to expect teenagers who haven’t grown up in a literary atmosphere or a book loving household to embrace a sixteenth century play without any former grounding.  Fundamentally, I cannot stress the importance of introducing children to Shakespeare in a child friendly manner.

This is where insults are invaluable.  I first came across this exercise whilst doing a day long workshop with The Royal Shakespeare Company.  It was used as a warming up exercise to allow everyone to relax and clear out those dreadful inhibitions we can suffer from.  Everyone is given a piece of card with an insult written on it.  It can be something like this quotation from King Lear:

Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood.

Elizabethan music can be played whilst everyone swiftly marches or skips around the room.  When the music stops you turn to the nearest person to you and shout your insult out at the top of your voice.  They then shout their insult back at you.  The next time, it can be whispered in a sly manner. In essence, the insults can be said in many different ways e.g. angrily or with uncontrollable laughter. It is a very good drama exercise. The insult cards can then be changed around.  Incidentally, children, teenagers and adults love this as they are actually allowed to use insults without getting into trouble – it has that naughty, delicious edge to it which allows us to let off steam and then gives us the desire to learn.  It also gives Shakespeare a bit of street cred before he gets the label of boring.

As children love to be creative, I have added an activity so that they can create the insults themselves.

Activity

They need to take an insult from the first two sections below (both of these are adjectives) and then add it to the third section which is a noun.  Add ‘thou’ at the beginning and you have a lovely Shakespearean insult.

Section 1 – base, proud, shallow, beggarly, bawdy, filthy, coward, paunchy, gorbellied, puking, droning, dankish.

Section 2  worsted-stocking, pigeon-egg,  boil-brained, onion-eyed, elf-skinned, trunk-inheriting, clapper-clawed, milk-livered, lily-livered, doghearted, hundred-pound.

Section 3 knave, rogue, bladder, bugbear, pribbling, flap-dragon, boar-pig, barnacle, apple-john, maggot-pie, coxcomb.

For instance – Thou filthy, boil-brained boar-pig.

For any children who particularly enjoy the insults, I love Elizabethan insults so much that I have them all the way through my book Will Blyton and The Stinking Shadow.  Will finds Hamnet, a small boy trapped in a stone, who unfortunately hurls insults every time he opens his mouth.  He is, of course, from the Elizabethan period and has had a curse put upon him by the evil, Elizabethan magician Corpsehound.  His outrageous insults get Will into trouble everywhere he goes.

“Leave me be, thou fetid, old skanky breath,” says Hamnet.

 

So thou base, clapper-clawed rogue – I’m sorry it’s become a habit.  What I really mean is “until we meet again, dear reader.”

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Let’s Talk About Frankenstein (2) – Walton’s First Three Letters.

In the introductory post, I offered the hypothesis that “Frankenstein” (1) was a letter written by the teenage Mary Shelley to her dead mother, Mary Wollstonecraft.  I suggested that Shelley had written herself as Frankenstein with her mother Wollstonecraft as the monster.  It occurred to me that Shelley wanted her dead mother to understand how it felt to be an abandoned child.  It could be suggested that this hypothesis is flawed because we start the text with the explorer, Walton and his sister, Margaret Saville.  However, if we reason that Shelley is the mother of sci fi; I think we can safely expect her to have fluidity in her writing.  Even though she was writing in the early 1800s, Shelley was not bound by convention.  As her main character Frankenstein was a scientist, an experimenter, so Shelley embraced investigation in her writing.   I think that Shelley explores her communications with her dead mother throughout the text in a theatrical way.   The characters change their costumes and become someone else.   Hence, in the beginning, we are introduced to Walton the explorer and his sister Margaret Saville who are simply Shelley and Wollstonecraft, respectively.

In this post, I will explore how my hypothesis fits with the beginning of the book when we read Walton the explorer’s first three  letters to his sister, Mrs Saville.   Mrs Saville has been left at home whilst her brother has exciting adventures.  It is a typical 18th century scenario.  The male has inherited the family fortune and is off proving his masculinity whilst his sister sits at home waiting for his correspondence.  As the daughter of the first feminist writer, Mary Wollstonecraft, it is easy to see how the text could be perceived as a bit tongue in cheek.  However, as I am reading the letters  as  letters  from Mary Shelley to Mary Wollstonecraft, they can be viewed another way.

As I suggested earlier, Mary Shelley has depicted herself as Walton whilst her dead mother is the sister Mrs Saville.  Mary was a teenager when she penned Frankenstein, Walton is an explorer.  The teenage years are when young people try many things for the first time.  In other words, teenagers are explorers.

It is obvious that Shelley both loved and mourned her mother – she would read on her grave.  In Frankenstein, she has placed Mrs Saville in the home.  The sense of Mrs Saville being tied to her domestic quarters is obvious, so distinct in fact, that it suggests the home we never leave – the coffin.  The sub text is sly; it is similar to having a rag of ether placed over your face whilst you are unaware of it.  In other words, it creeps up on you insidiously but once you are conscious of it, it is obviously there.  The message is loud and clear to the dead mother – “Look at me, this is living.  Look at what you are missing by abandoning me.”  Fundamentally, the first letter is all about bravado –”I am an explorer of life and you are tied to the domesticity of the grave.”

When we read the second letter there is a huge change of mood.  The teenager who has bragged, strutted and portrayed herself as a complete adult returns to the isolation of a toddler missing her parents.  Shelley as Walton laments her loneliness.  Even though there are many men aboard the ship, Walton suffers from a sense of alienation.

“I have no friend, Margaret: when I am glowing with the enthusiasm of success, there will be none to participate my joy; if I am assailed by disappointment, no-one will endeavour to sustain me in dejection.” (2)

Letter three is a short missive.  Walton does not speak of personal matters.  He merely discusses the weather.  However, in the last paragraph he tells Margaret that he will “not rashly encounter danger.  I will be cool, persevering and prudent.” (3)   I would strongly suggest that this is Shelley writing to the dead Wollstonecraft.   She is telling her that although she is embarking on a voyage of motherhood, she can and will look after herself.   The message is ambivalent.  It partly consoles the mother that she doesn’t need to worry about her daughter.  Contrastingly, it also says that she has had to learn to steer her own vessel onto safe waters because the captain jumped ship.

Shelley is a mistress of signposts.  We have to be vigilant when we read her.  She throws small clues into the text which the eye might skim over.  A good example of this is the way Walton has signed the first three letters to his sister.  They are signed – Your affectionate brother, R. Walton; Your affectionate brother Robert Walton and Most affectionately yours, R.W.  (4)  By signing each letter differently, Shelley is depicting changes in Walton’s moods.   Fundamentally, the changes in Walton’s moods are a teenage girl’s conflicting emotions towards the dead mother she is desperate to communicate with.

Notes.

  1. Shelley, Mary, Frankenstein 1818 text.

(Oxford World’s Classics.)

  1. ‘ibid; p.8
  2. ‘ibid’,p.11
  3. ‘ibid’ p.8,p11.

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Filed under Frankenstein, Literary Criticism