Category Archives: Education

Why we need to get kids into Shakespeare in Primary School

We at Loony Literature headed up to Hull Truck Theatre last week to see the RSC perform The Famous Victories of Henry V – this is a play, for kids, that brings together all the exciting moments of three plays – Henry IV parts I and II and Henry V.

We need more of this

Basically, we need more of this – it is that simple. We have mentioned before that some teenagers can spend more than three years getting a GSCE grade C in English Language which includes a Shakespeare play. This is because they study it for two years at school but if do not get a C or above, they have to do it again.

We have also said to anyone who will listen that kids need to be introduced in a fun manner to Shakespeare in primary school not in secondary school. By the time they study a play at secondary school they need to be relaxed about The Bard. The Famous Victories of Henry V by the RSC was everything and more than we could have wished for.

Simon Yadoo as Sir John Falstaff in The Famous Victories of Henry V. Photo by Richard Lakos.

Simon Yadoo as Sir John Falstaff in The Famous Victories of Henry V. Photo by Richard Lakos.

The cast was made up of young actors apart from the extra talented  Simon Yadoo who played Falstaff/Henry V. The energy of the players was electric as the young actors went among the audience before the play started making sure that they knew what the plot was.

The name of the game at this event was audience participation – those actors worked that audience as if they were back in Elizabethan England. There were props handed out to some of the children and they had to give them to certain characters during the play.

The audience were taught a song about Falstaff’s wine which everyone sang with vigour while waving their arms about. This was obviously a winner as a group of girls sang it loudly in the lavatory after the performance.

A young boy of about eight sat behind us and he had to stand up and shout. He was truly earnest and we were certain that that little boy would never forget that moment all his life. His eyes showed that.

We want them to laugh until their sides ache

The RSC have also taken this production into some schools and we need more of this for our country’s children. Shakespeare is meant to be performed; this is the second item that we need for kids. We need them to experience crafted actors, like Martin Bassindale who played Henry V, bringing the characters to life. We want them to laugh until their sides ache like they did at this production when Mistress Quickly, played by Daniel Abbott, shook his bosom at them.

Dale Mathurin as John, Martin Bassindale as Prince Hall, Daniel Abbott as Mistress Quickly and Nicholas Gerard-Martin as Dericke in The Famous Victories of Henry V. Photo by Richard Lakos.

Dale Mathurin as John, Martin Bassindale as Prince Hall, Daniel Abbott as Mistress Quickly and Nicholas Gerard-Martin as Dericke in The Famous Victories of Henry V. Photo by Richard Lakos.

When kids have experienced this they will begin to understand what the Bard is all about. One teacher said that before the RSC visited their school, they used to have the ‘collective groan’ when Shakespeare was mentioned but now there was excitement in the air.

Schools need to go to more theatre trips and more theatre companies need to be working with them, hand in hand. We don’t only want the kids of our country being introduced to Shakespeare in this manner, we want them to see Frankenstein making his monster and Dr Jekyll transforming into Mr Hyde.

We have a world famous literary heritage

As with everything, a major problem is budget. We are not experts on these matters but surely putting money into the problem when kids are in primary school would balance out all those English GSCEs that teenagers are resitting around the country. We are talking hundreds of thousands of resits here, not a mere few.

We have a world famous literary heritage and it is only when we make our kids proud of it will the level of GCSE resits drop.

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Filed under Education, Exciting Excursions, Help Your Child To Be Sucessful, Inspiration and Us, Shakespeare Diary, theatre in education

Help Your Child To Be Successful – A Simple Way To Introduce Shakespeare Early

If you live in some parts of the world, Britain, for instance, your child will have to study Shakespeare to get an English GCSE. It is often problematic, so much so that students resitting the course still cannot engage with the Bard. It is taking some students three years or longer to get a C for English and it upsets me. Three years normally gets you a degree. I’m not saying that is just due to Shakespeare because I know that it is not but it is a part of it.

I’ve said this before and I will not stop saying it, it’s because the groundwork needs to be done when they are little. If your eyes are bulging at this point, I don’t mean that you should get a four year old to deconstruct Hamlet, I mean drip feed it in a fun and exciting fashion.

Start off with Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

  • Puck is often represented as a child – this will instantly allow recognition.
  • Puck can do magic. Small children often feel powerless in a world where they really don’t have much say. They will want to creatively engage with Puck because they can imagine being able to change things.
  • Puck is mischievous – think  Just William and Horrid Henry.

4 fun ways to introduce your child to Puck, a Shakespearean character:

Through drawing

Do your own version.

Do your own version.

Set up your drawing or art equipment and then show your child the above drawing of Puck by Victorian artist Arthur Rackham. Explain that Puck is a sprite that is in a play for stage called A Midsummer Night’s Dream by a very famous man called William Shakespeare. Don’t forget to mention that he lived about five hundred years ago.

Tell them that Puck is also called Robin Goodfellow and plays naughty tricks in people’s houses and in the woods. Explain that he is also a shapeshifter and transforms himself. Invite your child to draw or paint their own version of him. When they have finished ask them why they have done it like that. How do they view Puck?

Through movement and dance

Make sure that your child is in comfortable clothes and that you have cleared a floor space. Watch this short video of Puck dancing. Ask your child why Puck moves like that in the video – is he trying to send us a secret message without words? Invite your child to copy some of the movements. When you have done that, talk about how they think Puck might move and help them to make up their own dance. You could then film it.

Through drama

Use this quotation from Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Act III – scene 1 – lines 100 – 106 (Arden)

Through bog, through bush, through brake, through briar;

Sometime a horse I’ll be, sometime a hound,

A hog, a headless bear, sometime a fire;

And neigh, and bark, and grunt, and roar, and burn,

Like horse, hound, hog, bear, fire, at every turn.

 

Talk about it being in a woodland setting so they would have to act out wading through a bog making sure that they did not sink, fighting scratchy bushes etc… Once they have mastered the landscape, they can imagine that they are Puck and they have to transform themselves into different creatures – what would they be like? How would a hog get through a bog for instance? Again, you could film the end product on your phone.

Through making up a story

It’s important to remember that before children can write stories by themselves, they need to be able to create them; doing this regularly will help your child to be successful at English. Ask your child what they would do if they could be Puck for an afternoon. What would they transform themselves into? Would they play cheeky tricks on others or would they help somebody?

Once you find out what they would really love to do, turn it into a simple story.

  • The beginning is when they find out that they can be Puck for an afternoon.
  • The middle would be the one thing which they would do.
  • The end is the outcome of what they do.

When the story has been worked out, if the child is too young to write – do it for them. There is nothing that will give a child the desire to write more than seeing their own words down on the page.

I hope this helps. Remember even four year olds can be introduced to Shakespeare if it is done simply and gently.

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6 Great Activities To Introduce Kids to Charles Dicken’s “Christmas Carol.”

Create a Victorian Ghost Story Atmosphere.   On Christmas Eve, it is a family tradition in our house to sit around the fire and by candlelight we tell ghost stories just like the Victorians did.  This is a great way to introduce children to “Christmas Carol”.  For older children read the original Charles Dicken’s “Christmas Carol” and do it in stages on the run up to Christmas.  It will be something which they will look forward to particularly if you create the right atmosphere with candles, hot chocolate and marshmallows and a sense of fun thrown in.  For younger children, there are some excellent versions of the story which  have illustrations in and will introduce them to the basic concept of the story.  The main thing is to create the atmosphere and have fun.

Scrooge, from Charles Dickens: A Christmas Car...

Scrooge, from Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. With Illustrations by John Leech. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843. First edition. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Introduce Scrooge  I was first introduced to “Christmas Carol” by watching the old 1951 version starring Alistair Simm as Scrooge.  It was Christmas Eve and the snow floated down outside as I watched it, it was an afternoon which was to mould my attitude to Christmas.  If the children are older you could watch it all the way through, however, for younger ones you only need to watch the first six minutes for them to get a fascinating insight of the character of Scrooge.  Tell the kids you’re going to show them a film clip of a man called Scrooge and they have to decide if he is a Christmas baddie or not.  As you watch the first six minutes ask them why he is not nice and get them to boo him.  It’s also great fun to shout “Baddie! Baddie! Baddie!”  You can even get them to vote as to whether he is the worst Christmas baddie ever or can they think of worse ones and why are they worse than Scrooge.  The important thing is to get a conversation going as to why we don’t like Scrooge and to have fun, fun fun.  For older kids, ask if they think Scrooge can ever become nice and then question why they think that he can or can’t and then tell them that they need to watch the whole film to find out whether he changes or not.   You can watch it here.

Make your own Christmas ghosts on film.   Watch Horace Gawp’s Christmas Carol below, check out our ghosts and then make your own.  It is easy and great fun to do.  All you have to do is get the kids to put some of their dressing up clothes on or use different clothes than they normally wear.  If there are any hats or wigs in the house these can be used.  Putting clothes on which are far too big or small will give a comic effect.  Once the clothes are on, get the children to pretend that they are a long lost ancestor – they don’t have to exist – you can pull them out of the air for instance, you can have great uncle Theophilus Windbag.  Tell the children to pretend that they have come to visit each other or you with a message for the future.  When they have worked out their message, get them to act it out and film them.  It doesn’t need to be very long.  Upload your chip to your computer and if you have ‘windows live movie maker’ – you can use that.  If you haven’t got ‘windows live movie maker’ on your computer upload your film to Youtube. (For You tube, upload your film and click on “enhancements “- you will see a menu of different colours, it is probably best to choose the lightest but play around with different ones to get the effect which you wish.  Don’t forget to save your final choice.)   For ‘ windows live  maker’, click on that.  In the top menu click on “add videos and photos”  and it will ask you to choose which photo or video you wish to use.  Click on the film clip you have just made.  When your film pops up, look at the top menu and click on “visual effects”.  You will see one which is all white, this is the one which we used for our ghosts, however – play around to see which suits you best.  Once you have done this, return to the “home” menu at the top and save your film.  You will be asked to give it a title and that’s it you have created your own speaking ghost.

Create your own Christmas Ghost Story.   Once you have gotten in the mood for Christmas ghost stories, it is a good idea for the kids to create their own.  I use the term “create” as opposed to “writing” because I know that as some stage most adults are able to read and write, however, to me, it is more important to concentrate on encouraging children to think creatively.  Once they are bursting with ideas then they can be recorded but the pressure to put pen to paper before the ideas have been thought often creates a creative blockage.  So if you start off with a framework of a person who treats others badly at Christmas time but gets visited by three ghosts who want to show him something from his/her past, present and future, then you have got a basic plot to work from.  Character wise – start off with Scrooge (or whatever you wish to call your main character) and perhaps discuss why this person treats others so badly and hates Christmas time.  You will be surprised how much this gives you to put into your story.  The main point here is to get the kids thinking and having fun.  Let them create three ghosts, get them talking about where they want their story to be and in what time period.  It is amazing how creative kids become once the pressure to sit down and write is off them – so get them shouting out their ideas, looking on the internet for what their ghosts can look like and generally having fun.  It doesn’t matter if the story never gets finished because the end product is not what this exercise is about.  The object of the exercise is to get the kids to know a little about Christmas Carol and Charles Dickens and most of all it is to give them the confidence to be creative.  Encouraging them to be creative is one of the most important gifts you will ever give them as creative thinking is quite simply problem solving – this is needed every day of our lives and the  more children do it, the better they become at it – need I say more?

Marley's ghost, from Charles Dickens: A Christ...

Marley’s ghost, from Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. With Illustrations by John Leech. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843. First edition. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Playing at Christmas Carol.    When I was a child we would watch a film or television programme and then we would go outside and play “Batman” or “Robin Hood”.  When kids play like this, they are effectively creating drama.  So if you’ve read them the story or watched the film, it’s a great idea to let them play some scenes from “Christmas Carol”  Which child wouldn’t like to be the horrible Scrooge?  They can get out all their inner niggles without getting in trouble.  How exciting to play Marley’s Ghost with the chains and frightening the life out of that horrible Scrooge.  Let them improvise with their own words and their own rendition of the story, join in with them until they get the hang of it and let them get lost in the old fashioned world of playing.  Who knows, they might come up with their own shortened version which they want to put on for the family for Christmas.  Children never fail to surprise me with the depths of creativity once a seed has been planted.

Ignorance and Want, woodcut — from A Christmas...

Ignorance and Want, woodcut — from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Visit a stately home in the run up to Christmas.    Hardly anybody can build up a Dickensian atmosphere like these folks.  There the children will see the costumes and decorations in reality.  Many places have got special events on this year which will especially demonstrate how Christmas was in Charles Dickens “Christmas Carol.  The National TrustEnglish Heritage and Historic Houses Association are good places to begin looking.

We hope these “Christmas Carol” activities have been of use to you but most of all we wish you a very Merry Christmas.  Have fun.

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Writing For Kids – Three Easy Steps to Help Kids Create Characters.

Follow these three steps to get kids to create their own characters in a fun and easy way. From our sister site willblyton.com

Will Blyton - The Alternative Detective

 

 

I see so many people who remind me of animals and I don’t mean that in a nasty way as I am a great animal lover, what I mean is if people remind us of animals in reality, why not get children to use animals as a way of helping them create characters when they write stories, act sketches or make their own comic books?   Using these three easy steps, we can give children the confidence to realise that they too can create story people.

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 Step One

 

This fun step shows children how people can actually remind us of animals and how  it actually works so that they get a full understanding of what we are trying to achieve.  I have given you  a choice of three different ways of doing this, you only need to pick the way which appeals to you the…

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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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Six Great Reasons To Do Family History With Kids.

I love family history, I get to be the detective, I couldn’t be in reality.  I have been doing it with my son since he was about nine.  He is now a grown up and does it without me as he is crazy about history and has got a deep interest in particular families he has discovered we are descended from.  This isn’t a post about how to do family history – there are many great books and articles out there to help.  This is a post which explains a few of the reasons why it is good to share it with our children.

My great grandmother, Alice Escritt.

History becomes a reality.  When our children do history at school, it is always other people’s history.  It might be about monarchy, political leaders or wars.  It is nearly always about the folks who are known by many but actually connected to a few.  When anything is covered about the ordinary folks it can seem as bland as my cooking.  Growing up in Lancashire, we covered the cotton industry in history at school.  I remember wishing aliens would come and cause chaos as Mr Hall droned on about the warp and the weft.  Oh how that man knew how to kill any interest in The Industrial Revolution –  that in itself was a talent.  However, much as I would love to indulge myself in remembering Mr Hall’s secret educational weapons, I won’t.  When we look at our ancestor’s lives during these periods, we truly get a sense of reality, especially in periods which cover the censuses.  For instance, finding out that your great grandmother shared one room with ten other people and had to go into the street to get drinking water, really makes us think about the reality and hardships of their lives.  Family history brings history to life for children because it is about folks they are directly connected to, people whom they share DNA with.  It doesn’t get more personal than that.

Family History Mormons

Family History Mormons (Photo credit: More Good Foundation)

Research skills.  Whilst having lunch with a teacher friend of mine, we decided that one of the most important skills a child can learn is to be able to research well.  Family history is a  productive way of doing this.  Children love to discover something about their ancestors and then grandly announce it to their parents.  When my son discovered that he had a 10X great grandmother called Frances Poo, he adored breaking the news.  Of course, I thought he was joking and had to check it.  He was right, of course.  The point is that family history makes children feel like real live detectives.  The more they find, the deeper they wish to go.  It is amazing how much this aids their research skills whilst having fun.

Francis Poo

England, Marriages, 1538–1973

marriage: 24 Jan 1598 Pocklington, York, England
spouse: William Fallowfyeld

Bonding process.  In this day and age, it is all too easy for families to be in the same house and yet not really be connecting with each other.  A lot of the time, families are all doing their own thing, even watching television programmes is done in separate rooms these days.  This is where family history really helps us bond with our children.  There is something really powerful about the moment your child and yourself discover something fantastic or heart breaking about a shared relative.  It is potent and strange and something which they could not get with friends, neighbours or anyone except the family.  When I first discovered that a great grandfather of mine had spent the last twenty years of his life in a lunatic asylum –I was totally shocked.  I was new to family history and it was the first of many sad or brilliant shocks which were to come.  The only people I could share it with, initially, were my son and my mother – both of whom were from the same ancestor.

Ashton-under-Lyne old hall

Ashton-under-Lyne old hall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Days Out.  Sometimes, it is hard to think of something new to do with our kids or even somewhere different to go.  We often seem to do the same activities and visit the same places.  We’ve had some great days out though visiting the places where our ancestors lived.  It can be good fun to take photos of the children in front of the church where their ancestors got married two hundred years earlier or even just discovering a market town which your ancestors lived in but you haven’t been to before.  I found a fabulous pair of Punch and Judy doorstops for £5 in an antique shop whilst visiting one of the market towns my ancestors once lived. in  Although saying that, it can sometimes backfire.  We visited some record offices in Ashton Under Lyne in Lancashire – that was fine.  We then planned to find an address where some of our ancestors had lived in the early 1800s.  It had turned into a monstrously busy road with huge trucks zooming up and down it. It made me totally stressed so I really do not know what my 4X great grandfather and grandmother would have made of it if they had travelled forward in time.

Meeting Wonderful New Relatives.  We all have an amazing number of ancestors, so logically that means we are related to an amazing number of people whom we have never met.  We were lucky enough to be found by a wonderful Australian lady whose great grandmother was sister to my great grandmother.  When she came to England, she brought her husband and children to meet us and we all had a rare old knees up together.  My son found lovely new cousins whom he bonded with immediately.  It makes family history become real for children when they get to meet the descendants of people who are simply names and numbers on family trees.

Lancashire

Lancashire (Photo credit: Neil T)

Logic and Maths. When children do family history, they have to do lots of mathematical calculations and estimates.  It isn’t the hardest maths in the world but it means lots of practise with basic maths in a productive way instead of filling in one maths worksheet after another.  In the same way, they have to work in a logical manner.  Finding out about our ancestors means working methodically backwards and making sure all the facts fit.  We cannot start in the middle, we have to be systematic and it becomes a habit.  Children who take part in family history projects become adept at careful note-taking and fact checking.  They have to do the maths to make sure that what they have discovered is both logical and correct.

Happy hunting!

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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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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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Inspiration and Us – Homosexuality and Blackmail in 1808!

Inspiration and Us – Can a time inspire us?

Loony Literature thrives on inspiring others.  We like to share our experiences with you, in the hope that, in turn, you might also be inspired to write something of your own.  We like to use Literature as a springboard for our own creations, this does not mean that it always has to be fiction that we write.  Literature can inspire articles too. In this post we go off on a creative tangent.  We hope you enjoy the journey and feel compelled to do something yourself after reading this.

At the moment we are working on a play inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.   I have been intrigued by Mary Shelley’s life and it set me off wondering what my own ancestors were doing around about that time.  I imagined that compared to Mary and Percy Shelley, my own discoveries would seem dull.  I could not have been more wrong.  I wanted a picture of what my ancestors were doing after Mary Shelley’s birth 1797 up until the publication of Frankenstein 1818 – that was my springboard, my starting point.  The following article is what came out of thinking about Mary Shelley’s time.

HOMOSEXUALITY AND BLACKMAIL IN 1808

In 1808, my 4X great uncle, Robert Escritt and his friend John Paul were in the pillory 3 times for conspiring to blackmail concerning homosexuality; homosexuality was a hanging offence then.  In fact, they were one of the last recorded cases for the pillory in Driffield, East Yorkshire Reading the court documents for his trial would be enough to make any relative squirm at being related to such a cad.  However, following up my research, I uncovered a shocking twist in the tale which included injustice, villainy and transportation.

Robert Escritt was an ordinary agricultural labourer who by a wicked twist of fate had his normal life turned into what can only be imagined as a nightmare. Robert Escritt was born in 1780 at Kirkburn, East Yorkshire to William Escritt and Elizabeth Bentley.  He married Ann Braithwaite on Boxing Day (December 26th) 1802 at St Michael and All Angels Church, Garton on the Wolds and they lived in Garton on the Wolds.

English: St Michael and All Angels Church, Gar...

English: St Michael and All Angels Church, Garton on the Wolds, East Riding of Yorkshire, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Imagine Robert Escritt, like thousands of other agricultural labourers, wearing a wide brimmed hat to protect himself  from the elements, a smock which would reach down to his knees and his only pair of boots made of leather with steel toe caps and hobnailed soles.

 Agricultural labourers were at the bottom of the village hierarchy.  At the top of the hierarchy in village life would be the landowner or village squire.  After him would be the tenant farmer who tended the landowner’s livestock and land.  Usually the tenant farmer would be provided with a farmhouse.  The farmers who tended a large farm with fertile soil would be able to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle.  In the middle of the village hierarchy would be the skilled craftsmen such as blacksmiths, carpenters, saddlers, thatchers and coopers.  These men were vital to the smooth running of the village.   At the very bottom of the heap would be the poor labourers like Robert Escritt and John Paul.   They would have constantly done back breaking work but the landowner would have enjoyed most of the profit.  The landowner would give the farmer his share and the labourers would get a pittance for all the relentless work they were forced to do in order to earn a meagre living.

Agricultural labourers were often the poorest people in England.  Even though their rewards were minimal, the work and suffering they had to endure was not.  For instance, during the planting season the whole family would be expected to work out in the fields, in freezing cold weather, from dawn to dusk.  Alternatively, during harvest the whole family could be toiling in the fields from dawn to dusk in the blazing sun.  He certainly would not have had much in the way of comfort but that life was probably viewed as much better than what was to come.

Looking for one ancestor can often bring up another one with the same name and an interesting story.  I was not aware of Robert Escritt’s existence until I was looking for my two of my great grandfathers by the same name.  I had decided to look on the Beverley Treasure House Archives.  The search for Robert Escritt brought up the form QSF/399/B/6 – Indictment of John Paul and Robert Escritt of Garton labourers 26th April 1808.  I knew it could not be one of my direct line Roberts as one was a farmer who had died in 1800 and the other was a cooper who was yet to be born.

After looking on Familysearch to find out if I could place that Robert Escritt, I found out that he had married Ann Braithwaite.  I referred to my family tree on Ancestry.com and was able to place Robert Escritt as my 4X great uncle.  A trip to the Treasure House was in order to see what was in the document.

Was Robert Escritt a murderer, a burglar or a petty thief?

The journey was met with both trepidation and excitement.  I knew he had done something unlawful but what?  As the archivist brought the 200 year old document to me, my mind was buzzing with every single crime that could be committed – was he a murderer, a burglar, a petty thief?  The list was endless but  I was nowhere near the truth.

The document was placed before me and weighted down.  The first court hearing was 28th July 1807.  Robert Escritt and John Paul were

“persons of ill name and fame and dishonest and unlawfully contriving to deprive one Francis Brown the younger of his good name, credit and reputation and also to obtain and get themselves of and from large sums of money on the 10th day of July in the reign of our sovereign Lord George the third with accusing him of the unnatural act of sodomy, commonly known as buggary”

It was stated that John Paul and Robert Escritt conspired to accuse Francis Brown, gentleman, of sodomy to try to obtain large amounts of money from him.

On the 11th day of July they had gone to Henry Grimston Esquire, being one of His Majesty’s justice, to keep the peace, and told him that Francis Brown had sodomised John Paul.   Robert Escritt had witnessed it.   If they were blackmailing Francis Brown for sodomy when he was not guilty, but he would not pay up, surely they would have gone on to another victim who might be so frightened that he would hand over the cash.  It does not make sense that they would have gone to the magistrate, after all they were supposed to be in it simply for the money.  However, they were poor labourers and Francis Brown was a gentleman farmer, they were not believed.  They were taken to court and suffered the humiliation of embarrassing cross examination on a subject which in those days was considered so terrible that it was a hanging offence.  On the 12th of January 1808 both men were found guilty of conspiracy to blackmail.

The cross examinations in the court, about sodomy, would have been deeply humiliating.  The punishment to come would be more so and physically painful.

The sentence was a year in the House of Correction and to stand in the pillory at Driffield for three consecutive market days.   The court document states that Robert Escritt and John Paul should stand in the pillory for one hour between twelve and 2 o’clock in the afternoon.  Robert Escritt and John Paul would have had the humiliation of standing at the top of Exchange Street, Driffield for 3 consecutive market days.   Their heads and hands would have been put into the carved out slots in the wood and then a second piece of wood would have been closed down upon them so that they could not move from the missiles which would have been thrown at them.   Decayed fruit and vegetables, rotten eggs, excrement, dead rats and sometimes hard rocks would be hurled at the person in the pillory.  Often, a pillory would be rotated so that the public could get a good look at the person trapped in it.

English: Driffield, East Riding of Yorkshire, ...

English: Driffield, East Riding of Yorkshire, England. c. 1838 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The House of Correction at Beverley is famous for holding Dick Turpin the highwayman.

Robert Escritt and John Paul were also sentenced to one year in the House of Correction at Beverley.   The House of Correction at Beverley is famous for holding Dick Turpin the highwayman in 1738.  His real name was John Palmer and he was incarcerated in the House of Correction for shooting his landlord’s cockerel.  In those days the House of Correction was situated at Beverley Guildhall.  The House of Correction had one small courtyard for all prisoners with a work shed in it but no water.  When the prisoners were allowed water, the gaoler would have to fetch it from across the way.  Men and women felons each had a separate day room upstairs and the room where the women would sleep would adjoin it.  The smell was overwhelming for lack of sewers.  Robert Escritt and John Paul would have slept in one of the two dirty cells below.  They measured about four square yards and were badly ventilated.  There was a small window with bars in each room.  Their beds would have had straw in the ticking and they were allowed two blankets and a rug for warmth.  To pass the time they would have been made to pound tile-shards which they were paid 6d a bushel for.

What happened to Francis Brown, the gentleman farmer?  I searched for him on Ancestry.com. and found him in the England and Wales Criminal Register 1791-1892.  He was transported for 7 years.  It was time to research in The Treasure House archives again.

A week earlier, I had been reading what a dishonest person my ancestor was for intending to deprive Francis Brown of his good name and reputation.  The document before me named Francis Brown as a common cheat.  He had promised George Sproxton, a tailor from Driffield, a house and land for £150.  The house and land had belonged to the late Francis Brown, Brown’s father.  The property had never been Brown junior’s to sell.  He simply intended to relieve George Sproxton of his money.

Always follow up any name in a story.  It is easy to overlook shocking facts.

Robert Escritt settled down to live what seems to be a quiet family life.  He returned home to Garton-on-the-Wolds to his wife Ann.  She gave birth to Robert in 1810 and Hannah in 1812.  Robert and Ann are both on the 1841 and 1851 census, still living in Garton-on-the Wolds.  Even at the age of 71, Robert put his occupation down as an agricultural labourer.  He died at the age of 77, which considering the mortality rate of the period and what he had been through, he survived quite well.

So, can a time inspire us?  I think that it can, for instance – the above piece is an article but it could also have been turned into a story – maybe it will be one day.  The point is that one of the most inspirational things you can do is ask yourself a question – what were my ancestors doing whilst Mary Shelley was growing up?  I know what one of mine was doing – how about yours?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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