I started my teacher training in the Autumn of 1991 and, at that point, there was a significant focus for teachers of English on bringing Shakespeare into the classroom for younger children. There had been some interesting research projects completed – most of which led into the Cambridge Schools Project led by Rex Gibson. Being based in Cambridge, I was able to attend courses run by Dr Gibson and learn from his techniques.
He proposed breaking Shakespeare’s plays down to individual speeches or scenes and approaching the text through drama exercises. I remember having to create freeze-frame tableaux as he read out certain phrases or organising characters into lines: in order of how old I thought they were, or sympathetic, or wise.
The Cambridge schools editions of Shakespeare’s plays are full of photographs from particular productions but, in the age of You Tube, I wonder how Gibson would now encourage us to teach the plays. It is so easy to stop a scene and look at two different ways in which professional casts have acted out that moment. Again, when I first started teaching, you had to wheel the TV and video trolley into your classroom; now you can bring a two minute clip immediately on to an interactive whiteboard.
I love teaching Shakespeare’s plays and the Summer Term at Cargilfield gives me a real treat because, with exams already complete for 8D, we can take our time over a play. Because the plays are written in verse, there are so many possibilities as to meaning or inference and 13 year old children are generally ready to debate or challenge – suggesting how they would stage that moment or what a word means.
This year we’ve been focusing on A Midsummer Night’s Dream which has all sorts of possibilities for exploring the nature of love: is it anything more than an imagined fancy which can change by applying magic potion, for Bottom tells us “Reason and Love keep little company nowadays”. Then there’s the way that women are treated in Athens (how ready were they for the #MeToo campaign?) with Hippolyta made captive by her future husband and the parallels in the fairy kingdom where Titania is tricked into a ridiculous love affair. Who do we laugh at finally – the innocent mechanicals performing the play or the smug young lovers as their audience?
The culmination of our studies is a trip to the Globe in early June. This year we watched Two Noble Kinsmen (a prize for any parent who has read that play!) and enjoyed how the company at the Globe brought a relatively obscure text to life. The Globe is itself a remarkable concept: the brain-child of actor Sam Wannamaker who came to Britain as a refugee of Senator McCarthy’s America and wondered why, when he visited the South Bank, there was no evidence of where Shakespeare’s plays were first performed.
If you are planning a trip south then I can only recommend taking your teenage (and younger) children to watch a Globe production on a summer’s evening – as a groundling from the yard just as the ordinary folk would have done (and for just £5 per ticket!) – and where you are ever more likely to become part of the production yourself.
Welcome to Cargilfield! We hope this short film gives you a glimpse of what life is like for the girls and boys at our school. We would love to welcome you in person to tour Cargilfield and explain more fully exactly what makes a Cargilfield education so special and so different. Please get in touch with Fiona Craig, our Registrar if you would like to find out more; her email address is [email protected] or you can telephone her on 0131 336 2207.