I’m not going to lie, sometimes English Literature can be depressing. We might consider certain texts classics and ‘must reads’ but the fact remains that some of the most famous and important texts of our time are in fact filled with sorrow.
Trying to make these texts interesting to a bunch of teenagers can become tricky, especially when a large portion of the class are not native English speakers. Keeping things relevant, exciting and engaging is often the bane of a teachers life, but it’s also a highlight when we find something that does inspire creativity.
Two texts I’m using at the moment are The Lady of Shalott and Mariana. It wasn’t until we were discussing them that I realised just how depressing these ballads are. Both women are shrouded in melancholy and one of them dies; they are completely hopeless. Not exactly the poster women for feminism and independence!
So, how do you make these woeful texts interesting to teenagers and, in particular boys?
Both ballads offer an insight in to these women, we never really know who they are pining after, only that a man is at the root of their sadness. We never know who Mariana is waiting for and why he never makes it. So, I decided it was time to find out…
The task for my class was to write a story from his perspective that would offer some reason for his delay, the additional challenge was to somehow include information from the Lady of Shalott too. It could be a reference to Sir Lancelot, Camelot or the lady herself.
The stories were an excellent read and the class offered up some rather interesting reasons for Mariana sitting and waiting- “my life is dreary/ He cometh not”
- The man suffered memory loss;
- He was imprisoned;
- He became obsessed with the Lady of Shalott and forgot Mariana;
- It was a game of hide and seek that went very, very wrong;
- A modified memory from Merlin….
As usual I joined in the activity and got a little carried away with my idea. It involves a bluebird, miscommunication and a letter delivered to the wrong address…