Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Villainy and vengeance

Taking the law into our own hands

Most people have been shocked at the images on the news last week about the summary execution of James Foley, just as they were by the murder of Lee Rigby in 2013. Both deaths were prepared for and carried out by people with a grievance – people wanting to ‘get their own back’, not on the victims themselves but on those the victims represented.

Vengeance is a powerful motive for crime. It is particularly associated with people who set a lot of store by status and the impression of power. When this is dented or removed, such people are impelled to restore their own honour, or that of the family or group they represent. Typically the vengeful will brood over the perceived wrongs that have been endured, until the thirst for retribution pushes aside any moral considerations they may have had and turns them into villains. They no longer trust that the law will deal appropriately with the object of their obsession. Although they may, like Hamlet, be conflicted over the idea that retribution should be left to God, rarely does this actually stop them, until it is too late.

Time to reflect

Revenge is sometimes hasty but more often delayed following the initial offence. And it is the means by which such vengeance is enacted that provides the plot for many a literary work. The time lapse allows for twists and turns of fate, for an examination of motive and character, for feelings to turn murderous and potentially worthy characters to tip over into villainy. From Chaucer to the twentieth century suspense thrillers of page and screen, via the revenge dramas of the Jacobean dramatists and the careful plotting of Dickens and Poe, audiences have been absorbed by humankind’s capacity to plan evil.

A Level exploration

It is a fertile field to explore for an individual or genre study. That’s why have provided some help along the way by giving you a guided tour across a variety of texts and genres of how villains operate and vengeance is enacted. Only connect: Villainy and vengeance also provides the source material which so many writers drew on – the murderous outcomes of classical myths and gritty retribution in biblical narratives.

There will be many more stories on this theme than you’ll find on site, but Only connect gives you a standing start on your way to academic success.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Equus: Shaffer’s challenge to materialism

New text guide

Launched this week at Crossref-it is a new A Level English student guide on Peter Shaffer’s 1973 play, Equus. Memorably revived in 2007, with Daniel Radcliffe in the leading role, Shaffer’s drama depicts the motivations and situations that led up to an horrific crime. It is the job of the play’s ‘shrink’, Martin Dysart, to pick through the evidence offered by those involved and work out why the protagonist blinded six horses. He is not helped by the truculence of his 17 year old patient, Alan Strang.

The impulse to worship

Dysart himself is fired by the power of ancient Greek myths and understands why Alan has looked for a ‘higher meaning’ that that offered by his restricted, drab lifestyle. Dysart comes both to admire and be critical of Alan’s creation of an alternative religion, in which classical beliefs are twisted with his mother’s depiction of biblical narratives.

Although Shaffer takes a critical view of orthodox religion (as practiced by Alan’s mother, Dora) and the way in which it harnesses individuals, he is even more critical of the world that faces Alan if all he can worship is ‘normality’ and a starkly material environment. He envies Alan’s passion, however incoherent its Christian and classical desires.

Clear explanations

It is these pagan and biblical allusions that may prove difficult for twenty-first century students, which is why the new Crossref-it guide is so handy. With quick access articles and informative tool-tips, the A Level focused guide provides commentary on each scene and has sections discussing imagery and themes, as well as language and critical perspectives.

If you caught up with recent releases about developments in drama in the twentieth century, you can also see how Equus draws on Brecht’s production theories, as well as using symbolic and expressionist theatrical elements (see 20th Century Experiments).

Thursday, 24 July 2014

The performance of modern drama texts

"Theatre Royal Brighton" by Ian Muttoo from Mississauga, Canada - Theatre Royal Panorama, Brighton, UK. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
Modern plays for modern theatres

Through July has launched a range of articles about the form and expectations of theatre in the UK during various epochs.

Our Developments in Drama section already has information about performance from medieval times through to the acting style of the Victorian.

This week material about acting styles and theatre dynamics is being added. Check out the following:

Realism and naturalism

The ‘forth wall’ is explained, along with the ideas of Stanislavsky and the drama of Chekhov, Ibsen, Strindberg et al. This new information is particularly helpful for anyone is studying dramas including:
  • A Doll’s House
  • All My Sons
  • Journey’s End
  • Dancing at Lughnasa
  • The Crucible
  • A Streetcar named Desire

Expressionism and beyond

Alongside the ‘well made play’, the influence of Brechtian theatre is explored, and there are handy pointers about how to recognize symbolic, expressionistic and surreal elements in drama. This material is relevant if you are covering plays such as:
  • A Woman of No Importance
  • Absurd Person Singular
  • A Man for All Seasons
  • Top Girls
  • Equus
  • Death of a Salesman

Postmodern theatre

From the Second World War onwards, British Drama witnessed Absurdism, kitchen sink drama, protest theatre and the rise of female perspectives, with far greater fluidity in staging. You can get a handle on this to help you understand texts like:
  • Waiting for Godot
  • The Birthday Party
  • Death and the King’s Horseman
  • Translations
  • Arcadia
  • The History Boys
Of course, if you can get to see a performance of your drama text, that’s the best way of all to understand the experience the playwright was aiming for. But that’s not always possible – which is when it helps that’s free information is there for you.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

How drama texts work

Plays for performance

Any drama text studied for English A level has got something missing.
It is only a written record of what was always designed to be a multi-sensory event. The experience of a play is a combination of script, movement, sound effects, lighting effects, music, setting, costume, theatre dynamics and the unique contributions of individual actors and directors.

So merely looking at the written words uttered by characters bypasses a huge amount of what the playwright intended to be understood.

Added advantage

Some students studying A Level Eng. Lit. or Lit./Lang. have an added advantage if they are also undertaking the A Level Theatre studies or Performing Arts – Acting syllabuses. They will have a grounding in what it means to transform a play-script into a live performance.

Now help is at hand for the rest of us who need to get a handle on Eng. Lit. drama texts.

Developments in drama

Launching through July is a range of articles about how British theatre operated in various literary eras.

The Developments in Drama pages already have information about the Shakespearean and Jacobean stage.

This week material about acting styles and theatre dynamics is being added on:

So if anyone is studying one of the following, they will find the new information particularly helpful:
  • The Rover
  • She Stoops to Conquer
  • The School for Scandal
  • The Way of the World
If you are studying a more modern text, look out for further additions to the series later this summer!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Teaching and revising the poetry of Wilfred Owen

New launch

This week sees the arrival of a wealth of teaching resources to help teachers deliver well thought through lessons on the poetry of Wilfred Owen. One of the most well regarded poets of the twentieth century, Owen vividly recreated what it was like to serve on a combat frontline, through a variety of distinctive poetic techniques.

To help time-poor teachers, worksheets cover areas such as:

  • How Owen employs the sonnet form
  • His re-creation of specific voices
  • Owen’s use of religious imagery
  • The aural qualities of selected poems
  • Guided explorations of Disabled and The Letter.

In addition, there are helpful revision and/or homework tasks for every poem covered in the text guide to Selected poems of Wilfred Owen. Each worksheet on a specific poem helps students investigate:

  • Context
  • Language and tone
  • Structure and versification
  • Imagery and symbolism
  • Themes.

Written by highly qualified UK teachers and educationalists, you can find these and other resources at:

Helping students understand the ramifications and impact of Owen’s verse has never been so pertinent in this year commemorating the onset of the First World War one hundred years ago.

Friday, 13 June 2014

The impact of location in literature

New launch: Impact of location in literature

This week sees the next theme covered by’s Only Connect tool, where they trace a theme across various works of literature, including its classical and/or biblical origins. ‘The impact of location’ makes for a fruitful personal exploration (required for a number of A Level English syllabuses) of how place is perceived in literature.

The associations of place

Gloomy caves;
                    open greens;

                                        darkened woodlands;
                                                            arid fields;
                                                                                gleaming urban sprawl;
                                                                                                    humble cottages...

When we encounter any one of these locations, we have an expectation of what might be likely to happen there. But why?

For centuries associations have grown up around locations and the atmosphere associated with them. These allusions have been created by fairy-tales, ancient myths and biblical narratives, then sustained by centuries of literature:

  • Shakespeare deliberately places his characters in woodland or castle, wild coast or tavern knowing that we will expect certain sorts of behavior because of those locations
  • Blake sometimes subverts our expectations, turning a place of pleasure into a place of threat, just as Graham Greene was to do 150 years later in Brighton Rock.

It’s fascinating to see how location has an impact on events and characters, sometimes seeming to determine the plot itself:

  • In Tess of the d’Urbervilles Hardy draws on the ancient classical anxiety of dense woodland and biblical suspicion of sophisticated urban environments, yet by no means upholds the simplistic pastoral ideal that associates the countryside with happy innocence
  • Jean Rhys uses location in Wide Sargasso Sea to disorientate characters, destabilising their sense of identity and thus effecting their subsequent actions.

The impact of location in literature is huge. Why not explore it for yourself.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Revision help for AS / A2 English Lang. & Lit. students

It’s that time again...

AS and A2 English exams are happening and time is very short! If you need some quick recaps, here are some website pages that will help:

English language

English Literature (per syllabus)


If you are taking any of the syllabuses from AQA, there is lots of helpful info on the following exam texts:


If you are taking any of the syllabuses from OCR, there is lots of helpful info on the following exam texts:


If you are taking any of the syllabuses from Edexcel, there is lots of helpful info on the following exam texts:

CIE or the Cambridge Pre U 

If you are taking any of the syllabuses from CIE or the Cambridge Pre U, there is lots of helpful info on the following exam texts:


If you are taking any of the syllabuses from WJEC, there is lots of helpful info on the following exam texts: