Tuesday, 17 February 2015

A new King Lear text-guide

New worlds of emotional experience

Part of the thrill in studying great literature is that it gives you insight into life and experiences beyond that which you already know.

I have never forgotten my A Level English teacher identifying with the middle aged Cleopatra’s desperation to hold on to her sexual allure. Now I am heading to that age myself, I understand the reality of Cleopatra’s – and Mrs C_’s - hopes and needs.

King Lear opens up worlds of relationship that you may understand (sibling rivalry, anyone?) or may not yet have observed (for example, the intense grief about one’s failing powers and memory). All of this is conveyed through dramatic plotting, full of twists and turns, and couched in memorable poetry. Encountering Shakespeare’s mighty tragedy can be a life changing experience.

Understanding technique

But of course an examiner wants to know not just how you have responded to the text, but why. They want to see your analysis of what is it that Shakespeare has done to create that reaction within you…. It is a relief to know that there is help at hand to give you a thorough understanding of Shakespeare’s technique.

Launched this week, the new Crossref-it text-guide on King Lear will help all students currently in lower or upper Sixth form, who may be studying the play for:
  • A Level English Lit., with OCR and WJEC boards
  • A Level Language and Lit, with AQA
  • Cambridge Pre U exam.
In the new guide you can place Shakespeare within the context of his contemporaries via the Timeline. Accessing Synopses and commentaries gives you speedy reminders of what’s going on or you could explore the Themes of the play. Every tricky concept has a handy pop-up to illuminate the meaning and there is loads of advice about how to write effective essays.

Teaching the text

Meanwhile teachers may have already got an eye out for the texts they will be teaching in the reformed specifications first being delivered from this September. Has your English department opted for:
  • AQA Eng. Eng. Lit. B
  • Edexcel Eng. Lit. 
  • WJEC Eng. Lit. or Lit. & Lang? 
King Lear appears on all these specifications and knowing that there is an accessible but academically rigorous guide to help you teach it successfully might spur you to lay claim to the class set in the stock cupboard!

Probably composed in the same year as the Gunpowder plot, Crossref-it.info Context sections help you see how King Lear reflected topical concerns about the role of the monarch and the insecure social conditions of the time. You can discover how verbal Motifs run through the play and of course can link these to our free searchable text on site. There’s lots more, so why not explore?

The Crossref-it team believe in the power of literature to transform – and take the headache out of preparation. What’s not to like!

Thursday, 5 February 2015

King Lear revealed

For many critics, King Lear is the mightiest of Shakespeare’s tragedies. It is a play about age and irresponsibility, about parents and children, about the boundaries between rational and irrational behavior. Many may be studying it for A Level English Lit. with OCR and WJEC boards, or for A Level Language and Lit with AQA, or for their Cambridge Pre U exam.

If you are due to be examined on King Lear this summer, you’ll will be pleased to know that, just in time to help you, a Crossref-it.info text guide is about to be released – watch this space!

Read Lear online

To help you easily flick through the play meanwhile, you can find a searchable online version of the King Lear text. Just when you are struggling to remember in which scene the old King calls his daughters ‘unnatural hags’, Crossref-it.info’s speedy search facility will lead you to Act 2 Scene 4, where you can trace the development of Lear’s distress with his elder offspring.

Examiners keep saying that there is no substitute for knowing the text really well. Using the online version, you can quickly scan through the play a scene at a time to remind yourself of the complex plot and Shakespeare’s vivid imagery.

Catch current and forthcoming productions while you can!

Of course, the true impact of a play is only experienced when you see the relationships within it embodied in a theatre. The good news is that you don’t have to make your way to London to see Lear come to life on stage in 2015.

If you hurry, Guildford Shakespeare Company are performing until 14th February at Holy Trinity Church, Guildford, Surrey. The play’s parent/child inter-relationship will be given an added twist by the pairing of real-life father and daughter, Brian Blessed (King Lear) and Rosalind Blessed (Goneril). (Box office: 01483 304384; or www.guildford-shakespeare-company.co.uk)

With slightly more time to book, it’s worth trying to get to a new touring production. Renowned director Jonathan Miller is currently rehearsing Northern Broadsides Theatre Company in William Shakespeare’s King Lear. The production will tour to:

  • The Viaduct Theatre, Halifax (27 Feb-7 Mar)
  • Hull Truck Theatre (10-14 Mar)
  • Theatre Royal Bath (17-21 Mar)
  • Everyman Theatre Cheltenham (24-28 Mar)
  • West Yorkshire Playhouse (8-18 Apr)
  • Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough (21-25 Apr)
  • Liverpool Playhouse (28 Apr-2 May)
  • The Lowry, Salford Quays (5-9 May)
  • York International Shakespeare Festival (12-16 May)
  • Rose Theatre, Kingston (19-23 May)
  • New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme (27 May-13 June).

Meanwhile, watch out for the new text-guide and let us know if you agree that King Lear really is the mightiest of Shakepeare’s tragedies.

Friday, 16 January 2015

New texts for A Level English teaching

What goes around..

If you are an A Level English teacher preparing your resources in order to meet the requirements of the new 2015 specifications, you will notice that some texts feature prominently in the new syllabuses, whilst others, although recently taught, are no longer present. Long-standing teachers will have seen the exam ‘canon’ change a number of times over the years and will wisely archive soon to be obsolete resources for the inevitable future when they will reappear again. What goes around comes around.

However, after the upheaval to the AS and A Level English syllabuses imposed by the government reforms, most of the exam boards are suggesting that there will be few changes to the texts specified for first teaching in 2015, until 2020. The resources you draw on and create will be in use for a long time so it pays to ‘invest wisely’.

Crossref-it.info textguides on 2015 specification set texts

If you will be teaching any of the following A Level Lit. or Lang./Lit syllabuses, look out for the academically rigorous Crossref-it.info guides on the texts they feature:


Cambridge Pre U

Cambridge International




Every good wish with your planning and preparation!

Thursday, 8 January 2015

English teaching looking forwards

A Level English reforms

At last, all the A Level English exam boards have had each of their proposed specifications accredited. This means that, from September 2015 there are a raft of new texts and new themes around which A Level Literature study will be focused.

Yes … more planning!

Unfortunately, the introduction of different texts and the reorganisation of how they will be taught means rather a lot of work for already busy A Level English teachers. Whilst some of the new specifications have been available in their approved form since September 2014, others only came out in December, which means some rather speedy catching up!

But help is at hand

We are really pleased that Crossref-it.info resources already cover many areas suggested within the new syllabuses.

Themes linking texts

  • For those considering the AQA Lit A and Edexcel Lit. exams, which feature an exploration of crime, its detection and punishment, why not have a look at the thematic ‘Only Connect’ approach on Villainy and vengeance?
  • Alternatively, there is helpful ‘Only Connect’ material on Love, lust and marriage if you are considering the Edexcel Lit. & Lang., WJEC Lit. & Lang. or AQA Lit. A syllabus themes on Love, romance and loss
  • ‘Only Connect’ material on Women finding a voice will also be relevant if you are planning to teach Edexcel Lit., AQA Lit A. or OCR Lit. about representations of women within literature and society. You could also explore the material here for some starting points: Women and literature
Crossref-it.info is continuing to develop resources and if you have any ideas for literary themes which you would like to see covered, please get in touch at info@crossref-it.info.

Meanwhile, look out for our next blog about which texts we have guides on to help you and your students to exam success with the new 2015 specifications.

Enjoy the term!

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Celebrating Christmas

A place for wonder

One more mad week of term to go, and such a lot to do!
          Assignments to hand in, marking to hand back;
                    reports to be filed, revision to plan;
                              parties to dress up for, decorations to sort out;
                                        presents to think of, meals to anticipate;
                                                  expense to worry about, shops to stampede…

And now … breathe!

Why do we do it? Perhaps because there is an impulse in most of us to celebrate the wonder of giving and generosity, of anticipation and arrival, of light in the darkness; an impulse to recapture the joy we knew as children.

Lost hope

Of course now we know that gifts don’t actually come from a jolly man in red and many of us may be struggling to buy for extended family members in whose homes we’d rather not be over Christmas. We may have become cynical.

The English poet and novelist Thomas Hardy grew up going to church and clearly took on board the biblical account of Jesus’ birth in a stable and the later medieval legends that grew up around it. In The Oxen, he portrays the belief that the animals, in whose stall the newborn was laid, knelt in homage to the Christ-child, recognising that he was the son of God, and continued to commemorate his birth in this way ever afterwards.

But as Hardy grew older he became disillusioned with the practices of organised Christianity and the way in which so many Christians behaved. His later works are gloomy about there being any divine providence at work in the world, regarding such a belief as a ‘fancy’ unsustainable in ‘these years’.


Yet Christmas without hope is an empty celebration, at best merely a guzzle of materialism. Which is why Hardy’s poem still strikes a chord today – because he captures the longing within us all for a better way to live, a gentler, more loving way of relating; hopes which, according to Christians, are made possible by the arrival of that tiny baby in a stable far from home.

Thomas Hardy’s The Oxen

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
‘Now they are all on their knees,’
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
‘Come; see the oxen kneel,

‘In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,’
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

Merry Christmas everybody!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The art of studying short stories

Short stories are sometimes rather tricky to answer on in an exam.

With a novel or play you can:
  • Trace the development of characters
  • Work out how the plot is layered and structured
  • See how recurrent imagery develops themes the writer wants to convey.
Studying a collection of short stories is rather different, particularly if they do not contain recurring characters or settings.
  • As opposed to novels, short stories frequently start in the middle of events, rather than providing significant exposition of character and situation
  • Rather than showing the long term development of a protagonist, they capture a moment in a person’s life and/or a shift in awareness
  • Instead of the satisfaction of a ‘closed’ ending, short stories often leave the reader to suppose what might happen next and create their own resolution. 
A collection of short stories is inevitably a more multi-faceted way for an author to communicate their ideas. They can play with different perspectives, bring out contrasting nuances, experiment with different styles. Because of this, the student needs to engage in each individual episode, yet also be able to stand back and pick out key similarities and ideas which run throughout the collection.

A new text guide on James Joyce’s Dubliners

Launched today is a helpful, free student guide to help you get to grips with Dubliners, by James Joyce. Dubliners is a collection of fifteen short stories that depict the everyday lives of the inhabitants of early 1900s Dublin, Ireland.

Each story focuses on different characters, but the Dubliners text guide demonstrates how several themes recur throughout the book:
  • Religion
  • Politics
  • The backwardness of Ireland
  • The desire for escape
  • The passage from childhood to adulthood. 
The collection starts and ends with death - the passing of an aging priest and the loss of a young lover.

An alien culture

As the title suggests, all Joyce’s stories are linked by being set in one Irish city, which has its own distinctive culture. Because the Dublin slang and customs of the early 1900s may faze some readers, the Crossref-it.info Dubliners text guide provides clear and concise explanations of unfamiliar terms to help you navigate your way through the narratives.

Meanwhile, as a handy reference, you can also read each Dubliners story online.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Teaching Peter Shaffer’s Equus

Help when you need it most

We’re getting to that point in the term when energies are starting to run low and inspiration is drying up. That’s not just A Level Eng. Lit. students but their teachers too! Yet, before mocks kick off just before or after Christmas, exam texts need to be completed and revision undertaken.

Thank goodness help is at hand for anyone studying Peter Shaffer’s Equus. Launched this week are a series of Equus worksheets for teachers full of ideas for the classroom which get across to students the key aspects of the play. When you just can’t think what to do in your next lesson why not explore what’s on offer?

The free, downloadable pdf files cover subjects such as:
  • The way Shaffer has structured the drama
  • The impact of it’s opening and ending
  • How the play was originally staged
  • Analysing the effect of the influences on Alan, such as:
    • His parents
    • Religion and worship
  • The outworking of specific imagery through the play.
Not only are these resources brilliant for teachers, they’re also a great help for students who need to catch up missed work (after absence) or revise the play.

Clarity for the confused

There is already a helpful guide to Equus at Crossref-it.info, which offers scene synopses, commentary and in-depth analysis. As with all Crossref-it.info material, there is lots of help to explain the context of the text. For example:

  • On-site you’ll discover how the play shows the influence of Bertolt Brecht, as well as using symbolic and expressionist theatrical elements (see http://www.crossref-it.info/articles/519/Twentieth-century-experiments).
  • The many pagan and biblical allusions (which are challenging for twenty-first century students and teachers) are all made clear, so that you can zip through each scene.

Although Equus was written in the 1970s, it has a lot to say about today’s culture, which can lead to thoughtful debate. May you have enough energy left to make the most of the play!