Writing alongside the Bard

When it was decided that the theme of Spring Term 2015 was to be Shakespeare, I knew we would be in for a good one. Who else could be a better inspiration to our young members than the man who is arguably the most important author in the history of mankind? The tailored outline at CYW ensured that our members not only got a crash course in Shakespeare’s plots, but also allowed them to creatively explore ideas that are central to our history.

Shakespeare’s influence is so huge, that he’s the most written about person on the planet (well, besides Jesus). Because of this unavoidable reputation, the children’s reactions towards the Bard were pretty varied. I remember one boy, when hearing we’d be taking inspiration from Shakespeare, suddenly stood up from his seat and declared in a mock received pronunciation accent, “To be, or not to be, that is the question!”. Others weren’t so enthusiastic – at first! By the end of the term, I believe that every member was touched by at least one of Shakespeare’s stories.

There were a few standout weeks which really inspired the children. They were particularly excited by The Comedy of Errors, in which two sets of identical twins are separated at birth. Of course, hilarity ensues. The members came up with a variety of ideas from this stimulus – after Margaret painstakingly explained the story. Some wrote on the practical jokes one could play as a twin, others, took a darker look on what it would mean to discover you had an evil twin. The week on Henry V also stimulated a variety of responses. The premise of the story had to be: it’s the night before a battle, how are you feeling? One writer imagined that the school bullies were descending on a corner store to raid it; another imagined the Battle of Agincourt from the perspective of a particularly terrified squirrel.

I also enjoyed seeing how the various CYW authors explained Shakespeare’s stories to the members, seeing as some of the plots can get pretty hairy! Margaret would spend time explaining the ins and outs of the stories with aplomb, whilst Stella never gave away the ending of the play, because she didn’t want the kids to rely too heavily on Shakespeare’s ideas. Other writers, like Bridget and Seniha, drew the characters so that the kids could visualise the various people. When we did The Tempest, Seniha gave each child a character to hold and represent. They really got into play-acting the various characters. Bridget, when we did As You Like It, made what seemed like dozens of sticky-notes with each character on it. And Alan, when we did The Merchant of Venice, cannily turned the play into a stimulus for writing a story about a quest for an object you really want.

All in all, it was a fantastic term. I firmly believe that all those who were sceptical about Shakespeare at the beginning were converts by the end. As a student of Shakespeare myself, it gave me a lot of pleasure to see how the young writers at CYW embraced the timeless stories and made them their own.

Gabriella is a creative writing assistant at CYW & a master student of Shakespearean studies at King’s College London.

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