Friday, March 28, 2008

The Bush Tragedy

A month ago we commented on the fascinating use of language in the American Presidential primary season. Recently language has again become the centre of everyone's attention, following Barack Obama's Philadelphia speech on race in response to the language of his pastor Jeremiah Wright (see the YouTube video and the full text here), and then this week Hillary Clinton's 'misspeaking' of her Tuzla visit (see Steven Poole here on 'misspeak' in his Unspeak blog).

Just published on this side of the Atlantic is Jacob Weisberg's lethal filleting of the current President in his new study The Bush Tragedy: the unmaking of a President. Weisberg, editor of, is also the editor of several books of 'Bushisms'. This, too, is a study of language as used by the extended Bush/Walker clan, and how the psycho-dramas within this powerful political family have shaped our world. Weisberg uses Shakespeare's story of Henry IV and Prince Hal throughout as a parallel, and writes:-

As a guide for political reporters, Shakespeare remains underrated. Political science and a lot of political journalism explain the behaviour of politicians mostly in terms of interest and ideology. Shakespeare reminds us that their motives tend to be more complicated than that, and that however much they may try to obscure them, politicians do in fact have inner lives. If sometimes used to turn rascals into cartooons - think LBJ as Macbeth or Nixon as Richard III - Shakespearean analogies can also remind us to look harder at family, national myth, at character. When we are confronted with a political breakdown, Shakespeare advises us to look deeper and judge less.

There's an interview with Weisberg here, on National Public Radio, together with an extract from the first chapter.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Shakespeare in Venice?

Richard Owen of the London Times today reports on a book by Italian writers in his article 'Hath Shakespeare been a tourist in Venice?' (The paper version has a map of locations from The Merchant and Othello - not online). He writes:

It is a question that has perplexed literary scholars for years: how could Shakespeare display such intimate knowledge of Venice in his plays without ever having visited the lagoon city? Now Italian academics have challenged the widely accepted view that the Bard never travelled to Venice but gleaned information from Italian merchants who came to London on business.

In a new book Shaul Bassi, a lecturer at Venice University, and the writer Alberto Toso Fei say Shakespeare's insights have such a “local feel” that he must have gained them at first hand.

Probably unlikely, but never mind: in a post in February, III former Miriam Poulton (having studied The Merchant of Venice for the Junior Cert), helpfully produced here a kind of Rough Guide to Venice in 1600.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Front Row on Shakespeare

Last night BBC Radio 4's 'Front Row', presented by Mark Lawson, examined recent literature on Shakespeare, and the 'dramatic increase of knowledge' about the playwright. Lawson spoke to the actor Michael Pennington (performer of the solo Sweet William show, who reckons that he has spent 20,000 hours of his life reciting the Bard's words on stage), Charles Nicholl (author of The Lodger : Shakespeare on Silver Street), James Shapiro (whose 1599 'is a remarkable freeze-frame' of Shakespeare's life in that crucial year), Germaine Greer (author of Shakespeare's Wife, about Anne Hathaway), the director Greg Doran (who discussed the lost play Cardenio), Professor Gary Taylor (whose recent work claims that much of Macbeth was written by Thomas Middleton), and J.L. Carrell (author of the bestselling The Shakespeare Secret, 'Stratford's answer to The Da Vinci Code').

You can Listen Again to the programme for the next six days.

Friday, March 14, 2008

End of Term

We break today for the Easter holidays, resuming on Monday 7th April. Next term, of course, includes the Leaving and Junior Certificate exams, but also a huge array of activities that will be reported on here - the completion of the Transition Year course, the Actiontrack drama week, Voices of Poetry, theatre outings, the Shakespeare prize and lots more. The first part of term here will be dominated by poetry, as we post some of the entries for the Senior and Junior Poetry prizes. And there will also be an exciting new development for the Department, still in the planning stage, later in the term.

Meanwhile, advance St Patrick's Day greetings to our visitors, and wishes for a restful holiday to all pupils and staff. Time to head for that pile of unread books ...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Macbeth at the Empty Space : Review

On Monday night we went to see Selina Cartmell's inventive and fast-paced production of Macbeth at the Empty Space (she previously directed an acclaimed production for Siren of Titus Andronicus in 2005). Now Rebecca Feeney-Barry of our V form reviews it :

On the 10th of March, 5th form went to the Empty Space Theatre to see Shakespeare’s Macbeth. I thoroughly enjoyed this production. Cartmell’s interpretation of this great tragedy allowed us to see the journey undertaken by the main character as his actions lead him into hell and madness.

The venue chosen is perfectly suited to the context of the play. The director says that she thought of doing Macbeth when she saw the venue and one can understand why. The earth floors and stone walls in a subterranean space all indicate the trapped atmosphere of the play. This feeling is enhanced by the fact that there is no interval. Also, we are directly involved in the action; the seating is not much higher than the stage and, in order to get to the seats, you must walk across the acting space. This lends an immediacy and an intimacy to the action and to the tragedy of the play.

The title role is played by Rory Keenan, who enacts this difficult role flawlessly. His descent into madness is utterly believable as are all his decisions. He even succeeds in injecting humour where it would seem impossible. His switches between dancing and fraught distress in the banquet scene had the whole audience torn between fear and laughter. The other characters were also acted convincingly. The multiple roles of Olwen Fouere merit a particular mention. She is terrifying as a constant presence in the form of the witches, a murderer and a servant in Macbeth’s castle. She indicates the role of the supernatural in the play as she is always around Macbeth. The forces of good, Malcolm and Macduff, are ably played and fit their characters completely. Lady Macbeth also holds her role of seemingly evil, cruel wife perfectly. In her descent into guilt-fuelled madness, Barbara Brennan’s non-exaggerated acting works perfectly. We feel true pity for her.

The set and costumes were very well done, as the play was set in a modern war. The special effects used made more than one member of the audience jump or cover their eyes. One particularly memorable moment was the interpretation of ‘savagely murdered’ to mean killed with a chainsaw. This is an example of the inventiveness of the production. These effects as well as the venue and the fine acting made this an extremely memorable production of a great tragedy.

John Kelly and his panel (Medb Ruane, Declan Hughes and Peter Murphy) on RTE's 'The View' also reviewed the production on Tuesday night, and you can see the clip on this here for the next few days. They referred to it as a 'brilliant piece of work' with 'wonderful staging', which was 'absolutely gripping'.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Louise C.Callaghan

On World Book Day last Thursday, the poet Louise Callaghan gave readings to three of our forms, and Fiona Boyd of Transition Year now reports on her session. Fiona has also been reading Louise's books, and comments :

What was also really great about the reading was that she introduced each poem before she read it, which gave you a little background/story to it. This made it much easier to follow and as such, connect with. I sometimes wish poets would do this in their books, just a little introduction of no more than a few sentences, about this particular poem, just to let you into it a bit more. But often this would ruin the poem, as often no explanation is needed. Poetry is whatever the poem means to you. Louise’s poems were extremely varied, sticking to no particular theme and showing a wide range of her various influences, styles and way of expressing a certain feeling.

For example 'There Was A Soldier'; this is a really interesting poem about her uncle, who died during WWII, and her visit to his grave in France around four years ago. It’s a very detailed poem, setting an extremely vivid scene for the reader. Her writing is constantly referring back to the war with a mention of it in each stanza, keeping her theme very focused and deliberate. This is a really beautiful poem and I would urge anyone with an interest in war poetry or even poetry at all to read it, even just for the last powerful stanza:

When death came piping
over Picardy
he was never to be
a father,
nor an uncle.
Read Fiona's full report here.

Fiona refers to Louise's choice of 'Alder' by the Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie for consideration. Jamie is profiled in the Daily Telegraph here, and can be heard on the excellent Poetry Archive reading her work here. Her collection The Tree House was published in 2004, and coincidentally Louise was discussing 'Alder' in National Tree Week.

Yesterday Louise started workshops with I and II formers (there's another one tomorrow). In these workshops, she is giving these young poets various ways into poetry, including acrostic poems, and advising them to get a notebook and jot down observations and descriptions over the holidays. We hope to publish some of the results after the workshops are completed next term.

Guardian Poets

Fast on the heels of the London Independent's poetry series come the Guardian's seven booklets, starting today with T.S.Eliot (introduced by Craig Raine here). The other booklets will be about W.H.Auden, Sylvia Plath, Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes, Siegfried Sassoon and Seamus Heaney. Nicholas Wroe introduces the series here (and on Saturday the paper will offer a CD of the poets reading).

Habitat for Humanity, 2008

Good luck to our 15 pupils, and six staff (including the Head of English) who early tomorrow morning travel to rural Hungary with the Habitat for Humanity project. They'll be blogging about their experiences over the next 10 days here.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Greatest Pleasure in Life

In his recent English exam, Fred Mann of Transition Year wrote about the greatest pleasure in his life - relaxing in his house in Wales :-

After eating I lie back on the sofa and think of bed, but there are a few things that need to be done first. I get a big mug of tea and walk outside. The howling wind has calmed and as I walk across the lawn to a seat, I think of what I would like to do tomorrow. I never get to think about it because as I reach the seat everything changes. I lie on the seat and look up and there, like a gift is the most beautiful sight in existence, the heavens, twinkling as if God was looking down on me.

Read the full piece here.

Later in the piece, Fred listens to 'the most relaxing song I can think of', 'Untitled 1' by Sigur R
ós. So here it is.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Selina Cartmell

In today's Sunday Tribune, Colin Murphy interviews Selina Cartmell, the young director of the Macbeth production at the Empty Space we'll be seeing tomorrow night. He quotes her words about the Space itself :-

'It's a ghostly place. It started me thinking about the play as a play for the dead. As if they've been wandering this space for centuries, and they need to do this play to move on.' The play is steeped in 'fear and terror', she says, but she won't be turning it into a gore-fest: her approach is to 'allow the audience to use their imagination, rather than to spell it out.'

Saturday, March 08, 2008

More Poetry

The London Independent today starts a 14-day series of booklets called The Great Poets. Today, Chaucer, followed by Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Pope, Blake, Burns, Wordsworth, Keats, Browning, Whitman, Dickinson, Hopkins and Hardy :
Working with Michael Schmidt, Professor of Poetry at the University of Glasgow, each booklet looks at the world and work of 14 of the best-loved poets in the English language.

Our Chaplain draws our attention to a new project by the British Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, a work in honour of the last British survivor of the Great War trenches, Harry Patch, whose memories are gathered here. The programme was shown last night on BBC1 (and can be seen on iPlayer for UK residents for the next week). There are audio and video links to hear/see Motion reading his poem.

Next term we'll be studying that fine WW1 novel, Pat Barker's Regeneration, with our V form for the Leaving Cert comparative module. And see a July '07 post here on Sebastian Barry's WW1 novel A Long, Long Way.

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Catcher in the Rye : a sequel

One of the texts we study with our Transition Year is Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. Hye-Seung Jeon wrote a piece imagining the aftermath of the story :

I mean, the thing about Christmas trees is that they never get to enjoy goddam Christmas. They get chopped off from the peaceful forests and brought up to a ridiculous pot with dry, fake dirt. Then they are brought into stinking rooms in every house, decorated with all kinds of red, green, sliver, gold, shiny plastic which makes their branches hang downwards and sometimes even break. People put a big fat golden star at the top of the trees.

Read the full piece here.

Suzanne Morine has a site here which includes some useful visual material from New York relating to the novel, including photos and maps of such locations as the Central Park Zoo, the fabulous Grand Central Station, and the Museum of Natural History (one of the crucial locations in the story), with a tour of Holden Caulfield's meanderings through Manhattan.

Macbeth at the Empty Space

Yesterday in the Irish Times, Peter Crawley reviewed the Siren Productions' version of Macbeth at the Empty Space, which we will be going to see with V formers on Monday night :

Assidously paced, strikingly lit and hauntingly scored, the satirical thrust and warped phantasmagoria of this Macbeth may lessen its tragic impact, but its inspired images and savage beauty will haunt your dreams.

Helen Meany reviews it in today's Guardian : Selina Cartmell directs with close attention to symbolism, imagery and theatrical gestures - at times at the expense of the unfolding drama. Emotion is held at arm's length, and fails to grip.

One of our V formers will review the production here next week after our own visit. (Added later : See Rebecca Feeney-Barry's review here).

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Actiontrack II workshops

Yesterday, Patrick Tice was one of the II formers who spent the morning at a drama workshop in the BSR with the Actiontrack team. Patrick played the role of the Messenger powerfully in the recent Junior Play production of Antigone. He reports :-

Actiontrack Drama worked with my class on Wednesday. They are two people, a woman called Cindy and a man called Nick. We did improvisation activities which worked on our creativity and acting.

For example while Rab spoke gibberish I had to translate his words to the class. Another activity we did was where one person told a story from the top of their head while their partner, using no words, acted the story out, or someone acted a story while their partner had to narrate it.

We also did an activity in groups of four where we had to make the shapes of various things using our bodies. For example my team created a church, a car, a tree, and a chair by getting into certain shapes. We then had to use these shapes in a story.

I thoroughly enjoyed working with Actiontrack Drama. It was good fun and I did things that I had never done before.

Actiontrack conclude today by working with the whole form, and another pupil will report tomorrow.

Actiontrack report

Our first report on the Actiontrack workshops comes from Mena Fitzgibbon :

On Tuesday the 2nd form sets A and B had our first day of Actiontrack with the people in charge Cindy and Nick. The first thing that we did was a ryththmic exercise: Nick would do a rhythm and then we would copy. After that we played a game with our names so that Nick and Cindy could remember our names. We also played Zip Zap Boing (click for details). Then we did a miming exercise where we were paired off and one person told a story and the other person mimed the story out.

After break we did scenes from nursery rhymes and fairy tales but instead of acting them out we were frozen. We then did an exercise where we had to create a famous monument, a machine, a very small thing and make up another ourselves out of people. Then we had to create a story using all of them.

After lunch we played another game of Zip Zap Boing and then got back into our pairs and we did an exercise with status and switching status.

World Book Day 2008

Today is World Book Day. Above, the final of three designs by junior pupils for the bookmarks the English Department and Library have jointly sponsored and which will be given to all pupils and staff today (reverse side below). This design is by Aoise Keogan-Nooshabadi (others here and here).

We welcome today the poet Louise Callaghan, who will be reading to three forms this morning in the splendid new Cadogan Music Building (a pupil will report shortly). In addition our Librarian Mr Tom McConville has organised a Library crossword for seniors and a book quiz for juniors (entries are due in by Monday).

Finally, we'll be carrying out our annual survey to find out the College's favourite book - results here shortly.

There's Something About Mary

Last night the former MEP Mary Banotti, a frequent visitor to the College, launched her new book There's Something about Mary, a series of interviews with 'Marys' in political life, including the current Minister for Education Mary Hanafin. The author herself is interviewed at the end of the book by our own Head of Department, John Fanagan.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

'Secret' by Louise C.Callaghan

Our Poem of the Week (coinciding with World Book Day tomorrow) is Louise C. Callaghan's 'Secret'. Tomorrow Louise is our guest poet, and will be reading to V, IV, and III forms (a pupil will be reporting for us). 'Secret' is from her collection Remember the Birds, which can be bought online from her publisher, Salmon Poetry, here, as can her previous collection, The Puzzle Heart.

Read an extract from 'Secret' here (the full poem is being posted around the school). It speaks of how 'a few words' can 'spark, flare / in the dark'. Entries for our poetry prizes are due by the end of term, and we hope many of them will show 'the urge to understand, / be personal too.'

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Actiontrack II workshops

Today Nick Brace and Cindy Watts of the Actiontrack Performance Company join us again for the three-day drama workshops with II form in the BSR. Last year Susannah Cooke and Rebecca Moran reported on these 'taster' sessions, and one of the II formers will again report for us in a few days.

Bookmark 2

Here's the second design in the competition organised by the art department for the bookmarks we'll be handing out on Thursday for World Book Day. This is by one of the youngest pupils in the school, Bronagh McHugh of Primary. For the reverse side advertising this blog, see Friday's post. The bookmarks have been made by The Postcard Company of Omagh.

Inspection Report

We've just received the draft of our official inspection by the Department of Education and Science, and are delighted by its positive and complimentary nature. We were also most impressed by the professionalism and attention to detail with which the inspection was carried out.

The report, after checking, will eventually become public and will, like all such school inspection reports, be published on the DES website. When it does, we'll link to it.