09/11/2015

Remember, Remember. 'O, that way madness lies...'



Call me a kill joy; a party-pooper.

But since when did 'Trick or Treat' become a great British tradition?

As schools we are expected to promote 'British Values'. Values like Respect. And, of course, to encourage safe behaviour. So why are our young people now being simultaneously encouraged by the media to ape their American counterparts and go around knocking on strangers' doors in the dark to demand 'candy' with menaces!?

Rugby

During a Rugby World Cup Final, too! Aargh!

To continue my curmudgeonly opening theme, I've never been a great fan of Bonfire Night either!

Fireworks

As a History teacher, I do however at least better understand the context for what is a still somewhat incongruous 'celebration': the discovery and subsequent bloody execution of a shadowy individual who formed part of a wider terrorist plot to kill a monarch and all of the county's leading politicians!

You know the story.

Acting on a tip-off on 5 November 1605, soldiers discovered a suspicious-looking interloper calling himself 'John Johnson' in the cellars underneath the Houses of Parliament. He was carrying fuses; nearby just happened to be 36 barrels of gunpowder. Broken by torture, the initially defiant 'Johnson' was subsequently revealed as the Catholic mercenary, Guido - Guy - Fawkes.

Guido Fawkes

I have always particularly enjoyed students' reaction to seeing the contrast between Guy's signature on his 'confession' before and after his 'questioning' in the Tower...

Guido Fawkes Signature

I've also been equally fascinated by how this and related events may have influenced William Shakespeare to write arguably his greatest ever play - a play that I studied as one of the set texts for my A Level English Literature in the distance past - and one which I saw once again being brilliantly taught and discussed when I dropped into a Sixth Form lesson last week. It all came flooding back. Historical drama and dramatic history merging together, with themes that also continue to resonate into the 21st Century.

King Lear was started in the Autumn of 1605. James VI of Scotland had just two years earlier taken the throne as James I of England, but not yet Great Britain - a new concept which the equally new king was finding it hard to sell to his people. The hottest topic of debate in political circles was Anglo-Scottish relations, with arguments raging about a divided kingdom.

James I

Sound familiar?

It was also at this point that the first of a series of plots on James' life began to be hatched. And Shakespeare had good reason to be aware of them. Few of the leading figures of the age were more intricately linked than the Bard to those implicated in the Gunpowder Plot - essentially a conspiracy organised by men from his home County of Warwickshire, many of whom were also related to his maternal family, the Ardens. Shakespeare may even have alluded to the potential outcome of the plot, had it succeeded, when Lear refers to:

Sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head…

So, at the time of writing, the threat of terrorist activity hung heavy in the air.

Sound familiar?

In the play, the elderly King Lear - confused and betrayed by the political scheming of two of this three beloved daughters and supposedly loyal courtiers in response to his decision to divide his kingdom between them - descends into madness as he sees both his family and his country disintegrate before him.

King Lear

Roaming around the storm-swept heath it is only his riddle-speaking 'Fool' - the Court Jester - his last companion and his conscience, who helps to bring reason and sanity amidst confusion. And ironically it is only in his 'madness' that Lear finds understanding and meaning from the chaos his actions in dividing the kingdom had initially created...

'Oh, wisdom and absurdity mixed up. Reason in Madness' (Act 4, Scene 6)

Some might of course argue that running a marathon is also a form of madness. Equally there are others who consider that it provides a therapeutic opportunity for reflection and better self knowledge and understanding - and personal challenge and growth as a result.

On Wednesday of this week we met a man who is taking on the madness of running not just one, but no fewer than 401 consecutive marathons!  But for whom this insanity at the same time represents a powerful and fully considered statement of self-belief.

Ben Smith is an inspiration. Having been the victim of bullying at school and homophobic prejudice at university, he is now on a mission to break a world record and raise £250,000 for the Stonewall and Kidscape charities. You can find out more about his remarkable 401 Challenge here...

401 Challenge Ben Smith at Park House

www.the401challenge.co.uk

As a school which places such emphasis on the values of respect and equality, we were therefore immensely proud and privileged to support Ben's uniquely 'mad' challenge on Wednesday. Our students were simply magnificent in their encouragement to Ben by joining with him to run the first mile of the 65th of his 401 marathons. His challenge resonates so strongly with all that we stand for as a school community, also actively promoting positive behaviour through sporting values and endeavour.

And, by the way, I don't mind Christmas...

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