The Faerie Queene Fable and Drama Project

This project is led by Simon Palfrey who will work in conjunction with the academic and dramaturg Elisabeth Dutton.

Third Schools workshop: Bishop David Brown School, Woking

For this workshop, our aims were:
1) to see whether the children found any personal resonance in Spenserian allegories
2) to see whether the children’s written imaginative responses to situations from Faerie Queene book III could be effectively translated into drama drawing on their personal experiences.

Workshop activities:
1) The children had been asked to write imaginative responses to the ‘Scenarios’ which Simon had prepared from Faerie Queene book III. We began by asking the children to read these aloud to the group.
2) We discussed the children’s writing with them, encouraging them to ask questions of each other as well as of us.
3) We asked the children, in small groups, to create scenes in which the ‘Fairyland’ scenes of their imaginative writing might be related to real situations which they or their friends had encountered.

What we observed:
• The children’s written pieces were rich and varied. Some provided narratives which took their given scenarios to happy endings. Others created something darker out of already dark material eg the baby playing its mother’s wounds turns out to be the monster which has created the wounds. The writing did not shy away from the sinister or sexually violent, nor did it necessarily seek any sort of narrative closure.
• The children were unable / unwilling, however, to attribute allegorical meaning to their writing.
• The children struggled to shift scenes from the imaginative world to the real one. This is in contrast to their tendency, as observed in workshop I, to define abstract qualities in terms of concrete examples.
• The children tended to push their scenes back into a make-believe world of knights, or to situate them not in terms of their actual experience but in terms of things which might happen to anyone.

Dramaturgical points:
One pair of girls, who had written about temptation, became intrigued by the idea that the right choice and the wrong choice might be indistinguishable on the surface. They dramatised this very effectively by blocking a scene in which they mirrored each other’s words and movements.

What we learnt:
Efforts to make the poem ‘relevant’ may be misguided, in that the translations from Spenser’s world to contemporary life tended to be banal or generalized, and lacked living particularity. Partly this is because the way the children ‘narrate’ their own lives tends to be very normative and conformist. Whereas if they think they are acting or thinking about something entirely separate from themselves – like Spenser’s fairyland – their sense of possibility is released. It is the exotic and strange to which the children most readily respond, and which ironically brings the experiences most vividly home.