The Great Shakespeare Debate 2011
On the 8th and 9th of April, we (Jenny Cook, Daisy Ajderian and Harriet White) along with English teacher Dave Blower, attended the Great Shakespeare Debate 2011 in Stratford-on-Avon. Mr Blower first told us about the competition in January, and we had to make a 3 minute video discussing the relevance of Shakespeare in modern society. Instead of being boring, we decided to make a Newsnight version: Daisy dressed up as Jeremy Paxman, and Jenny and Harriet were two scholars debating whether Shakespeare should still be taught in schools. We were chosen, along with eleven other schools (including Eton, Wellingborough and Magdalen College School) to take part in the two day competition.
We didn’t think we had a chance at winning the competition. None of us were studying Shakespeare in school, and it was clear that the other schools had prepared rigorously! The first time we talked as a team on the play we’d nominated to debate on the first day (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) was on the car ride to Stratford. It wasn’t looking good...
When we arrived in Stratford, we had a debate workshop, and then immediately went in to our first practice debate – forty minutes after hearing the motion. We argued that “Shakespeare suggests that all strong women need to be tamed”, and although in our first debate we found it hard to rebut strong arguments, as we did more and more debates (5 in total!) it became much easier to fill the 5-minute speeches and respond to on-the-spot questions.
On the Tuesday night, all of the teams went to see the RSC’s production of Romeo and Juliet at the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford. The production was really interesting – semi-modernised costumes and great paganistic dance scenes – and even though we were feeling pretty exhausted the next day, we were still alive enough to talk about the new interpretation the next morning with Sam Troughton, the actor who played Romeo, before continuing with the rounds of debating.
Hearing that we were in the final was a shock, to say the least. The judges had never told us after the debates whether we had won or lost, and the three of us were all prepared to go home early for dinner. We were given our final motion: “The teaching of Shakespeare needs to change”, and had thirty minutes to prepare before opposing Magdalen College School.
There was a lot of pressure when we suddenly realised how badly we wanted to win it. We mainlined biscuits and roughed-out our speeches and before we knew it our time was up. Despite Daisy likening Shakespeare to a gateway drug, and Magdalen coming up with a really abstract argument, we managed to fight off audience questions and after some tense judge deliberation, they delivered their verdict... we had won!
After much hand shaking and congratulating, we were given an impressively large silver plate, but most importantly we had some Percy Pigs left for the journey back.