Jerusalem: Butterworth

I am very excited about the appearance of Butterworth’s play on the OCR A level teaching lists. Yes, I am a Wiltshireman and proud of it, but this play is a radically new step in terms of the material often being taught. I can’t wait.

Except that I have no idea where to start – quite apart from anything else, Butterworth refused to allow the play to be filmed when it was running in London…

I have put together some thoughts and begun to put documents from the internet into a document to be found here. I would love some help with this. If anyone is teaching this play next year, please get in touch.

An article on the play by Julia Boll: jerusalem article

A group of articles on the play found online articles on Jerusalem

Name, comments

Phaedra: The 15 year old who introduces the play and brings a chill to the end of act 2 before dancing with Johnny in Act 3, a possible indication of a sexual relationship, though the writing in its calmness suggests something less depraved than that, although Johnny’s branding by Troy is certainly suggestive of a punishment for assumed paedophilia and therefore recalls the mob justice meted out in the 1990s to supposed paedophiles – actions which led to paediatricians being hounded from their homes due to the thuggish ignorance of many of the self elected vigilantes. Her name (meaning “bright” in Ancient Greek) is that of a woman of ill omen in Greek tragedy – she married Theseus, King of Athens and fell in love with his son Hippolytus. When this was discovered she accused Hipploytus (who was utterly virtuous and associated solely with Artemis, the goddess of the hunt) of rape and brought about his death possibly at the hands of his father.

Johnny “Rooster” Byron: his surname is that of the Romantic poet who is famed both for his prodigious sexual appetite and his wonderfully Romantic lifestyle – poet, soldier, freedomfighter, rebel… Yet his nickname suggests a more focused idea: A rooster is the alpha male of the cockerel world. He exists solely to impregnate the hens in his coop and he guards it against all comers. He is always polygamous and guards an area rather than a specific nest.

Flintock: The village at the heart of the play is based on the village of Pewsey in North Wiltshire. The name is an interesting choice, harking back to the flintlock guns of the 19th century and to the flint which dominates much of the landscape over the North Wiltshire downs. There is also a suggestion of heard heartedness in the name- flint-hearted. Pewsey is famous for its carnival in the Autumn, which culminates in the celebration of the Feaste at the end of the revels. It straddles the Kennet and Avon canal and has a regular train service to London, possibly marking the end of the convenient commuter belt.
Other towns are given their real names – Swindon, Wootton Bassett, Bedwyn, Marlborough, Devizes. This helps to root the play in a rural “backwater” representative of a lost or a dying Britain.

Jerusalem:
named for Blake’s poem which has become an unofficial anthem for the English.
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England’s pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green & pleasant Land

Even when read as a religious/moral text, based on the myth that talks of Jesus and Joseph of Arimathea visiting England and of Joseph being buried in Glastonbury, the poem clearly seems to set up a dichotomy between the heavenly “green and pleasant land” and the ever encroaching “dark Satanic mills. That Blake’s imagery is opaque has meant that the poem has taken on a significance to many varied groups. To many it hearks back to a time of purity and innocence in England, before the industrial revolution. This idea is continued into the last stanza which seems to suggest that the speaker will ever strive to create a new Jerusalem in England, presumably based on this former purity. It is fitting that Rooster’s wood should be set in or around Pewsey. The landscape is still untouched and bares many remains of Neolithic England – Silbury hill and Avebury, between Devizes and Marlborough and Stonehenge near Salisbury. Pewsey lies directly on the route between these monuments, just beond the end of the Ridgeway path, one of the earliest known roads in England. If Rooster is to be seen as somehow a reminder of a lost time, the setting is certainly apt.
However, the title takes on a heavy irony through the reality of Rooster’s existence: Shunned by most of society, seen as a drug dealer and possible paedophile, there is no romance in his existence. If he represents England’s green and pleasant land, is it a land worth saving?

Some teaching notes from English Review: English Review: Jerusalem