“Through tattered clothes great vices do appear; Robes and furred gowns hide all. Plate sin with gold and the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks. Arm it in rags, a pigmy’s straw does pierce it.” – King Lear
What better way to celebrate Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary than a trip to Stratford or the Globe exhibition with prep. lessons relating to clothing/textiles.
It continually surprises me how little ESL (English as a Second Language ) students at Embassy Summer School in London know about fabrics/clothing- and how poor their vocabulary is regarding fabrics which impinge on everyday existence, apart from fashion terms such as grunge couture and eco-chic . Material culture, relating to textiles in particular, in this day and age ,is something ignored , taken for granted and diminished.Take this example- Zaha Hadid,the iconic architect of-the-moment declared that she aims to eliminate all soft surfaces in her home environment in favour of clean ,crisp lines.This trend toward the shining hard surfaces of a future world is totally flawed as t doesn’t take into account soft textiles that we surrounds our bodies with,everyday in clothing,in bed and in our environment.
It is ironic that ,in our “brave new world “ where retail clothing is dominated by absurdly low-priced clothing, robbing the value of the garment and its sartorial labour, students lack the skill of describing what someone is wearing and identifying clothing-related terms.The Italian students do have a well-developed overview and opinion about ,as their culture is suffused with fashion and “La bella figura”-making a good impression through appearance being a social imperative.They know “tatty” and “faded” from jeans but not to sew,or the professions of dressmaker or tailor. Of course we had fun doing a lesson about measurement – getting the students to measure each other. Hands-on and TPR activities are meant to set vocabulary permanently into their hard-drives-(I tested them the next day to check!)-waist,to measure,height, but width was too difficult as it is a totally word for Italians to pronounce-the”Th”
To redress this imbalance ,I did a series of CLIL lessons , incorporating textiles/ clothing, expanding vocabulary as well as working towards a student-led debate ,using the above quote , as to whether we judge others on their clothing alone.using shekspeare’s quote from King lear above as a starter…and if so, is it a reliable indicator?
Through our day trips ,there was an opportunity to combine English history,in the museums that London and its surrounds offer, where immersive experiences abound…the London Museum being a prime example of an under-utilized resource.
Day Trip – Destination… Stratford-upon-Avon,Shakespeare’s Birthplace-with an demonstrating glove maker-straight out of a Shakespear’s play , explained the glove-making art – a hands-on experience (that’s my pun for the day) but where were the students?Outside Wifi-ing? Only the ladies were interested, granted that our glove-maker did have a very strong Oxfordshire accent and became positively growly when the students started to touch and try on the gloves en-masse(do not blame him).This immersive experience needed to be reviewed…but later outside a more engaging experience -the actress who recited Shakespeare’s sonnets,wearing authentic commoner’s garb .Her acting skills with lots of gesticulating, audience attention by flirting and the sheer power of her voice captured the students’ interest ,even though they understood only a few words..a lot of parallels with teaching teenagers..an essentially thespian art ,using all the tricks gathered through all those years of observing adolescent psychology!
The interior of Shakespeare’s birthplace provided students with an insight into the decoration of Tudor homes which was bold and ornate –something that the students could respond and relate to, judging by the profusion of Baroque churches in Italy, not to mention the Versace look …so I felt a new lesson plan coming on-comparing Tudor style and Italian Renaissance and they would most probably soon discover a lot of the inspiration originated in Italy..another notch in the Italians’ belt as they Renaissance masterpieces in the National Gallery , London are 90% Italian anyway.
Finishing on a abstract note,on the right is a fresco, spotted in Bologna , depicting a weaver in action –both Britain and Italy have such a fine history of textiles and this quote from The Bard sums up the importance of cloth,fabric then and now ,being a compelling metaphor for our existence as well as a chance for students to connect their culture to others by recognising familiar themes related to everyday human existence.
“The web of our life is a tangled yarn, good and ill together.” From… All’s Well that Ends Well