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Inspiring great writing….Shakespeare Week at the Mary Rose Museum

William Shakespeare
Image from Wikimedia Commons

When our friends at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust asked us to participate in their exciting new national celebration Shakespeare Week we said “yes” straightaway. Our Tudor ship may have sunk even before Shakespeare was born but we share the same approach to education and heritage.  William missed the Mary Rose by some 20 years but his parents and grandparents were alive when the ship was in service. Stratford on Avon may be far from the sea but as A. J. Falconer commented “Shakespeare’s interest in the navy and the sea held him throughout his life.”

We decided to use our collection of cannon and gunnery equipment to inspire pupils to write their own poetry. Although pre-dating Shakespeare, the Mary Rose collection illuminates the wider period.  One of Shakespeare’s particular interests was gunnery.


“….France and England mount

Their battering cannon charged to the mouths

                                      ….the nimble gunner

With linstock now the devilish cannon touches.” (Henry V)


After seeing the ‘battering cannon’and linstocks at the museum, the children tried their hand at the Tudor Gun Drill. Pupils from three local schools took part and came up with some fantastic work either using the tanka form or writing blank verse.

A threatening recoil from a deafening gun,

Sudden screams of ringing retribution,

Darting deadly balls of venomous spit,

Then vandalising splinters, piercing men

By pupils at Castle Primary School, Portchester


The Fury of the Cannon

The monsters presence,

Emits a barrage of of fire.

Hurtling through the sky,

Obliterating ships body,

The stone shot has no mercy…

By Will and Arya, Portsmouth Grammar School


Great Guns

Armed to penetrate.

Searching for juicy, fresh, flesh.

Splitting the sea air,

Prowling the ocean for French.

Punching the ships, we stand proud.

By Alicia, St John’s Cathedral Catholic School


The Shakespeare Week campaign aims to give every primary school child the chance to discover Shakespeare and the wider historical period as well as encouraging arts and heritage visiting among their families.


Want to find out more? We have created two Shakespeare Week downloadable resources.

1          Need inspiration for your Shakespeare props? We were surprised how many objects in our collection feature as props in Shakespeare’s plays – we even have a dog! Try our guide http://shakespeareweek.org.uk/topics/plays/

2.         Want to know about reading and writing in the 1500s? Look at the evidence for yourself! http://shakespeareweek.org.uk/topics/history/


On a personal note, as an English Literature graduate, it was a real pleasure to use my subject specialism.  Our learning programme is dominated by History and STEM subjects.  The success of these poetry sessions has convinced us to make them a permanent part of our primary and secondary provision. Working with friends and colleagues at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has certainly enriched our learning programme at the Mary Rose Museum.  We look forward to next year’s Shakespeare Week.  Count us in!

Inspired to bring your pupils for an exciting literacy session? Contact us for more details education@maryrose.org

Clare Barnes

Learning Officer

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