Why are poems like spells?

In this talk, Sammy Wright discusses the links between poetry and magic to address the question: ‘Why are poems like spells?’

His talk uses Shakespeare’s Macbeth as an example, but the themes covered in this class are relevant for any poetry or Shakespeare play you might be studying at GCSE or A Level – not just Macbeth!

Extension activity

One of the topics that Sammy explores is the occurrence, over and over again, of ‘magic’ numbers two and three in storytelling and literature – for instance, the binary opposition between good and evil (such as Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in the Star Wars films), or the need to choose between three different options (such as the three bowls of porridge that Goldilocks encounters in the fairy tale of ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’).

Think about a story or text that you are familiar with, perhaps one that you have studied in your English lessons at school. It could be a play, poem, short story, novel, film – anything! Can you find any examples or occurrences of these ‘magic’ numbers in this story or text? Or maybe there are other prominent numbers (hint: seven and nine are also very common ‘magic numbers’ in literature – think of seven Horcruxes in the Harry Potter books, or the proverbial ‘nine lives’ that cats are traditionally said to have). You might find them in anything from the overarching themes of the plot, as in the Star Wars and Goldilocks examples, right down to a single line of a poem, as in “Double, double toil and trouble” from Macbeth.

Thinking about the story or text you have chosen, try writing a mini-essay describing how ‘magic’ number(s) are used in your example, and why you think the author or storyteller has decided to use this device.

Share with us!

We would love to see any examples of work that you do during your Inspire Summer School. This can be a photo of something you have made, a picture you have drawn, some written work (e.g. the start of a speech, or the answer to a question we asked), or some thoughts you have about what you have learnt! Submit your work to us through this form.

All pupils who share their work with us by August 31 2021 will receive a certificate of participation in the summer school and will be entered into a prize draw! A £10 Amazon voucher will be awarded to each winning entry, selected randomly from all submissions. If you give us permission, your entry may be shared on Inspire Digital and our social media alongside your first name.