I’ve never been a fan of reading round the class. I suspect that too many negative experiences as a pupil put me off. There seem to be far too many dangers in such an activity – lack of attention, pupils feeling embarrassed or victimised etc etc. So I offer this playlet with some timidity and a hefty warning to think about whether it is suitable for each particular class and also to think about alternative ways of presenting it. It could be read but it might be better acted out, performed by students at an open day, turned into an audio production or even performed by staff for several classes of students who could then vote on the key decisions.
What’s this play for? It was written as part of a scheme of work on the Roman Empire using the key question “Did the Romans do more harm than good?”, a deliberately open-ended question that takes us into investigating interpretations and why they differ. Boudica’s rebellion is a “must-do” topic but “must-do” topics always need to be questioned so they don’t become stale and to get the maximum benefit from them.
This playlet takes the focus off Boudica and puts it onto the people of Londinium who had heard of the approach of Boudica’s army and had to decide whether to stay or flee. Therefore the objectives of the activity are for pupils to:
- understand the main events of Boudica’s rebellion
- realise that these events led individuals to make difficult choices and that not everyone was ‘Roman’ or ‘British’
- care about the people in the past and see them as real people.
Scene 1: Londinium 60AD
1st neighbour : Rufrius, have you heard the news? Queen Boudica and the Iceni tribe are rebelling.
2nd neighbour : They say they’re going to kill every Roman they can find.
Rufrius : Oh don’t bother me with politics. Boudica’s miles away. Can’t you see I’ve got more important things to worry about?
Wisewoman : Calm down, Rufrius. You need to be calm to help Claudia when your baby’s being born. It will be a difficult birth but Claudia and the baby will live. Just keep them calm and quiet and don’t let Claudia move about.
Scene 2: The next day
1st neighbour : Boudica’s army attacked the city of Camulodonum. They massacred everyone and burned every building to the ground.
2nd neighbour : She’ll be heading for us next. What chance have we got with no fort and no soldiers to protect us?
3rd neighbour : We’d better start packing.
4th neighbour : I’m not packing anything. I’m getting out of Londinium now.
Scene 3: Later the same day
Claudia : I’m sure the baby will be born soon, Rufrius. What’s all that noise outside?
Rufrius : Thank the Gods. It’s Paulinus with the Roman army. He’ll defend us against Boudica. I’ll go and thank him.
Scene 4: In the centre of Londinium
Paulinus, the Roman commander : I’ve ridden fast with my cavalry. I have only a few hundred men. The legions are two or three days’ march away and Boudica with many thousands of warriors will be here before then.
1st neighbour : But you must stay to defend Londinium. We traders have come here from all over the Roman empire to buy and sell pottery, glass, wine and many other things. We depend on you to protect us.
2nd neighbour : If you go then Londinium will be destroyed. I can remember ten years back when there was only a farm on this land. Now Londinium is a town with hundreds of people, maybe more. Do you want to see all that destroyed for ever?
3rd neighbour : Londinium is rich, thanks to the Romans. That’s why I came here from my home in Hispana. I heard that the Romans had taken over the south of Britain and I said to myself, this is your chance to get rich! You can’t leave us, Paulinus.
Old Man : If you go, what will happen to the old and sick? We can’t keep up with your cavalry. Boudica will kill us all.
Rufrius : My wife is going to have our first baby any hour now. I can’t move her. You must stay to defend us.
Paulinus : I will think about what I should do and talk to my commanders but I have the whole of Britannia to think about. Londinium has no walls or a fort my men can defend.
Scene 5: In Rufrius’s house
Claudia : What are we going to do, Rufrius?
Rufrius : I don’t know. I want to put you onto our cart, make you comfortable, drive to our ship and then sail to Gaul, where we’ll be safe. But will you and the baby survive the journey?
Claudia : We could stay. I am British after all. I can call myself Ernica again, like I did before we married. Surely Boudica won’t kill other Britons?
Rufrius : I don’t know. I had such plans for this house. I was going to rebuild it from stone, with a tiled roof and put in a heating system and a bath-house. At least, that was the plan before we heard about Boudica. But it’s no good thinking about that. What shall we do?
There’s a range of possibilities after the applause has died down. Here are some ideas:
1. If you had been Paulinus what would you have done? You could choose
- to stay in Londinium with your cavalry (only a few hundred men) and defend the town and people against Boudica’s much larger army OR
- to leave Londinium and march north to meet up with the legions. Then you can choose where and when to fight Boudica. You can take with you any townspeople who can keep up with your men.
2. What would you have advised Rufrius and Claudia to do? Take a class vote/debate.
3. Find out what happened, then widen out from Boudica to look at other British leaders – Caratacus, Cartimandua, Cogidumnus. Did they all rebel? Why did their reactions to the Romans differ? How does this relate to our big question about “Did the Romans do more harm than good?”
- Did you make the right choices about which students played which parts? Did you learn anything about individual students that would have been harder to learn from more standard activities?
- Did this activity have an impact on the quality of discussion among students? If so, how and why and what can be learned from this?
- How effectively does the play link into your scheme of work? Is the question ‘Did the Romans do more harm than good?’ an effective key question to build your SoW around?
- Is it worth doing again next year? Why or why not?