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Unit 1: Shakespeare Speaks
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Session 11

What's in a name? We show you how to use the phrase a tower of strength - and bring you some useful phrases for talking about people you can rely on.

Session 11 score

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    Activity 1
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Activity 1

What's in a name?

The man they loved to hate
Richard III is one of Shakespeare's greatest villains - a real baddie who murdered lots of people - including members of his own family! Shakespeare's audiences loved to hate King Richard, so it's not surprising that actor Thomas Swann finds this role a bit difficult.

To do

In this video, King Richard is about to go into battle. As you watch, answer the question: how is he feeling about the fight - and why? 

Watch the video and complete the activity

Show transcript Hide transcript

It was a dark and stormy night. Thomas Swann is in his favourite pub, the Duck and Whistle. He's rehearsing the role of King Richard in Shakespeare's Richard III.

The King's name is a tower of strength... Hmmm. I could play it quietly: The King's name is a tower of strength... or angrily: The King's name is a tower of strength...

Here you go Mr Will, Mr Thomas, two more ales.

Will, how should I play this line? What is Richard's motivation here?

Thomas, Thomas, don't you understand? King Richard is about to go into battle. The opposing army has six or seven thousand men.

That's a lot of men!

Richard is not afraid. He has three times that number of soldiers.

Twenty thousand men - that's a big army!

Yes, but Richard has something more powerful than even the greatest army. He has his name: King Richard. That name makes him strong; powerful. It makes ordinary people fear and respect him.

So the name King Richard is as strong as a tower...

Exactly. Richard's enemies don't have that.

So this line needs strength and confidence.

Yes. This play is about power - and what people will do to get it. Let us rehearse. I am Norfolk, your general. Six or seven thousand is their utmost power.

Thomas Swann as Richard III
Why, our battalion trebles that account. Besides, the King's name is a tower of strength

Which they upon the adverse party want.

You have it! Well done! I'll drink to that. Another jug of ale! 

Here you are, sir.

We'll leave them there for now. In Richard III, or as I like to call it, the Mafia play, King Richard murdered everyone that stood between him and the absolute power that he wanted, including the Prince of Wales, his brother Clarence, Misters Rivers, Vaughn and Grey, Lord Hastings, King Edward IV's two young sons - and his own wife! Of course, these days, you don't have to kill your family to be described as a tower of strength - you just have to be strong, reliable, trustworthy, dependable and good in a crisis. Like footballer David Beckham, who said:

Clip 1
Alex Ferguson was like a father to me. He was a tower of strength.

Clip 2
My husband was a tower of strength when I had that operation - he really looked after me well.

Mr Will, a message from your wife. She says if you're not home in five minutes, don't bother coming home ever again.

The old ball and chain at it again, eh? Come on Will, have another beer!

Hmmm... To beer, or not to beer: that is the question.

King Richard is confident about going into battle, because he has a bigger army than his enemy, and, more importantly, his name - King Richard - makes him strong and powerful.

To do

Time for a game! Answer these questions to help Richard win the battle.

From the pub to the battlefield

5 Questions

Answer these questions to win your battle.

Congratulations you completed the Quiz
Excellent! Great job! Bad luck! You scored:
x / y

How many did you get right?
3-4 - You've won the battle! 
0-2 - Oh dear - stay and practise again with Thomas!


Before you go, can you remember who David Beckham described as a tower of strength? Click 'next activity' to check.

On the next pages, we'll explore the meaning and use of a tower of strength - and bring you some useful phrases to help you describe people who you can depend on. 

Session Vocabulary

  • For more great Shakespeare content visit our partner,The OU


    A tower of strength

    The phrase a tower of strength describes someone who is strong, reliable, trustworthy, dependable and good in a crisis. 

    Example sentence
    My husband was a tower of strength when I had that operation - he really looked after me well.


    Extra vocabulary

    a baddie
    a bad character in a story, film or play

    a battle
    a ​fight between ​armed ​forces

    to stick with someone through thick and thin
    to support a friend or partner through difficult experiences as well as good ones

    to have someone’s back
    to be prepared and ready to support or defend someone

    to stand by someone
    to support someone

    my rock
    describes a person who is supportive and helps you when times are difficult

    to count on someone
    to depend on someone

    to be there for someone
    to be available to provide support and comfort for someone

    a pillar
    a large post that helps to hold something up


    About Shakespeare Speaks

    Shakespeare Speaks is a co-production between:

    BBC Learning English

    The Open University


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