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Dick Whittington and His Cat

Dick Whittington was a real historical character and was Lord Mayor of London three times (1397-98, 1406-07 and 1419-20). This legendary tale taken from his life is very well known to most British people as it is a popular subject for a Christmas pantomime (this is not a silent mime but a kind of folk theatre - see http://www.btinternet.com/~nigel.ellacott/dickwhittington.html for some history and examples including Dick Whittington).

 

Below find some activities related to this story which are suitable for lower-intermediate level.

 

Task 1

Read the following short summary of a story about Dick Whittington and ask your students to speculate about the main character and the main events of the story. They may make a list of events or write short pieces of dialogues.

 

Summary

There was once a poor boy called Dick Whittington who left his village and went to London but he was not happy there. He was often poor and cold. His only friend was a cat. One day he decided to return to his village. When he was running away from London he thought he heard the church bells telling him: “Turn again, Whittington, Lord Mayor of London”.

 

Task 2

Cut the text of the story about Dick Whittington into a number of episodes and give one episode to each group of students. Their task is to arrange the events of the story in the correct order by talking to other groups. Then they should take turns telling the whole story.

 

The Story

There was once a poor boy whose name was Dick Whittington. Dick had no parents. He was often cold and hungry, and he had only very old clothes to wear. One day, two rich men came to the village where Dick lived. When they saw his clothes, they laughed at him. “Go to London!” they said. “Why?” asked Dick. “In London”, said the men, “the streets are made of gold!”

 

So Dick went to London. But the streets were not made of gold. They were made of hard, unfriendly stones. The people were unfriendly, too. Dick slowly became more and more hungry. He knocked at the door of a large house. “Please give me something to eat”, he asked. But he got nothing. Dick tried again at another house, but again he got nothing. Dick tried and tried, and at last he was lucky. A girl gave him a piece of fish.

 

Dick thanked the girl and walked away happily. He found a quiet place and sat down. But before he could eat the fish, a cat came and sat down next to him. “Miouw”, said the cat. Although Dick was very hungry, he gave some of his fish to the cat. After that the cat stayed with Dick and became his friend.

 

Dick soon found a job. He worked in a large kitchen, so he always had food for himself and his cat. But the cat had to work, too. It caught rats and mice. The house where Dick worked belonged to a rich man. The man’s daughter, a pretty girl named Alice, came into the kitchen to speak to Dick. “My father is sending a ship to Africa”, she said. “If you send something, you may have good luck”. “What can I send”, asked Dick. “I have nothing”. “You can send your cat”, said Alice. So Dick sent his cat to Africa.

 

But Dick soon became lonely without his cat, and he became more and more unhappy. Weeks went by, but the cat did not return. “I’m going back to my village”, said Dick, and he began his journey. But as he was leaving the city of London, Dick heard some church bells. He listened, and he thought the bells were speaking to him. “Turn again, Whittington”, they said. “Turn again, Whittington, Lord Mayor of London!” The bells are telling me to go back, thought Dick. So he went back to his kitchen.

 

When the ship reached Africa, the captain went to see the king. But he was very surprised to see so many rats in the king’s palace. “Why are there so many rats here?” he asked the king. “Have you no cat?” But the king didn’t know anything about cats. “What is a cat?” he asked. The captain fetched Dick’s cat from the ship. “This is a cat”, he said. “It can catch rats. Watch”. The cat began to catch the rats. “This is wonderful!” said the king. “I must have this cat!” “How much will you give me for it?” asked the captain. The king brought out six sacks of gold. “I’ll give you all this for your cat”, he said.

 

When the rich man’s ship returned, the captain gave the gold to Dick. “Your cat is catching rats in Africa”, he said. “This is for you”. Dick became a rich man. He bought a large house and married Alice. Later he became Lord Mayor of London, and he remembered the church bells. “Turn again, Whittington! Turn again, Whittington, Lord mayor of London!”

 

Task 3

Now it’s time to act out the story. First, decide who will act which characters. Decide what are the crucial events in the story. Then ask the students to write a script for the story’s dramatisation. Prepare some props and costumes. Finally, act out the story.

 

Look at the English pantomime webpages http://www.its-behind-you.com for a very special way of acting the story within very traditional and unchanging conventions.


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