In Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap a group of strangers is stranded in a boarding house during a snow storm. The Mousetrap is a murder mystery. The suspects include the newly married couple who run the house, and the suspicions in their minds nearly wreck their perfect marriage. Other potential suspects or victims are a spinster with a curious background, an architect who seems better equipped to be a chef, a retired Army major, a strange little man who claims his car has overturned in a drift, a jurist who makes life miserable for everyone and a policeman. Who will be the suspect(s)? Who will be the victim(s)?
The Background portion of this Companion is divided into two sections, background on author and playwright Agatha Christie and background on her play The Mousetrap, the longest running play in the world!
Author and playwright Agatha Christie was a phenomenal woman. Intelligent and determined, she showed perseverance and a commitment to being her own person from the time she was a child. Although Agatha Christie was homeschooled, she never received a degree. In fact, Christie was in real danger of growing up an illiterate. Her mother was said to be against her daughter learning how to read until at age eight Christie taught herself to read. Her mother insisted on home schooling her and refused to let her pursue any formal education until the age of 15, when her family dispatched her to a Paris finishing school. (https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/85723/15-mysterious-facts-about-agatha-christie)
Despite this, in 1961 Christie received an honorary Doctorate from the University of Exeter. The University of Exeter is a leading research university. One of their famous alumna includes J. K. Rowling (Rowling received a BA in French and Classics.)
Christie was as successful a playwright as she was a novelist, a feat that no other crime writer has achieved. However, success came because she persevered. Christie’s first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles suffered rejection. Six publishers turned it down until 1921, five years after she began submitting it, Bodley Head agreed to publish. Fourteen years later, this same book that had originally been rejected by so many was one of the 10 titles chosen to launch Penguin books. As of 2018 Penguin Random House is the world's leading trade book publisher; their total revenue was €3.42 billion ($3.87 billion at current exchange rates.)
The story of The Mousetrap unfolds in the British countryside about a half hour outside London. The first performance of The Mousetrap was in 1952, six years before Great Britain would end its food rationing program. Food rationing was part of life in both World War One and Two as a way to ensure an equitable distribution of resources: https://www.history.com/news/food-rationing-in-wartime-america The Mousetrap was an adaptation of a radio play Three Blind Mice written in 1947, just two years after the end of World War Two. The radio play was 20 minutes long and written as a birthday present for Queen Mary.
In 1948, the radio play, Three Blind Mice, became a short story. To this day, this short story however has never been published in Great Brittan. Author Agatha Christie didn’t want it to compete with her play and stipulated the story not be published until The Mousetrap closed. So far, it’s been 67 years and counting.
The lessons in this Study Companion explore both the life of Agatha Christie and one of her most celebrated works, The Mousetrap. The first lesson, 7 Up Whodunit includes a variation of the classic game: https://www.funology.com/heads-up-seven- up/. The activity in this lesson can be done multiple times so that many students have an opportunity to portray Agatha Christie, the author of The Mousetrap, and be the “murderers.” This lesson requires Internet access, the ability to watch YouTube and a fancy hat (as close to the style of hat author Agatha Christie wears in the interview video Rare interview with Agatha Christie the class will watch on Youtube.)
Along with plot and character, setting is a critical element of any story. Setting not only includes location, it also encompasses a host of other things, such as time period. Time period and locale are both essential for Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap.
Whether radio play, short story or stage play, setting the story of The Mousetrap in Great Britain in the years immediately following World War Two shapes the way the story unfolds. The culture of Great Britain is very much present in the way the characters speak, not only their accents, but what they say. The time period is also important as the story opens a window into what life was like in the years immediately following the Second World War. In The Mousetrap Vocabulary Time Period and Phrases, students will review the elements of setting, be introduced to common phrases spoken in Great Britain, phrases and vocabulary spoken by the characters in The Mousetrap, learn about the food rationing program in Great Britain and have an opportunity to use phrases and vocabulary from The Mousetrap in a writing activity.
The cultural and social environments are part of the setting of a story. Cultural and social environments can greatly influence the characters in a story. The cultural and social environments are very much in evidence in The Mousetrap. Mrs. Boyle is full of opinions about other people and her opinions are based on class. At the beginning of the play, she expects Monkswell Manor to have servants. Mollie and Giles Ralston are low on coke to fuel the fire; coke is a cheaper type of fuel. Mrs. Boyle’s opinions about Mollie and Giles Ralston and their ability to run Monkswell Manor are based on her opinions about class.
In The Mousetrap: Differences in English and American Culture students will learn about the similarities and differences between the cultural and social environments of the United Kingdom/Great Britain and the United States and have an opportunity to express their own opinions about these similarities and differences.
In The Mousetrap: Who Do You Think is the Suspect?, students attempt to discover the rationale of the murderer(s) pattern by reading descriptions for each character, background on Author Agatha Christie’s inspiration for The Mousetrap and an overview of the plot of the play. Students will make their own predictions about the outcome of the play~~ is there one character or another the majority of the class believes is guilty? Is there one character or another the majority of the class believes is a victim? Do students think there might be more than one suspect? Do students think there might be more than one victim? During this lesson the class will create a tally sheet and discuss how it expresses any opinions students have in common.
In her play The Mousetrap Agatha Christie references Lewis Carroll’s character Alice (of Alice in Wonderland) by borrowing a phrase from Through the Looking Glass~~” six impossible things before breakfast.” In The Mousetrap: Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, students will be encouraged to consider six things they have always wanted to do and haven’t attempted yet. They will not only brainstorm about six things they would like to do, they will develop actions steps and a timeline so that they may accomplish these impossible things.
A realistic lens of accomplishment can be put on any suggestion, no matter how far-fetched or fantastical. As an example, a student could say one impossible thing they have always wanted to do is fly like Superman. Ways to accomplish this seemingly impossible thing could be learning to hang glide, learning to parachute from an airplane or learning how to fly with a jet pack.
“Alice laughed. 'There's no use trying,' she said. 'One can't believe impossible things.'
I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. 'When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
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