Laura Ashe, Richard II: A Brittle Glory (Penguin: London, 2016)
Emboldened by the excellent ‘Penguin Monarchs‘ volume on Edward II, I looked out which other volumes were available: the first that arrived in the post was this one.
Ashe‘s approach seems different to Given-Wilson‘s on Edward. Where he was reassuringly chronological, she deals with Richard’s reign (and I’ve seen this as a criticism of the volume online) thematically. It has, nonetheless, given me some useful insight into a king who I’ve always vaguely felt I owed a debt: I fell asleep watching Jeremy Irons in the title role – in Stratford, of all places – back in 1986/7. To this day, I blame the large lunch I had before the matinee performance …
Christopher Given-Wilson, Edward II: The Terrors of Kingship (Penguin Monarchs series), (Penguin: London, 2016)
This series of books have been on my radar for a while, but it took a recommendation from an ex-student (thanks, Jay!) to finally push me into buying one. These are absolutely ideal for A Level students (who NEED the context for their final exams: hint, hint to both my classes) or people who wanted a potted history without getting too bogged down.
Given-Wilson‘s writing style was pitched just right, I thought – dryly academic without being off-putting, clear without being condescending to those of us who don’t need (or want) words of one syllable. It’s certainly inspired me to buy some more from the series: naturally, I’m now forced to wait until March 2018 for the Richard III volume, sigh …
This week’s quote of the week, is the final paragraph from the book, which sums up my views on Edward as presented in Marlowe‘s play.
John Julius Norwich, Shakespeare’s Kings (Penguin: London, 2000)
I like this book very much, and as I’m currently teaching Edward II to two separate groups of sixth-formers, I thought I’d look out a quotation for them regarding our hapless king. Despite Edward not being one of Shakespeare‘s kings, Norwich doesn’t disappoint …
BRADBROOK, MC: Themes and Conventions of Elizabethan Tragedy (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1969)
The Boar’s Head Bookshelf uses Isaac Newton‘s famous ‘standing on the shoulders of giants‘ quotation to acknowledge the part that every book I read has in shaping my ideas about Shakespeare. Occasionally, I read a book where the ideas are camouflaged by a ponderous, lecturing (in the worst sense of the word) style, and this is one of them. (A shout-out to the massively disappointing Frank Kermode on this point, too) When I read authors like David Crystal, his – pardon the pun – brilliant style makes the ideas shiny, fresh, exciting. Kermode and Bradbrook are similarly huge beasts, but their home is the Jurassic period, not the 21st Century. I’m slightly taken aback by that statement, given I devote myself to a writer who has been dead for over 400 years: oh, the irony, I hear you say …
Anyway, Bradbrook HAS got something interesting to say when she’s not hectoring us or making massive assumptions about our knowledge:
Secular authorities had (and still have) every investment in discouraging revenge. If citizens perceive that the law no longer serves them, then we get the kind of situation that Francis Bacon famously warned of:
‘Revenge is a kind of wild justice’
And this is a point that Jonathan Bate develops, quoting Fredson Bowers:
Private action undermines the authority of the state:Elizabethan law felt itself capable of meting out justice to murderers, and therefore punished an avenger who took justice into his own hands just as heavily as the original murderer.The authorities, conscious of the Elizabethan inheritance of private justice from earlier ages, recognised that their own times still held the possibilities of serious turmoil; and the were determined that private revenge should not unleash a general disrespect for law.
Act IV however adds the dimension of the breakdown of DIVINE justice to the individual’s decision to subvert the legal process.
‘To sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub’ (HAMLET: III.i.64)
Titus Andronicus: Act II
What tragedy would be complete without some element of the supernatural, as I have already intimated? This dreadful (in the sense of being full of dread, NOT poor quality) act begins with that classic Shakespearean trope, the bad night’s sleep:
‘I have been troubled in my sleep this night.’ (TITUS: II.i.9)
And Titus has every reason to be subconsciously troubled: although he begins the act quite enthusiastically:
‘The hunt is up’ (II.i.1)
He cannot imagine who the ‘dainty doe’ (DEMETRIUS: II.i. 26) might actually be ..