For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground, and tell sad stories of the death of kings …
PTS read-through:Richard II, act III (part ONE)
Witnessing the utter disintegration of a human being – even a fictional one – is, I’d suggest, an uneasy, distressing experience.And yet …
Voyeuristic shame accompanies the compulsion to keep spectating what is usually such a private affair.My first experience of this type of slow-mo car-crash literature was Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge, when I was about 12.It scarred me – I’ve never quite been able to revisit Michael Henchard’s self-induced immolation; it also, I think, gave me my first seductive bittersweet taste of tragedy.Like that initial stolen underage drink, whilst I wasn’t quite sure I liked it, I wanted another – just to be certain.
Niccolò Machiavelli: The Prince, (transl. George Bull, ed. Anthony Grafton), (Penguin Classics: London, 2003). e-book ISBN: 9780141912004 (£2.99)
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Niccolò Machiavelli … the name has a seductive musicality, like all the Devil’s best tunes, and in Italian, ‘Il Principe’ uncoils like a snake, before hissing and then biting. This, his most famous work, has insinuated its way into our psyche until ‘Machiavellian’ has become part of a sinister cabal of authorial-adjectives including ‘Orwellian‘, ‘Lovecraftian’ and ‘Kafkaesque‘.Yet how many people appreciate its true meaning, having read ‘The Prince’?Is its reputation merited?Is it a useful, topical read, or a dusty, centuries-old curiosity?
‘On Brexit, and Ignoring the Advice of Uncles’, as Montaigne might have written …
PTS read-through: Richard II, act II
Richard II plays against the backdrop of an enormous cosmic clockface. Our poetic but ineffective, spiteful monarch ends act I cynically hoping to arrive too late; he begins act II suffering the consequences of being early, getting an earful from his uncle.
What Richard does miss, though, is Uncle Gaunt’s remarkable crie de couer on the state of the nation. It’s an interesting, beautiful swansong, the breathless anaphora creating a crescendo of patriotic fervour – but I have three issues with it.
This week’s quotation is from: Charles R. Forker, ‘Introduction’, in William Shakespeare, Richard II (Arden Third Edition), (Thomson Learning: London, 2002)
A recent Reddit thread discussed the extent to which the History plays critiqued the monarchy. To be honest, I didn’t want to get involved, because it looked like a straight request for homework help, and yet, it was hard to resist such a fascinating subject …
Sometimes we need to be reminded that our historical figures are human beings.
This week’s quotation is taken from Garrett Mattingly, The Defeat of the Spanish Armada(ed. J.H. Elliott), (The Folio Society: London, 2002)
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This is just a humble tavern, and we’ve no real pretensions to royal patronage. Prince Hal, of course is a regular, but he doesn’t behave very … ahem … regally, when he’s here, Lor’ bless and keep him.
But like every good English ale-house, we do have a portrait of Good Queen Bess behind the bar, and it’s this one. This week, I’ve been thinking about Elizabeth I …
It’s a wonder Will didn’t end up in prison, when you think about it …
This week’s quotation is from Germaine Greer, Shakespeare (Past Masters series), (Oxford: OUP, 1986), p.75
Classroom experience tells me that [massive generalization] today’s students are disinclined to think for themselves [/massive generalization]. It’s part of the resistance to Shakespeare that seems to be coded into some pupils’ DNA (and another day I might talk about the ‘generational’ thing), but we see it with other texts. A while back, in Manchester, I taught the short film ‘The Virus’ – which I personally think is excellent:
– but it was met with howls of anger (only slight exaggeration) from students who couldn’t work out what had happened, why, and what might happen next. Watch the film, if you have under ten minutes, and then ask yourself if the main character is alive or dead at the end. Then, ask yourself why or how the answer couldn’t be obvious to 14/15 year-olds. This happened with TWO classes. I wasn’t just taken aback: I was worried. Not least because they thought it was ‘rubbish‘ because they couldn’t figure it out.
To be fair, this probably isn’t new – had my students been alive at the time, and in possession of the attention span required to read it, they would have been part of the contemporary outcry over the ending to Great Expectations. But Dickens‘ audience wanted their theories confirmed or refuted. In 2018, it just seems endemic that people have no theories. They just want to be told what to think … and that scares me.
Almost nothing seems to have changed in 400 years … as usual …
subtitled, ‘Food for powder‘
Matthew Beaumont: Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London (London: Verso Books, 2015)
My recent article on Gayle Rubin‘s important Feminist work, ‘The Traffic in Women’ touched upon what has been historically expected of women, especially working class ones. Rubin takes a look at the Marxist position before developing it into a gender rather than class-specific argument: the commodification of women in the marriage market. It’s an excellent read.
And we see Rubin’s position everywhere in Shakespeare and the EMP, where women constantly struggle against the social imperative to marry a man who ticks boxes for their family / parents, love coming as an unexpected bonus. Even comedies such as The Dreamfeature the tension between ‘kinship‘ and ‘companionate‘ marriages.
To say nothing of the pressures Elizabeth I was under, of course …
In my article, I dipped into Beaumont‘s book for a supporting quotation, but it’s been weighing on my mind. I think it needs to be considered on its own merits.