[book review] Thomas Cogswell, James I: The Phoenix King

cover cogswellThomas Cogswell, James I: The Phoenix King (Penguin Monarchs), (London:  Allen Lane, 2017)

Thomas Cogswell’s biography is recognisably one of the Penguin Monarchs series.  That means it’s concise (just 109 pages) and informative; a good general introduction to the king who succeeded Elizabeth. For those studying Shakespeare or the Early Modern period, the information about James’ early life is useful and potentially revealing.

It’s also often neglected.

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QotW (#85) 12 August 2019

shakespeare map

Particularly when teaching writing, I’ve often compared a text to a map.  My thoughts generally run like this:

When your reader lands on a fresh page of prose, they haven’t got a clue what landscape they are standing on; it’s up to us as writers to orientate them, and our language forms the contour lines and the key to the world we are mapping out for them.  We have to make careful decisions about what and how much to show – how far they can see; how quickly they can recognise signs, symbols and the direction of travel.  We need to contextualise what they’re reading, even if that is the relationship between this page and the previous one, or this paragraph and the one before it, because context is key to avoiding the dizzy nausea that can turn a reader off.

Conversely, when teaching close reading, it’s all very well spotting WHAT a writer is trying to do.  By the time pupils hit KS3 at Y7 they can all spot a simile: a symbol on the map.  But how many students, even when we get up to the heights of Y13 can really read the map, talk about WHY the simile was employed; WHY that particular comparison was chosen?

Context, in it’s broader sense, is everything

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[book review] Shirley McKay: Fate & Fortune

Fate and Fortune

Shirley McKay, Fate & Fortune (Edinburgh:  Birlinn Ltd, 2010)

This second Hew Cullan mystery begins two years after the events of the first.  It is 1581: Hew has returned to St Andrews on the death of his father, a man rendered a stranger to him through time and distance. 

 

 

 

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QotW (#81): 01 July 2019

legophthalmos
image: legophthalmos

Never mind having a MONTH named after you – you’re nobody, in the grand scheme of things, until you have your own Lego figure …

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QotW #78: 03 June 2019

shepheardes calendar JUNE
Can we send the Y11s on study leave yet, Headmaster?  They’re getting restless … [image:  June, The Shepheardes Calendar]
Today marks the beginning of one of the most eagerly anticipated parts of the school year … the final summer half-term.  The countdown’s on, for teachers at least: 7 weeks; 35 working days; a maximum of 28 lessons with each of those classes.

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QotW (#43): 28 May 2018

Manners maketh the man, it seems …

Elizabeth I of England

It wasn’t till I got to University that I came across Malcolm’s ‘king becoming graces’ in Macbeth.  I thought them startling – an almost impudent challenge to James I about what the country expected from their new monarch, in a play which, I’m increasingly convinced, is all about what it means to be a ‘man’:

As justice, verity, temperance, stableness,
Bounty, perseverance, mercy, lowliness,
Devotion, patience, courage, fortitude,  (IV, iii) [a]

But what of those in the level below?  What were the expectations placed on nobles and courtiers?

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Quote of the Week: 26 March 2018 (#34)

The long road to the civil war begins here …

BH Richard II 86536
Photo by me:  taken at the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival, 2014

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 …

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Quote of the Week: 12 February 2018 (#28)

Should we pay more attention to James I before he became King of England?

BH cogwell james i

Thomas Cogswell, James 1:  The Phoenix King (Penguin Monarchs series), (Allen Lane:  London, 2017)

Studying or teaching Shakespeare’s plays, the figure of Elizabeth looms in the background, like the spectre at the feast.

We see it in the ever-present censorship, in the light of the Treasons Acts in 1571 and 1581, outlawing public discussion of the succession.  Or, more positively, in the ‘Gloriana’ cult that produced works like Spenser‘s The Faerie Queen, and flattering nods to Elizabeth wherever you look – like links between her and Theseus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  We see it in her discomfort with comparisons to Richard II, and the propagandic lionization of Henry VII.

Reading Cogswell‘s short, sympathetic biography has made me reassess the extent to which we / I ignore James until the succession question becomes absolutely critical.

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Quote of the Week: 15 January 2018

Art not just as a time machine, but as a mirror, too …

BH germaine-greerGermaine Greer:  Shakespeare (Past Masters series) (Oxford University Press:  Oxford, 1986)

I wonder if there was a time when, at least as an adult, the name Germaine Greer was unknown to me.  Yet this slim volume, picked up in the last mad pre-demolition trolley dash round our old sixth-form building almost a year ago, is my first reading of any of her works.  I feel a bit embarrassed about that.

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Quote of the Week: 11 December 2017

We only want to be kings because we don’t fully understand what it involves?

BH Lee_1603Christopher Lee, 1603 (Review:  London, 2003)

Not THAT Christopher Lee, obviously!

In class, we’ve seen it in Edward II and, I think, Richard III.  There are hints of it for my younger students in Macbeth.  But I see it everywhere: in Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI.

 

In Twelfth Night, Malvolio tells us:

“be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em” (II.v)

Quite simply, the message I consistently get from EMP plays is that greatness – in this case being monarch – is never, ever, all it’s cracked up to be …

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