Thomas 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.
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?
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.
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.
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’:
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 …
Should we pay more attention to James I before he became King of England?
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.
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.