Cultural Capital 07: Tragedy

We loved a fall from grace as much then as we do now …

BH travolta tragedy
For Christ’s sake, can’t you see I’m busy, Ophelia? Get thee to a nunnery!

[this article first appeared in the in-house magazine I edit for our sixth-form English students]

Tragedy!  When the  feeling’s gone and you can’t go on …

It’s not that long ago that I appalled a class by stating that whilst the death of a pet dog might be ‘quite sad’, it definitely wasn’t ‘tragic’. ^

I definitely spend too much time in the late 16th century!

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Cultural Capital 06: Bacon’s Essays

Not, repeat NOT, Shakespeare in disguise, thanks very much …

BH bacon.jpg
[part of a monthly series aimed at my Sixth Formers, and the texts they are currently studying]

First things first – we need to be clear which Francis Bacon we are talking about!

Perhaps reluctantly, we need to steer clear of the 20th Century Irish Existentialist artist whose ‘screaming popes’*, amongst other works, are so disturbingly brilliant.  That Francis is part of our ‘cultural capital’ too, but less useful for your studies.

Instead, let’s turn to the man perhaps best known as the ‘father of the scientific method’.  In other, crazier, circles, it’s also muttered that he was, in fact, the ‘real’ William Shakespeare.  Try to avoid those people – they also tend to wear tin foil hats, believe that the world is flat, and that climate change is a myth … 

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The 2018 Shakespeare Top 10

Forget the Oscars, here are some winners that REALLY matter to me …

BH Ardens
Not – quite – my collection of Ardens … soon, soon!

We HATE lists, don’t we?

Except, actually we bloody love them, if it’s something we’re interested in.

No, really.

That said, the last thing we want is a list that agrees with our perceptions – the dopamine rush of validation is very short-lived compared to the opportunity to passionately argue our disagreement.  We LOVE subjective opinions.  Trust me – my wonderfully fulfilling University years were full of essays arguing the toss – why, for example:

  • Dracula should not be judged for his ‘special dietary requirements’, whereas Van Helsing and his bunch are vindictive bastards;
  • we ought to respect Edward Hyde for his refreshing honesty, as opposed to Henry Jekyll‘s hypocrisy; or
  • Ursula K. Le Guin’s (RIP) The Left Hand of Darkness, whilst a superb book, had no place in the Science Fiction module

You get the picture:  English Lit is a tailor-made subject for those who are argumentative and prepared to do the spadework to back-up their cockiness …

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Shakespeare’s Sister says: ‘YOU’RE HISTORY!’ …

Claiming ‘Shakespeare was this or that’, or worse, ‘Shakespeare did not write the plays’, does NOT entitle you to a mic-drop. It just shows your intellectual bankruptcy …

BH shakespeare's sister
Siobhan Fahey and Marcella Detroit – women I fancied (at 19) as much for their deranged, dangerous, deep and devil-may-care personas as their looks.

I’ve written elsewhere about the Rally of Revenge – about my unease that once you abandon all faith in ‘due process‘ or ‘justice‘ (either earthly or divine); once you understand that inequality is endemic, you have nothing left to lose – if you are already losing – so keep raising the stakes until someone has to leave the game.  If it’s uncomfortable, perhaps it’s also sometimes necessary, to affect change of a fundamentally broken system.  You might not see the benefits yourself.  Hey, if you have to leave the game, then so be it: losing can become preferable to playing along, eventually.

There are always other games, other paths, whilst we are still alive – experience has taught me that, even if Shakespeare hasn’t.

And that’s where I find myself, professionally, this weekend.  Approaching change, but ready for it, and maybe, in some ways, relieved that an unhappy stasis has broken. There are always other games.

There is a third way – for revenge – I’ve not written about before.  The poet George Herbert (1593-1633) suggested that:

Living well is the best revenge.

And I’ll embrace and adapt that, in a ‘standing on the shoulders of giants‘ sense.

Living well equals happiness.  LAUGHTER is the best revenge.

Today, I intend to laugh at someone.  Long, and hard.

Let’s get moving, shall we?

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Quote of the Week: 06 November

Presuming someone’s guilt can create a dangerous reaction …

BH Cover Gunpowder PlotThe Gunpowder Plot: The Narrative of Oswald Tesimond alias Greenway (ed. Francis Edwards), (The Folio Society:  London, 1973)

Given the date, and the current BBC production of ‘Gunpowder‘, currently horrifying the squeamish across the country, it seems apt to take a second quotation from this book – the first is here.

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PTS 06/037: Don’t Push It

BH rambo don't push it
Titus:  Don’t push it … don’t push it or I’ll give you a war you won’t believe.  Let it go.

Titus Andronicus, Act V

(subtitled, far too obviously for the UK football fans amongst us, ‘who ate all the pies?’)

I warned you!  I WARNED YOU!  Did I warn you?

Yes, I did.  And so did Francis Bacon.  And Jonathan Bate.  And Fredson Bowers.  We all said that revenge was likely to spiral out of control, because once you lose your faith in the law, and in divine justice too, all bets are off. And because every stroke in the ‘rally of revenge‘ is that much harder, has that much more spin on it than the last.  Let’s mix our metaphors again: in this particular poker game, someone, eventually, is going to see your stake and raise you with everything they’ve got, not caring any more whether they win or lose. The chips, and what they represent, are suddenly and utterly unimportant …

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PTS 06/036: Losing My Religion

BH old man yells at cloud

Titus Andronicus, Act IV

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.

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