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.
Richard III: Act I, Sc iii (Ponytail Shakespeare read-through)
Richard has been a part of my life, a surprisingly large part, for about six years or so. In fact, we might call him part of the ‘soundtrack of my life’, since I turned 40. So whilst I try and inevitably fail to do the play justice in these posts, one of the things that’s already settled is the Shakespeare’s Jukebox ‘Soundtrack Album’ that I publish at the end of my amble through the play. Some songs have been ringfenced, so that I don’t use them for any other play … this is one.
If there’s a decidedly ‘camp’ flavour to the jukebox, in fact to these posts (I mean: Mercury, Hasselhoff and now EJ?), it could be down to two factors:
I’m teaching Edward II, to two classes, at the moment (conspiracy theorists, and I like one as much as the next person, will note that these two plays were probably written within months of each other, if not simultaneously); and
this is a camp play. At some stage I might get stuck into the relationship between Richard and Buckingham (a personal theory that causes wide-eyed incredulity in my classes, more often than not)
I’ve often described it as a pantomime for grown-ups. Ironically, because a child’s pantomime is possibly the worst way I can think of spending an evening. Perhaps this takes on board the criticisms of those who favour other, more mature or ‘intellectual’ plays. Richard is gleefully childish and petulant, at least until he becomes king, and there are several times where I want to shout:
He’s behind you!
or similar, at members of the cast: Clarence, Hastings, the young Duke of York, the hapless Burghers of London, at the very least.
But … having ambled through the HVI plays for the first time this year, I have a completely different understanding of and respect for this play. The Bitch is back in Act I scene iii, and there can be only one Bitch (capitalisation intended), as we saw in The Hollow Crown …
Richard III: Act I sc ii (Ponytail Shakespeare read-through)
Sub-title: ‘Do you have free wi-fi? Because I’m sensing a connection …’
At school, we have a department policy of sitting boy-girl where possible (until sixth form, at least), and in most classes there is a combination that seems to get on that bit too well. So, I’ve been researching chat-up lines I can embarrass those pupils with. Yes, I’m that kind of teacher …
These are the best clean ones I’ve found so far. If you can top this, let me know.
Anyway, back to the play! Shrug. If you’ve decided to behave badly, you may as well test your strength straight away, right? If we accept, after my last post, that the main thing on Richard‘s mind is the constant, inevitable rejection of women, it follows that his next step in the play (the true story is somewhat different) is to seduce someone …
(Can I also say it hurt my eyes to search for this image?
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 …
GR Elton, A History of England: England Under The Tudors (The Folio Society: London, 1997)
If there was ever a knockout blow in the ebooks vs. physical books debate, I think The Folio Society supplies it.
The heft of them, the slipcases, the overall production values – even the feel of the paper stock makes these a pleasure to read, and as someone who usually subjects his books to ‘tough love’, it makes me look after them in a way I rarely do other books.
And the contents never fail to live up to the packaging …
Ponytail Shakespeare read-through – Richard III (Act I, scene i)
Larger than life. One of a kind. Brash on the outside, to mask an inner vulnerability. The ultimate showman, whose memory lives on long after his death. Freddie Mercury is all these things, too …
I’ve arrived at Richard III, the first play in my read-through that I know well, with a sense of awe, almost a fear of not doing him justice. Unusually, I’m as tentative as I might have been had I met him with a pathetic autograph book in my hand (or Mercury, whose death in 1991 touched me as few other celebrity deaths have: Prince and Sir Terry Pratchett are the only others that I register, emotionally). My relationship with Richard grows more obsessive and complex every time I teach him, and my recent book-buying seems unconciously centred round the historical Richard and the major players in his accession and downfall. I’ve also realised there is no way I can do this in the usual 1,000-ish-words-per-act format, so all I’m going to do is try to avoid 1,000 words-per-scene, if I can.
There’s a lot of unjustifiable hate out there for Titus Andronicus, I think.
Jonathan Bate introduces the play by saying that:
‘Even those who have approached Titus in a spirit of scholarly enquiry rather than critical judgement have been prejudiced by their distaste for the play […] nearly all scholars suppose that it is a very early work, a piece of crude and embarrassing juvenilia. I believe that every one of these arguments is wrong.
I’m with Prof. Bate. This was a rollercoaster ride. Although it does sketch issues we’ll see fleshed out in Lear and other ‘greats’, it’s a remarkable Revenge play, with a strong tragic journey and an utterly evil villain that surpasses any other I can readily think of. It also spoke strongly to me about public service, and the rewards thereof – especially for our armed forces.
So here’s my soundtrack album for the play. What’s missing?