PTS 015/092: not MY leader …

evolution of Boris Steve Bell
image:  Steve Bell / The Guardian

It’s often said, often bitterly, that we get the leaders we deserve.  After all, ’we voted for them’, right?  Or at least broadly 100,000 have: in a population of 65-million-odd, way less than 1% have made Boris ‘Bolinbroke’ Johnson our Prime Minister.  Quite clearly ‘the will of the British people’ in the twenty-first century is a highly elusive and nebulous concept.

Right here, right now, the question of the type of leader we want, need, or deserve is as urgent as it has been since the end of the Second World War.  As is the debate about whether we prefer harsh truths or comforting lies …

Welcome to our latest stop on the Pony Tail Shakespeare read-through 1 Henry IV, Act I scene iii. Continue reading “PTS 015/092: not MY leader …”

PTS 13/081: The Curse of Kings

… is that the job is, frankly, shit. And that you have to be a shit to do it successfully.

big mac
Excuse me?  I ordered a kingdom like I saw in the advert …

PTS read-through:  King John, Act IV.

If you’re not ‘born great’, if you want to achieve greatness, you have to put in the hours, right?  Just think of the graft involved: wheeling and dealing; equivocating; making and breaking alliances; sucking up; marrying well (not, alas, for love); adding colours to the chameleon; changing shapes with Proteus; and generally setting the murderous Machiavel to school.

And for what?

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QotW (#64): 21 January 2019

If there’s anyone more maligned than Greene who wasn’t actually a serial killer or worse, I’m struggling to come up with a name. 

jiminy cricket

Although it increasingly appears to have been abandoned in the twenty-first century, conscience is everywhere in the late sixteenth.  Hamlet, of course, blames it for his cowardice; Margaret curses Richard III with it; and it seems almost a rule that if you hire two thugs to carry out some dastardly act, one of them will prove reluctant …

It is also, it seems, only for the poor and the base – much like its cousin, Patience.  Even in moments of classic anagnorisis, I’d suggest we scarcely see it in our tragic heroes – a subject for another post, perhaps.

Anyway, to Robert Greene

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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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QotW: 30 July 2018 (#51)

Marlowe probably DID make a hazard of his head by easing his heart …

BH pulp

The more I read about Marlowe, the more I like and sympathise with him – arrogant, frustrated genius, malcontent, morally questionable, and attention-whore as he may have been.  I sense a kindred spirit: my best friend would say the same about me – perhaps with a lot more arrogance and a lot less genius.  As I get older, I like to think that my moral code is finally begining to crystallise, where it was entirely fluid 25 years ago, but then Marlowe never had the opportunity to mellow …

Increasingly, I see Marlowe as the kind of ‘mis-shapeJarvis Cocker sung about in 1995:

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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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PTS 11/067: Know When to Hold ‘Em

Know when to fold em …

BH CSF14 RII 86564
Cambridge Shakespeare Festival, 2014.  Image:  ME

PTS read-through:  Richard II, Act III (part 2)

(in which Richard shows what a crap poker player he would have made)

An important lesson for students:  it is OK to disagree with a critical view – in fact OK to disagree with ME and my ideas.  As long as you can argue your opposition to a stance or point of view.  I’m about to take issue with  Germaine Greer

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PTS 11/066: Alas, poor Richard …

For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground, and tell sad stories of the death of kings …

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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.

Richard’s collapse is the most devastatingly beautiful in Shakespeare, perhaps in the wider canon: it begins here, spanning three poignant acts. 
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Machiavelli: The Prince (review)

‘… men must be either pampered or crushed …’

BH the prince 9780141912004Niccolò Machiavelli:  The Prince, (transl. George Bull, ed. Anthony Grafton), (Penguin Classics: London, 2003).  e-book ISBN: 9780141912004 (£2.99)

– – –

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?

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PTS 11/065: Stop being such a Dick, Richard!

‘On Brexit, and Ignoring the Advice of Uncles’, as Montaigne might have written …

 

King Richard II

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.

Continue reading “PTS 11/065: Stop being such a Dick, Richard!”