Tag: William Shakespeare

The madness and eclipse of King Lear

Sunday, 20 January, 2019

Tonight, the moon will noticeably, progressively get darker as the sun, the Earth and the moon converge in an instance of perfect cosmic alignment to create a lunar eclipse. This only total lunar eclipse of 2019 will be visible in North America, South America, Western Europe and North-western Africa.

There were many superstitions in the Elizabethan period, one being that an eclipse was an omen of evil. Shakespeare may have witnessed the partial lunar eclipse of 27 September 1605 and the total solar eclipse of 12 October that year, and both may have influenced his King Lear, which was first staged on St. Stephen’s day 1606. “Nothing will come of nothing,” goes Lear’s warning. The raging monarch has endured so many indignities — doomed by his vanity, deceived by sycophants, abandoned to madness… The Bard’s tragedy is a bleak depiction of family and state breakdown.

“These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend
no good to us: though the wisdom of nature can
reason it thus and thus, yet nature finds itself
scourged by the sequent effects: love cools,
friendship falls off, brothers divide: in
cities, mutinies; in countries, discord; in
palaces, treason; and the bond cracked ‘twixt son
and father. This villain of mine comes under the
prediction; there’s son against father: the king
falls from bias of nature; there’s father against
child. We have seen the best of our time:
machinations, hollowness, treachery, and all
ruinous disorders, follow us disquietly to our
graves. Find out this villain, Edmund; it shall
lose thee nothing; do it carefully.”

William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act I, Scene 2

King Lear


Shakespeare’s Words

Monday, 23 April, 2018 0 Comments

The world celebrates William Shakespeare’s birthday today. He was born on 23 April, the same date he died in 1616, aged 52. Actually, while his death is documented officially, we’re not fully sure about the exactness of his birth. What we do know is that he was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in April 1565 and that his baptism was recorded in the Parish Register at the Holy Trinity Church on Wednesday, 26 April 1564. Given that baptisms usually took place within three days of birth back then, it’s believed that the Bard was born on this day, 454 years ago.

To mark the occasion, linguist David Crystal and his actor son, David, have released the 3.0 update of their ShakespearesWords.com. “The financial side of the site is now administered by Professor D Crystal & Mrs H Crystal Business Partnership,” we learn in the History of the site section, and the funding model allow ten free page views “for anyone who just wants a quick browse or query.” After that, one has the option of purchasing a day ticket, a month ticket, a year ticket or a 10-year ticket. Website management is costly and bills have to be paid.

“But the comfort is, you shall be called to no more payments, fear no more tavern bills.” — First Gaoler, Cymbeline, Scene 5 Act 4

Background: Posthumus Leonatus is in prison, and the warder is saying that while he’s not in a great place, the upside is that he doesn’t have to pay his bar tab.

And a favourite for the day that’s in it? This from Romeo and Juliet, Act 3, Scene 2:

Give me my Romeo. And when I shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.


Kit Marlowe loved at first sight

Monday, 26 February, 2018 0 Comments

We don’t know exactly when the rock-star English playwright, poet and translator of the Elizabethan era Kit (Christopher) Marlowe was born, but he was baptised in Canterbury on this day in 1564. It was a notable year for letters because William Shakespeare was baptised on 26 April in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon.

In his brief life, Marlowe was described variously as a spy, a magician, a counterfeiter, a tobacco-user and a heretic. A warrant was issued for his arrest on 18 May 1593, possibly on charges of blasphemy, and ten days he was stabbed to death in London by one Ingram Frizer. Christopher Marlowe was just 30.

Why was he killed? Theories abound:

  • Jealous of her husband’s homosexual relationship with Marlowe, Lady Audrey Walsingham arranged for the playwright to be murdered.
  • He was killed on the instructions of Lord Burghley and Sir Robert Cecil, who believed that his plays contained Catholic propaganda.
  • Queen Elizabeth ordered his assassination because of his scandalous conduct.

The ultimate theory, of course, is that Marlowe didn’t die, and went on to write for Shakespeare. And there’s no doubt that Christopher Marlowe could do the business. Some 500 years later, this remains as true as it is sublime.

Who Ever Loved That Loved Not At First Sight?

It lies not in our power to love or hate,
For will in us is overruled by fate.
When two are stripped, long ere the course begin,
We wish that one should love, the other win;

And one especially do we affect
Of two gold ingots, like in each respect:
The reason no man knows; let it suffice
What we behold is censured by our eyes.
Where both deliberate, the love is slight:
Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?

Christopher Marlowe

Kit  Marlowe


Halloween: The evening of the witch

Monday, 31 October, 2016 0 Comments

The Three Witches are characters in William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth and they first appear in Act 1.1, where they greet the brave Scottish general with the grim prophecy that he shall be king. Together, they represent chaos, conflict and impending doom, and the spell they cast on Elizabethan Era audiences continues to echo down the centuries as young readers of J.K. Rowling’s popular witchcraft books will know.

Much of our fascination with witches comes from the belief in their ability to bestride the borders between the natural and the supernatural, which is part of the aura of Halloween. It’s not all that long ago when homes and barns were blessed on All Hallows’ Eve to protect people and livestock from witches, who were believed to accompany malignant spirits as they wandered the earth this night.


The Stoner sonnet

Friday, 30 September, 2016 0 Comments

The central character in Stoner, a 1965 novel by the American writer John Williams, is William Stoner, who begins life as a farm boy in Missouri. His parents send him to the University of Missouri to study agriculture, but after reading Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73, Stoner switches to studying literature. After receiving his Ph.D. he continues at the university as an assistant professor of English, the job he holds for the rest of his career.

“In his forty-third year William Stoner learned what others, much younger, had learned before him: that the person one loves at first is not the person one loves at last, and that love is not an end but a process through which one person attempts to know another.” — John Williams, Stoner

The novel sold poorly when it was published but that changed at the beginning of this century, when it became an international bestseller. Stoner was reissued in 2006 by New York Review Books Classics with an introduction by John McGahern, who wrote that Stoner is a “novel about work.” This includes not only traditional work, such as Stoner’s tasks on the farm and his academic duties, but also the work he puts into relationships. It’s also a book about passion, and Stoner’s passions are knowledge and love. According to the critic Morris Dickstein, “he fails at both.” It’s Shakespearian.

Sonnet 73

That time of year thou may’st in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day,
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by-and-by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

William Shakespeare

September


To the Reader

Saturday, 11 June, 2016 0 Comments

Ben Jonson’s most famous play is Volpone, the story of an ageing Venetian nobleman whose only passion is greed. The first three lines set the tone, when Volpone says:

“Good morning to the day; and next, my gold!
Open the shrine, that I may see my saint.
Hail the world’s soul and mine!”

The poet and playwright Ben Jonson was born in London on this day in 1572. His father died shortly before his birth and his mother remarried a bricklayer. Ben attended Westminster School, worked as a bricklayer, fought in Flanders and became an actor and playwright. In 1598, he wrote Every Man in His Humor and in one production a young actor called William Shakespeare appeared in a leading role. Shortly after the play opened, Jonson killed Gabriel Spencer in a duel and was tried for murder. He was released by pleading “benefit of clergy” (by proving he could read and write in Latin). “Language most shows a man,” Ben Jonson said, “speak that I may see thee.”

To the Reader

Pray thee, take care, that tak’st my book in hand,
To read it well: that is, to understand.

Ben Jonson (1572 — 1637)


“Et tu, Brute?”

Saturday, 7 May, 2016 0 Comments

This year, the world marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare and the commemorations reflect a language that has become the global lingua franca for a creative economy that knows few geographic boundaries. Pedro Martín-Calero is an example of this globalization. He started his career as a cinematographer in Spain, but switched to directing and he now divides his time between Madrid and London, where he works with Colonel Blimp, a production company that makes a variety of media, including commercials, music videos and Shakespearian snippets.

“Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!” is one of the many memorable sayings from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Pedro Martín-Calero includes a pair of fearsome canines in his very modern interpretation of Julius Caesar, Act II Scene I.


LinkedIn: Dowland, Hamlet, Shakespeare

Sunday, 3 April, 2016 0 Comments

The early life of John Dowland is a mystery. It has been claimed that he was born in Dublin, but no evidence has ever been found either for this or for the assertion that he was born in Westminster. What is without dispute, however, is that he worked as a lutenist at the court of Christian IV of Denmark in 1598. Thus, the link between John Dowland, the greatest instrumentalist of the English Renaissance, Hamlet, the greatest English play, and William Shakespeare, the greatest playwright ever, was established.

Dowland wrote Tarleton’s Resurrection in homage to Richard Tarleton, a 16th-century actor, who was Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite stand-up comedian, especially for his performance of impromptu doggerel, an early form of rap. It has been suggested that Tarleton is the inspiration for Shakespeare’s soliloquy in honour of Yorick, the deceased court jester, in Hamlet: “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.” (Act 5, Sc. 1).


The Neptune of Nymphenburg

Sunday, 18 May, 2014 0 Comments

“Full fathom five thy father lies; Of his bones are coral made; Those are pearls that were his eyes: Nothing of him that doth fade, But doth suffer a sea-change Into something rich and strange. Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell: Ding-dong Hark! now I hear them, — Ding-dong, bell.” William Shakespeare, The Tempest

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Fear no more the heat o’ the sun

Sunday, 28 July, 2013 0 Comments

Today, we’re being threatened with temperatures in the region of 40°C. Time to think cool thoughts of the past winter, when snow was general. Time, too, to think of Cymbeline by William Shakespeare, which is based on legends of the early Celtic King Cunobelinus. The most famous verse in the play is the funeral song […]

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