Archive for the News Category

Alfred the Great Discovery Rivals Richard III Find

Posted in Context, News with tags , , , on 2014/02/22 by Mattermind

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It is said that when you learn a new vocabulary word you suddenly see it everywhere.  The same must apply to history because otherwise I would have missed this story entirely.

While all the attention lately has been paid (and rightly so) to the discovery of Richard III’s body buried under a Leicester car park, an even more astonishing bit of history has surfaced with the possible identification of a pelvic bone from Alfred the Great.

This probably won’t mean a whole lot unless you’re either a) British b) an historian c) an archaeologist but nevertheless, if you’re even curious about any of the above you might wish to learn more about why this is so important.

For those who wish to cut to the chase, here are LINK1 and LINK2 to summaries in the British tabloids press.  I know, I know.  I’m as scandalized as you by the graphics and blatant “click me” opportunities.  But somewhere in there is serious journalism and a story worthy of worldwide reporting.

Mind you, as I mentioned previously, I’m new to all this Medieval English history stuff but it doesn’t take a genius to recognize how Alfred earned the nickname.

If you haven’t clicked above (seriously, why haven’t you?) you are now relying on my even briefer and less-informative summation.  But here goes:

a) When England was overrun by large contingents of Vikings, only one kingdom defiantly stood its ground.  Yup, that would be Wessex, led by you-know-who.

b) Alfred learned his lessons both on and off the battlefield.  After near defeat, he reformulated the local armies so barrons would spend half the time away from their domains.  He thought not only in terms of what was best militarily, but what would allow his kingdom to remain vital and productive.

c) He commissioned the first English navy, hitting upon the idea that it might be a good idea to defeat the Vikings at sea before they reached British soil.  While his ship plans weren’t the most seaworthy, he initiated concepts for successive development.

d) At a time when few people were literate outside monasteries, he learned Latin and rounded up scholars to translate texts into the vernacular.  He was especially fond of Boethius’ Consolations of Philosophy and did the work on that text himself.

e) By fathering a competent son, he ensured that his ideas would carry on.  Edward the Elder reconquered the east coast and paved the way for a peace and prosperity under a united England, the first time it had been so since the collapse of the Roman Empire.

So yeah, it’s a pretty big deal.  And okay, so it’s not exactly Shakespeare news.  But I need neither Kevin Bacon nor six degrees to connect the dots. 

Two New Portraits of Shakespeare Found?

Posted in News, Shakespeareana on 2014/02/18 by Mattermind

We have so few authenticated images of Shakespeare that any report of a new discovery is bound to draw worldwide attention.  Over the last few days I have become aware of not just one, but two of them – one from Shakespeare’s early playwriting career and the other from his days of leisurely retirement.

The First is known as the Wörlitz portrait and features a young man brimming with confidence:

Worlitz Portrait

The second is called the Boaden portrait (featured on the right) and renders a gentleman who has acquired a good measure of comfort and ease:

New Portraits

PHOTO CREDIT: See German link below

There is solid scholarship behind the assertions, coming from Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel, a noted professor of English at Mainz University, Germany.  (That is her seen standing between the two portraits.  For a full recap in German, click HERE.)

She has been on the prowl for authentic images of Shakespeare for over 20 years!  For those seeking more information, her WEBSITE offers much to explore in both German and English.

“I subjected the images to fundamental tests of identity and authenticity, and these revealed that we are dealing with true-to-life portraits of Shakespeare, one from his youth, the second from his old age,” Hammerschmidt-Hummel told Discovery News. (For the full story in English, click HERE.)

With such solid scholarship behind the recent announcements, there is a good likelihood that these two new images will stand the test of time, helping round out a pictorial timeline stretching from Shakespeare’s ambitious early days as a young actor and budding London playwright through his latter luxury as an accomplished gentleman in Stratford.

I will update this site as more information becomes available.

SCANDAL! MURDER! BETRAYAL! SLANDER!

Posted in News, Richard III on 2014/01/21 by Mattermind

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In reading through Sir Isaac Asimov’s discourse on Act I of Richard III, I decided it might be a good idea to step back and assess what we know about the troubled king.  Asimov repeatedly states that the Richard portrayed in the play does not align with the historical record, which caused me to do some checking…and voila.

I had forgotten that his body had recently been discovered by a team of archeologists after all these years.  They positively identified it both by DNA and its similarity to known descriptions.  More on that can be found HERE.

Though most people don’t know it, historians have all but agreed that Richard III was nothing like the monster that Shakespeare demonized.  To better understand their position, a good place to start would be none other than the Richard III Society, available HERE.

For me, the biggest question is why.  Why would Shakespeare knowingly involve himself in a slander campaign against a decent king?  To understand this involves a thorough knowledge of English history and the lingering disputes between the Tudors and their rivals for the throne.  The short story being that Richard’s side (the Plantagenets) lost power, and Shakespeare, desiring to be employed, knew better than to portray a bitter historical enemy of the current regime in a positive light.

It’s a lot more more complicated than this, I realize.  NOTE: If anybody with a sound working knowledge wants to write a guest post and explain all this for us, I’m more than willing to turn over the keys.  Middle class Americans don’t receive much education about English monarchy beyond the Magna Carta, the Boston Tea Party and the Prince of Wales, unfortunately, and I haven’t made a great deal of headway sorting it all out on my own.

Perhaps by the time I have worked my way through the history plays, none other than Shakespeare himself will be my instructor.  However, since I made the rash decision to dive headfirst into Richard III, it will take me awhile to do some necessary catching up.

Suffice it for now to say that Shakespeare’s Richard III was not the bastard he’s made out to be.  For example, he was not a hunchback, but had a non-debilitating case of scoliosis.  His arm was not shriveled.  He, not his brother George, was the loyal defender of Edward.  He did not murder George, an upstart and rabble-rouser determined to unseat Edward; Edward saw to it that George was condemned by trial.  And, for the record, he wooed Anne as a smitten lover with a guiltless conscious, not as a devious murderer with a hidden agenda.

We could go on and on.  Do some research. You might be surprised.  I’ll update these pages as I learn more over the year and beyond.  This won’t affect the reading of Richard III qua Richard III – the text is still the text, whether it be true or not.  But it certainly impacts how we treat Shakespeare the historian if not the dramatist.

Suffice it to say that there’s much going on behind the scenes here than has yet been brought to light!

For more:

LISTEN TO THE STORY (NPR)    Absolutely. Hands down, Richard III has been slandered. The Tudor legend is very much a black legend. It takes certain facts of Richard’s biography and certain lacunae and Richard’s biography and builds into this myth of absolute evil. Shakespeare’s play is very much within that tradition. That having been said, the answer to a black legend is not necessarily complete exoneration.

THE SLANDERED KING   He was the youngest son of a Duke and staunchly loyal to his family. He was an able administrator and a general at age eighteen. He was his brother the king’s right arm and peacemaker. He succeeded to the throne through lawful means and ruled wisely. His parliament was noted for reforms.

He was plotted against and betrayed, killed in battle, stripped, mutilated, flung over a horse and sent through the battlefield where his troops lay dying. Long after his death he was blamed for the murder of his own nephews, who may have outlived him, and of his brother George, whose execution he protested. 

LOYAL TO THE TRUTH  No monarch in history has been so maligned and slandered as Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England. Although he was king for only a short time, Richard continued the benevolent rule of his elder brother, Edward IV, and, indeed, proved himself one of England’s most enlightened and far-sighted rulers, with progressive ideas on government and religion.

But, following his defeat and death at the Battle of Bosworth on August 22, 1485, the victorious Tudors began a process of re-writing history to destroy Richard’s reputation – a process that reached its zenith with the Shakespeare play “The Tragedy of Richard III”, first performed in the 1590s. 

SLANDERED BY SHAKESPEARE   Only now, after 528 years, is he finally getting a decent burial at — maybe — Leicester Cathedral. But yesterday, the nearby city of York, of which Richard was long the duke, set out a strong claim for the remains on a favorite-son basis. Richard was the only English king to die on an English battlefield since 1066, so you might have expected he’d already have a mighty memorial. But Richard III has the undying reputation of being the single most evil of all England’s kings.

Behind the Scenes at a New Shakespearean Theater

Posted in News on 2014/01/10 by Mattermind

Via the Telegraph UK, an exciting look at what will for many be an expected surprise.

No, not another in-the-round Globe reproduction, but its wintry accompaniment: an intimate, candlelit affair of the heart.

From the article: “’We asked ourselves, if we were a Jacobean theatre company building a theatre, what tools, methods, materials and aesthetic would we have at our disposal?’”

Click HERE for more.

Bad Handwriting May Be Great Clue in Real-Life Shakespeare Whodunit

Posted in News on 2014/01/05 by Mattermind

For centuries, scholars have wondered whether Shakespeare had a hand in a 1602 play by Thomas Kyd called “The Spanish Tragedy.” Now bad handwriting may turn out to be the key to solving the mystery.

THIS story in the NY Times reads like a whodunit – or an episode of CSI.

As I mentioned previously, this news should not shock anybody familiar with practices in modern Hollywood. A-list screenwriters are often brought in to “punch up” troubled productions, earning upwards of $300,000 per week to ease the concerns of worried studio heads.

Wouldn’t the same apply to Shakespeare? If you were the equivalent of a producer in 1600 and knew Shakespeare was available for hire to goose your play with the “Shakespeare” touch, what would you do?

Archeologists Reveal More About Shakespeare’s Last House

Posted in News on 2014/01/04 by Mattermind

Shakespeare’s final house no longer stands, but that hasn’t stopped intrepid archaeologists from discovering as much as they can about what might have gone on inside.

Their work coincides with preparations to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death (psst, 1616), including which of the the new memorabilia to put on display.

If interested, you can find out more HERE

Shakespeare’s “Fingerprints” on New Plays?

Posted in News on 2014/01/03 by Mattermind

Here’s a LINK to an intriguing story in the Guardian about recent linguistic analysis which suggests that Shakespeare may have been involved in more collaboration and/or rewriting of other people’s plays than we have previously been aware.

FINGERPRINT

If true, this only provides more evidence that, if alive today, Shakespeare would no doubt be an “A” list screenwriter extraordinaire, a go-to guy, a fixer, a closer. Name me an era and he would have excelled in it.

Ancient Greece? We would be talking about him alongside Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes.

Middle ages? Look out Dante. You have a new rival. Genius is genius is genius.

While I’ll need more information to accept such plays as the “work” of Shakespeare, I won’t be surprised that such a man had a hand in more output than has been ascribed to him thus far.