Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Othello by William Shakespeare.

Othello is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to be written in 1603 and first performed in 1604. It was possibly inspired by Un Capitano Moro, a tale in Giovanni Battista Giraldi's (Cinthio) Gli Hecatommithi (1565; tales in turn inspired by Boccaccio's Decameron) and 'The Three Apples from One Thousand and One Nights, and it is one of his most famous and important plays.

The synopsis is fairly simple, though lengthy - Othello, described as a "Moor" ("The Moor of Venice" as is the subtitle), suggesting he is African (perhaps Islamic Arabic in Northern Africa, or perhaps referring to African from other regions of the continent), is a General in the Venetian army. He is married to the loving and faithful Desdemona, daughter of the senator Brabantio. His friend and captain is Michael Cassio; and he is also friends with his other captain Iago, unaware that he is a treacherous and wicked villain.

At the beginning of the play it is revealed that Othello has married Desdemona in secret, and Iago and Roderigo (who is in love with Desdemona) are discussing the matter. Roderigo hates Othello for marrying Desdemona, and Iago hates Othello because he promoted Cassio over Iago, so Iago bears a grudge. Finally, Brabantio, learning his daughter has been secretly married to Othello (he is informed by Roderigo with Iago's encouragement), is frankly none too keen either and accuses him of witchcraft to enchant his daughter, though this accusation does not convince the Duke.

With these circumstances set up and explained, the plot moves forward to Othello being posted to Cyprus, leading the Venetian army against the Turks. Desdemona accompanies him, along with Cassio, Iago, and Emilia, Iago's wife and Desdemona's friend and attendant. Not long in Cyprus there is an incident: knowing Cassio is not a good drinker, Iago purposefully gets him drunk and urges him to fight Roderigo. There is a brawl and Othello blames Cassio, and punishes him by demoting him. Iago then encourages Cassio to approach Desdemona and ask her to plead his case to Othello. All of this in place, Iago begins to try to convince Othello that Desdemona is secretly having an affair with Cassio.

Iago is surely the greatest of Shakespearean villains. He is almost sociopathic in his hatred for Othello and his anger goes far, far beyond reason. He seems to lack clarity in the situation; what should be disappointment, irritation, or indeed anger is blown beyond proportion to frenzied levels. And yet, to say he "lacks clarity" does not do him service: he coldly surveys his situation and calculates how to correctly manipulate those around him to achieve his own ends. He is out of control whilst maintaining control, and this contradiction and difficulty in understanding his character makes him all the more dangerous, fascinating, and compelling. I do think he is the most impressive character in Othello, though that is not to say the other characters are substandard. Othello himself is an outstanding character. Though he has status and great power within the army he is the outsider because of his race. And though he allows himself to be manipulated by Iago, this speaks more highly of Iago's characterisation rather than diminishing Othello himself.

It is a truly remarkable play, and I think it's Shakespeare's finest tragedy. Being a tragedy, and being subtitled a tragedy, we know that Iago will be successful in making Othello believe Desdemona is having an affair, but the repercussions of this are so far-reaching I wouldn't say the end was entirely predictable. It is, first and foremost I think, one of the deepest and best psychological dramas of its age and it is a Shakespeare play I've always loved. And - one final word, this play went on to inspire one of my favourite novels - He Knew He Was Right by Anthony Trollope (1869).

Desdemona and Othello, by Antonio Muñoz Degrain (1880).

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The Prioress's Prologue and Tale and The Prologue and Tale of Sir Thopas from The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.

The Prioress's Tale by Edward Burne Jones.
This week in The Canterbury Tales I continue with Fragment VII, reading The Prioress's Prologue and Tale, and The Prologue and Tale of Sir Thopas - both very short (I'm going easy on myself this week in preparation for the slightly longer The Tale of Melibee next week!). 

The Prioress's Prologue begins with a hymn of praise to the Virgin Mary and sets the tone for her story:
Lady, thy bountee, thy magnificence,
Thy vertu and thy grete humylitee
Ther may no tonge expresse in no science;
For somtyme, Lady, er men praye to thee,
Thou goost biforn of thy benyngnytee,
And getest us the lyght, of thy preyere,
To gyden us unto thy Sone so deere.
The Tale (which is intensely anti-Semitic) begins by describing a Jewish community in Asia within a Christian city:
Ther was in Asye, in a greet citee,
Amonges Cristene folk a Jewerye,
Sustened by a lord of that contree
For foule usure and lucre of vileynye,
Hateful to Crist and to his compaignye;
And thurgh the strete men myghte ride or wende,
For it was free and open at eyther ende.
In this city there is a Christian school, and a young Jewish boy frequently sees the Christian children walking through the streets singing. The boy is devout and taught to revere Mary, mother of Christ. One day he hears 'Alma Redemptoris Mater' ('Loving Mother of our Saviour'; here's a link to the Choir of Merton College, Oxford singing the hymn) and though he doesn't understand the Latin in which it is sung he soon learns the first verse, then later asks his friend what the song is about. His friend explains:
His felawe, which that elder was than he,
Answerde hym thus: "This song, I have herd seye,
Was maked of our blisful Lady free,
Hire to salue, and eek hire for to preye
To been oure help and socour whan we deye.
I kan namoore expounde in this mateere.
I lerne song; I kan but smal grammeere."
The little boy vows to learn the hymn in full for Christmas to pay homage to Christ's mother, even though he knows he will be punished by the others in the community. As he practices the hymn, Satan speaks to the Jewish people:
Oure firste foo, the serpent Sathanas,
That hath in Jues herte his waspes nest,
Up swal, and seide, "O Hebrayk peple, allas!
Is this to yow a thyng that is honest,
That swich a boy shal walken as hym lest
In youre despit, and synge of swich sentence,
Which is agayn youre lawes reverence?"
The people decide to hire a murderer to kill the boy who "kitte his throte, and in a pit hym caste." The widow goes to look for her son and, inspired by Jesus, finds him. Though dead, the boy continues to sing Alma Redemptoris Mater. The provost is called and he puts the Jews to death, and the child's body (still singing) is taken to the abbey. As holy water is sprinkled on him the boy tells the abbots the Virgin placed a grain (or pearl) upon his tongue to bid him to sing and,
"Wherfore I synge, and synge moot certeyn,
In honour of that blisful Mayden free
Til fro my tonge of taken is the greyn;
And after that thus seyde she to me:
'My litel child, now wol I fecche thee,
Whan that the greyn is fro thy tonge ytake.
Be nat agast; I wol thee nat forsake.'"
The abbot then removes the grain and the boy is left to rest in peace. He is proclaimed a martyr and a marble tomb is erected in his honour. Here the Prioress reveals the name of the boy that is on the tomb: Hugh of Lincoln, referring to Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln, a little boy who went missing on 31st July 1255 and whose body was found a month later in August 1255 in a well (his story can be found on Lincoln County Council's website).

The Prioress's Tale in an interesting one - there's a strong message of the power of faith and love in Christ and the Virgin Mary, but then there is the strong anti-Semitic message of "villainous" Jews more interested in money than God. It is of its time - only a 100 years earlier King Edward I had ordered the 'Edict of Expulsion' in which Jews were expelled from England (hence the tale is set in Asia) and anti-Semitism was a form of religious fervour. This does make it a rather unlikeable tale.

Unsurprisingly the tale puts the pilgrims in a sombre mood, and in the Prologue to the Tale of Sir Thopas, the Host looks to Chaucer to cheer the crowd up. 

This Tale of Sir Thopas is told by Geoffrey Chaucer, the pilgrim in The Canterbury Tales. It is one of two tales told by our poet, the second being The Tale of Melibee, which I'll be writing about next week.

From a biographical point of view the prologue is interesting as the author Geoffrey Chaucer describes the pilgrim Geoffrey Chaucer:
He in the waast is shape as wel as I;
This were a popet in an arm t' enbrace
For any womman, small and fair of face.
He semeth elvyssh by his contenaunce,
For unto no wight dooth he daliaunce.
The Host continues, bidding Chaucer to tell them all a merry tale. Chaucer promises him a rhyme, a romance, that he learned a long time ago - "But of a rym I lerned longe agoon."

The Tale begins,
Listeth, lordes, in good entent,
And I wol telle verrayment
Of myrthe and of solas,
Al of a knyght was fair and gent
In bataille and in tourneyment;
His name was sire Thopas.
Chaucer describes Sir Thopas' face as being like deeply dyed scarlet - "His rode is lyk scarlet in grayn", and I believe that this relates to his having a 'Choleric Temperament'. This relates to the 'four humours': blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. This choleric temperament leads to a mind that is:
Bold, daring, original, imaginative, visionary.  Ideation faculty well-developed.  Brilliant intellect, sharp penetrating insight.  The idea man who prefers to leave the details to others. [quote from 'The Four Temperaments' on Greek]
Chaucer goes on to say that even though many a maid lusted after him, Sir Thopas was chaste - "But he was chaast and no lechour," One day, however, whilst out riding he yearns for love, and, speaking out loud to Saint Mary, he tells of an elf queen he dreamed about, and he says he will forsake all other women for her:
"An elf-queene wol I love, ywis,
For in this world no womman is
Worthy to be my make
In towne;
Alle othere wommen I forsake,
And to an elf-queene I me take
By dale and eek by downe!"
Naturally he wishes to find her and so goes forth on his mission but he comes across a three-headed giant who forbids him to enter the forest. He leaves, but summons his men to help him fight the giant. Before they go, they first have a feast of sweets:
They fette hym first the sweete wyn,
And mede eek in a mazelyn,
And roial spicerye
Of gyngebreed that was ful fyn,
And lycorys, and eek comyn,
With sugre that is trye.
The men then prepare for battle with fine, rich armoury. However the Host interrupts - "Namoore of this, for Goddes dignitee", he cries, and tells Chaucer his tale is truly awful and, well, crappy - "Thy drasty rymyng is nat worth a toord!" - "Your crappy rhyming is not worth a turd!" Chaucer agrees to stop and says he will tell a tale in prose, though he warns he may be repeating a little of other tales told by the pilgrims. That tale, as I've said, will be the Tale of Melibee, which I'll be writing about next week. The Tale of Sir Thobas is fun, but intentionally over the top. The Melibee, unfortunately, is deliberately made to be boring...

Friday, 25 September 2015

The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. by James Boswell.

Boswell's Life of Johnson (first published in 1791) is one of the most intimidating books I've read to date. I've been meaning to read it for about three years now, and as it happens it's an absolute fluke that I managed it. Firstly I listed it in my Classics Club Spin, partly hoping it might come out, but mostly hoping it wouldn't - and it did, and secondly - well, this is a story I don't come out too well in so I'll be sparing on the details and tell you a few weeks ago I had to myself five hours where my only option was to read (I was avoiding someone). As I felt guilty for avoiding this 'someone', instead of reading a pleasant book I thought I'd make myself work a little and read Boswell. Before then I'd managed two hundred pages and decided I wanted to give up, but those five hours took me up page 600. Over half-way through, I decided to keep going over the weekend, and that is how I read The Life of Samuel Johnson: absolute chance and a peculiar circumstance. 

Is it as intimidating as I thought? Yes and no. There's no denying its length - the Penguin edition is 1006 pages (with very small print), followed by an appendix, notes, and two sets of indexes that take the page count up to 1245. It's divided not into chapters but years - "Ætats.", which is an abbreviation for the Latin ætatis, meaning in this instance "in the year of his age". Samuel Johnson, born 18th September 1709 and died 13th December 1784 at the age of 75, thus there are 75 'ætats". The biography is, because of this approach, very linear: after a short introduction, Boswell simply writes about the events in each year of Johnson's life: a logical approach, but not quite what I'm used to from a biography - usually the different focuses are, for example, events, and the biographer in writing about various events may be going every so slightly back and forward in time. But not Boswell, he starts at the beginning and finishes at the end! 

A younger Samuel Johnson by Sir Joshua Reynolds
(date unknown).
The biography, after the introduction, begins,
Samuel Johnson was born in Lichfield, in Staffordshire, on the 18th of September, N.S. 1709; and his initiation into the Christian Church was not delayed; for his baptism is recorded in the register of St. Mary's parish in that city, to have been performed on the day of his birth: His father is there stiled Gentleman, a circumstance of which an ignorant panegyrist has praised him for not being proud; when the truth is, that the appellation of Gentleman, though now lost in the indiscriminate assumption of Esquire, was commonly taken by those who could not boast of gentility. His father was Michael Johnson, a native of Derbyshire, of obscure extraction, who settled in Lichfield as a bookseller and stationer. His mother was Sarah Ford, descended of an ancient race of substantial yeomanry in Warwickshire. They were well advanced in years when they married, and never had more than two children, both sons, Samuel, their first-born, who lived to be the illustrious character whose various excellence I am to endeavour to record, and Nathanael, who died in his twenty-fifth year.
He goes on to write about Johnson's boyhood, covering his first twenty years in a brief 40 pages; his ill-health, his "tic" (Johnson most likely had Tourette syndrome), his schooling, and years at Oxford University (Johnson left early due to financial problems, but was eventually awarded a degree in 1755 (Master of Arts), then an honorary doctorate in 1765 by Trinity College Dublin, and in 1775 an honorary doctorate by Oxford University. These early years do fly by rather fast in the biography: Samuel Johnson didn't meet his biographer Boswell until 1763 - Ætats. 54 - which begins on page 203: I feel I must observe then that The Life of Johnson is mostly concerned with Johnson's final 20 or years, which take up the remaining 800 pages. What follows from there: well, this is the easy element of Boswell's Life of Johnson: there are a great many anecdotes, vast amounts of witticisms, details of dinner parties and various other social gatherings, and diaries and letters to fill in the blanks: Johnson is almost like a hyper-intelligent Oscar Wilde (and I'm not suggesting that Oscar Wilde lacks intelligence), and I wondered if "The Wit and Wisdom of Samuel Johnson" or "Funny Things Doctor Johnson Said" might not have been more appropriate titles.

James Boswell by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1785).
We're left with a portrait of Samuel Johnson as a genius, a wit, and a gentleman, and for that I would say this biography did feel rather 'managed'. But this is not a criticism: it made for a fun and almost light read (I say "almost" because there was still in me that feeling of fear of reading Boswell!): it seemed an age of intelligence, wit (as I say) and sophistication, and Johnson's humour was acerbic. One of my favourite portions refers to the 'Henry Fielding / Samuel Richardson debate' (which is what has motivated me to read Fielding's Tom Jones and Richardson's Clarissa this autumn):
Fielding being mentioned, Johnson exclaimed, 'he was a blockhead;' and upon my expressing my astonishment at so strange an assertion, he said, 'What I mean by his being a blockhead is that he was a barren rascal.' Bᴏsᴡᴇʟʟ. 'Will you not allow, Sir, that he draws very natural pictures of human life?' Jᴏʜɴsᴏɴ. 'Why, Sir, it is of a very low life. Richardson used to say, that had he not known who Fielding was, he should have believed he was an ostler. Sir, there is more knowledge of the heart in one letter of Richardson's, than in all Tom Jones. I, indeed, never read Joseph Andrews.' Eʀsᴋɪɴᴇ. 'Surely, Sir, Richardson is very tedious.' Jᴏʜɴsᴏɴ. 'Why, Sir, if you were to read Richardson for the story, your impatience would be so much fretted that you would hang yourself. But you must read him for the sentiment, and consider the story as only giving occasion to the sentiment.'
As you'd expect, there are a great many literary discussions, and for that it is interesting although there were many books and authors I hadn't read or even heard of. Boswell presents an admirable portrait of his friend, but it is only an aspect: a part of his character and a part of his life. This is not then, I would say, a biography to inform but to simply enjoy. Samuel Johnson was a great man and a key figure in English literature - it is good to know a little about him: to know more about his life and read a balanced biography would be a good thing indeed, but I do think for the casual reader, perhaps Boswell's Life of Johnson is the best even though it's biased, even if it was written by one of his best friends, even if one doesn't come away a good deal more informed, and even if it is ever so long!

To finish, here's a few of Samuel Johnson's major works:

A Dictionary of the English Language (1755)
Full title:
A Dɪᴄᴛɪᴏɴᴀʀʏ of the Eɴɢʟɪsʜ Lᴀɴɢᴜᴀɢᴇ,
in which
The Wᴏʀᴅs are deduced from their Oʀɪɢɪɴᴀʟs,
Iʟʟᴜsᴛʀᴀᴛᴇᴅ  in their Dɪғғᴇʀᴇɴᴛ Sɪɢɴɪғɪᴄᴀᴛɪᴏɴs
Exᴀᴍᴘʟᴇs from the beſt Wʀɪᴛᴇʀs.
To which are prefixed,
A Hɪsᴛᴏʀʏ of the Lᴀɴɢᴜᴀɢᴇ,
and Aɴ Eɴɢʟɪsʜ Gʀᴀᴍᴍᴀʀ.
By Sᴀᴍᴜᴇʟ Jᴏʜɴsᴏɴ, A.M.
In Tᴡᴏ Volumes


The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia (1759)


The Rambler (1750-52)The Adventurer (1753-54), and The Idler (1758-60)


London (1738), The Vanity of Human Wishes (1749)


A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775), The Plays of William Shakespeare (1765)

Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets:

including John Milton, John Dryden, Alexander Pope, 
Joseph Addison, Jonathan Swift, and Thomas Gray.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

The Physician's Tale, The Pardoner's Introduction, Prologue, and Tale, and The Shipman's Tale from The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.

This week for The Canterbury Tales I'll be writing about The Physician's Tale, and The Pardoner's Introduction, Prologue, and Tale, completing Fragment VI, and then moving straight into the lengthy Fragment VII with The Shipman's Tale: if I stick to schedule, I won't be starting Fragment VIII until the week commencing 19th October (and in that week I'll be reading Fragments VIII and IX, then finishing with Fragment X the following week).

Fragment VI starts straight with The Physician's Tale: there is no introduction, prologue, or reference to the previous tale told by The Franklin. It begins,
Ther was, as telleth Titus Livius,
A knyght that called was Virginius,
Fulfild of honour and of worthynesse,
And strong of freendes, and of greet richesse.
This knight (Virginius), the Physician goes on to tell, had only one daughter (Virginia) who was so beautiful (of course: Medieval heroines are never ugly!) that not Apelles, Zeuxis, nor Pygmalion could ever imitate her. She is fourteen ("This mayde of age twelve yeer was and tweye"), very virtuous with an admirable character, and she catches the eye of a judge (Apius), who when he sees her vows, "This mayde shal be myn, for any man!" As he doesn't believe he can win her by fair means he conspires with another man of bad reputation (Claudius) and they plot together on how he will have her. And so, in court, Claudius tells Apius he has a complaint to make against Virginius, Virginia's father, and Virginius is summoned before the complaint is heard. He then alleges that Virginius has stolen his servant, claiming that Virginia is not Virginus' daughter at all:
Virginius and Virginia by Warwick Goble.
"... Sheweth youre povre servant Claudius
How that a knyght, called Virginius,
Agayns the lawe, agayn al equitee,
Holdeth, expres agayn the wyl of me,
My servant, which that is my thral by right,
Which fro myn hous was stole upon a nyght,
Whil that she was ful yong; this wol I preeve
By witnesse, lord, so that it nat yow greeve.
She nys his doghter nat, what so he seye.
Wherfore to yow, my lord the juge, I preye,
Yeld me my thral, if that it be youre wille."
Without hearing from Virginus, Apius declares,
"I deeme anon this cherl his servant have;
Thou shalt no lenger in thyn hous hir save.
Go bryng hire forth, and put hire in oure warde.
The cherl shal have his thral, this I awarde."
But, rather than let his daughter go to him he, with Virginia's blessing, kills Virginia and takes her head to the court. Apius is later killed in prison and Claudius is hung.

It's an odd tale, and the first of The Canterbury Tales that I didn't love, though that's not to say I hated it. It is, as the opening lines indicate, based on the Histories of Titus Livius, and also features in Roman de la Rose, which Chaucer translated a portion into English in 1361-67.

In the Introduction of The Pardoner we see the Host's reaction to the Physician's Tale:
"Harrow!" quod he, "by nayles and by blood!
This was a fals cherl and a fals justise.
As shameful deeth as herte may devyse
Come to thise juges and hire advocatz!
Algate this sely mayde is slayn, allas!
Allas, to deere boughte she beautee!
Wherfore I seye al day that men may see
That yiftes of Fortune and of Nature
Been cause of deeth to many a creature.
Hire beautee was hire deth, I dar wel sayn.
Allas, so pitously as she was slayn!
He then asks the Pardoner, "Tell us some mirth or comic tales right away". The Pardoner agrees, and then begins his Prologue, which is not unlike the Wife of Bath's - a fairly long account and defence of his life and means of getting money out of people. Though he believes in the maxim Radix malorum est cupidatis ("Love of money is the root of all evil"), he sells religious relics claiming that they are miraculous, and knowing full well they're not. For this he makes no apology:
I wol have moneie, wolle, chese, and whete,
Al were it yeven of the povereste page,
Or of the povereste wydwe in a village,
Al sholde hir children sterve for famyne.
Nay, I wol drynke licour of the vyne
And have a joly wenche in every toun.
And from there he goes on to tell his tale. He begins,
In Flaundres whilom was a compaignye
Of yonge folk that haunteden folye,
As riot, hasard, stywes, and tavernes,
Where as with harpes, lutes, and gyternes,
They daunce and pleyen at dees bothe day and nyght,
And eten also and drynken over hir myght,
Thurgh which they doon the devel sacrifise
Withinne that develes temple in cursed wise
By superfluytee abhomynable.
The Pardoner goes on to condemn these debauched young men for their drunkenness, greed, gambling, and swearing, referring, for example, to Lot:
Lo, how that dronken Looth, unkyndely,
Lay by his doghtres two, unwityngly;
So dronke he was, he nyste what he wroghte...
He also mentions Seneca, Herod, Adam, and a great many other biblical and theological traditions against these sins; a good part of this Tale actually reads more like a sermon - his tale doesn't start until about 374 lines in. He says,
But, sires, now wol I telle forth my tale.
Thise riotoures thre of whiche I telle,
Longe erst er prime rong of any belle,
Were set hem in a taverne to drynke,
And as they sat, they herde a belle clynke
Biforn a cors, was caried to his grave.
That oon of hem gan callen to his knave:
"Go bet," quod he, "and axe redily
What cors is this that passeth heer forby;
And looke that thou reporte his name weel."
The men learn that the corpse was a friend of theirs, taken by "a privee theef men clepeth Deeth [a stealthy thief men call Death]". The men decide they will kill Death - "And we wol sleen this false traytour Deeth." They are directed to Death by an old man - "Se ye that ook? Right there ye shal hym fynde," he says. They go to the oak tree, but instead of death they find a great deal of money.

They decide they will steal it, but they know not to do so during the day. They draw lots and the youngest one is then sent back to the town to bring back food and wine to keep them going until night. As the young man goes, the remaining two plot to kill him and divide the wealth between them, however the young man is also plotting to kill them and keep the gold for himself. He obtains poison then returns. The two older men stab the younger man, killing him, then they drink his wine, but by doing that they have drank the poison, so they too die: all the men have thus found Death. The Pardoner concludes,
What nedeth it to sermone of it moore?
For right as they hadde cast his deeth bifoore,
Right so they han hym slayn, and that anon.
And whan that this was doon, thus spak that oon:
"Now lat us sitte and drynke, and make us merie,
And afterward we wol his body berie."
And with that word it happed hym, par cas,
To take the botel ther the poyson was,
And drank, and yaf his felawe drynke also,
For which anon they storven bothe two.
The tale finished, the Pardoner goes on to take the opportunity to sell some of his relics, which does not go down well, especially with the Host ("I wolde I hadde thy coillons in myn hond / In stide of relikes or of seintuarie. / Lat kutte hem of, I wol thee helpe hem carie; / They shul be shryned in an hogges toord!"). The Knight calms the two down, and there ends Fragment VI.

Fragment VII begins with the Shipman's Tale - there is no introduction, prologue, or epilogue, and it is worth remembering that this tale was intended to be the Wife of Bath's Tale, which would have followed the Man of Law's Tale (the epilogue even ends with a promise by the Shipman to begin the next tale). However Chaucer changed his mind, so the Wife of Bath told the tale intended for the Shipman, and now the Shipman will tell the tale intended for the Wife of Bath: this is important to note as the gender of the story-teller is clearly female, but ought to be male. The tale, I should add, is inspired by Boccaccio's Decameron - the first story told on the eighth day.

The Shipman begins,
A marchant whilom dwelled at Seint-Denys,
That riche was, for which men helde hym wys.
A wyf he hadde of excellent beautee;
And compaignable and revelous was she,
Which is a thyng that causeth more dispence
Than worth is al the chiere and reverence
That men hem doon at festes and at daunces.
Swiche salutaciouns and contenaunces
Passen as dooth a shadwe upon the wal;
But wo is hym that payen moot for al!
The sely housbonde, algate he moot paye,
He moot us clothe, and he moot us arraye,
Al for his owene worshipe richely,
In which array we daunce jolily.
And if that he noght may, par aventure,
Or ellis list no swich dispence endure,
But thynketh it is wasted and ylost,
Thanne moot another payen for oure cost,
Or lene us gold, and that is perilous.
A monk is a dear and good friend of the merchant, and one day when he is staying at the merchant's home he encounters the merchant's wife in the garden. Noticing she is pale he asks her if anything troubles her, and she replies that she is very unhappy in her marriage. The two strike a pact, sealed with a kiss, that they will tell each other everything.

The wife tells the monk, " Myn housbonde is to me the worste man / That evere was sith that the world bigan". She goes on to say that women desire six things (the Wife of Bath was similarly preoccupied with the question of what women want):
And wel ye woot that wommen naturelly
Desiren thynges sixe as wel as I:
They wolde that hir housbondes sholde be
Hardy and wise, and riche, and therto free,
And buxom unto his wyf and fressh abedde.
She then tells him she needs money for clothes to attend church, not wishing to bring shame and dishonour on to her husband, and she asks the monk to lend her the money. She promises to pay it back, and And doon to yow what plesance and service / That I may doon, right as yow list devise". The monk promises, and they kiss.

Soon after, the merchant plans to go to Flanders. Before he leaves, the monk asks to borrow "An hundred frankes" (the exact sum the wife asked to borrow). He consents, and the next day he leaves on his journey. A week later the wife and the monk agree that in exchange for the money the wife will sleep with the monk (something she's more than happy to do):
This faire wyf acorded with daun John
That for thise hundred frankes he sholde al nyght
Have hire in his armes bolt upright;
And this acord parfourned was in dede.
They thus spend the whole night together "In myrthe".

When the merchant returns he goes to see how his friend the monk is, and during the conversation the monk thanks him for the loan and tells him he has already paid the money back to his wife. The merchant later rebukes his wife for not telling him sooner. The wife, unable to tell him of her arrangement with the monk, tells him she already spent the money on fine clothes. She offers to pay him back 'in kind' as it were -
Ye shal my joly body have to wedde;
By God, I wol nat paye yow but abedde!
The merchant, seeing there is no point in rebuking her any further forgives her, and there the tale ends.

Next week, as I say, I'll be staying within Fragment VII - I'll be reading and writing about The Prioress's Prologue and Tale, and The Prologue and Tale of Sir Thopas.

← Previously: The Squire's Introduction and Tale and The Franklin's Prologue and Tale

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Stephen Hero by James Joyce.

First edition of Stephen Hero, 1944.
Stephen Hero is a first draft of James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the latter of which was first published in 1916. Stephen Hero was composed, it's thought, around about 1904 - 1906 but not published until after Joyce's death in 1944. Sylvia Beech, the first publisher of Ulysses and owner of the original 'Shakespeare and Company' bookshop in Paris wrote of it,
When the manuscript came back to its author, after the twentieth publisher had rejected it [thought to be an exaggeration], he threw it into the fire, from which Mrs. Joyce [actually Miss Eileen Joyce, James Joyce's sister], at the risk of burning her hands, rescued these pages.
To this tale, Herbert Gorman (author of James Joyce: A Definitive Biography, 1939) adds that in 1908,
Joyce burned a portion of Stephen Hero in a fit of momentary despair and then started the novel anew in a more compressed form.
That compressed form was, of course, Portrait; of Stephen Hero Joyce wrote that is was merely "a schoolboy's production". 

Of the complete manuscript of Stephen Hero only 383 pages remain - 518 are missing, perhaps destroyed in the fire - it's fate is uncertain. But these 383 pages of manuscript (I must stress manuscript - published, the pages amount to about 220) went on to form the final part of Portrait of the Artist where the main character, Stephen Dedalus (who is also a significant character in Ulysses), is at university (in Ulysses we see him as a teacher).

James Joyce is an author I'm fascinated by, but I've never had much luck with his works. I've read Dubliners (1914), A Portrait of the Artist (1916), Ulysses (1922), and even Finnegans Wake (1939; and that one I didn't expect to have much luck with!) and despite best efforts I've never managed to love any of them or even understand them, though I never manage to move on from them. I plan on re-reading all of them (when I come to re-reading Ulysses it will be my third read) and I am ever hopeful, but I do think and hope that reading Stephen Hero is a turning point for me. When I bought it, I was hoping for what I call "the Jean Santeuil" experience. Jean Santeuil is a novel by Marel Proust, another author I'm interested in but until Jean Santeuil I could not love, even though I read In Search of Lost Time twice. That novel, Jean Santeuil, added a new dimension to Proust; I loved it so much, and I wish I had have read it before In Search of Lost Time

The fact is Stephen Hero is easier. It's early modernism, I suppose - almost traditional in its format but the focus on the main character is largely preoccupied with his 'self' or 'soul' and what makes his character. But it is not a difficult novel, it isn't designed to trip up and mystify as Finnegans Wake was. It is in a sense straight-forward and for that I felt it very easy to enjoy and focus on the character of Stephen rather than lose myself in the maze that is Joyce's later novels (Ulysses especially!).

James Joyce by Jacques-Emile Blanche (1935).
The first 500 pages of the manuscript are missing, so the published book begins mid-sentence: "... anyone spoke to him mingled a too polite disbelief with its expectancy." There are also a few occasions where we see "[Page missing]", but on the whole this fragment is uninterrupted and the missing parts aren't too frustrating. We are necessarily thrown straight into the action, but this isn't a bad thing - it doesn't take long at all to settle into it. The primary focus is on Stephen in university so we learn of his personal and intellectual development. There's a great deal of discussion in it on some of Joyce's favourite authors, particularly Henrik Ibsen (Joyce wrote an article on Ibsen - Ibsen's New Drama for the Fortnightly Review, 1st April 1900), which sheds light on both James Joyce and Stephen Dedalus). These passages on these various authors are insightful, a pleasure to read, and inspiring. We also learn of Dedalus' crisis of faith and the arguments it caused between him and his family, which of course puts me in mind of the 'Telemachus' episode in Ulysses where Buck Mulligan says to Stephen,
You could have knelt down, damn it, Kinch, when your dying mother asked you... I'm hyperborean as much as you. But to think of your mother begging you with her last breath to kneel down and pray for her. And you refused. There is something sinister in you...
It is, for an early, incomplete, and practically disowned manuscript, remarkably good. It was exciting to read: I enjoyed it, understood it (largely), and it makes me want to read Joyce again, as opposed to my periodic desire to suffer it. I'm not saying that Joyce is now, to me, demystified, or that I am converted and Joyce is my new favourite novelist - but Stephen Hero is a good start towards feeling a little more at ease with Joyce, and, more importantly to me, more enthusiastic. William Troy wrote for the New York Times in 1940,
Detailed comparison with the sections of "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" to which it corresponds- the period of Dedalus' college years in Dublin- will make bright the labors of the scholars and critics of the future. It will be noted that certain members of his family- his mother, his sister Isabel and his brother Maurice- play a much more extensive part in this version than does his father. And it will probably be explained that it was only in the interim that father-son relationship, the basis of Joyce's work from "Dubliners" to "Finnegans Wake," had become a dominating obsession.
This is does; it gives a new and fuller dimension to Joyce's most important character Stephen Dedalus. With this and my new enthusiasm I look forward to read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in October, and hopefully two of Joyce's minor works: Chamber Music (1907) and Exiles (1918). 

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Top Ten Books On My Autumn TBR.

Autumn begins tomorrow! And October is next week! How absolutely fast this year has gone... It really didn't seem like that long ago I was planning my 'Top Ten Books on my Summer TBR' (I read nine). I do love autumn very much, I love the cosiness of it and the energy of it - the rain, the wind, the changing and falling leaves. And the light - the tawny glow of evenings and the dark nights (last night it was dark before eight o'clock), all of it - a wonderful season! 

As for reading plans - in the first week or so of November I should finish The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, which is exciting, and after that I'll only have his short poems left to read before I've finished his complete works. So that's the major plan! As for other challenges - I have thirteen titles left of the Deal Me In Challenge (which is truly frightening because that means there's only thirteen weeks of the year left!): three short stories (Priests and Sinners by Émile Zola, The Dialogue of Dogs by Miguel de Cervantes, and The Etruscan Vase by Prosper Mérimée), five plays (Ajax, Electra, and Women of Trachis by Sophocles, Britannicus by Jean Racine, and Othello by William Shakespeare, which I'll be reading for next week), four essays (Jane Austen by Virginia Woolf, The Plays of William Shakespeare by Samuel Johnson, On Books by Michel de Montaigne, and On Contentment by Plutarch), and finally one poem (Morte d'Arthur by Alfred, Lord Tennyson). Also remaining - Fanda's Literary Movement Challenge - I'm decided upon reading A Portrait of the Artist by James Joyce for October's Modernism, and The Waves by Virginia Woolf for November's Bloomsbury Group, but I'm still uncertain what I'll read for December's Post-Modernism. Finally, for the Victorian Challenge, I only have New Fairy Tales. Second Collection by Hans Christian Andersen left, but that, which contains The Snow Queen, is a winter read!

So, returning to the point of the post - Top Ten Tuesday, and this week's Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and the Bookish is -
Top Ten Books On My Autumn TBR.
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen.
A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe.
Clarissa by Samuel Richardson.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce.
Tom Jones by Henry Fielding.
The Waves by Virginia Woolf.
The Aeneid by Virgil,
translated by John Dryden.
Vathek by William Beckford.
The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
Carrie by Stephen King.
Yes, Clarissa is there. I've been wanting to re-read it for a few months, but I also set myself the challenge of reading 120 books in 2015. I finished Stephen Hero by James Joyce last night, which means I've read 105 so far. If I can get between 110 - 115 in October then I feel I can read Clarissa in November (because let's be honest, I'll not be able to read anything else!) and then give myself a lot of reading for December! I'm hopeful - I do want to re-read it again, it's been three years since I last read it (and no, it doesn't seem that long... how time flies...). And the others - I want to read Defoe having read Pepys's account of the plague in his diary, and I loved Stephen Hero so am ready to give Portrait another chance. And Dryden's translation of Virgil - that is my ambitious October plan! 

Ah, I can't wait for autumn tomorrow! Until then, I'm pretty busy today but I hope to read some more of Dracula. And this week I have the scary task of reviewing Boswell's Life of Johnson....

Monday, 21 September 2015

The Girl Who Loves Me by Émile Zola.

The Girl Who Loves Me (Celle Qui M’aime) is a short story by Émile Zola from his first publication Stories from Ninon (Contes à Ninon), 1864: seven years before the publication of The Fortune of the Rougons - the first novel of the Rougon Macquart series. This, then, is a very early Zola indeed, which makes for an exciting read! 

I recently read an article by Philip Walker: 'The Mirror, The Window, and The Eye in Zola's Fiction' (1969), in which he writes, as the title suggests, on the significance of the many mentions of mirrors, windows, glass, eye glasses, and eyes in Zola's works. These objects may allow characters and even reader to see in or out, but it also serves as a barrier, and the perceived reality may be objective or subjective: it is this that is the subject of The Girl Who Loves Me. The story, only about 15 pages long, is divided into ten parts. In it the narrator is in search of love - literally the girl who loves him. He goes to a fairground where one of the attractions is "The Mirror of Love":
"Roll up! Roll up!" he [the magician] was shouting. "Come along, all you fine ladies and gentlemen! I've just come hotfoot from darkest India to gladden your hearts, risking my life to bring back for your pleasure the Mirror of Love which was guarded by a dreaded dragon. And now, you fine ladies and gents, I can offer you the realisation of all your dreams. Walk up, walk up, ladies and gentlemen, and see the Girl Who Loves You! Yes, the Girl Who Loves You, for only two sous!"
Unable to resist, he and many others line up to see the Girl:
So all these people satisfied their curiosity by peeping through the pane of glass one by one and I can no longer remember now all the different expressions on their faces which struck me at the time. Oh, that vision of the Loved One! What hard truths you forced those peering eyes to admit! Those eyes were the real Mirrors of Love, mirrors in which feminine charm was reflected in a squalid glint in which lust vied with stupidity.
It is soon the turn of the narrator -
I went over and trying hard to remain calm put my right eye to the little peephole. Resting her elbows on the back of an armchair placed between two long red curtains was a woman. Brilliantly lit by concealed lamps, she was standing in front of a painted canvas backcloth, somewhat tattered, which must originally have represented a lovers' arbour, with blue trees. 
Like any well brought up vision, the Girl Who Loves Me was wearing a long white dress, slightly waisted, with a long train trailing in a cloud of muslin on the floor. A wide veil, also white and held by a crown of may blossom, covered her forehead. Thus attired, the dear little angel was all whiteness and innocence. She was leaning forwards in a saucy pose, with a tenderly caressing look in her large blue eyes. Behind her veil, I thought she looked exquisite: long fair curls glimpsed through the muslin, a brow of childlike purity, delicately curved lips, and the most kissable dimples you could possibly imagine. At first sight she seemed to me a saint; a second look gave me the impression of an easy-going sort of girl, far from prudish and extremely accommodating. 
She put three fingers to her lips and blew me a kiss with a curtsy that had nothing other worldly about it at all. Seeing that she showed no signs of levitating, I fixed her features in my mind and walked away.
Of course he decides to go in search for her, and he quickly finds her: it is of no surprise that this girl is paid to stand in the room with the peephole (something that pays better than needlework) and the fantasy has no basis in reality. 

It is, as I've said, one of Zola's earliest works and that does show. It's raw, unpolished, and does rather lack in sophistication and subtlety (though that said, Zola isn't the most subtle of authors). It's also a rather depressing tale. and I would dare say its fascination lies mostly in the fact that it is early Zola. I don't think for a moment if this had have been the first Zola I read I would have gone on to read more, but all the same, I enjoyed it and I do feel I must get around to reading his early works soon. 

Thursday, 17 September 2015

English Writers on America by Washington Irving.

First page of English Writers on America.
English Writers on America is an essay by Washington Irving which it was published in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., 1819 - 1820 (this also contains The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle). In this, Irving writes of the animosity between England and America; in particularly, within the literary scene. He begins,
It is with feelings of deep regret that I observe the literary animosity daily growing up between England and America. Great curiosity has been awakened of late with respect to the United States, and the London press has teemed with volumes of travels through the Republic; but they seem intended to diffuse error rather than knowledge; and so successful have they been, that, notwithstanding the constant intercourse between the nations, there is no people concerning whom the great mass of the British public have less pure information, or entertain more numerous prejudices.
He goes on to pay English travellers with a compliment, that "none can equal them for profound and philosophical views of society, or faithful and graphical descriptions of external objects", but before the sentence is even over he observes, "but when either the interest or reputation of their own country comes in collision with that of another, they go to the opposite extreme, and forget their usual probity and candor, in the indulgence of splenetic remark, and an illiberal spirit of ridicule."

English travel writers, he argues, are beset with prejudice, and furthermore, the best of the English travellers appear to head for more remote regions and uncharted paths. When it comes to travelling in America:
... it has been left to the broken-down tradesman, the scheming adventurer, the wandering mechanic, the Manchester and Birmingham agent, to be her oracles respecting America.
 He concedes that America may then be perceived as a 'young nation', but he believes it is one of promise. He goes on to suggest the English have false expectations,
They may have pictured America to themselves an El Dorado, where gold and silver abounded, and the natives were lacking in sagacity; and where they were to become strangely and suddenly rich, in some unforeseen, but easy manner. 
Their disappointment leads to bitterness and "petulance", and when writers indulge their prejudice the English accept it without question when it concerns America:
How warily will they compare the measurements of a pyramid, or the descriptions of a ruin; and how sternly will they censure any inaccuracy in these contributions of merely curious knowledge: while they will receive, with eagerness and unhesitating faith, the gross misrepresentations of coarse and obscure writers, concerning a country with which their own is placed in the most important and delicate relations.
Irving then suggests that he and his fellow Americans should simply ignore it -
I shall not, however, dwell on this irksome and hackneyed topic; nor should I have adverted to it, but for the undue interest apparently taken in it by my countrymen, and certain injurious effects which I apprehended it might produce upon the national feeling. We attach too much consequence to these attacks. They cannot do us any essential injury. The tissue of misrepresentations attempted to be woven round us are like cobwebs woven round the limbs of an infant giant. Our country continually outgrows them. One falsehood after another falls off of itself. We have but to live on, and every day we live a whole volume of refutation.
And he goes on -
For ourselves, therefore, it is comparatively of but little importance whether England does us justice or not; it is, perhaps, of far more importance to herself. She is instilling anger and resentment into the bosom of a youthful nation, to grow with its growth and strengthen with its strength. If in America, as some of her writers are laboring to convince her, she is hereafter to find an invidious rival, and a gigantic foe, she may thank those very writers for having provoked rivalship and irritated hostility. Every one knows the all-pervading influence of literature at the present day, and how much the opinions and passions of mankind are under its control. The mere contests of the sword are temporary; their wounds are but in the flesh, and it is the pride of the generous to forgive and forget them; but the slanders of the pen pierce to the heart; they rankle longest in the noblest spirits; they dwell ever present in the mind, and render it morbidly sensitive to the most trifling collision....
He then adds, "Should she, however, persist in turning it to waters of bitterness, the time may come when she may repent her folly", and warns that though England is hostile one should not copy her example: "Let us guard particularly against such a temper, for it would double the evil instead of redressing the wrong". He concludes,
Let it be the pride of our writers, therefore, discarding all feelings of irritation, and disdaining to retaliate the illiberality of British authors, to speak of the English nation without prejudice, and with determined candor. While they rebuke the indiscriminating bigotry with which some of our countrymen admire and imitate every thing English, merely because it is English, let them frankly point out what is really worthy of approbation. We may thus place England before us as a perpetual volume of reference, wherein are recorded sound deductions from ages of experience; and while we avoid the errors and absurdities which may have crept into the page, we may draw thence golden maxims of practical wisdom, wherewith to strengthen and to embellish our national character.
So,  the question is - what motivated this rather hostile essay? To that I have no answer not knowing enough about Irving or British writing of the period. I am aware that Irving received some perhaps unduly harsh criticism for his writings from English critics, but it's something that requires more research. I do wish I knew more.

But, however ignorant I may be on this topic, this was a fascinating essay and should there be only a modicum of truth it sheds a light on the relations between English and American authors. And it's well written despite it's anger: it's very controlled, very coherent and readable despite its irritation, sometimes generous, and most interesting!

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The Shorter Pepys, Selected and Edited by Robert Latham from The Diary of Samuel Pepys.

Samuel Pepys by John Hayls (1666).
"30th March 1666: To Hales's [Hayls] and there sat till almost
quite dark upon working my gowne, which I hired to be drawn [in]
- an  Indian gown, and I do see all the reason to expect a
 most excellent picture of it."
The Shorter Pepys is the edited diary of Samuel Pepys: 'shorter', but by no means short - this diary (published in 1985) is approximately one third of the complete diary of Samuel Pepys, but still runs to over a thousand pages (the full diary is said to contain over a million words).

So where to begin? Pepys was born on 23rd February 1633 and died 26 May 1703. He was a naval administrator, appointed Admiral's secretary on 9th March 1660 by his father's cousin Sir Edward Montagu (later the 1st Earl of Sandwich), and on 29th June appointed Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board. In 1673 he was elected an MP for Castle Rising (a constituency abolished in 1832), then in 1679 he was MP for  Harwich (abolished in 2010: the last MP was former Conservative minister Douglas Carswell, who famously defected to UKIP in 2014 and is now a UKIP MP for Clacton). He married Elisabeth de St Michel in 1655, when he was 22 and she was 14, and he suffered from bladder stones, even undergoing a dangerous surgery in 1658 (in the bedroom of Jane Turner, his cousin) to have them removed. He would celebrate this anniversary every year, and lived in fear that his old problem would return. 

Elizabeth Pepys by Rita Greer (2007), based on the now
lost painting by John Hayls (1666).
The Diary begins on 1st January 1660 with Pepys married, and living in Axe Yard in Westminster (very close to Downing Street). He writes by way of introduction,
Blessed be God, at the end of the last year I was in very good health, without any sense of my old pain but upon taking of cold. I lived in Axe yard, having my wife and servant Jane, and no more in family then us three. My wife, after the absence of her terms for seven weeks, gave me hopes of her being with child, but on the last day of the year she hath them again.
The condition of the State was thus. Viz. the Rump [the 'Rump Parliament', established after the 'Long Parliament and dissolved in March 1660 at the Restoration of King Charles], after being disturbed by my Lord Lambert, was lately returned to sit again. The officers of the army all forced to yield. Lawson lie[s] still in the River and Monke is with his army in Scotland. Only my Lord Lambert is not yet come in to the Parliament; nor is it expected that he will, without being forced to it. The new Common Council of the City doth speak very high; and hath sent to Monke their sword-bearer, to acquaint him with their desires for a free and fill Parliament, which at present the desires and the hopes and expectation of all - 22 of the old secluded members having been at the House door the last week to demand entrance; but it was denied them, and it is believed that they nor the people will not be satisfied till the House be filled.
My own private condition very handsome; and esteemed rich, but endeed very poor, besides my goods of my house and my office, which at present is somewhat uncertain. Mr. Downing master of my office.
King Charles II
by John Michael Wright (1661 - 1662)
At this time Oliver Cromwell had been dead for nearly two years and his son Richard was Lord Protector, or Head of State (obviously now Elizabeth II is the Head of State). But Charles II was to return as Head of State and the monarchy thus restored: he was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 23 April 1661 having returned to London from The Hague on 29 May 1660.

Samuel Pepys of course writes about the Restoration in his diary and many other key events of the time: the Second Anglo-Dutch War of 1665–67 and the previous tensions, the Great Plague of 1665 to 1666, and the Great Fire of London in September 1666 to name a few. But I am no historian, and much of this information, the places, and the important figures were new to me and I don't feel as though I've sufficiently processed them to properly write about it all. What I enjoyed most about reading Pepys' Diary was the personal element and the everyday, possibly then mundane, details of his life.

His first entry reads:
1. Lords day. This morning (we lying lately in the garret) I rose, put on my suit with great skirts, having not lately worn any other clothes but them. Went to Mr. Gunnings church at Exeter house, where he made a very good sermon upon these words: That in the fullness of time God sent his Son, made of a woman, &c., shewing that by "made under the law," is meant by his circumcision, which is solemnised this day. Dined at home in the garret, where my wife dressed the remains of a turkey, and in the doing of it she burned her hand. I stayed at home all the afternoon, looking over my accounts. Then with my wife to my father's; and in going, observed the great posts which the City hath set up at the Conduit in Fleet street. Supped at my father's, where in came Mrs. The[oph]. Turner and Madam Morris and supped with us. After that, my wife and I went home with them, and so to our own home.
One of the first things Pepys writes about is his clothes, which is appropriate as I was struck by how many times he mentioned clothes and appearance, new clothes, and the excitement of wearing them. For example, in July 1660:
1. This morning came home my fine Camlett cloak, with gold buttons, and a silk suit, which cost me much money, and I pray God to make me able to pay for it.
5. This morning my brother Tom brought me my jackanapes coat with silver buttons. 
October 1663:
31. Up and to the office, where we sat all the morning, and at noon home to dinner, where Creed came and dined with me, and after dinner he and I upstairs, and I showed him my velvet cloake and other things of clothes, that I have lately bought, which he likes very well, and I took his opinion as to some things of clothes, which I purpose to wear, being resolved to go a little handsomer than I have hitherto. 
And November 1663:
13.... After dinner came my perriwigg-maker, and brings me a second periwigg, made of my own haire, which comes to 21s. 6d. more than the worth of my own haire, so that they both come to 4l. 1s. 6d., which he sayth will serve me two years, but I fear it. He being gone, I to my office, and put on my new shagg purple gowne, with gold buttons and loop lace...
Finally (not the final mention of clothes in the Diary, I mean finally for this post!), Saturday 19th October 1661:
I not being neat in clothes, which I find a great fault in me
Sermons too are a regular topic in the Diary: Pepys praises good sermons, condemns the poor ones (17th February 116: "A most tedious, unreasonable, and impertinent sermon, by an Irish Doctor. His text was “Scatter them, O Lord, that delight in war.” Sir Wm. Batten and I very much angry with the parson."), and, occasionally we read entries such as this, dated 27th December 1663,
So after dinner to the French church, but came too late, and so back to our owne church, where I slept all the sermon the Scott preaching...
And, 17th April 1664,
I did however go to church with her, where a young simple fellow did preach: I slept soundly all the sermon...
One of the primary sources of entertainment for Samuel Pepys was the theatre and reading, and this is the aspect I probably found most enjoyable. Pepys went to the theatre many many times, even at one point trying not to go as much as he was. Because of this, Pepys' Diary contains a great many references to the plays he saw and books he read. I regret not making a note of these, but I've picked out some references between 1660 - 1661 (picking out references from the entire diary I'm afraid would take far more time than I have, though I wish I could! I did include a funny entry on A Midsummer Night's Dream from 1662. though).

On Shakespeare

11th October 1660:
Here, in the Park, we met with Mr. Salisbury, who took Mr. Creed and me to the Cockpitt to see “The Moore of Venice,” which was well done. Burt acted the Moore; ‘by the same token, a very pretty lady that sat by me, called out, to see Desdemona smothered.
5th December 1660:
I dined at home; and after dinner went to the new Theatre and there I saw "The Merry Wifes of Windsor" acted. The humours of the Country gentleman and the French Doctor very well done; but the rest very poorly, and Sir J. Falstaffe as bad as any.
31st December 1660:
At the office all the morning and after that home, and not staying to dine I went out, and in Paul’s Church-yard I bought the play of "Henry the Fourth", and so went to the new Theatre (only calling at Mr. Crew’s and eat a bit with the people there at dinner) and saw it acted; but my expectation being too great, it did not please me, as otherwise I believe it would; and my having a book, I believe did spoil it a little. 
Later, 4th May 1661:
From thence to the theatre and saw "Harry the Fourth", a good play. 
11th September 1661:
... observed at the Opera a new play, “Twelfth Night” was acted there, and the King there; so I, against my own mind and resolution, could not forbear to go in, which did make the play seem a burthen to me, and I took no pleasure at all in it; and so after it was done went home with my mind troubled for my going thither, after my swearing to my wife that I would never go to a play without her. 
29th September 1662:
... and then to the King’s Theatre, where we saw "Midsummer’s Night’s Dream", which I had never seen before, nor shall ever again, for it is the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life.

William Berkeley, The Lost Lady, 19th January 1661:
After dinner I went to the Theatre, where I saw "The Last lady", which doth not please me much.
Richard Brome, The Jovial Crew, 27th August 1661:
The play full of mirth. 
Abraham Cowley, The Cutter of Coleman Street, 16th December 1661:
... and after dinner to the Opera, where there was a new play ("Cutter of Coleman Street"), made in the year 1658, with reflections much upon the late times; and it being the first time, the pay was doubled, and so to save money, my wife and I went up into the gallery, and there sat and saw very well; and a very good play it is. It seems of Cowly’s making. From thence by coach home, and to bed.
William Davenant, Love and Honour, 25th October 1661:
After dinner my wife and I to the Opera, and there saw again “Love and Honour,” a play so good that it has been acted but three times and I have seen them all, and all in this week; which is too much, and more than I will do again a good while.
William Davenant, The Siege of Rhodes, 15th November 1661:
 ... to the Opera, where I met my wife and Captain Ferrers and Madamoiselle Le Blanc, and there did see the second part of “The Siege of Rhodes” very well done.
John FletcherThe Woman's Prize, or the Tamer Tamed (a sequel to Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew), saw on 30th October 1660:
... I went to the Cockpitt all alone and there saw a very fine play called "The Tamer tamed", very well acted.
John Fletcher, Beggar's Bush, 20th November 1660:
Mr. Shepley and I to the new Play-house near Lincoln’s-Inn-Fields (which was formerly Gibbon’s tennis-court), where the play of “Beggar’s Bush” was newly begun; and so we went in and saw it, it was well acted: and here I saw the first time one Moone, who is said to be the best actor in the world, lately come over with the King, and indeed it is the finest play-house, I believe, that ever was in England.
Later, on 3rd January 1661 he sees the play again, writing:
... and after that to the Theatre, where was acted “Beggars’ Bush,” it being very well done; and here the first time that ever I saw women come upon the stage. 
John Fletcher, The Humorous Lieutenant, 20th April 1661:
And so saw “The Humersome Lieutenant” acted before the King, but not very well done. But my pleasure was great to see the manner of it, and so many great beauties, but above all Mrs. Palmer, with whom the King do discover a great deal of familiarity.
James Fletcher and Francis Beaumont, The Scornful Lady, 4th January 1661:
After dinner Mr. Moore and I to the Theatre, where was “The Scornful Lady,” acted very well, it being the first play that ever he saw. 
John Fletcher and William Rowley, The Maid in the Mill, 29th January 1661:
... I saw three acts of "The Mayd in the Mill" acted, to my great content.
John Ford, 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, 9th September 1661:
... and thence to Salsbury Court playhouse, where was acted for the first time "Tis pitty shee's a Whore" - a simple play and ill-acted; only, it was my pleasure to sit by a most pretty and most ingenious lady, which pleased me.
Ben Johnson, Epicœne, or The Silent Woman, 25th May 1661:
... and then to the Theatre, where I saw a piece of "The Silent woman", which pleased me. 
Philip Massinger, The Bondman, 1st March 1661:
To Whitefryers and saw "The Bondman" acted - an excellent play and well done - but above all that ever I saw, Baterton both the Bondman the best. 
Thomas Middleton and William Rowley, The Changling, 23rd February 1661:
Then after dinner by water to Whitefryers to the playhouse, and there saw "The Changeling", the first time it hath been acted these 20 yeeres - and it takes exceedingly. 
William Rowley, All's Lost by Lust, 23rd March 1661:
At last into the Pitt, where I think there was not above ten more than myself, and not one hundred in the whole house. And the play, which is called “All’s lost by Lust,” poorly done; and with so much disorder, among others, that in the musique-room the boy that was to sing a song, not singing it right, his master fell about his ears and beat him so, that it put the whole house in an uprore.
James Shirley, The Traitor, 22nd November 1660:
... I to the new playhouse and saw part of "The Traytor" (a very good tragedy); where Moone did act the Traytor very well. 
John Suckling, Breneralt, 23rd July 1661:
... saw "Breneralt"; I never saw before. It seemed a good play, but ill-acted. 
Ah, that I had the time to pick out some more! But as I am now running short of time, I do have to start finishing this rather lengthy post. I've mentioned The Great Plague and the Great Fire of London: whilst these parts made for a painful read they were nevertheless interesting in the details of their psychological effects. On the aftermath of the Plague Pepys writes on 30th January 1666:
This is the first time I have been in this church since I left London for the plague, and it frighted me indeed to go through the church more than I thought it could have done, to see so [many] graves lie so high upon the churchyards where people have been buried of the plague. I was much troubled at it, and do not think to go through it again a good while. 
Death was everywhere in the streets, but Pepys (and no doubt his contemporaries) did not get used to it: this was a very traumatic time for London and its residents, which the Diary highlights on numerous occasions.

The Fire of London by an unknown artist.

The fire of London added further trauma to the city. Pepys' entry for the day, 2nd September, is famous, but still I'll quote it here:
(Lord’s day). Some of our mayds sitting up late last night to get things ready against our feast to-day, Jane called us up about three in the morning, to tell us of a great fire they saw in the City. So I rose and slipped on my nightgowne, and went to her window, and thought it to be on the backside of Marke-lane at the farthest; but, being unused to such fires as followed, I thought it far enough off; and so went to bed again and to sleep. About seven rose again to dress myself, and there looked out at the window, and saw the fire not so much as it was and further off. So to my closett to set things to rights after yesterday’s cleaning. By and by Jane comes and tells me that she hears that above 300 houses have been burned down to-night by the fire we saw, and that it is now burning down all Fish-street, by London Bridge. So I made myself ready presently, and walked to the Tower, and there got up upon one of the high places, Sir J. Robinson’s little son going up with me; and there I did see the houses at that end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side the end of the bridge; which, among other people, did trouble me for poor little Michell and our Sarah on the bridge. So down, with my heart full of trouble, to the Lieutenant of the Tower, who tells me that it begun this morning in the King’s baker’s house in Pudding-lane, and that it hath burned St. Magnus’s Church and most part of Fish-street already. So I down to the water-side, and there got a boat and through bridge, and there saw a lamentable fire. Poor Michell’s house, as far as the Old Swan, already burned that way, and the fire running further, that in a very little time it got as far as the Steeleyard, while I was there. Everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river or bringing them into lighters that layoff; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs by the water-side to another. And among other things, the poor pigeons, I perceive, were loth to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balconys till they were, some of them burned, their wings, and fell down. Having staid, and in an hour’s time seen the fire: rage every way, and nobody, to my sight, endeavouring to quench it, but to remove their goods, and leave all to the fire, and having seen it get as far as the Steele-yard, and the wind mighty high and driving it into the City; and every thing, after so long a drought, proving combustible, even the very stones of churches, and among other things the poor steeple by which pretty Mrs. ———— lives, and whereof my old school-fellow Elborough is parson, taken fire in the very top, an there burned till it fell down: I to White Hall (with a gentleman with me who desired to go off from the Tower, to see the fire, in my boat); to White Hall, and there up to the Kings closett in the Chappell, where people come about me, and did give them an account dismayed them all, and word was carried in to the King. So I was called for, and did tell the King and Duke of Yorke what I saw, and that unless his Majesty did command houses to be pulled down nothing could stop the fire. They seemed much troubled, and the King commanded me to go to my Lord Mayor— from him, and command him to spare no houses, but to pull down before the fire every way. The Duke of York bid me tell him that if he would have any more soldiers he shall; and so did my Lord Arlington afterwards, as a great secret. Here meeting, with Captain Cocke, I in his coach, which he lent me, and Creed with me to Paul’s, and there walked along Watlingstreet, as well as I could, every creature coming away loaden with goods to save, and here and there sicke people carried away in beds. Extraordinary good goods carried in carts and on backs. At last met my Lord Mayor in Canningstreet, like a man spent, with a handkercher about his neck. To the King’s message he cried, like a fainting woman, “Lord! what can I do? I am spent: people will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses; but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it.” That he needed no more soldiers; and that, for himself, he must go and refresh himself, having been up all night. So he left me, and I him, and walked home, seeing people all almost distracted, and no manner of means used to quench the fire. The houses, too, so very thick thereabouts, and full of matter for burning, as pitch and tarr, in Thames-street; and warehouses of oyle, and wines, and brandy, and other things. Here I saw Mr. Isaake Houblon, the handsome man, prettily dressed and dirty, at his door at Dowgate, receiving some of his brothers’ things, whose houses were on fire; and, as he says, have been removed twice already; and he doubts (as it soon proved) that they must be in a little time removed from his house also, which was a sad consideration. And to see the churches all filling with goods by people who themselves should have been quietly there at this time. By this time it was about twelve o’clock; and so home, and there find my guests, which was Mr. Wood and his wife Barbary Sheldon, and also Mr. Moons: she mighty fine, and her husband; for aught I see, a likely man. But Mr. Moone’s design and mine, which was to look over my closett and please him with the sight thereof, which he hath long desired, was wholly disappointed; for we were in great trouble and disturbance at this fire, not knowing what to think of it. However, we had an extraordinary good dinner, and as merry, as at this time we could be. While at dinner Mrs. Batelier come to enquire after Mr. Woolfe and Stanes (who, it seems, are related to them), whose houses in Fish-street are all burned; and they in a sad condition. She would not stay in the fright. Soon as dined, I and Moone away, and walked, through the City, the streets full of nothing but people and horses and carts loaden with goods, ready to run over one another, and, removing goods from one burned house to another. They now removing out of Canning-streets (which received goods in the morning) into Lumbard-streets, and further; and among others I now saw my little goldsmith, Stokes, receiving some friend’s goods, whose house itself was burned the day after. We parted at Paul’s; he home, and I to Paul’s Wharf, where I had appointed a boat to attend me, and took in Mr. Carcasse and his brother, whom I met in the streets and carried them below and above bridge to and again to see the fire, which was now got further, both below and above and no likelihood of stopping it. Met with the King and Duke of York in their barge, and with them to Queenhith and there called Sir Richard Browne to them. Their order was only to pull down houses apace, and so below bridge the water-side; but little was or could be done, the fire coming upon them so fast. Good hopes there was of stopping it at the Three Cranes above, and at Buttolph’s Wharf below bridge, if care be used; but the wind carries it into the City so as we know not by the water-side what it do there. River full of lighters and boats taking in goods, and good goods swimming in the water, and only I observed that hardly one lighter or boat in three that had the goods of a house in, but there was a pair of Virginalls in it. Having seen as much as I could now, I away to White Hall by appointment, and there walked to St. James’s Parks, and there met my wife and Creed and Wood and his wife, and walked to my boat; and there upon the water again, and to the fire up and down, it still encreasing, and the wind great. So near the fire as we could for smoke; and all over the Thames, with one’s face in the wind, you were almost burned with a shower of firedrops. This is very true; so as houses were burned by these drops and flakes of fire, three or four, nay, five or six houses, one from another. When we could endure no more upon the water; we to a little ale-house on the Bankside, over against the ‘Three Cranes, and there staid till it was dark almost, and saw the fire grow; and, as it grew darker, appeared more and more, and in corners and upon steeples, and between churches and houses, as far as we could see up the hill of the City, in a most horrid malicious bloody flame, not like the fine flame of an ordinary fire. Barbary and her husband away before us. We staid till, it being darkish, we saw the fire as only one entire arch of fire from this to the other side the bridge, and in a bow up the hill for an arch of above a mile long: it made me weep to see it. The churches, houses, and all on fire and flaming at once; and a horrid noise the flames made, and the cracking of houses at their ruins. So home with a sad heart, and there find every body discoursing and lamenting the fire; and poor Tom Hater come with some few of his goods saved out of his house, which is burned upon Fish-streets Hall. I invited him to lie at my house, and did receive his goods, but was deceived in his lying there, the newes coming every moment of the growth of the fire; so as we were forced to begin to pack up our owne goods; and prepare for their removal; and did by moonshine (it being brave dry, and moon: shine, and warm weather) carry much of my goods into the garden, and Mr. Hater and I did remove my money and iron chests into my cellar, as thinking that the safest place. And got my bags of gold into my office, ready to carry away, and my chief papers of accounts also there, and my tallys into a box by themselves. So great was our fear, as Sir W. Batten hath carts come out of the country to fetch away his goods this night. We did put Mr. Hater, poor man, to bed a little; but he got but very little rest, so much noise being in my house, taking down of goods.
Pepys travelled a great deal by river, and over the coming days and weeks he saw the flames and the devastation it left behind. On 15th September of the same year he writes,
But much terrified in the nights now-a-days with dreams of fire, and falling down of houses.
And again, 27th September,
A very furious blowing night all the night; and my mind still mightily perplexed with dreams, and burning the rest of the town, and waking in much pain for the fleete.
On 18th September,
Troubled at my wife’s haire coming off so much.
One wonders if this is to do with the trauma of the fire and plague. Harrowing, but a very informative read in this respect.


Here I need to start concluding this post. Pepys' Diary is quite simply an excellent read for both entertainment and as a historical document. Pepys 'the man' is most interesting: not entirely sympathetic (his infidelity with his wife's best friend is a low point, but those diary entries (from 25th October 1668) are remarkably sensitive and poignant. There is so much in The Shorter Pepys (from the Restoration of Charles II to bowl movements!) I would have to spent at least a week just to write what I found interesting in it. I spent about a month reading this, and for a month I had an excellent companion. I was sad to finish it, but I will certainly be re-reading it once more in the future (and will hopefully pick out a few more of those theatre references!).

To finish, Pepys' final diary entry from 31st May 1669:
Up very betimes, and so continued all the morning with W. Hewer, upon examining and stating my accounts, in order to the fitting myself to go abroad beyond sea, which the ill condition of my eyes, and my neglect for a year or two, hath kept me behindhand in, and so as to render it very difficult now, and troublesome to my mind to do it; but I this day made a satisfactory entrance therein. Dined at home, and in the afternoon by water to White Hall, calling by the way at Michell’s, where I have not been many a day till just the other day, and now I met her mother there and knew her husband to be out of town. And here je did baiser elle, but had not opportunity para hazer some with her as I would have offered if je had had it. And thence had another meeting with the Duke of York, at White Hall, on yesterday’s work, and made a good advance: and so, being called by my wife, we to the Park, Mary Batelier, and a Dutch gentleman, a friend of hers, being with us. Thence to “The World’s End,” a drinking-house by the Park; and there merry, and so home late. 
And thus ends all that I doubt I shall ever be able to do with my own eyes in the keeping of my journal, I being not able to do it any longer, having done now so long as to undo my eyes almost every time that I take a pen in my hand; and, therefore, whatever comes of it, I must forbear: and, therefore, resolve, from this time forward, to have it kept by my people in long-hand, and must therefore be contented to set down no more than is fit for them and all the world to know; or, if there be any thing, which cannot be much, now my amours to Deb. are past, and my eyes hindering me in almost all other pleasures, I must endeavour to keep a margin in my book open, to add, here and there, a note in short-hand with my own hand. 
And so I betake myself to that course, which is almost as much as to see myself go into my grave: for which, and all the discomforts that will accompany my being blind, the good God prepare me! 
Mens cujusque is est Quisque – "Mind Makes the Man"
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