Showing posts from February, 2016

King Lear by William Shakespeare.

King Lear is a tragedy by William Shakespeare and was written 1605 - 1606 and is based on the legend of King Leir, or Leir of Britain. Shakespeare's main source was The Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande by Raphael Holinshed (1587), which in turn found information in The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth (1136), which I actually just finished reading this weekend, and in which Leir's story is first told. Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote that King Leir was a direct descendant of King Brutus, supposed to be the first king of Britain (12th Century B.C.) and reigned in the 8th Century B.C. having succeeded his father Bladud (who, like Daedalus and Icarus) tried to fly with artificial wings. Lier was the last male descendant of Brutus and he had three daughters, Gonerill (the eldest; also spelled 'Goneril'), Regan, and Cordelia (the youngest, who would become Cordelia of Britain after her father's death). Leir had reigned for sixty years when…

Books VII & VIII of Ovid's Metamorphoses.

Continuing the read-along of Ovid's Metamorphoses and reaching the half-way point!

Book VII
Medea and Jason | The Rejuvenation of Aeson | The Punishment of Pelias | Medea's Flight Theseus and Aegeus | Minos and Aeacus | The Plague at Aegina  The Birth of the Myrmidons | Cephalus and Procris
Medea and Jason
In this Ovid tells the first part of the Medea myth, in which Medea helps Jason capture the Golden Fleece (a ram with a golden fleece). Aeëtes consents to give Jason the fleece if he completes three tasks, but before we learn of the tasks Medea is introduced: she is deeply in love with Jason, and she worries about these tasks, and it is she who reveals them as she plans to assist him: But unless I assist him, those fire-breathing bulls will blast him to ashes;
the warriors sprung from the seeds which he sows in the earth will fight
and destroy him; or else the greedy dragon will make him its prey.As she goes to the shrine of Hecate she encounters Jason who asks for her help. She tell…

The Misanthrope by Molière.

I've been meaning to read the French dramatist Molière for years now, and finally I've read what is regarded as one of his finest places - The Misanthrope (Le Misanthrope ou l'Atrabilaire amoureux), first performed in 1666. 
In this the 'misanthrope' is Alceste who, at the beginning of the play, tells his friend Philinte he is tired of society's falseness and it's sycophantic and pretentious ways. As he explains, You [speaking to Alceste] ought to be mortally ashamed of yourself. What you did was beyond all possible excuse, absolutely shocking to any honourable man. I see you loading a fellow with every mark of affection, professing the tenderest concern for his welfare, overwhelming him with assurances, protestations, and offers of service and when he's gone and I ask you who he is - you can scarcely tell me his name! Your enthusiasm dies with your parting. Once we are alone you show that you care nothing about him. Gad! What a base, degrading, infamous …

The Suppliants by Aeschylus.

The Suppliants (Ἱκέτιδες) is a play by Aeschylus first performed in the 470s B.C. For some reason I found this the toughest play of his so far (and I only have one more to go - The Persians). It took two reads before I dared to write about it, and even then I'm not wildly confident on what I'm about to write!
In The Suppliants Aeschylus writes on the Danaïdes: the fifty daughters of Daunus (the founder of Argos and a descendent of Io, whose story is told in this play and also Book I of Ovid's Metamorphoses) who flee to Egypt to avoid being married to the fifty sons of Aegyptus, Daunus' twin brother. They ask for protection from King Pelasgus and eventually he consents after the Argives express their agreement. When the sons of Aegyptus arrive to take the Danaïdes away they are driven away and the Danaïdes remain within the walls of the city where they praise the gods.
It's an interesting story on both democracy and on refugees. The Danaïdes are fleeing from forced ma…

The Conquest of Plassans by Émile Zola.

The Conquest of Plassans (La Conquête de Plassans) is the fourth of Émile Zola's Les Rougon-Macquart novels and was first published in 1874. The novel is based in the fictional Plassans (based on Aix-en-Provence where Zola grew up), as was the first novel of the series, Fortune of the Rougons (1870).
Whenever I write a post on one of Zola's Les Rougon-Macquart I always hark back to a quote in the preface of Fortune of the Rougons, but it is an important one so here it is again in which Zola explains his intentions for his series: My aim is to explain how a family, a small group of human beings, behaves in a given society after blossoming forth and giving birth to ten or twenty individuals who, though they may seem at first glance totally dissimilar from each other, are, as analysis shows, linked together in the most profound ways. Heredity, like gravity, has its laws. By solving the dual problem of temperament and environment, I shall attempt to discover and trace the thread tha…

A Rural Tyrant by Samuel Johnson.

'A Rural Tyrant', or 'An account of squire Bluster' as it was also known, is an article in Samuel Johnson's The Rambler, which was his own periodical (all his work; no other authors contributed to it) that ran from 1750 to 1752 when Johnson was working on A Dictionary of the English Language. 'A Rural Tyrant' was published on Saturday, 27th July 1751.
Reading it, it feels more like an anecdote: Johnson describes how he accepted an invitation to visit the country estate of 'Eugenio' - and I'm afraid I don't know who Eugenio is, though I do know there was a poem of that title by Thomas Beech who slit his throat shortly after its publication. There's a puzzle. Anyway, onwards: he describes how he enjoyed the journey, studying every natural phenomenon that came his way, and arrived at the destination without fatigue. After a week or so of the visit, in which he is kept busy and, he notes, without solitude, he sees a house "of unusual mag…

Ecclesiastical History of the English People by Bede.

I've been meaning to read Bede for quite a few years now but I've been shamefully putting it off. As I couldn't bring myself to read Thucydides for February's "Book I am dreading" (12 Month Classic Challenge) Bede was a very good second option. Happy I loved it! 
And so I read Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum) by Venerable Bede (Bǣda), which was completed in 731 A.D. When Bede was writing there were seven kingdoms within England (the Heptarchy): East Anglia, Mercia, Northumbria, Wessex, Essex, Kent, and Sussex. Bede was from Northumbria, the largest of the kingdoms, in Jarrow (which is now County Durham: the monastery there was at the time a renowned place of learning) and during his lifetime (672 or 673 - 26 May 735) there were seven kings of Northumbria: Ecgfrith, Aldfrith, Eadwulf, Osred I, Coenred, Osric, and Ceolwulf. Ecclesiastical History of the English People was dedicated to Ceolwulf (who, having bee…

The Life and Death of King Richard II by William Shakespeare.

Richard II is one of William Shakespeare's earlier plays, written around 1595 - 1596, and it actually was written after Henry VI (Parts I, II, and III, 1590 - 1592) and Richard III (1592 - 1593). But, in terms of the chronology of the action, Richard II follows King John (1596 - 1597) and Edward III (perhaps written with Thomas Kyd, 1592 - 1593), and it precedes Henry IV Part I (1598) and Henry IV Part II (1600).
Richard II, the final king of the House of Plantagenet, reigned from 21st June 1377 (following Edward III) to 30th September 1399 when he was deposed (removed) and Henry IV came to the throne. Because he was only ten years old when he was crowned he was aided by a series of continual councils. There was a fear that his uncle John of Gaunt (the first Duke of Lancaster, to whom Geoffrey Chaucer dedicated The Book of the Duchess on the death of Gaunt's wife Blanche) would attempt to seize the throne, so John of Gaunt was exiled from the councils however was still very inf…

Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus.

I've been looking forward to reading Prometheus Bound (Προμηθεὺς Δεσμώτης) since reading about Prometheus in Hesiod's Theogony (8th Century). The play is ascribed to Aeschylus however there's doubt as to who the true author is. Furthermore none are certain of the date, and estimates range between the 480s B.C. to the 410s B.C.
In Hesiod's Theogony Prometheus is presented as the son of Iapetos (a Titan) and Klymene (an Oceanid), and his siblings are Atlas, Menoitios, and Epimetheus. Atlas and Prometheus were punished by Zeus at the beginning of Zeus' reign of the Olympians for challenging his authority - Atlas was forced to hold up the sky, Prometheus was bound in chains. There was a sense in Hesiod's work that Prometheus rather deserved the punishment however Aeschylus (I'll stick with convention and name him as the author) gives a rather different picture.
In Prometheus Bound Aeschylus describes how Prometheus is chained to a rock in the Caucasus mountains b…

Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown by Virginia Woolf | The Old Wives' Tale by Arnold Bennett.

In 1908 when The Old Wives' Tale by Arnold Bennett was first published Virginia Woolf's first novel The Voyage Out was still eight years away: not a terribly long time, but then times were changing fast. Arnold Bennett, born in 1867 (just 15 years earlier than Woolf) was an adult in the Victorian Age; Woolf was just a few days away from being nineteen in 1901 when Queen Victoria died, Bennett was thirty-four. In terms of 'eras' or 'epochs' this, I feel, made a difference. Bennett was an Edwardian writer, and his novel The Old Wives' Tale was set during the Victorian age, an age he knew well. For me the Edwardian period was like a bridge between the old, the Victorian, and the new: modernism. Virginia Woolf was a modernist, Bennett had not left the Victorian era behind whilst Virginia Woolf was very explicit in moving forward, moving beyond, and at times rejecting some of its norms and its writing methods. For that alone, for a new writer looking to carve a …