Showing posts from March, 2016

Henry IV Part II by William Shakespeare.

Almost immediately after the success of Henry IV Part I, William Shakespeare wrote Henry IV Part II, written around 1596 - 1597 and first published in 1600. In this Shakespeare writes on the latter part of Henry IV's reign (Henry IV reigned from 13th October 1399 until his death, 20th March 1413). Though though this sequel is not generally preferred (some seeing it as a poor attempt at 'cashing in' on the success of the first part, known then simply as Henry IV) I did actually enjoy it more than the first part.
When we left Henry IV the Battle of Shrewsbury (1403) had been won, however tensions between Henry and the Percys and their allies (the rebels) still remained and civil war was under way. The play begins in Warkworth Castle, Northumberland, where the Earl of Northumberland fled after his son Henry "Hotspur" was killed in the Battle of Shrewsbury. At the gate, Rumour stands "painted full of tongues" and delivers the opening monologue: ... Why is Rum…

Ecclesiazusae by Aristophanes.

Ecclesiazusae (Ἐκκλησιάζουσαι), also known as The Assembly Women, The Women of the AssemblyThe Congress Women, Women in Parliament, and A Parliament of Women, is one of Aristophanes' later plays first performed in 391 B.C. It has much in common with Lysistrata, which was first performed twenty years early in 411 B.C.
By 391 B.C. the Peloponnesian War had been over for over a decade. Athens had been defeated and immediately afterwards a pro-Spartan oligarchy acted as a government (they would come to be known as the 'Thirty Tyrants'). A revolution followed and after thirteen months in power the Thirty Tyrants were overthrown and Athens began a period of rebuilding. Meanwhile a new war with Corinth had begun (in 395 B.C.)
So, in Ecclesiazusae a group of women led by Praxagora decide to take control of Athens, feeling they could do a much better job than the men. They disguise themselves as men and sneak into the assembly where they propose communist-like measures, vote for th…

Let's Get a Divorce! by Victorien Sardou and Émile Najac.

Let's Get a Divorce! (Divorçons!) is a play by the French writers Victorien Sardou and Émile Najac and was first performed at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal on the 6th December 1880. It has one of the most distinctive titles I've ever come across in literature!
Quite obviously the play is about divorce. In France, from the quick crash-course I've just given myself on the history of divorce laws, divorce was first made legal in 1792 however it was then abolished in 1816 during the Restoration of Louis XVIII when Roman Catholicism became once again the state religion. In the United Kingdom it was possible to obtain divorce through an ecclesiastical court, however in 1858 the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857 came into force and divorce could be obtained through civil courts. France however would have to wait until 27th July 1884 during the Third Republic (1870 - 1940) before a divorce could be obtained. Until then there were various attempts at reinstating the divorce laws, for exampl…

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake.

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is a short work by William Blake, a mixture of poetry and prose, and was composed between 1790 - 1793 (it can be found online here). It may well be the hardest thing I've ever read!
The piece opens with a poem - 'The Argument':  Rintrah roars, and shakes his fires in the burden’d air;
Hungry clouds swag on the deep.

Once meek, and in a perilous path,
The just man kept his course along
The vale of death.
Roses are planted where thorns grow,
And on the barren heath
Sing the honey bees.

Then the perilous path was planted,
And a river and a spring
On every cliff and tomb,
And on the bleachèd bones
Red clay brought forth;

Till the villain left the paths of ease,
To walk in perilous paths, and drive
The just man into barren climes.

Now the sneaking serpent walks
In mild humility,
And the just man rages in the wilds
Where lions roam.

Rintrah roars, and shakes his fires in the burden’d air;
Hungry clouds swag on the deep.  Rintrah is a prophet figure, but who he truly is i…

Night and Day by Virginia Woolf.

Night and Day is the second published novel of Virginia Woolf, first published in 1919 (following The Voyage Out, 1915). It's what I think of as the second and final 'traditional' novel of hers as there is, it seems to me, a little of the Victorian in Woolf's first two novels: in Jacob's Room(1923) Woolf would break with that and become more experimental - more of a modernist. For now, though clearly in Virginia Woolf's distinctive voice, this is a more plot-based novel. 
It centres around four characters, all friends or acquaintances: Katharine Hilbery, Mary Datchet, Ralph Denham, and William Rodney. Katharine Hilbery, modelled on Woolf's sister Vanessa (Night and Day is in fact dedicated to Vanessa), is a young upper middle class woman from a family of literary intellectuals (her grandfather was a great poet, and she and her mother are writing his biography). Mary Dachet is the daughter of a country vicar and works in an office for an organisation campaign…

Chapters I & II of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.

Here it is! The first instalment of The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, or as it is best known, The Pickwick Papers. Imagine: it's March 1836, one hundred and eighty years ago: William IV is on the throne (and has been since 1831) and William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne (a Whig) is in office for the second time (and has been since 1835). The London and Greenwich Railway, the first railway in London, has been open a mere month, Mrs. Beeton (of Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management) has only just been born, the aforementioned Melbourne controversially appointed Renn Dickson Hampden as Regius Professor of Divinity (a professorship at the University of Oxford), and Charles Darwin had very recently (in January) just landed in Australia on HMS Beagle. Finally, a few days from now, the 31st March 1836 saw the first instalment of Charles Dickens' first novel: The Pickwick Papers.

Chapter I
The Pickwickians The first ray of light which illumines the gloom, and converts in…

Indiana by George Sand.

Indiana is the first novel of George Sand - the pseudonym of Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin - and was first published in 1832. If one can categorise books as such, this is firmly placed in the 'Madame Bovary' genre - an unsuitable marriage and an affair that ends badly.
The heroine of the tale is Indiana Delmare, married to the much older Colonel Delmare. She is very highly strung and unbalanced, which manifests both mentally and physically: indeed, it is suggested that her bad marriage is almost entirely to blame for this. Like Emma Bovary, she is romantic too, and much of her ideas of love come from reading novels. Her cousin Ralph is in love with her, however she comes to fall in love with Raymon de Ramiere, who, essentially, is in love with the idea of being in love. He is handsome, frivolous, and says all the right things, so (unaware that he has already seduced her maid Noun) they begin their affair. For someone as vulnerable, inexperienced, and emotionally fragile as India…

Books XI and XII of Ovid's Metamorphoses.

Continuing the read-along of Ovid's Metamorphoses...

Book XI
The Death of Orpheus | The Punishment of the Maenads | Midas | Laömedon's Treachery Peleus and Thetis | Peleus at the Court of Ceÿx [I] | Ceÿx's Story: Daedalion Peleus at the Court of Ceÿx [II] | Ceÿx and Alcyone | Aesacus
The Death of Orpheus
As Orpheus sings his songs and plays his lyre he is spotted by women - the Bacchantes. For rejecting all women they attack and kill him, dismembering him, and his head and lyre falls into the River Hebrus. His spirit passes to the Underworld where he is at last reunited with Eurydice.
The Punishment of the Maenads
Maenads → Trees
Bacchus, enraged at Orpheus' death, transforms the women into trees.
Midas' touch → Gold Midas' ears → Ass's Ears
Bacchus then travels to Tḿolus where he is reunited with his tutor Silenus: he had been missing but was found by Midas, and as a reward Bacchus grants Midas one wish. Midas' wish is that he could turn everything he touched…

Lysistrata by Aristophanes.

Lysistrata (Λυσιστράτη) is a play by Aristophanes first performed in 411 B.C, the same year as The Poet and the Women(Θεσμοφοριάζουσαι). It was staged during the Peloponnesian War  (431–404 BC) and a little earlier the Greeks had suffered a great defeat in Sicily. 
And so Aristophanes imagines a more peaceful way of ending this war that the Athenians were so very tired of. His main character Lysistrata, an Athenian housewife, calls a meeting with other women to reveal her plan: Lʏsɪsᴛʀᴀᴛᴀ: All right! I'll speak then. I'll let out my great secret!
Women! If we want to compel the men
To make peace, we must... it's imperative...
Kᴀʟᴏɴɪᴋᴇ: Well, go on.
Lʏsɪsᴛʀᴀᴛᴀ: Will you do it?
Kᴀʟᴏɴɪᴋᴇ: Die if we don't!
Lʏsɪsᴛʀᴀᴛᴀ: Then - ɴᴏ sʟᴇᴇᴘɪɴɢ ᴡɪᴛʜ ᴛʜᴇᴍ. Total abstinence.
Why do you turn away? Where are you going?
Why do you bite your lips and shake your heads,
Turn pale and start to snivel? Will you do it,
Or won't you? Well?At first her plan is met with a resounding "no", but…