Friday, 29 April 2016

Dido, Queen of Carthage by Christopher Marlowe.

1825 library edition.
Dido, Queen of Carthage is a very short play by Christopher Marlowe, with possible contributions by Thomas Nashe (author of the 1594 picaresque novel, The Unfortunate Traveller) and it is thought it was written around 1586, which would make it Marlowe's first play. It's based on the first half of Virgil's Aeneid telling the story of Dido's love for Aeneas and his abandoning of her (this was my favourite section of Aeneid).

The play begins with a tender scene between Jupiter, king of the gods, and his cup-bearer and lover Ganymede (Ovid tells his tale in Book X of Metamorphoses), who tells Jupiter that Juno has been mistreating him. They are interrupted by Venus who admonishes Jupiter for neglecting to take care of her son Aeneas:
I this is it, you can sit toying there,
And playing with that female wanton boy,
Whiles my Æneas wanders on the Seas,
And rests a pray to euery billowes pride.
She goes on to explain how Juno has directed Aeolus, ruler of the winds, to create a tempest, putting Aeneas' life at risk. Jupiter describes Aeneas' task, assuring her that all will be well for him:
Content thee Cytherea in thy care,
Since thy Æneas wandring fate is firme,
Whose wearie lims shall shortly make repose,
In those faire walles I promist him of yore:
But first in bloud must his good fortune bud,
Before he be the Lord of Turnus towne,
Or force her smile that hetherto hath frownd:
Three winters shall he with the Rutiles warre,
And in the end subdue them with his sword,
And full three Sommers likewise shall he waste,
In mannaging those fierce barbarian mindes:
Which once performd, poore Troy so long supprest,
From forth her ashes shall aduance her head,
And flourish once againe that erst was dead:
But bright Ascanius beauties better worke,
Who with the Sunne deuides one radiant shape,
Shall build his throne amidst those starrie towers,
That earth-borne Atlas groning vnderprops:
No bounds but heauen shall bound his Emperie,
Whose azured gates enchased with his name,
Shall make the morning halt her gray vprise,
To feede her eyes with his engrauen fame.
Thus in stoute Hectors race three hundred yeares,
The Romane Scepter royall shall remaine,
Till that a Princesse priest conceau'd by Mars,
Shall yeeld to dignitie a dubble birth,
Who will eternish Troy in their attempts.
And so Jupiter calms the storms (aided by Neptune) and Venus travels to Libya and helps him to Dido, the first queen of Carthage, so that he may receive warm hospitality. There Dido asks Aeneas about his travels, however at this stage she seems to favour Iarbas who wishes to marry her. Venus and Cupid (the half-brother of Aeneas - Venus and Mars are his parents, Anchises is Aeneas' father) intervene and Cupid touches Dido with his arrow, making her fall in love with Aeneas. As Venus explains,
Now Cupid turne thee to Ascanius shape,
And goe to Dido who in stead of him
Will set thee on her lap and play with thee:
Then touch her white breast with this arrow head,
That she may dote vpon Æneas loue:
And by that meanes repaire his broken ships,
Victuall his Souldiers, giue him wealthie gifts,
And he at last depart to Italy,
Or els in Carthage make his kingly throne.
Cupid remains disguised as Aeneas' son Ascanius and Dido indeed falls deeply and passionately in love with Aeneas, who, to an extent, appears to reciprocate, however when he is reminded of his purpose, to found a city so great it shall rival Troy, he leaves Dido (aided by his rival Iarbas). She is in desperate despair, at first unwilling to believe he would leave her -
... is he gone?
I but heele come againe, he cannot goe,
He loues me to too well to serue me so:
Yet he that in my sight would not relent,
Will, being absent, be abdurate still.
By this is he got to the water side,
And, see the Sailers take him by the hand,
But he shrinkes backe, and now remembring me,
Returnes amaine: welcome, welcome my loue:
But wheres Æneas? ah hees gone hees gone!
In her grief she tells Iarbas and her maid Anna that she will build a funeral pyre and burn all that which reminds her of Aeneas, however, once it is done, she throws herself into the flames. Iarbas hears the news and exclaims,
Cursed Iarbus, dye to expiate The griefe that tires vpon thine inward soule, Dido I come to thee, aye me Æneas.
Anna is left, Anna who herself was in love with Iarbus - 
What can my teares or cryes preuaile me now?
Dido is dead, Iarbus slaine, Iarbus my deare loue,
O sweet Iarbus, Annas sole delight,
What fatall destinie enuies me thus,
To see my sweet Iarbus slay himselfe?
But Anna now shall honor thee in death,
And mixe her bloud with thine, this shall I doe,
That Gods and men may pitie this my death,
And rue our ends senceles of life or breath;
Now sweet Iarbus stay, I come to thee.
She too dies, and there ends Dido, Queen of Carthage.

Christopher Marlowe is fast becoming one of my new favourite authors. Though his Dido can't compare to Virgil's death of Dido in Book IV of Aeneid, it is still so very moving. We do not see Aeneas' glory but from this we learn further of the wake of destruction left in his path, owing not so much to Aeneas but the intervention of the gods. I loved it!

La mort de Didon by Joseph Stallaert (1872).

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Pot Luck by Émile Zola.

1888 English edition.
Pot Luck (Pot-Bouille, also known as Piping Hot! and Restless House) is the tenth published novel of Émile Zola's Rougon Macquart novels (published  in 1882 between Nana, 1880, and The Ladies Paradise, 1883). Zola's intention for the Rougon Macquart series was to capture the Second Empire of France and in each novel portray a certain aspect of it whilst also writing of a character within the family of the Rougon Macquarts. In Pot Luck Zola writes about the young Octave Mouret (before his Ladies Paradise days). He is the son of Marthe and François Mouret (both introduced in Zola's earlier novel The Conquest of Plassans, 1874, but Pot Luck set a little bit before the action of Conquest): Marthe is the daughter of Pierre and Félicité Rougon, François the son of Ursule Mouret and Mouret: their two families are united by the matriarch of the Rougon Macquarts, Adélaïde, making them cousins. To understand Zola's twenty novel Rougon Macquart series it's important to know these relationships, however it is far less so when reading each individual novel. 

And so in Pot Luck Octave Mouret has moved from his childhood home in Plassans to Paris. In an earlier novel, L'Assommoir (1877) Zola has examined its slums, in this he turns his magnifying glass onto a more well-to-do area of Paris, la Rue de Choiseul. Here we meet the middle class Parisians, the bourgeoisie - the families of the Campardons, the Pichons, the Josserands, the Duveyriers, and Vabres. The flats, as the landlord explains to Octave, are -
... only lived in by thoroughly respectable people.
Cartoon by André Gill for la Nouvelle Lune,
23rd April 1882.
But this is Zola! It is, to quote Zola's biographer Frederick Brown, Zola's "bourgeois stewpot" and in Pot Luck he portrays the bourgeoisie as hypocritical, merely hiding their immorality behind a veil of respectability. Madame Josserand is portrayed almost as a pimp as she tries to marry off her daughters, Valérie Vabres repeatedly has affairs, Monsieur Duveyrier, bored and frustrated by his 'respectable' appearances prefers his mistress Clarisse to his wife, Monsieur Campardon is too having an affair and he and his wife go to lengths to hide it from their daughter Angèle, and meanwhile the Pichons' marriage is a sham, all the while Octave greedily weaves through them all. It is actually rather hard to keep track of all the characters, their doings, and their servants who discuss the goings on in the building's kitchens and backyard, their vulgarity apparently a sharp contrast to their airs of the bourgeois, whilst at the same time highly appropriate. And then there is Adèle, a servant who gets pregnant. In this she is almost a literal scapegoat: it's as though she is to carry all of the sins of the house away when she gives birth alone (this is one of the most memorable scenes of the entire Rougon Macquart series). But of course these sins can't be carried away: the ugly, almost bestial depravity remains in the air behind the façade of la Rue de Choiseul.

Pot Luck is a novel Zola felt quite ambivalent about: on one hand he captured all he wished to capture, yet he did worry it was quite dispassionate (I did find it dispassionate, but that was part of its appeal). The novel was a great success, frequently selling out, and the serialised edition brought Zola 10 000 francs, and like his other novels Pot Luck shocked its audience, however Zola did encounter troubles he hadn't anticipated: a solicitor named Duverdy objected to the close similarity of the name of Duveyrier, the man who fathers Adèle's illegitimate child. He asked Zola to rename his character, believing Zola used his name which he argued Zola found when the gentleman ran for the Chamber of Deputies. Zola refused, writing in Le Gaulois,
The truth is that I extract my names from an old Bottin directory: the names in Pot-Bouille were found there more than a year ago, or long before the elections. Anyway, I was at the seashore during that electoral campaign, in a remote corner of the Cotentin, and I am so repelled by politics that promotional literature doesn't get past my front door. I can therefore swear that I was utterly unaware of a lawyer named Duverdy.
He went on to write that no longer can names such as "Cyrus, Clélue, [and] Aristée" be used:
Our characters are the people of flesh and blood against whom we brush in the street every day. They have our passions, they wear our clothing, and they must also bear our names.  
And this is the alarming fact of Pot Luck and Zola's other novels: his characters in all their degraded glory are, he believed, real. The Madame Josserands, the Valérie Vabres, and indeed the Monsieur Duveyriers walk among us, even now, and we would never know it.

*******
Further Reading

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Ann Veronica by H. G. Wells.

Ann Veronica: A Modern Love Story (1909) is the first non-Sci-Fi novel by H. G. Wells that I've read and I read it out of curiosity mainly, partly because I loved The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, and The War of the Worlds, and also an essay because I recently read an essay by Virginia Woolf ('Modern Fiction') in which she essentially argues the Edwardian writers (singling out Arnold Bennett, John Galsworthy, and H. G. Wells) perpetually disappoint - 
Mr. Wells, Mr. Bennett, and Mr. Galsworthy have excited so many hopes and disappointed them so persistently that our gratitude largely takes the form of thanking them for having shown us what they might have done but have not done...
As, by chance, I had read and enjoyed Bennett's The Old Wives' Tale (1908) I thought it would be prudent to make sure I'd read the other Edwardians that had attracted her venom before making my own mind up. Bennett I'll read again, Galsworthy I'll read soon I hope, and Wells - I already love Wells, but it felt a good opportunity to read one of his more realistic novels. So Ann Veronica it was.

Ann Veronica is one of those novels I love, set at a time when the Victorian norms and ideals were waning with a new and more vigorous generation, but modernism was a far way off. The heroine Ann Veronica Stanley is almost twenty-two years old at the beginning of the novel and lives in the fictional Morningside Park, London with her father, a solicitor. She is a biology student at Tredgold Women's College, very serious, independently spirited, and longing to be a 'person in her own right' rather than conform, as the generation before her did, to marriage, motherhood, and living through and belonging to her husband. The novel begins with Ann Veronica, of Vee as she is nicknamed, is determined to go to a ball with her friends despite her father forbidding it:
One Wednesday afternoon in late September, Ann Veronica Stanley came down from London in a state of solemn excitement and quite resolved to have things out with her father that very evening. She had trembled on the verge of such a resolution before, but this time quite definitely she made it. A crisis had been reached, and she was almost glad it had been reached. She made up her mind in the train home that it should be a decisive crisis. It is for that reason that this novel begins with her there, and neither earlier nor later, for it is the history of this crisis and its consequences that this novel has to tell.
"A decisive crisis" is was, and the result is Vee does the unthinkable - she leaves home to live alone and borrows money, a catastrophic move, from the older Mr. Ramage, whilst devoting her time to her studies. 

Illustration from the 1909 edition
published by Harper & Brothers
.
From here we see a variety of odd experiences for a young woman trying to live independently (something she isn't quite able to do being funded by the aforementioned Mr. Ramage). She is for a period involved with the budding suffragette movement (and spends a month in prison), avoiding Ramage who feels he owns her, falling in love with an older married man Mr. Capes, and eventually the disappointment and humiliation of returning home and accepting the proposal of a man she does not love, Hubert Manning. But that is only half the story. 

The question is, did Wells disappoint? Well, yes, a little. Wells was named in 1909 (the same year as Ann Veronica was published) by the Men's League for Women's Suffrage as a man in favour of women's suffrage (the list also included Thomas Hardy and E. M. Forster) yet I felt frustrated that Ann Veronica could not realise her dream of independence: it seemed an impossible thing and it was best in the end for Vee to return home and start being realistic. On the other hand her experiences made her who she was and allowed her to pursue the path that was right for her: if she had not have left home she would have ended up marrying the wrong man. This was the early 1900s after all, it was always unlikely that Vee would have lived happily ever after alone, so I cannot hold this against Wells (as it was, at the time The Spectator described it as "capable of poisoning the minds of those who read it", I imagine any more of a 'feminist' ending would have finished Wells' career right off). And Vee - Vee grew to be a little tedious, but Vee was tedious (on the whole I thought) and she didn't remain static against her ever-changing backdrop, so again I can't fault Wells. I loved reading Ann Veronica until roughly the last quarter and I can't quite put my finger on why. It wasn't startling enough, I suppose - Vee wasn't great enough or Wells wasn't quite insightful enough. The idea of Ann Veronica was perfect but it didn't quite follow through. I gave four stars, I did enjoy it after all, but it fell short and left me a touch frustrated. Nevertheless still worth a read and I certainly haven't given up on Wells. I do want to re-read The Island of Doctor Moreau at some point and get to The History of Mr Polly too.

*******

Further Reading

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Virgil's Æneid.


Virgil's Æneid or Æneis is John Dryden's 1697 translation of The Aeneid by Virgil (Publius Vergilius Maro), composed between 29 and 19 BC. I read it for three reasons - one, I was inspired to having read Ovid's account of Aeneas in Metamorphoses (Books XIII and XIV), two - I wanted to read Christopher Marlowe's Dido, Queen of Carthage (which I have now read and will be reviewing next week), and three - quite simply for the enjoyment of reading it. Like, say, Homer's works, Ovid's, and Chaucer's, it would be greatly beneficial to read The Aeneid very slowly and in great depth and one day I will, but for now this is a relatively short review of a work I love very much. However complex and important it is, it is also very enjoyable and accessible (yes, even when translated as Dryden) and I wanted in this post to treat it as such rather than a rather alarming twelve week book by book read that may make it look intimidating.

The Aeneid tells the story of Aeneas, who Hesiod tells us was the son of Cytherea (Aphrodite, or Venus, the Roman equivalent) and Anchises, a descendent of Tros, the ruler of Troy. He was a Trojan soldier (as told in Homer's Iliad), and he travelled to Italy where he would become an ancestor of Romulus, who, as Ovid (among others) tells us was a founder of Rome (Book XIV). The book is divided into twelve parts, the first six largely dealing with Aeneas' travels to Italy and the last six on the war in Italy led by Turnus against Aeneas and his warriors.

Detail of The Meeting of Dido and Aeneas
by Nathaniel Dance-Holland (1766).
It begins with the telling of how Juno, the wife of Jupiter, hates Aeneas because of her love for the city of Carthage - she has been told in a prophecy that it will be destroyed by a descendent of the Trojans. Exacerbating this is the fact that a Trojan, Paris, declared Juno's rival Venus (mother of Aeneas) to be more beautiful. Another one of Troy's ancestors is Dardanus, the son of her husband Jupiter and his lover Electra. Finally, Juno is annoyed in general because of Ganymede, a prince of Troy, whom Jupiter made his cupbearer (a guard against potential poison in a king's cup). And so Juno takes her rage out on Aeneas and tells Aeolus, the god of the winds, to bring about a storm that will drown all of Aeneas' fleet. Neptune however calms the waters and some of the fleet including Aeneas are saved: Aeneas finds a safe harbour on the coast of Africa, and meanwhile Venus complains to Jupiter of Juno's treatment of her son and he reminds her of the prophecy that Rome will be founded and an emperor, Augustus (who reigned at the time Virgil was writing) would bring about an era of peace.

And so, as I've said, Aeneas lands in Africa but he is taken to Carthage by Venus in a cloud where he is reunited with his fleet. There he meets Dido, the first queen of Carthage, who, at a banquet, asks Aeneas to tell her of his adventures during his seven year voyage. He tells her of the Trojan War and how he escaped the burning city with his father Anchises and his son Ascanius, and how they attempted to settle but were perpetually driven away with curses, plagues, and the Harpies, and on how Achises died. The two fall in love with each other, however Aeneas is reminded of his purpose to found a new city, so he leaves Dido to resume his task. Her heartbreak overwhelms her and she curses them then kills herself (this is told in Book IV, one of my favourite sections).

The fleet continues its voyage but is driven by winds to Sicily. Here, with the intervention of Juno, the Trojan women set fire to the ships but Jupiter sends rain which saves four of them. They carry on to Italy and here Aeneas, wishing to see his father, travels to the Underworld guided by the Sibyl of Cumae (another one of my favourite sections - Book VI - it's very much like Dante's Inferno, another book I must revisit). Anchises shows him the future and thus the importance of his duty and subsequent actions. Eventually the fleet arrive in Italy where they are welcomed warmly by King Latinus who later wishes his daughter Lavinia to marry Aeneas, however Latinus' wife Amata wishes her to marry Turnus. Here begins the war of Italy, which takes us from Book VII to Book XII. Aeneas is forced to seek support from King Evander of Pallanteum and his troops, and the Etruscans rebels (rebelling against their king, King Mezentius, Turnus' ally). Turnus kills Pallas, and Aeneas kills both Mezentius and his son Lausus, and the war rages with such passion that the two sides are eventually forced to declare a truce after a duel between Turnus and Aeneas. Aeneas comes close sparing Turnus' life until he sees him wearing the belt of Pallas, a trophy of his killing, and so Aeneas stabs and kills him. Virgil, translated by Dryden, concludes,
He rais'd his Arm aloft; at at the Word
Deep in his bosom drove the shining Sword.
The streaming Blood distain'd his Arms around:
And the disdainful Soul came rushing through the Wound.
It is an intense and exciting work both on the travels of Aeneas and the subsequent war, and a war between the gods: Aeneas is essentially at their mercy. It also serves to provide a Roman myth of origin, legitimising and bringing glory to the empire and show the importance of duty of individuals; had Aeneas not done his duty and fulfilled the prophecy, the great Rome would have been nothing. The heartbreak, war, and barbarity in The Aeneid is overcome and, as prophecised in the first book, Augustus brings order, civilisation, and peace. It is a great work, one of my favourites, and one I'll keep re-reading (this is my second read, but one day I would like to go more in depth). When I do, I'll certainly read Dryden's translation.

Virgil reading the Aeneid to Augustus and Octavia by Jean-Joseph Taillasson (1787).

Monday, 25 April 2016

Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti.

Goblin Market by Frank Craig (1911).

Goblin Market is a poem by Christina Rossetti composed in 1859 and published in 1862, and it's one of the first poems I ever read (it can be read online here). It is, Rossetti argued, a poem intended for children and as a child I enjoyed it, but when I returned to it in my young adulthood was rather surprising (which I'll get to in a moment). It was written when Rossetti volunteered at St Mary Magdalene Penitentiary in Highgate, London, a refuge for "fallen women" with a view of saving and rehabilitating prostitutes or unmarried mothers.

First illustration of Goblin Market 
by Arthur Rackham (1933).
The poem begins,
Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
"Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpeck'd cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheek’d peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries;—
All ripe together
In summer weather,—
Morns that pass by,
Fair eves that fly;
Come buy, come buy:
Our grapes fresh from the vine,
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces,
Rare pears and greengages,
Damsons and bilberries,
Taste them and try:
Currants and gooseberries,
Bright-fire-like barberries,
Figs to fill your mouth,
Citrons from the South,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye;
Come buy, come buy."
Already the reader is promised a sensual delight of temptation. Rossetti goes on to introduce the two sisters of the poem - the pure Lizzie and her sister Laura. The two hear the cries of the goblins, Lizzie is overcome with maidenly blushes whilst Laura, the tempted, strains to hear and see the goblin men. Lizzie chides her,
"Oh," cried Lizzie, "Laura, Laura,
You should not peep at goblin men."
Nevertheless Laura cannot help but look on, fascinated, and so Lizzie runs away calling, "Their evil gifts would harm us" but Laura remains, enchanted, her reason and sense all but lost:
Laura stretch’d her gleaming neck
Like a rush-imbedded swan,
Like a lily from the beck,
Like a moonlit poplar branch,
Like a vessel at the launch
When its last restraint is gone. 
Second illustration of Goblin Market 
by Arthur Rackham (1933).
The Goblins spy her, "Come buy, come buy" they call, and Laura creeps closer, but she has not the money to buy, no copper, no sliver, and no gold, she tells them. They reply,
"You have much gold upon your head,"
They answer'd all together:
"Buy from us with a golden curl."
And so she "clipp'd a precious golden lock" and "dropp'd a tear more rare than pearl", and she is finally allowed to enjoy their fruit. She -
suck'd their fruit globes fair or red:
Sweeter than honey from the rock,
Stronger than man-rejoicing wine,
Clearer than water flow'd that juice;
She never tasted such before,
How should it cloy with length of use?
She suck'd and suck'd and suck'd the more
Fruits which that unknown orchard bore;
She suck'd until her lips were sore;
Then flung the emptied rinds away
But gather'd up one kernel stone,
And knew not was it night or day
As she turn’d home alone. 
Third illustration of Goblin Market 
by Arthur Rackham (1933).
She is spellbound, and returns home. She is met by Lizzie who rebukes her and reminds her of the fate of Jeanie who once succumbed to the goblins and subsequently died. Laura however is confident such a fate will not meet her, but despite gorging on the fruits of the goblins she is unsatisfied: "Yet my mouth waters still". She plans to go the next night and bring more fruit back. The two sisters go to bed:
Golden head by golden head,
Like two pigeons in one nest
Folded in each other’s wings,
They lay down in their curtain’d bed:
Like two blossoms on one stem,
Like two flakes of new-fall’n snow,
Like two wands of ivory
Tipp'd with gold for awful kings.
Moon and stars gaz'd in at them,
Wind sang to them lullaby,
Lumbering owls forbore to fly,
Not a bat flapp'd to and fro
Round their rest:
Cheek to cheek and breast to breast
Lock’d together in one nest. 
The next morning they awake and do their chores, but Laura is already pining for the goblins' fruit. The sisters -
Talk’d as modest maidens should:
Lizzie with an open heart,
Laura in an absent dream,
One content, one sick in part;
One warbling for the mere bright day’s delight,
One longing for the night. 
When night arrives the sisters return but though Lizzie hears the cries of the goblins Laura cannot. Unable to sleep that night she,
... sat up in a passionate yearning,
And gnash’d her teeth for baulk’d desire, and wept
As if her heart would break. 
Like Jeanie before her she begins to fade and sinks into a deep depression.

Fourth illustration of Goblin Market
by Arthur Rackham (1933).
And so Lizzie decides to intervene, and she goes to the goblins to buy fruit for her sister. They attack her - these now sinister beings try to force her to eat the fruit, but despite their force she keeps her mouth firmly closed:
One may lead a horse to water,
Twenty cannot make him drink.
Though the goblins cuff’d and caught her,
Coax’d and fought her,
Bullied and besought her,
Scratch’d her, pinch’d her black as ink,
Kick’d and knock’d her,
Maul’d and mock’d her,
Lizzie utter’d not a word;
Would not open lip from lip
Lest they should cram a mouthful in:
But laugh’d in heart to feel the drip
Of juice that syrupp’d all her face,
And lodg’d in dimples of her chin,
And streak’d her neck which quaked like curd.
At last the evil people,
Worn out by her resistance,
Flung back her penny, kick’d their fruit
Along whichever road they took,
Not leaving root or stone or shoot;
Some writh’d into the ground,
Some div’d into the brook
With ring and ripple,
Some scudded on the gale without a sound,
Some vanish’d in the distance.
Nevertheless she is still covered with the juices from the fruits and she hurries home so that Laura might at least enjoy that. But by then the spell is broken - Laura greedily kisses the juices off her sister, however "That juice was wormwood to her tongue, / She loath'd the feast". She falls ill, her life hanging by a thread, but awakes the next morning refreshed and back to her old self. At last, "light danced in her eyes". Years pass, and the two remind their children never to succumb to the temptation of the goblin men. Rossetti concludes,
"For there is no friend like a sister
In calm or stormy weather;
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands."
These ideas of temptation and sisterhood are in keeping with Rossetti's ethos which she showed by becoming a volunteer at St Mary Magdalene Penitentiary. Goblin Market is a magical poem set on the edge of a fairy realm where goblins walk and magic happens, but there are to the modern reader some sexual undertones in the poem. My reading of it now is that it is not so much sexual but sensual, and the plethora of interpretations are almost as interesting as the poem itself! It's been described as feminist, lesbian, anti-Semitic, a critique of capitalism and advertising, and a pornographic work (Kinuko Craft illustrated the poem in 1973 for Playboy with very sexually explicit imagery), and one on depression and mental illness. I can't help but feel there is a temptation to read into children's literature very adult themes and in doing so at best miss the point and worst somehow sully it (keep in mind too the belief of some that Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is simply about a drug-induced high, a theory that could be applied to Goblin Market). As for me, I firmly rule out the pornographic interpretation but nevertheless the temptation into which Laura fell is ambiguous - is she a fallen woman redeemed, or was it knowledge and a desire to be God-like (assuming the fruits of the goblins represent the Forbidden Fruit in Genesis and Lizzie represents Christ the Redeemer)? I lean towards the former but appreciate the latter, and its message that a fallen woman can be redeemed and does not have to die or be punished for their entire life on earth. Whatever the case it is a poem that is not easily forgotten, and I will continue to mull it over.

To finish, some black and white illustrations of Goblin Market by Florence Harrison from Poems by Christina Rossetti published by Blackie and Son (1910):



That was my seventeenth title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week - Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street by Virginia Woolf.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Dewey's Readathon.

It's readathon day! It officially starts at 1pm, but, again, I'm going to have to resist the whole 24 hours so instead I'm starting a little earlier (about 12 or before) and hopefully read until 11pm, or midnight. I do mean to read a lot tomorrow, though!

It's a good day for reading - chilly, cloudy, I won't miss being out in the garden! It started off sunny but very frosty (even had to smash the ice on the chickens' water dishes and bird bath) and I had hopes that the weather forecasters were wrong but it was not to be, though as I say a sunny day would be a distraction!

So, the plans... I've been thinking about this all week! In a fortnight's time I'll be starting a read-along of Spenser's Faerie Queene (with Cleo and Jean) so I thought it prudent to squeeze in a few novels today as I may not have as much time as I'd like in the coming weeks. Here's my list:
  • Pot Luck by Émile Zola. I'm about half way through so I'll start with this and finish it this afternoon. I've read it before, wasn't keen the first time, the second time it's going marginally better.
  • The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy. This is an effort to obliterate his A Laodicean from my memory!
  • The Expedition of Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett. Had a sudden urge to read it :)
  • The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope. This one I'll start last, and I doubt very much I'll finish it this weekend. Looking forward to it, but reading it is also an attempt to move on from Trollope's Phineas Finn (had a few miserable reading experiences recently I'm afraid!).
  • Henry V by William Shakespeare. It's Shakespeare Day after all! I started this earlier in the week but decided it was more appropriate to read today so I'll re-start it (didn't get very far into it so it's no hardship).
  • Dido, Queen of Carthage by Christopher Marlowe. I loved Edward II so much I'm desperate to try another Marlowe!
  • I might, but I'm not sure, read the dedicatory sonnets of The Faerie Queene. There's only about 15 pages of them, but it might make life a bit easier when I do come to starting The Faerie Queene properly (reading 200 pages a week of Spenser is starting to make me nervous so whatever I can do to lessen the load....)
So then, I'm going to go and read some of Pot Luck, after which I'll be updating every few hours as and when I need a break. Hoping also to mark Shakespeare Day on my Tumblr - so far all I've done for Shakespeare Day is make a quill (it was a worthy effort).

Enjoy your reading, people! :)

Update 1: Just finished Pot Luck, must admit it was an effort but it very good, very Zola. One I'll be reviewing next week. About to start The Expedition of Humphry Clinker and have lunch. Meanwhile it's snowing here and that sunny morning is but a memory!

Update 2: I'm afraid this is my absolute worst readathon performance to date! In my defence I am super tired, had a very busy week with very early mornings (and getting earlier by the day - I get up at dawn to sort the hens out, by midsummer my mornings will begin before 4.30, by which time 'super tired' won't cut it!). So, five hours into the readathon and I've managed to finish Pot Luck and now Henry V. I've decided to leave The Expedition of Humphry Clinker for now, it's not that I'm not enjoying it, but it's a fairly complicated start for a tired brain. The plan is now - read The Mayor of Casterbridge, and hopefully the Marlowe play. Tomorrow I'll make a start on The Eustace Diamonds, though I do have a vegetable plot to prepare... So I'll update one more time this evening when (if?) I finish the Hardy and start Dido. I do hope everyone else is having more success!

Update 3: After updating last night I read about 70 pages of Hardy before falling asleep, however I was up relatively early (Sundays are my lie in day!) and I finished The Mayor of Casterbridge. Very pleased a) that I read an entire book for the readathon, even if it wasn't terribly long, and b) that I thoroughly enjoyed The Mayor and successfully obliterated A Laodicean from my mind! So, it's just after nine here and I'm going to make a start on Dido, Queen of Carthage. I like to think I'll finish this by the end of the readathon, after which I have much to do today but still intend on making a start on The Eustace Diamonds. I'll update for the last time around 1ish. Until then, a hearty well done to those who have been awake all night!!

Update 4: The readathon is at an end, and that was in fact my worst performance! Oh dear.... Here's what I read:

  • Pages 125 - end of Pot Luck by Émile Zola (252 pages, some read before readathon began)
  • The Mayor of Casterbridge (260 pages)
  • Henry V (110 pages)
  • Dido, Queen of Carthage (54 pages)
  • First chapter of The Eustace Diamonds (9 pages)
Grand total - 685 pages. That's really not too bad :)

So now I'm going to go in the garden for a while as it's warm (I have paving slabs to move), then return to The Eustace Diamonds, which so far I'm really enjoying! 

Happy Sunday, everyone :)

Friday, 22 April 2016

Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf.

Between the Acts is a very short novel by Virginia Woolf and was first published in July 1941. It was one she struggled with: it was to be called Pointz Hall (the stately home in which the novel is based, in Sussex), and after completion, after it had been sent to her publisher John Lehmann, she wrote to him and asked for it back believing it to be "too silly and trivial": she planned, she said, to revise it later in the year. The next day, 28th March, Woolf committed suicide, her body not to be found until the 18th April. But these matters are 'behind the scenes' (to use another play metaphor). One cannot understand Between the Acts in the frame of her suicide.

Like Mrs. Dalloway (1925), Between the Acts is set on a single day, June 1939, just before the outbreak of the Second World War. It's plot is very simple: the owner of Pointz Hall, the widower Bartholomew Oliver, is hosting the annual pageant which all the villagers look forward to. The subject of the pageant is the History of Britain, beginning with the Canterbury Pilgrims (Late Middle Ages), then the Elizabethans, the Restoration, the Victorians, and ending with the present day. In Between the Acts we see Bartholomew Oliver, his son Giles, his sister Lucy, and other extended family and friends preparing for the pageant, then acting it out, and then that evening. What Between the Acts is really about though, of course, is the characters. Woolf always endeavoured to capture the moment, capture the soul and essence, the very self and personhood, and again this is what she does in Between the Acts, a mix of the trivial, the comic, the mundane, and the profound, the serious, and the complex web of relationships whether it be a clear 'father and son', or simply a look that passes between two people. And not just people, but the past - the different ages of the members of the audience reacting differently to the mocking of the Victorian Age. Woolf captures the whole breadth of being, the sights and sounds, the scents, the peace - the dreaminess of it, and the chaos and disruption, the clash of the old traditions and modernity, something Woolf has written on many times, and the unavoidable contrast of this summer's day with its hints of war with the Second World War, a war that would have been raging almost two years as the book was published. All of this, these rhythms of life in the rhythms of Between the Acts, in about 120 pages.

My problem with it is that I found it devilishly hard. There is so very much to take in in such a small space, it's a head-spinner of a book. Very clever, a great achievement, but though I've now read it twice that really wasn't enough. However, the idea of reading it again is very appealing. This book takes time, more than it's frame permits, but I welcome wholeheartedly revisiting it.

*******
Further Reading

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope.

Phineas Finn: The Irish Member is the second novel in Anthony Trollope's Palliser series (following Can You Forgive Her?, 1864 - 1865) and was first published in 1869 having been serialised in St Paul's Magazine (October 1867 to May 1868). It is not notoriously difficult and yet I've struggled for over a year to read it. I read Can You Forgive Her? in March '15 and made the fatal error of deciding to put off Phineas Finn for a little bit, despite being eager to read it almost immediately, thinking it was a little too soon. After that I could never get into it (for this reason, now having finished Phineas Finn, I'm planning on reading the third of the series, The Eustace Diamonds, for Saturday's readathon, that I think I will like).

And so, this being the third or fourth attempt, I did finally finish Phineas Finn, and no, I never got into it. I did try - sometimes one does have to try with Trollope, I find some of his novels very hard to crack into (sometimes it can take over a hundred pages, then suddenly boom! I'm in) but this is for me one of those tiring novels that kept me just on the very edge of enjoying it, not quite reaching the comfortable phase but ever feeling like it was coming up. My attention did wane at times, and I read it almost resentfully, thinking all the way through, "Come on, start!", but as I reached about page 450 (of around 700) it had sadly become clear that the novel had well and truly started, and this was it. Why, for what reason, I do not know - it's exactly the kind of novel I ought to like. The hero, Phineas Finn, is a very handsome young Irishman studying law, but when Barrington Erle (a friend of the Finn's) suggests he stands for parliament in the coming election he does so and wins becoming Whig MP for Loughshane (a small borough). In Phineas Finn we see his rise (despite a poor maiden speech in parliament he eventually becomes at Junior Minister at the Treasury). Meanwhile we follow his very complicated love life, in which he seems to flit about from woman to woman like a bee flits from flower to flower. First, Mary Flood Jones, his childhood sweetheart in Ireland who waits for him patiently. Whilst she waits, we next encounter Lady Laura Standish, one of the great female characters in Trollope's novels (and there are many greats). She has a great interest in politics but the political sway she so desires is of course limited. Trollope writes,
It was her ambition to be brought as near to political action as was possible for a woman without surrendering any of the privileges of feminine inaction. That women should even wish to have votes at parliamentary elections was to her abominable, and the cause of the Rights of Women generally was odious to her; but, nevertheless, for herself, she delighted in hoping that she too might be useful,—in thinking that she too was perhaps, in some degree, politically powerful...
It's not s surprise to me that Lady Laura does not support 'Votes for Women', though it may appear odd: she mirrors Trollope's view I dare say - his women are often very strong and admirable and they are not cartoonish or one dimensional in this, with the exception of the "Rights of Women Institute for the Relief of the Disabilities of Females", or "the Disabilities" in short, as depicted in Is He Popenjoy? (1878, the only other Trollope novel so far I didn't care for). What I am trying to say is Trollope likes his character Lady Laura, and so no, she, like him, does not want the vote. So Lady Laura Standish must find another way to become "politically powerful" and that is by surrounding herself with men of politics (this started with her father the Earl and Lord Privy Seal). She must go on to marry a politician, and she does take a shine to Phineas, giving him advice and encouragement and opening the door for him so to speak. But he knows he is not wealthy or powerful enough for her, and when she realises she marries Robert Kennedy. It is this, the marriage of Lady Laura and Kennedy, that (for me) redeems Phineas Finn. Their marriage is a bad one, but Trollope writes of it so well: there's no drama, no violence, just slow and dismal misery:
In her misery one day Lady Laura told the whole story of her own unhappiness to her brother, saying nothing of Phineas Finn,—thinking nothing of him as she told her story, but speaking more strongly perhaps than she should have done, of the terrible dreariness of her life at Loughlinter, and of her inability to induce her husband to alter it for her sake. 
"Do you mean that he,—ill-treats you?" said the brother, with a scowl on his face which seemed to indicate that he would like no task better than that of resenting such ill-treatment. 
"He does not beat me, if you mean that." 
"Is he cruel to you? Does he use harsh language?" 
"He never said a word in his life either to me or, as I believe, to any other human being, that he would think himself bound to regret." 
"What is it then?" 
"He simply chooses to have his own way, and his way cannot be my way. He is hard, and dry, and just, and dispassionate, and he wishes me to be the same. That is all." 
"I tell you fairly, Laura, as far as I am concerned, I never could speak to him. He is antipathetic to me. But then I am not his wife." 
"I am;—and I suppose I must bear it."
Returning to Phineas' love interests - next, Violet Effingham, which also goes awry, then Madame Max Goesler who he can't bring himself to accept. It goes on: I'll not spoil the ending.

Phineas Finn is a political drama, something I was excited about as I do tend to follow politics a little, and seeing the political landscape of the mid-19th Century was indeed very interesting. As it was being serialised Trollope himself was attempting to embark on a political career standing in 1868 as a Liberal candidate in Beverley, East Yorkshire (his campaigning, he described, was "the most wretched fortnight of my manhood". Ralph the Heir, 1871, is based on this campaign but I'm not so encouraged to read it as Trollope described it as "one of the worst novels I have written"). Trollope's real-life concern with rotten boroughs is reflected in Phineas Finn, and it also deals with the Irish Question. Above all, though, it is about people - ambition, gain, wealth, class, and as ever love. It's such a shame I didn't like it: I really ought to have done. Nevertheless, high hopes for The Eustace Diamonds, which I've seen described as "reminiscent of The Moonstone". Looking forward to that!

*******
Further Reading

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Metamorphoses by Ovid.


I began reading Ovid's Metamorphoses on the 1st January this year along with Cleo of Classical Carousel, and here I am just under sixteen weeks later writing a summary post! How time flies. Spending so much time with a book, one does grow very affectionate towards it - it's been a constant presence for this length of time, and I've loved it, been frustrated by it, enjoyed it, and a few times (just a few) hated it. It's a vast book, a book of fifteen books or sections with around one hundred and forty stories containing some 250 myths and countless metamorphoses.

At the heart of Ovid's Metamorphoses is change and the vast array of possibilities in the world. It's original title was Metamorphōseōn librī meaning 'The Book of Transformations'. He begins in his prologue,
In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas corpora
[I intend to speak of forms changed into new entities]
It is a chronology of Roman and Greek myth beginning with chaos and creation and ending in Ovid's own time with the apotheosis (deification) of Julius Caesar and the reign of Augustus who ruled from 27 B.C. up to his death in 14 A.D. (six years after Ovid completed Metamorphoses in 8 A.D.). These two themes of change and chronology are what ties up Metamorphoses and gives a frame and structure for the random within it.

It begins, as I say, with the change from chaos, "a general conglomeration / of matter composed of disparate, incompatible elements" where no gods existed, no land, nor sea or sun, to creation when the elements were separated and "set free from the heap of darkness". From creation to the four ages of man, gold, silver, bronze, and iron: iron, the age in which war and discontent begins, starting with the giants. Then the flood - mankind was wiped out by Jupiter apart from Deucalion and Pyrrha, and it is they who repopulated the earth. From here Ovid covers a multitude of myths and legends, some famous - Medea, Daphne and Apollo, Io, Europa, Narcissus and Echo, Pyramus and Thisbe, and  then the 'silver' myths - that is, the lesser known. Ovid borrows from Homer and recounts a few episodes from The Odyssey and the Trojan War, and from Virgil telling a potted history of The Aeneid.

Within these myths Ovid writes on the universal experiences of mankind - love (such as that beautiful story of Ceÿx and Alcyone in Book XI, both turned into kingfishers to spend the rest of their lives together after Ceÿx was killed: this was adapted for a part of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Book of the Duchess, 1369 - 1372), sex (particularly uncontrolled sexual desire, for example the disturbing rape of Philomela in Book VI that inspired William Shakespeare's Titus Adronicus, 1588 - 1593), death and loss (the death of Eurydice, the wife of Orpheus, in Book X), war (the Trojan War, for example, beginning in Book XII), rage (Jupiter's destruction of mankind in Book I), and revenge (for example Medea tricking the daughters of Pelias into killing him in Book VII). Ovid writes on the welcome and unwelcome interventions of the gods, the power of art (Pygmalion's beautiful statue literally comes to life in Book X) and speech (being unable to communicate, for example, led to the death of Actaeon in Book III who had been transformed into a stag then shot). Justice may nor not be served in Ovid's Metamorphoses, and the gods may or may not be on your side.

It is, clearly, a very dense work but incredibly rewarding both in itself as a pleasure to read and as an introduction the myths and legends of the Ancient Romans and Greeks (this is invaluable when reading later classics, from Chaucer, the Elizabethans and Jacobeans, the Georgians, through to the Victorians, Edwardians, and beyond). It's not one to be read quickly, at least if one is hoping for a good introduction to the myths - there is much to be savoured, enjoyed, and hopefully, sometimes, committed to memory. There were a few occasions when I was fed up with it (somewhere in the middle, I'm afraid I forget where) but persevering through some of the ugliness in it is worth it. It is a key text that opens up a whole world and a new appreciation for a great many classics.

And not only classics, Metamorphoses has had a great impact on art too - there are very few stories in Metamorphoses that haven't inspired some work of art, most notably (I think) by the likes of the pre-Raphaelites (John William Waterhouse in particular), Peter Paul Rubens, Evelyn de Morgan, and Gustave Moreau.

To finish, I'd like to share ten of my favourites:

Apollo Slays Python by Eugène Delacroix (1850-51).
From Book I.
Diana and Callisto by Titian (1556-59).
From Book II.
Jupiter and Semele by Gustave Moreau (1894-95).
From Book III.
Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse (1903).
From Book III.
Nymphs finding the Head of Orpheus by John William Waterhouse (1900).
From Book XI.
Halcyone by Herbert James Draper (1915).
From Book XI.
The Fury of Achilles by Charles-Antoine Coypel (1737).
From Book XII.
The Metamorphosis of Scylla by Rubens (1636).
From Book XIII.
Venus, Supported by Iris, Complaining to Mars by George Hayter (1820).
From Book XIV.
Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus by William Turner (1829).
From Book XIV.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

The Heracleidae by Euripides.

Heracles and his nephew Iolaus (1st Century B.C.).
"Heracleidae" is a word that refers to the children of Heracles, the Greek God (son of  Zeus and Alcmene) famous for his strength and carrying out the Twelve Labours, as well as ultimately being defeated by a woman, his third wife Deianeira, who inadvertently killed him having been tricked by Nessus into giving him a poisoned coat (this story is told in Sophocles' The Women of Trachis, and 'The Monk's Tale' in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales). Later in his writing career Euripides tells the story of Heracles' tragic first marriage to Megara (Heracles416 B.C.) but in the Heracleidae,  Heracles is already dead.

The Heracleidae (Ἡρακλεῖδαι) was first performed in 429 B.C. and it begins with a monologue by Iolaus, a close friend and nephew of Heracles (now an old man), who tells the audience of how they are fleeing King Eurystheus of Argos: previously Eurystheus (a favourite of Hera; Heracles was a favourite of Zeus) set Heracles the Twelve Labours (Eurystheus and Heracles were both the great-grandsons of Perseus). When Heracles completed the Twelve Labours the humiliated Eurystheus vowed revenge, and still vows revenge after Heracles' death. And so Iolaus and the children of Heracles travel from city to city to seek protection from Eurystheus, however he always finds them and sends a herald to demand their return to Argos and to tell the city of the repercussions they would face if they protected Heracles' children.

Iolaus and the children have arrived in Athens at the start of the play and are immediately found by the herald who delcares,
No doubt you think you've found a fine place of sanctuary here to rest and a city that will call your enemies your own - what a folly! The man does not exist who will prefer the useless power you have to that wielded by Eurystheus. On your way! Why do you make trouble? You must leave this place for Argod, where the penalty of death by stoning awaits you.
Proserpine 
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
(1873 - 1877).
Prosperpine is the Roman
equivalent to Persephone.
Then arrives the King of Athens Demophon, son of Theseus and Phaedra (who fell in love with her step-son Hippolytus as told in Euripides' play Hippolytus, 428 B.C. and Jean Racine's Phèdre, 1677). He asks the herald to explain himself, and Iolaus begs him to give them refuge. He consents, which puts Athens at war with Argos. The Athenians consult the Oracle and are told that they will only be victorious if a virgin is sacrificed to Persephone. Demophon is unwilling to provide such a sacrifice however Macaria, the daughter of Heracles, offers herself to be sacrificed. With this their victory is secured - Hyllus, the son of Heracles and Deianira, brings reinforcements for the way and though an old man, Iolaus distinguishes himself in the battle and has even grown younger. Eurystheus is brought to Demophon but must face the wrath of Alcmene (Heracles' mother). He claims he is acting as Hera's agent, but then confesses that whoever puts him to death and buries him in their city will be protected. Thus Eurystheus is killed.

This idea of seeking refuge is also seen in (at least) another play - The Suppliants by Aeschylus (470s B.C.). At the time of writing the Heracleidae Athens was engaged in the Peloponnesian War (431 - 404 B.C.) and the play not only speaks in favour of those who need saving from a tyrant, but also serves as an intensely patriotic play of the bravery and victories of Athens. An Athenian watching this play would no doubt feel great pride.

That said, it is an odd sort of a play. It's very short (not unusual), however the climax - the sacrificing of Macaria and her bravery and dignity is the great climatic point, yet that is only half of the play. The rest builds towards the Athenian victory which we already know from the Oracle is secured. From what I can gather this isn't a popular play by Euripides, though all the same despite what I've said I did enjoy it a great deal. It is well-crafted, and it is an excellent story.

♔♔♔

The Plays of Euripides

Alcestis | Medea  | Heracleidae Hippolytus | Andromache | Hecuba

Monday, 18 April 2016

Edward II by Christopher Marlowe.

This year I've been reading Shakespeare's histories, and I've been planning to read some more historical plays from the Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline era, so I'm very happy that this week's Deal Me In has brought me Edward II by Christopher Marlowe. Before I begin, I wanted to share a list of the kings of England from King John to Henry VIII and which kings (so far as I am able to find) have been written about in a play of those eras. 
  • King John (1199-1216); House of Angevin) | King John by William Shakespeare, King Johan by John Bale, King John and Matilda by Robert Davenport.
  • Henry III (1216-1272; House of Plantagenet)
  • Edward I (1272-1307; House of Plantagenet) | Edward I by George Peele.
  • Edward II (1307-1327; House of Plantagenet) | Edward II by Christopher Marlowe.
  • Edward III (1327-1377; House of Plantagenet) | Edward III by William Shakespeare.
  • (James IV of Scotland (1473 - 1513; House of Stewart) | James IV by Robert Greene).
  • Richard II (1377 - 1399; House of Plantagenet) | Richard II by William Shakespeare.
  • Henry IV (1399 - 1413; House of Lancaster) | Henry IV Parts I & II by William Shakespeare.
  • Henry V (1413 - 1422; House of Lancaster) | Henry V by William Shakespeare.
  • Henry VI (1422 - 1461; House of Lancaster) | Henry VI Parts I, II, & III by William Shakespeare.
  • Edward IV (1461 - 1483; House of York) | Edward IV by Thomas Heywood.
  • Edward V (1483; House of York)
  • Richard III (1483 - 1485; House of York) | Richard III by William Shakespeare.
  • Henry VII (1485 - 1509; House of Tudor) | Perkin Warbeck by John Ford.
  • Henry VIII (1509 - 1547; House of Tudor) | Henry VIII by William Shakespeare.
I thought it was interesting to see which king had a play and which didn't (all but Henry III and Edward V have a play it would appear!). And I love a list, so I thought I'd share this! I do have most of these on my Classic Club list so I'll get to them at some point soon.

Enough of lists, onwards: Edward II, or to give it its full title, The Troublesome Reign and Lamentable Death of Edward the Second, King of England, with the Tragical Fall of Proud Mortimer by Christopher Marlowe was written around 1592. It's my first Marlowe and it's absolutely fantastic!

It is of course about Edward II of England, who was born in 1284 and reigned from 1307 until he was deposed in 1327 (he was murdered that year, nine months later in September) when his son Edward III took the throne. Edward II was married to Isabella of France, however there are strong suggestions that Edward II was gay and had a relationship with Piers Gaveston, 1st Earl of Cornwall (known as the "favourite" of the king; Piers Gaveston has also given his name to Oxford's now infamous 'Piers Gaveston Society'). This is partly the subject of Marlowe's Edward II and when I began to read it I wondered: was Marlowe presenting a gay relationship with Gaveston or two men in simply a close 'brotherly' relationship (I think earlier portrayals of the close relationships of men are far less repressed than they are now). I thought at first perhaps it best to err on the side of caution and read it as the latter, but then I learned there are questions too about Marlowe's sexuality - apparently, for instance, he said at some stage "All they that love not Tobacco and Boys are fools". As I got further into the play I came across this speech in Act I Scene 4:
The mightiest kings have had their minions;
Great Alexander loved Hephaestion,
The conquering Hercules for Hylas wept;
And for Patroclus, stern Achilles drooped.
And not kings only, but the wisest men:
The Roman Tully loved Octavius,
Grave Socrates, wild Alcibiades.
(Edward II is so full of references to the Ancient Greeks and Romans). Coupled with the portrayal of his wife Isabella as feeling frustration and neglect -
To live in grief and baleful discontent;
For now my lord the king regards me not,
But dotes upon the love of Gaveston:
He claps his cheeks, and hangs about his neck,
Smiles in his face, and whispers in his ears;
And, when I come, he frowns, as who should say,
"Go whither thou wilt, seeing I have Gaveston."
- and a handful of references to Ganymede (a favourite of Jupiter's - see, for example, Book X of Ovid's Metamorphoses) it all changed my mind, and this is how I read it - as a gay relationship and I think any other way of reading it is highly unlikely.

Edward II's tomb in Gloucester Cathedral.
And so the play begins with the news that Edward I has died (his father was Henry III, now forever known to me as 'He Who Has No Play') and his son Edward Longshanks is now King Edward II, which means the exiled Piers Gaveston may return to England (he had been exiled for his apparently "extravagant" love for Edward I's son). Edward II is overjoyed however his court is most decidedly not and so he is eventually forced into sending Gaveston to Ireland. Edward says to Gaveston,
Be governor of Ireland in my stead,
And there abide till fortune call thee home.
Here, take my picture, and let me wear thine
O, might I keep thee here, as I do this,
Happy were I! but now most miserable.
This was not enough, however, and Isabella persuaded Mortimer (Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March) to bring Piers back to England where he would be executed by Warwick and Lancaster. It is when Edward takes a new favourite, Spenser (Hugh Despenser the younger: executed later in the play), that Isabella takes Mortimer as her lover and the two plot to depose Edward. He is forced to flee - we see him in Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire (among other places) and when his brother Edmund, Earl of Kent, previously unsympathetic to his cause, tries to help him Edmund too is executed. Mortimer's power has grown, he is now essentially de facto ruler of England, and when Edward was in Berkeley Castle he was murdered in a most cold way - Marlowe describes in the stage directions,
[Matrevis brings in a table. King Edward is murdered by holding him down on the bed with the table, and stamping on it
Then, although essentially working with Edward's 'keeper' Lightborn, the aforementioned Matrevis and Gurney immediately stab Lightborn. Here's the full chilling scene:
Kɪɴɢ Eᴅᴡᴀʀᴅ: O, spare me, or despatch me in a trice!
[Matrevis brings in a table. King Edward is murdered by holding him down on the bed with the table, and stamping on it.
Lɪɢʜᴛʙᴏʀɴ: So, lay the table down, and stamp on it,
But not too hard, lest that you bruise his body.
Mᴀᴛʀᴇᴠɪs: I fear me that this cry will raise the town,
And therefore let us take horse and away.
Lɪɢʜᴛʙᴏʀɴ: Tell me, sirs, was it not bravely done?
Gᴜʀɴᴇʏ: Excellent well: take this for thy reward.
[Stabs Lightborn, who dies.
Come, let us cast the body in the moat,
And bear the king's to Mortimer our lord:
Away! [Exeunt with the bodies.
The seizure of Roger Mortimer (1287-1330) 
at Nottingham Castle, October 19, 1330.
What is left but for Edward's son Edward to discover the plot and order the execution of Mortimer before taking the throne to become Edward III.

Christopher Marlowe's Edward II is an outstanding play, I absolutely loved it. It's exciting, disturbing, and very touching at times: I've read that often a homosexual character of this era is portrayed as dubious, even threatening, and unnatural but this is not the case with Marlowe's Edward: he is a sympathetic character and his tale is indeed a tragedy. I would urge everyone to read this. I think Marlowe, widely speaking, seen in terms of Shakespeare - Marlowe is "Shakespeare's contemporary" and perhaps read out of curiosity (I do speak in general terms), but Marlowe, judging by this play, shines in his own right. Edward II was my first Marlowe, and I'm now planning to read Dido, Queen of Carthage (1586) in the coming weeks (which is why I'm also in the middle of reading Virgil's The Aeneid, to enhance the enjoyment!). Furthermore, I was very happy to see a section of the play set in Tynemouth Castle, where some early kings are buried: Oswin - King of the Danes (651), Osred - King of Northurmbria (792), and Malcolm III - King of Scotland (1093). I have struggled so much to find literature concerning Tyne and Wear for the Reading England Challenge, and now I've finally found one! All in all a great experience!

That was my sixteenth title for the Deal Me In Challenge: next week, The Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti.

Edward II and his Favourite, Piers Gaveston by Marcus Stone (1872).

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