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Iphigenia at Aulis by Euripides.

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Iphigenia in Aulis (Ἰφιγένεια ἐν Αὐλίδι) is the last surviving play of Euripides, written between 408 - 406 B.C. and performed after his death in 405 B.C. And, it's hard for me to believe, but it's my second last play on my Euripides list: the final play, which I'll read this afternoon, is Rhesus which is generally (but not absolutely certainly) attributed to Euripides and whose date is unknown. 
Iphigenia at Aulis is a tragedy and tells the story of how Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia. Very unusually the play does not begin with a lengthy prologue explaining the background of the play (in fact the only Euripides play without such a prologue is Rhesus); it begins with a conversations between Agamemnon and his attendant that reveals the events leading up to the action. The fleet is ready to set sail to Troy however the ship is unable to move as their is a complete lack of wind (I believe the proper term is "becalmed"): Calchas, an Argive seer who, thank…

The Tragedy of Valentinian by John Fletcher.

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The Tragedy of Valentinian was my spin result for the Classics Club 13th Spin; I have many plays listed on my Classics Club list and decided this summer, in lieu of reading the ill-fated Faerie Queene by Spenser I would try and focus on the 16th and 17th Century plays listed, hence my list was full of plays from this era. Even so these plays make me nervous! A worthy project I think to read them, but they are tough and The Tragedy of Valentinian was one of the hardest ones I've read so far.

The Tragedy of Valentinian was written by John Fletcher, first performed around 1610-14 and first published in 1647. It's based on Valentinian III, the Roman Emperor from 425 to 455 A.D who was assassinated (it's thought his assassination was perhaps arranged by Petronius Maximus who declared himself emperor following Valentinian's death though he was never officially recognised as such). He is thought to be a poor emperor, Edward Gibbon writing in The History of the Decline and Fall…

Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy.

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Tess of the D'Urbervilles is Thomas Hardy's twelfth published novel and was first serialised in The Graphic in 1891 before being published in book form in 1892. It was, at that point, one of his most shocking novels: Hardy, it seems, had been on a slow march from the comic story of his first publication 'How I Built Myself a House' (1865), his sensationalist first published novel Desperate Remedies(1871), to what will be a crescendo of tragedy and bitterness in Jude the Obscure (1895). Already he was feeling the burn of the critics and Tess divided the Victorian reading public for its portrayal and condemnation of sexual hypocrisy and a certain sympathy Hardy shows with the rural working classes. 
The subtitle of Tess of the D'Urbervilles is A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented; given the content of the book that alone would be enough to rile the more traditional and conservative audience. It is divided into seven parts or "phases":

Phase the First: The Maiden…

Henry VIII by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher.

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Henry VIII is William Shakespeare's final historical play and indeed is one of the last plays Shakespeare ever wrote (his final play was The Two Noble Kinsmen, also with Fletcher, written around 1613-14). It was a collaboration with John Fletcher written around 1613 and it marks the end of Shakespeare's histories that start with the Plantagenet king, King John, and ends with the Tudor King Henry VIII. By the time it was written it was some 66 years after the death of Henry and 10 years after the death of the final Tudor monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, Henry's daughter. When the play was first performed England had its first Stuart king, James I.
Henry VIII is perhaps most famous for his six wives, Catherine of Aragon (to whom he was married for 24 years, mother of Mary I), Anne Boleyn (the mother of Elizabeth I), Jane Seymour (mother of Edward VI), Anne of Cleves (to whom he was married just six months), Kathryn Howard, and Katherine Parr. Two of these wives, Catherine of Arago…

The Bacchae by Euripides.

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When I read Euripides' Cyclops last week I finished Euripides' surviving plays that we know were performed in his lifetime. The three remaining plays are Rheseus, the date that was written or performed is unknown (so too is the authorship: it might not be a Euripides play), and then the two that were performed posthumously: Iphigenia at Aulis and the Bacchae, both from around 405, a year after Euripides' death.
The Bacchae (Βάκχαι), also known as The Bacchantes, is a tragedy and is regarded by some as his final great work. The play begins with a prologue from Dionysus, the son of Zeus and the god of wine and religious ecstasy (among other things), whose Roman equivalent is Bacchus. He tells the audience of how his mother Semele was killed having been tricked by Hera, the wife of Zeus: I am Dionysus, son of Zeus. My mother was
Semele, Cadmus' daughter. From her womb the fire
Of a lightning-flash delivered me. He goes on to explain that no one believed his mother was impregn…

The Alchemist by Ben Jonson.

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The Alchemist is a play by Ben Jonson, a contemporary of William Shakespeare, and was first performed around 1610, about the same time as Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale. This is the first time I've read Ben Jonson and, despite the fact that it is a comedy, I found it a rather tough read! No surprise really, Jacobean comedy does not come easily to me (nor does Elizabethan come to that!). Nevertheless I wanted to read The Alchemist as there are some similarities with it and Geoffrey Chaucer's 'The Canon's Yeoman's Tale' of The Canterbury Tales (1386-94).
Jonson's The Alchemist is set in London in the house of Lovewit who has recently left for the country to avoid the plague, suggesting that the play is set around the middle of the 14th Century when the plague, and alchemy, took hold of England. It begins, he sickness hot, a master quit, for fear,
is house in town, and left one servant there;
ase him corrupted, and gave means to knowA Cheater, and h…

Chapters XII - XIV of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.

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We left Chapter XI of The Pickwick Papers on a resolved note - there were no cliff-hangers, just  a peaceful ending to what was a rather dark instalment. Now we move on to the fifth instalment of July 1836 - Chapters XII - XIV.

Chapter XII Descriptive of a very important proceeding on the part of Mr. Pickwick; No less an epoch in his life, than in this history
In this there is quite a misunderstanding between Mr. Pickwick and his landlady Mrs. Bardell in his apartment in Goswell Street, London.
'Mrs. Bardell,' said Mr. Pickwick, at the expiration of a few minutes.
'Sir,' said Mrs. Bardell again.
'Do you think it a much greater expense to keep two people, than to keep one?'
'La, Mr. Pickwick,' said Mrs. Bardell, colouring up to the very border of her cap, as she fancied she observed a species of matrimonial twinkle in the eyes of her lodger; 'La, Mr. Pickwick, what a question!'
'Well, but do you?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'That depends,' said…

Cyclops by Euripides.

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Cyclops (Κύκλωψ) is a satyr play by Euripides and was first performed around 408 B.C., which makes it one of the last of Euripides plays performed in his lifetime (Euripides died in 406 B.C.; The Bacchae and Iphigenia in Aulis were first performed in 405 B.C., and Rhesus is of uncertain date and authorship, though commonly ascribed to Euripides).
It takes its story from Book IX of Homer's Odyssey in which Odysseus is captured and must escape from Polyphemus, the "Cyclops" of the play. Returning home from Troy Odysseus and his crew stay at Mount Etna in Sicily, which is inhabited by the race of giants known as the cyclops (Hesiod, in Theogony, wrote that it was them who helped Zeus defeat the Titans and described them as having hearts that were "insolent"). There they meet Silenus, a companion of Dionysus, the god of wine, and his children the satyrs. Odysseus exchanges wine for food for his hungry crew, but when the Cyclops appears Silenus accuses him of having …

Phineas Redux by Anthony Trollope.

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Phineas Redux is the fourth novel of Anthony Trollope's Palliser series and was first published in 'The Graphic' from July 1873 to January 1874. It marks the return of Phineas Finn (hence 'Redux'), the leading character in Phineas Finn, the second novel of the Palliser series (1869). The problem is, though, I really did not welcome the return of Phineas. With that in mind it won't surprise anyone to learn that I found reading this a miserable experience. Of course I started off with good intentions, I really did. Trollope novels can be very slow to start; that works most times, I seem to recall Barchester Towers(1857) was slow to begin with but I loved it. Conversely, Is He Popenjoy?(1878) took a while to get going too but by the time it did pick up it had lost me. This was the case with Phineas Redux: I tried very hard to be positive about it and put Phineas Finn out of my mind, and indeed for a while I did enjoy it, but by the time I felt it got interesting, …

Richard III by William Shakespeare.

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I've been focusing on Shakespeare's histories for about six months now and the plays (I'll exclude King John for now), Edward III (assuming Shakespeare did write that), Richard II, the Henry IV plays, Henry V, and the Henry VI plays, have all led to this, the greatest play (I think) that William Shakespeare ever wrote. It truly is a masterpiece. 
I'm hoping, after this post and after I've read and written about Henry VIII, I'll write a post on all the histories, so at this point I don't want to get too bogged down in writing about the events that lead to Richard III, but it is essential to have some background. First, take the Henriad: Richard II(1595-6), Henry IV Part I and II(1596-7), and Henry V(1599): in these plays we see King Richard II illegally deposed and murdered, and King Henry IV come to the throne. He re-established the House of Lancaster and from Henry IV there are a further two Lancastrian kings, Henry V and Henry VI. Here we come into the …