Saturday, 30 July 2016

Iphigenia at Aulis by Euripides.

The Sacrifice of Iphigenia by Jan Havickszoon Steen (1671).

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, thanks to the gift of Apollo, is able to interpret the flight of birds, believes this is a punishment from the goddess Artemis (whose Roman equivalent is Diana) who Agamemnon previously insulted. To appease her, Calchas advises that Agamemnon must sacrifice his eldest daughter. And so Agamemnon has sent for his wife  Clytemnestra, telling her to bring Iphigenia to be married to Achilles, however he regrets his decision and sends another message telling her to remain. However the message is not received (due to the intervention of Menelaus, Agamemnon's brother) and Clytemnestra soon arrives with Iphigenia and the very young Orestes. Agamemnon and Menelaus talk further: Agamemnon is unwilling to sacrifice his daughter but Menelaus wishes it; his wife is Helen, who as we know is the very reason for the Trojan War. However both end up changing their minds: to placate the restless fleet and to win the war Agamemnon resolves to sacrifice Iphigenia whilst Menelaus begins to have doubts over the killing of his niece. Meanwhile Achilles discovers his name has been used to lure Clytemnestra and Iphigenia and he vows to defend her. However, when all is revealed, Iphigenia heroically consents to the sacrifice, despite her mother's heartbreak, after initially trying desperately to get Agamemnon to change his mind. Yet, when the sacrifice takes place, as told to Clytemnestra by a messenger, Iphigenia disappears at the crucial moment, her body replaced by a deer. It is uncertain whether this was the original ending by Euripides, but it is in keeping with Euripides' earlier play Iphigenia in Tauris (416 - 412 B.C.).

It is a dark and unsettling play, made all the more disturbing by the lack of resolve of Agamemnon and Menelaus, and indeed Iphigenia. Their lack on conviction in the sacrifice makes this play a tragedy and Euripides handles the matter with great sensitivity. Unlike Aeschylus' Oresteia, in which Clytemnestra revengefully kills Agamemnon and is in turn killed by Orestes and his sister Electra, Euripides does offer some hope: in his telling of the Iphigenia tale, Iphigenia does get a happy ending. It is a great play, and another new favourite of mine, and it went on to inspire Racine's Iphigénie (1674) which I hope to read fairly soon, and several operas, most notably Iphigénie en Aulide by Christoph Willibald Gluck (1774), which I look forward to listening to!

♔♔♔

The Plays of Euripides

Iphigenia at Aulis | Rhesus

Friday, 29 July 2016

The Tragedy of Valentinian by John Fletcher.

1778 edition of The Dramatic Works of Beaumont and Fletcher vol. IV.

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 of the Roman Empire (1776-88):
He faithfully imitated the hereditary weakness of his cousin and his two uncles, without inheriting the gentleness, the purity, the innocence, which alleviate in their characters the want of spirit and ability. Valentinian was less excusable, since he had passions without virtues: even his religion was questionable; and though he never deviated into the paths of heresy, he scandalised the pious Christians by his attachment to the profane arts of magic and divination.
John Fletcher explores this idea of Valentinian's power and lack of humanity and compassion: in the play he is a tyrant in charge of an empire that is in effect collapsing. A general, Aëtius, attempts to reform Valentinian, repeating criticisms to him honestly and frankly whereas Petronius Maximus, a soldier, privately shares his hatred of the emperor. Valentinian meanwhile is obsessed with Maximus' wife, the chaste and virtuous Lucina who he ultimately rapes. She later kills herself, supported by Maximus, and after his death he dedicates his life to seeking his revenge.

As I say it's a difficult play to read, or at least I thought so. It's essentially about power and power struggles; Valentinian as emperor has both political and divine power (I'm referring to the 'divine rights' of the emperors). However his power and his legal justifications lack compassion and actual justice. He perceives a right to rape Lucina, a struggle of power in itself between morality (embodied in Lucina not only as the victim of the rape but also in her character as being good and pure) and immorality (that is of course Valentinian). The power struggles continue with Petronius Maximus who is determined to act out revenge for the rape of his wife and to become Rome's next emperor.

One final note: the epilogue of this play is quite bizarre in its rather jolly tone. It's thought that there was a mix up at the printing office and actually belongs to Fletcher's The Fair Maid of the Inn, which (I've just checked) doesn't appear to have an epilogue. Here it is in full - you can imagine reading this after such a bleak tragedy!
We would fain please ye, and as fain be pleas'd;
'Tis but a little liking, both are eas'd:
We have your money, and you have our ware,
And to our understanding good and fair:
For your own wisdoms sake, be not so mad,
To acknowledge ye have bought things dear and bad:
Let not a brack i'th' Stuff, or here and there
The fading gloss, a general loss appear:
We know ye take up worse Commodities,
And dearer pay, yet think your bargains wise;
We know in Meat and Wine, ye fling away
More time and wealth, which is but dearer pay,
And with the Reckoning all the pleasure lost.
We bid ye not unto repenting cost:
The price is easie, and so light the Play,
That ye may new digest it every day.
Then noble friends, as ye would choose a Miss,
Only to please the eye a while and kiss,
Till a good Wife be got: So let this Play
Hold ye a while until a better may.
The Tragedy of Valentinian is a good play, not the greatest of reads I must admit (I felt that it didn't quite flow as well as it might have done), but I'm glad I've read it. I would even read it again!  

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy.

Manuscript of the first page of Tess of the D'Urbervilles.
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 
  • Phase the Second: Maiden No More 
  • Phase the Third: The Rally 
  • Phase the Fourth: The Consequence
  • Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays 
  • Phase the Sixth: The Convert 
  • Phase the Seventh: Fulfilment 

It starts with young Tess Durbeyfield, sixteen years old and living with her parents John and Joan Durbeyfield in Hardy's Wessex, the Dorset area. In the opening pages John is told by a parson that he may be of noble decent, and his surname Durbeyfield is a corruption of the old Norman name D'Urberville. John immediately has ideas of grandeur and Tess is sent to the family home of the D'Urbervilles to claim kinship, unaware that they are not kin at all. Here she meets Alec D'Urberville and comes to work for them (feeling very much obliged; she was earlier involved in an accident that killed her family's horse). By the end of Phase the First Alec has, at the very best, seduced Tess, at worse raped her: this part of the novel is very ambiguous. Hardy writes,
Why it was that upon this beautiful feminine tissue, sensitive as gossamer, and practically blank as snow as yet, there should have been traced such a coarse pattern as it was doomed to receive; why so often the coarse appropriates the finer thus, the wrong man the woman, the wrong woman the man, many thousand years of analytical philosophy have failed to explain to our sense of order. One may, indeed, admit the possibility of a retribution lurking in the present catastrophe. Doubtless some of Tess d'Urberville's mailed ancestors rollicking home from a fray had dealt the same measure even more ruthlessly towards peasant girls of their time. But though to visit the sins of the fathers upon the children may be a morality good enough for divinities, it is scorned by average human nature; and it therefore does not mend the matter. 
As Tess's own people down in those retreats are never tired of saying among each other in their fatalistic way: "It was to be." There lay the pity of it. An immeasurable social chasm was to divide our heroine's personality thereafter from that previous self of hers who stepped from her mother's door to try her fortune at Trantridge poultry-farm. 
1893 edition.
Whatever the case (and I did interpret it as rape - the language, the reaction of Tess after the episode, and the fact that it feels more in keeping with the tone of the novel made me decide on that interpretation) Tess finds herself pregnant however her baby dies soon after the birth. After a long period of suffering she gradually moves forward and she begins work in a dairy farm. There she meets Angel Clare once more (she initially met him before her doomed trip to the D'Urberville house) and eventually the two marry, however she is unable to contain what she feels is the shame of her past.

Tess of the D'Urbervilles is one of my favourite novels and I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it yet so I'll stop here. I will say it is one of Thomas Hardy's finest novels, harsh and cruel, almost a polemic against the double standards of the time. Tess is, as other Hardy female characters before her, like a victim of the Greek gods and goddesses. She is, as Hardy wrote, "a soul bound to some Ixionian wheel": accidents in Hardy's Tess are the powers of Fate at work, her ending already written from the first page when the parson told her father of his possible noble blood. Forgiveness and understanding were needed but were never shown and Tess really is a victim of circumstance. And the drama is further played out in the audience: Hardy's novel divided readers and publishers as I said and Mowbray Morris, the editor of Macmillan's Magazine rejected it as having "immoral situations" and being a novel of "rather too much succulence". The character Tess Durbeyfield and the novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles show Victorian hypocrisy at its worst.

After a bad run with Thomas Hardy it was good to read Tess again and I'm looking forward to reading more of his works. Next month I'll be reading another collection of short stories, A Group of Noble Dames: his second after Wessex Tales, which were published in the same year as Tess.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Henry VIII by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher.

Henry VIII.
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 Aragon and Anne of Cleves, he divorced, two (Anne Boleyn and Kathryn Howard) were executed, one died in his lifetime (Jane Seymour), and Katherine Parr survived, dying a widow. His divorcing Catherine of Aragon lead to the split of England with the Catholic Church and the establishment of the Church of England. Shakespeare and Fletcher's play focuses on his two wives, Catherine of Aragon (Shakespeare and Fletcher spell Catherine "Katherine") and Anne Boleyn (spelled "Bullen" in the play):

Catherine of Aragon.
Married in 1509, divorced in 1533.
Anne Boleyn.
Married in 1533, executed in 1536.
The play begins with the Prologue, telling the audience that this is a serious play:
I come no more to make you laugh: things now,
That bear a weighty and a serious brow,
Sad, high, and working, full of state and woe,
Such noble scenes as draw the eye to flow,
We now present. Those that can pity, here
May, if they think it well, let fall a tear;
The subject will deserve it...
Cardinal Wolsey. 
Three Lords enter, Norfolk, Abergavenny, and Buckingham (Buckingham is Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, the son of Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham who Richard III executed). They express their concerns over the influence of the Catholic Cardinal Wolsey on Henry VIII, Buckingham in particular, who is advised to keep his concerns to himself, but no avail: he is later arrested for treason. But, in Shakespeare's play, Buckingham was right about the influence of Wolsey on Henry, he is a favourite of the king's and abuses his status and powers, and because of Wolsey Buckingham will be executed, with Katherine expressing her doubts throughout.

By the time of Buckingham's trial Henry has met Anne at a masquerade ball hosted by Wolsey; as Buckingham's trial takes place, which is discussed by two gentlemen on the streets of London in Act II, there are already rumours that Henry favours Anne over his wife Katherine and wishes to divorce her, something Wolsey wishes to facilitate as he as shown great hostility to the Queen. A trial takes place and Henry remains loyal to Wolsey: the divorce is granted and Katherine is sent to Kimbolton Castle in Cambridgeshire where she died in 1536. Henry is thus free to marry Anne, however the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, the Earl of Surrey, and the Lord Chamberlain are plotting themselves against Wolsey and they obtain letters between him and the Pope (Pope Clement VII) which show that Wolsey may appear to support the king, however, to the Pope, he shows opposition to the divorce. Wolsey is at last out of favour.

Elizabeth I.
Nevertheless Anne and Henry are married, and Katherine ultimately gives her blessing, herself showing signs of a grave illness. Anne gives birth to Elizabeth, the future Queen of England, and Henry and Cramner, Thomas Cranmer the Archbishop of Canterbury and new Chief Advisor, express their joy at her birth, Cranmer saying, among other things,
Though in her cradle, yet now promises
Upon this land a thousand thousand blessings,
Which time shall bring to ripeness: she shall be--
But few now living can behold that goodness--
A pattern to all princes living with her,
And all that shall succeed: Saba was never
More covetous of wisdom and fair virtue
Than this pure soul shall be: all princely graces,
That mould up such a mighty piece as this is,
With all the virtues that attend the good,
Shall still be doubled on her: truth shall nurse her,
Holy and heavenly thoughts still counsel her:
She shall be loved and fear'd: her own shall bless her;
Her foes shake like a field of beaten corn,
And hang their heads with sorrow: good grows with her:
In her days every man shall eat in safety,
Under his own vine, what he plants; and sing
The merry songs of peace to all his neighbours:
God shall be truly known; and those about her
From her shall read the perfect ways of honour,
And by those claim their greatness, not by blood.
Nor shall this peace sleep with her: but as when
The bird of wonder dies, the maiden phoenix,
Her ashes new create another heir,
As great in admiration as herself...
It must be said Henry VIII is a rather strange play and I gather even the loyalist of Shakespeare fans are forced to admit it isn't such a success. It's somewhat disjointed and it's very clear that history has been rather re-written to give a flattering tale of a king whose daughter had not long since died. It reminds me somewhat of John Bale's Kynge Johan (1534 - 1561) which, though about King John, was to flatter the king and give some legitimacy to the Church of England; as in Henry VIII, the Catholic leaders are portrayed as duplicitous and unreliable. It is still an entertaining enough play; Shakespeare, rather wisely I thought, left it at the birth of Elizabeth (very much on a high note) and didn't go on to write of Anne's execution and the subsequent four wives, however this is not a historical document and should not be treated as such: it's a play to entertain, above all else, and offers some kind of commentary on the establishment of the Church of England. Another interesting fact about Henry VIII: it is believed that this play, with the firing of canons, is responsible for burning the original Globe Theatre to the ground in 1613! Finally, it is a great drama concerned with the ideas of truth and falsehood and the manipulations and attempted manipulations of others, in this case a monarch.

♛♛♛♛

And with that I have finished re-reading Shakespeare's histories! Reading them was a great experience; to me, Shakespeare's histories represent some of the finest writings in the whole of the Western Canon. I've said before but I'll say again: reading them in order of action was, I think, a good choice and I got so much out of them; the pleasure of reading the plays and a little education (I say that cautiously) on the Plantagenet Kings of England. I'll finish with a little re-cap: these are the kings Shakespeare has wrote about:

King John.
Reigned: 1199 - 1216.
Play: The Life and Death of King John (1596-97).
Edward III.
Reigned: 1327 - 1377.
Play: The Raigne of Edward III (1596, with Thomas Kyd).
Richard II.
Reigned: 1377 - 1399.
Play: The Life and Death of Richard II (1595-96).
Henry IV.
Reigned: 1399 - 1413.
Plays: The First Part of Henry the Fourth (1597).
and The Second Part of Henry the Fourth (1597-98).
Henry V.
Reigned: 1413 - 1422.
Play: The Chronicle History of Henry the Fifth (1599).




Henry VI.
Reigned: 1422 - 1461 and 1470 - 1471.
Plays: The First Part of Henry the Sixth (1591),
The Second Part of Henry VI with the Death of the Good Duke Humfrey (1591) and
The Third Part of Henry VI with the Death of the Duke of Yorke (1591).
Edward IV.
Reigned: 1461 - 1470 and 1471 - 1483.
Plays: The Third Part of Henry VI with the Death of the Duke of Yorke (1591) and
The Tragedy of Richard III (1592).
Edward V.
Reigned: April 1883 - June 1883.
Play: The Tragedy of Richard III (1592).

Richard III.
Reigned: 1483 - 1485.
Play: The Tragedy of Richard III (and the Henry VI plays).
Henry VII.
Reigned: 1485 - 1509.
Play: The Tragedy of Richard III (1592).
Henry VIII.
Reigned: 1509 - 1547.
Play: The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eighth.
Queen Elizabeth I.
Reigned: 1558 - 1603.
Play: The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eighth
What next? Well, I plan on reading a few more histories - Thomas of Woodstock (by an unknown author, 1582) and King John and Matilda by Robert Davenport (1655). Then I'm thinking about re-reading Shakespeare's four "Roman Plays" - Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Titus Andronicus. I'm also rather looking forward to a return to Marlowe. All that said, I will miss reading Shakespeare's histories, and no doubt I'll read them again, especially looking forward to the best one of all - Richard III.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

The Bacchae by Euripides.

The Death of Pentheus.
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 impregnated by Zeus, and some, even her sister Agave, believe her death was a result of her blasphemy. And so he returns to Thebes to punish the family for lying about his mother and refusing to worship him. He arrives disguised having learned that Cadmus is no longer king; his grandson Pentheus was given the kingdom and it is Pentheus who prohibits the worship of Dionysus. On his arrival Dionysus drives Semele's sisters and the women of Thebes mad and sends them to Mount Cithaeron to worship and perform ritual rites. Pentheus, believing them to be drunk and disorderly, sends his soldiers to arrest the women and Dionysus, who he still believes is a stranger. Dionysus is indeed arrested and he begins to plot the murder of Pentheus, but first he avoids being bound, tortured and killed by tricking Pentheus, later telling the Chorus,
There too I mocked him; he thinks he bound me, whereas he never touched or caught hold of me, but fed himself on fancy. For at the stall, to which he brought me for a gaol, he found a bull, whose legs and hoofs he straightly tied, breathing out fury the while, the sweat trickling from his body, and he biting his lips; but I from near at hand sat calmly looking on. 
As he tries to convince Pentheus of his wrongs, the women, still mad, perform their insane rituals on the mountain and a cow herder narrowly avoids being killed by them when he crosses their path. Dionysus, seeing Pentheus' curiosity, offers to take him to the women, the maenads or the bacchants, and so Pentheus is concealed at the top of a tree. However, as Dionysus has planned, the women spot him - he is killed by his own mother Agaue who does not recognise him. When she realises she weeps, and Dionysus banishes her from Thebes. He then tells Cadmus and his wife Harmonia that they will be turned into snakes:
Now, Cadmus, hear what suffering Fate appoints for you.
You shall transmute your nature, and become a serpent.
Your wife Harmonia, whom her father Ares gave
To you, a mortal, likewise shall assume the nature
Of beasts, and live a snake. The oracle of Zeus
Foretells that you, at the head of a barbaric horde,
Shall with your wife drive forth a pair of heifers yoked,
And with your countless army destroy many cities;
But when they plunder Loxias' oracle, they shall find
A miserable homecoming. However, Ares shall
At last deliver both you and Harmonia,
And grant you immortal life among the blessed gods.
The Bacchae is a play on the rational and the irrational; the conflicts of the irrational mind and the rational social order. The irrational is of course represented by Dionysus and the rational Pentheus, however in this play Pentheus attempted to suppress the natural irrational and for that he lost his life. It is a warning, in short, for moderation. It's a great play, very short and yet remarkably disturbing.

♔♔♔

The Plays of Euripides

Ion | Helen | Phoenician Women | Orestes | Cyclops | Bacchae 

Monday, 25 July 2016

The Alchemist by Ben Jonson.

1732 edition of The Alchemist.
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 know
A Cheater, and his punk; who now brought low,
eaving their narrow practice, were become
ozeners at large; and only wanting some
ouse to set up, with him they here contract,
ach for a share, and all begin to act.
uch company they draw, and much abuse,
n casting figures, telling fortunes, news,
elling of flies, flat bawdry with the stone,
ill it, and they, and all in fume are gone.
Next, the Prologue in which Jonson sets up the tone of this play,
Our scene is London, 'cause we would make known,
No country's mirth is better than our own:
No clime breeds better matter for your whore,
Bawd, squire, impostor, many persons more,
Whose manners, now call'd humours, feed the stage...
He goes on to tell the story of the would-be alchemists, fraudsters who claim to be able to turn base metals into silver and gold. Lovewit's butler 'Captain Face', a conman 'Subtle', and a prostitute, 'Doll Common' are the main characters of the play and their first victim is Dapper, a lawyer's clerk, who is seeking a spirit to help him improve his luck in gambling. The thieving three claim that the Queen of the Fairies may be summoned; "the Fairy queen dispenses, /  By me, this robe, the petticoat of fortune"", but first Dapper must perform several bizarre rituals. Next Drugger, a tobacconist, wishes for a more successful business, and by the horoscope Subtle tells him he will be successful with a few alterations, then claims Drugger may be lucky enough to gain the philosopher's stone, that legendary substance that turns metal into gold. Drugger will return later with more money for advice on how to attain the stone. Following Drugger, Sir Epicure Mammon and his sceptical companion Surly, also wishing for the philosopher's stone. Mammon says to Surly,
... This night, I'll change
All that is metal, in my house, to gold:
And, early in the morning, will I send
To all the plumbers and the pewterers,
And by their tin and lead up; and to Lothbury
For all the copper.
. . .
and I'll purchase Devonshire and Cornwall,
And make them perfect Indies! you admire now?
. . .
But when you see th' effects of the Great Medicine,
Of which one part projected on a hundred
Of Mercury, or Venus, or the moon,
Shall turn it to as many of the sun;
Nay, to a thousand, so ad infinitum:
You will believe me.
Finally, in comes Ananias, a deacon of the Anabaptists, who also wish to turn their metals into gold. And so it is agreed that Mammon and Ananias must return to Lovewit's house with all the metal they wish to be transformed into gold (along with payment), Dapper will return to perform humiliating tasks for the fairy queen, and Drugger will return for further advice on how to win the hand of a rich widow, Dame Pliant, who Subtle and Face also want to win over to secure her fortune. From here the play descends into farce with the 'customers' being moved around, hidden from one another, disguises, misunderstandings, all so typical (I think) of the comedy of this period. However a spanner is well and truly thrown into the works with the return of Lovewit who is told of the many visitors coming in and out his home during his absence.

As I say, I found it a tough play to follow but I know a great many who relish a Jacobean comedy of this kind so I think I'm more in the minority of readers on this one! What I did like is the portrayal of the criminal underclass, an aspect of English Renaissance life I'm looking forward to exploring in the anthology Cony-Catchers and Bawdy Baskets. Jonson's play is of course a satire on the weakness of mankind, the desperate pursuit of wealth and long life, and a satire on those who wish to exploit that: the three criminals, Face, Subtle, and Doll Common, are after all as weak as those they seek to profit from. Overall I did enjoy The Alchemist and, as ever, hope that one day the comedies of the time will come a little easier to me! I do have two other comedies by Jonson on my list, Volpone (1605-06) and Bartholomew Fair (1614) and do look forward to reading them, though with a touch of trepidation. 

And that was my 30th title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week - 'Dr. Burney's Evening Party' by Virginia Woolf.

Friday, 22 July 2016

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

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

Mrs. Bardell faints in Mr. Pickwick's arms.
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 Mrs. Bardell, approaching the duster very near to Mr. Pickwick's elbow which was planted on the table. 'That depends a good deal upon the person, you know, Mr. Pickwick; and whether it's a saving and careful person, sir.'
'That's very true,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'but the person I have in my eye (here he looked very hard at Mrs. Bardell) I think possesses these qualities; and has, moreover, a considerable knowledge of the world, and a great deal of sharpness, Mrs. Bardell, which may be of material use to me.'
'La, Mr. Pickwick,' said Mrs. Bardell, the crimson rising to her cap-border again.
Yes, poor Mrs. Bardell is now expecting a marriage proposal and, "without more ado, she rose from her chair, and flung her arms round Mr. Pickwick's neck, with a cataract of tears and a chorus of sobs." Enter the Pickwickians, embarrassed and curious, and Mr. Pickwick is forced to explain the unfortunate Mrs. Bardell that he was proposing to hire Sam Weller as a servant for himself. Quite a short but nonetheless humorous chapter!

Chapter XIII
Some account of Eatanswill; of the state of parties therein; 
and of the election of a member to serve in parliament for that ancient, loyal,
and patriotic borough 

The Election at Eatanswill.
After that awkward episode, the Pickwickians head to Eatanswill (thought to be Ipswich, Suffolk) to observe a hustings prior to an election. The two main parties are referred to as the "Blues" (Tories, presumably, now known as the Conservatives) and the "Buffs" (Whigs, again I assume, which gradually morphed into today's Liberal Democrats):
It appears, then, that the Eatanswill people, like the people of many other small towns, considered themselves of the utmost and most mighty importance, and that every man in Eatanswill, conscious of the weight that attached to his example, felt himself bound to unite, heart and soul, with one of the two great parties that divided the town—the Blues and the Buffs. Now the Blues lost no opportunity of opposing the Buffs, and the Buffs lost no opportunity of opposing the Blues; and the consequence was, that whenever the Buffs and Blues met together at public meeting, town-hall, fair, or market, disputes and high words arose between them. With these dissensions it is almost superfluous to say that everything in Eatanswill was made a party question. If the Buffs proposed to new skylight the market-place, the Blues got up public meetings, and denounced the proceeding; if the Blues proposed the erection of an additional pump in the High Street, the Buffs rose as one man and stood aghast at the enormity. There were Blue shops and Buff shops, Blue inns and Buff inns—there was a Blue aisle and a Buff aisle in the very church itself.
The Blue candidate, Dickens writes, was the Honourable Samuel Slumkey, of Slumkey Hall, and the Buff Horatio Fizkin, Esq., of Fizkin Lodge. As for the Pickwickians' preferred candidate:
'I don't know,' replied Mr. Pickwick, in the same tone. 'Hush. Don't ask any questions. It's always best on these occasions to do what the mob do.'
'But suppose there are two mobs?' suggested Mr. Snodgrass.
'Shout with the largest,' replied Mr. Pickwick.
Volumes could not have said more.
It is indeed a contentious campaign (with alarming reminders of the EU Referendum campaign!) and a Mr. Perker tells them of how underhand the election is becoming. Pickwick goes on to meet Mr. Pott, the 'Blue' newspaper editor (The Gazette) and he invites the Pickwickians back to his home where his old editorials are exhumed.

The following day 'election fever' continues:
Amidst the cheers of the assembled throng, the band, and the constables, and the committee-men, and the voters, and the horsemen, and the carriages, took their places—each of the two-horse vehicles being closely packed with as many gentlemen as could manage to stand upright in it; and that assigned to Mr. Perker, containing Mr. Pickwick, Mr. Tupman, Mr. Snodgrass, and about half a dozen of the committee besides.
There was a moment of awful suspense as the procession waited for the Honourable Samuel Slumkey to step into his carriage. Suddenly the crowd set up a great cheering.
'He has come out,' said little Mr. Perker, greatly excited; the more so as their position did not enable them to see what was going forward.
Another cheer, much louder.
'He has shaken hands with the men,' cried the little agent.
Another cheer, far more vehement.
'He has patted the babies on the head,' said Mr. Perker, trembling with anxiety.
A roar of applause that rent the air.
'He has kissed one of 'em!' exclaimed the delighted little man.
A second roar.
'He has kissed another,' gasped the excited manager.
A third roar.
'He's kissing 'em all!' screamed the enthusiastic little gentleman, and hailed by the deafening shouts of the multitude, the procession moved on.
Ultimately, with the help of some bribing, Samuel Slumkey wins. And bizarrely, a strange fact, there is an island in the Antarctic Peninsula named after Slumkey - Slumkey Island.

Chapter XIV
Comprising a brief description of the company at the peacock assembled; 
and a tale told by a bagman

In the final chapter of the fifth instalment the Pickwickians retire to a commercial room and the subject of women comes up between Snodgrass and Tupman. They are interrupted by a bagman who goes on to tell a quite bizarre tale: 'The Bagman's Story'.

In this a traveller, Tom Smart, takes shelter in an inn and takes a fancy to the landlady, however she is being courted by a rather unpleasant chap.
"Confound his impudence!" said Tom to himself, "what business has he in that snug bar? Such an ugly villain too!" said Tom. "If the widow had any taste, she might surely pick up some better fellow than that." Here Tom's eye wandered from the glass on the chimney-piece to the glass on the table; and as he felt himself becoming gradually sentimental, he emptied the fourth tumbler of punch and ordered a fifth.
Eventually he goes to bed and sleeps, however he is woken up by a chair (yes, a chair).
Tom gazed at the chair; and, suddenly as he looked at it, a most extraordinary change seemed to come over it. The carving of the back gradually assumed the lineaments and expression of an old, shrivelled human face; the damask cushion became an antique, flapped waistcoat; the round knobs grew into a couple of feet, encased in red cloth slippers; and the whole chair looked like a very ugly old man, of the previous century, with his arms akimbo. Tom sat up in bed, and rubbed his eyes to dispel the illusion. No. The chair was an ugly old gentleman; and what was more, he was winking at Tom Smart.
The chair tells him how to win the widow landlady and win her he does. The bagman concluded by telling his incredulous audience of how the pair got married and how the chair appeared to be happy about it.

And on that surreal note, the fifth instalment ends! An odd section, interesting for its descriptions of the election (and some parallels to the modern day), and fun in its absolute bizarreness. Despite, again, so cliff-hangers, I look forward to the sixth instalment.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Cyclops by Euripides.

Odysseus In The Cave Of Polyphemus by Jacob Jordaens (1635).
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 stolen their food. The Cyclops reacts with fury and begins devouring the crew.

And so Odysseus must hatch a plan to defeat the Cyclops. He schemes to get the Cyclops drunk and then burn out his eye with a red hot poker. As Silenus and the Cyclops drink together, both trying to drink the other under the table, Odysseus begins to execute his plan: as the Cyclops takes Silenus back to his cave, Odysseus asks the satyrs to help, each proving too afraid, and then his crew. Eventually they burn out the eye of the Cyclops and defeat him. However as Odysseus accidentally reveals his identity as the culprit the rest of their voyage is fraught with danger as they learn the Cyclops is the son of Poseidon.

It was, I must admit, a rather strange play and reminded me a little of some of Aristophanes. Cyclops is in fact the only satyr play to survive from Greek antiquity, though Euripides' Alcestis also has elements. For this it's a must-read, however much I wouldn't class it as a favourite.

♔♔♔

The Plays of Euripides

Ion | Helen | Phoenician Women | Orestes | Cyclops | Bacchae 

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Phineas Redux by Anthony Trollope.

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, or rather, ought to have been interesting, mentally I was just too far gone. Exacerbating the situation was the fact that with a good Trollope, I most often read them in a few days (whatever the length) because I'm so hooked. Phineas Redux I dragged out for nearly a month. In short, I was very quickly fed up with it.

For this reason I can only write about the gist of the plot: Phineas Finn, having resigned as an MP and returned to Ireland to marry Mary Flood Jones, finds himself in the beginning of Phineas Redux yearning for politics. His wife has died and his job as a poor-law inspector in Cork is unsatisfying, so he seeks out old friends and eventually wins a seat in Tankerville in County Durham: on this note, let it be said County Durham received one of the most unflattering descriptions of a county I have ever read:
Tankerville was a dirty, prosperous, ungainly town, which seemed to exude coal-dust or coal-mud at every pore. It was so well recognised as being dirty that people did not expect to meet each other with clean hands and faces. Linen was never white at Tankerville, and even ladies who sat in drawing-rooms were accustomed to the feel and taste and appearance of soot in all their daintiest recesses. We hear that at Oil City the flavour of petroleum is hardly considered to be disagreeable, and so it was with the flavour of coal at Tankerville. And we know that at Oil City the flavour of petroleum must not be openly declared to be objectionable, and so it was with coal at Tankerville. At Tankerville coal was much loved, and was not thought to be dirty. Mr. Ruddles was very much begrimed himself, and some of the leading Liberal electors, upon whom Phineas Finn had already called, seemed to be saturated with the product of the district. It would not, however, in any event be his duty to live at Tankerville, and he had believed from the first moment of his entrance into the town that he would soon depart from it, and know it no more.
Poor Durham! But, moving on: Phineas eventually wins his seat and makes a triumphant return to the Houses of Commons, marred only by an ongoing dispute with Mr Bonteen. When Bonteen is murdered, there are two suspects: Phineas, owing to the acrimony between the pair, and the Reverend Mr Emilius (the husband of Lizzie Eustace, the leading character of the much superior The Eustace Diamonds). Phineas must prove his innocence whilst his acquaintances are divided and the country is in thrall. 

It has, of course, a variety of subplots to it: Lady Laura Kennedy and Madame Max Goesler's love of Phineas, and Adelaide Palliser's choosing between two suitors, for example, but as I say I was so weary of it I didn't read it as closely as I might have done. This may be particularly unkind, but this novel felt as though it was a character study of a young man entering politics and attaining some degree of maturity and wisdom, something I felt had already been attempted in Phineas Finn. It was a frustrating experience all in all. I read a blog review of Phineas Redux earlier: Desperate Reader wrote of it, "It's the detail that attracts me, that and his insistence on seeing an issue from everybody's point of view." This, for me, is why Trollope is a great writer, I completely agree with Desperate Reader, however I am forced to conclude that the 'detail' in this instance, or rather the general subject, wasn't something I was terribly interesting. I say again, it was frustrating - I do love English politics and would have hoped this would have been a peak reading experience. 

But, there it is. Can't win them all! I will be reading the fifth Palliser novel, The Prime Minister (1876) next month and I do hope I'll enjoy it. I loved Can You Forgive Her? (1864-5) and adored The Eustace DiamondsThe Prime Minister may prove whether is it Phineas I have a problem with, or whether I am not so into the parliamentary aspect. The latter would be terribly unfortunate - the Palliser series is also known as the Parliamentary novels! Well, I will have to see. I'm very hopeful, simply I am having a rather bad run on Trollopes at present.

*******
Further Reading

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Richard III by William Shakespeare.

Richard III.
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 'Wars of the Roses' section of Shakespeare's plays: Henry VI Part I, II, and III, and now Richard III. We have seen in the previous Henry VI plays the rise of Richard of York, he who challenged Henry VI. However he was murdered by Henry VI's wife Queen Margaret, and he left behind three sons (the fourth, Edmund, was also murdered), the eldest is Edward, Duke of York, then George, Duke of Clarence, and finally Richard, Duke of Gloucester. After the murder of Henry VI and Richard of York, the king is now Edward, Edward IV. Were he to die childless, England would have had George I (though as it happens England didn't have a George I until 1714), and had George have died Richard of Gloucester would have inherited the throne. However Edward IV did have sons: Edward, who would become Edward V, and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York: the Princes in the Tower as they are now known. 

That is a stark and yet still complicated history of the kings and key events in the dispute between the two rival houses of the Plantagenet Kings, the House of York and the House of Lancaster, as told by William Shakespeare. It is crucial in understanding Richard III and it's why I think the only way to read Shakespeare's histories is in order of the action of the plays. 

Finally, then, let's get to Richard III. It was written around 1592, shortly after the Henry VI plays, and it tells of the rise and fall of Richard. The play begins with Richard as the Duke of Gloucester and Edward IV on the throne, but before he had even been properly 'in line' for the throne we saw some unnerving aspects of Richard's sociopathic Machiavellian ambition; shortly after Edward IV was crowned Richard said in an aside (this is in Henry VI Part III),
... Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile,
And cry 'Content' to that which grieves my heart,
And wet my cheeks with artificial tears,
And frame my face to all occasions.
I'll drown more sailors than the mermaid shall;
I'll slay more gazers than the basilisk;
I'll play the orator as well as Nestor,
Deceive more slily than Ulysses could,
And, like a Sinon, take another Troy.
I can add colours to the chameleon,
Change shapes with Proteus for advantages,
And set the murderous Machiavel to school.
Can I do this, and cannot get a crown?
Tut, were it farther off, I'll pluck it down.
Richard III opens with one of the most famous speeches in the Shakespeare canon:
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Richard does not feel a part of these good times,
I, that am curtail'd of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish'd, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time...
He adds,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days. 
Edward IV.
And so he plots to secure the throne for himself. In his way: Edward IV, his two sons Edward and Richard, and his brother George. At the start of the play Edward IV is gravely ill and to exacerbate the illness and get rid of George (referred to as Clarence in the play) he has Clarence, imprisoned for treason, executed and takes some joy in telling Edward:
Kɪɴɢ Eᴅᴡᴀʀᴅ IV: Is Clarence dead? the order was reversed.
Gʟᴏᴜᴄᴇsᴛᴇʀ: But he, poor soul, by your first order died,
And that a winged Mercury did bear:
Some tardy cripple bore the countermand,
That came too lag to see him buried.
God grant that some, less noble and less loyal,
Nearer in bloody thoughts, but not in blood,
Deserve not worse than wretched Clarence did,
And yet go current from suspicion!
Dᴇʀʙʏ: A boon, my sovereign, for my service done!
Kɪɴɢ Eᴅᴡᴀʀᴅ IV: I pray thee, peace: my soul is full of sorrow.
By this stage Richard has married Anne: Anne is the widow of Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, the only son of Henry VI and Queen Margaret, who (in Shakespeare's play) was murdered Richard and Clarence (the truth is Edward simply "died in battle"). When Edward IV dies, and with Clarence dead too, Edward IV's son Edward becomes Edward V of England at the age of twelve. Richard becomes Lord Protector to 'guide' his and his brother's interests until they were older, and he starts by putting them in the Tower of London despite their reluctance,
... If I may counsel you, some day or two
Your highness shall repose you at the Tower:
Then where you please, and shall be thought most fit
For your best health and recreation.
Edward V.
To clear the path, Richard needs not only to get rid of Edward V and his brother Richard, but also the supporters of the two brothers, beginning with Lord Hastings. He accuses Elizabeth, the widow of Edward IV, of witchcraft and Hastings cautiously replies, "If they have done this thing, my gracious lord..." The reply:
If I thou protector of this damned strumpet--
Tellest thou me of 'ifs'? Thou art a traitor:
Off with his head!
Lord Hasting's death and other arrests of relatives of Queen Elizabeth (n.b. Queen Elizabeth is so called because she was the wife of a king; she was not a monarch herself like Queen Elizabeth I, who came to the throne in 1558) leaves Edward V, young Richard, and Elizabeth vulnerable, and indeed Richard has Edward and Richard killed by his ally Tyrrell (Sir James Tyrrell, who did allegedly confessed to the crime). With the help of his other allies, most notably Buckingham (Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham), Richard is crowned Richard III of England.

Henry VII.
Richard's determination to be crowned is the driving force until he is crowned, after which is driving force is the paranoia and ruthlessness in keeping the crown, and it is this that loses him many allies, even Buckingham. Marrying Elizabeth and Edward IV's daughter Elizabeth of York, his niece, would help secure his rights, and so Richard kills his wife Anne. Queen Elizabeth however stalls the marriage and secretly promises young Elizabeth to the Earl of Richmond. And it is the Earl of Richmond who ends Richard's bloody tyranny. He is of course Henry Tudor, who will be the first Tudor king: Henry VII. He invades England and his and Richard's army do battle: the Battle of Bosworth on the 22nd August 1485 in Bosworth, Leicestershire. In this, Richard famously loses his horse, and his last words were, "A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!". Richard III would have given everything he had fought for for so very long to survive that battle. 

The play ends with Henry VII a hero who has slayed a villainous king. The final words of the play are from Henry VII:
England hath long been mad, and scarr'd herself;
The brother blindly shed the brother's blood,
The father rashly slaughter'd his own son,
The son, compell'd, been butcher to the sire:
All this divided York and Lancaster,
Divided in their dire division,
O, now, let Richmond and Elizabeth,
The true succeeders of each royal house,
By God's fair ordinance conjoin together!
And let their heirs, God, if thy will be so.
Enrich the time to come with smooth-faced peace,
With smiling plenty and fair prosperous days!
Abate the edge of traitors, gracious Lord,
That would reduce these bloody days again,
And make poor England weep in streams of blood!
Let them not live to taste this land's increase
That would with treason wound this fair land's peace!
Now civil wounds are stopp'd, peace lives again:
That she may long live here, God say amen!
And so Henry goes on to marry Elizabeth: Henry is of the House of Lancaster, Elizabeth of the House of York, and their marriage unifies the two rival houses. The roses too: the red of Lancaster and the white of York are combined and produce the Tudor Rose, which you can see here in what is called "the Pelican Portrait" of Queen Elizabeth I, the final Tudor monarch, from 1572:

Detail of the "Pelican Portrait" of Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard (1572)
That, then, is a rough guide to Richard III. It is astonishingly forceful: Richard changes from a conniving ambitious duke and dies a demented king. Another aspect of the play I loved very much was the supernatural element: so far I haven't mentioned the exiled Queen Margaret, the wife of Henry VI. She returns very early in the play and curses all of them. To Elizabeth,
Long mayst thou live to wail thy children's loss;
And see another, as I see thee now,
Deck'd in thy rights, as thou art stall'd in mine!
Long die thy happy days before thy death;
And, after many lengthen'd hours of grief,
Die neither mother, wife, nor England's queen!
Rivers and Dorset, you were standers by,
And so wast thou, Lord Hastings, when my son
Was stabb'd with bloody daggers: God, I pray him,
That none of you may live your natural age,
But by some unlook'd accident cut off!
And then to Richard,
And leave out thee? stay, dog, for thou shalt hear me.
If heaven have any grievous plague in store
Exceeding those that I can wish upon thee,
O, let them keep it till thy sins be ripe,
And then hurl down their indignation
On thee, the troubler of the poor world's peace!
The worm of conscience still begnaw thy soul!
Thy friends suspect for traitors while thou livest,
And take deep traitors for thy dearest friends!
No sleep close up that deadly eye of thine,
Unless it be whilst some tormenting dream
Affrights thee with a hell of ugly devils!
Thou elvish-mark'd, abortive, rooting hog!
Thou that wast seal'd in thy nativity
The slave of nature and the son of hell!
Thou slander of thy mother's heavy womb!
Thou loathed issue of thy father's loins!
Thou rag of honour! thou detested...
Her rage in this play, this is Shakespeare at his very best. And then, towards the end, Richard is indeed tormented by dreams: before the Battle of Bosworth all of those he killed appear to him. Edward V:
Let me sit heavy on thy soul to-morrow!
Think, how thou stab'dst me in my prime of youth
At Tewksbury: despair, therefore, and die! ...
Henry VI:
When I was mortal, my anointed body
By thee was punched full of deadly holes
Think on the Tower and me: despair, and die!
Harry the Sixth bids thee despair, and die!
Clarence:
Let me sit heavy on thy soul to-morrow!
I, that was wash'd to death with fulsome wine,
Poor Clarence, by thy guile betrayed to death!
To-morrow in the battle think on me,
And fall thy edgeless sword: despair, and die! ...
Rivers, Grey, Vaughan, Hastings, Buckingham, and his wife Anne, who tells him:
Richard, thy wife, that wretched Anne thy wife,
That never slept a quiet hour with thee,
Now fills thy sleep with perturbations
To-morrow in the battle think on me,
And fall thy edgeless sword: despair, and die!
It becomes almost Greek-like, Margaret, the personification of rage foretelling the fate of Richard III and events, as predicted, come to pass.

Richard III is exhausting, but it's the best. I love Shakespeare's histories and have loved them more and more as I read them, but I'm decided on this being the absolute finest.

So far William Shakespeare has written about King John, perhaps Edward III, and then the final kings of the House of Plantagenet: Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI, Edward IV, Edward V, and Richard III. In Richard III he writes of the first Tudor king, Richard's successor, Henry VII. The only play of Shakespeare's histories left is Henry VII's successor, his son Henry VIII. This I will read this week!

David Garrick as Richard III by William Hogarth (1745).

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