Considering the many love affairs, sexual liaisons, and marriages that occur in Shakespeare’s plays, how many of them accurately represent their real-life counterparts? Genuine romantic entanglements certainly don’t work out as cleanly as the ending of Twelfth Night, where Sebastian and Olivia, Duke Orsino and Viola, and Toby and Maria all wind up as married couples.
Over the years since it was written, many millions must have sung ‘Auld Lang Syne’ (roughly translated as ‘days long past’) while sharing Mr. Micawber’s ignorance of what of its words actually mean. Most of us go through the year without singing a single song by Robert Burns, and then, within the space of 25 days, sing this one twice on January 1st and 25th
The scripture known as the Dasam Granth Sahib or the ‘Scripture of the Tenth King,’ has traditionally been attributed to Guru Gobind Singh. It was composed in a volatile period to inspire the Sikh warriors in the battle against the Moghuls, and many of the compositions were written for the rituals related to the preparation for war (Shastra puja) and for the battlefield.
At the outset of an undergraduate Shakespeare course I often ask my students to make a list of ten things that may not, or do not, exist. I say “things” because I want to be as vague as possible. Most students submit lists featuring zombies and mermaids, love charms and time travel. Hogwarts is a popular place name, as are Westeros and Middle Earth. But few students venture into religious territory.
What was Shakespeare’s religion? It’s possible to answer this seemingly simple question in lots of different ways. Like other English subjects who lived through the ongoing Reformation, Shakespeare was legally obliged to attend Church of England services. Officially, at least, he was a Protestant. But a number of scholars have argued that there is evidence that Shakespeare had connections through his family and school teachers with Roman Catholicism, a religion which, through the banning of its priests, had effectively become illegal in England.
When opening a work of Shakespearean biography, it’s not unusual to find some sort of lament about a lack of data – albeit that it quickly becomes clear that this has not stood in the way of producing a substantial volume. However, rather than dwell on how this can still be done, perhaps we should re-examine what we mean when we say there is little to go on.
The politics and religious turmoil of 16th century England provided Shakespeare with the fascinating characters and intriguing plots. From the publication of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses in 1517, which some historians argue ignited the Protestant cause, to the publication of the Geneva Bible in 1560, English religious history has dramatically influenced Shakespeare’s work.
Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first a patron, the last a punisher.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize, the annual prize in journalism and letters established by the estate of Joseph Pulitzer in 1916 and run by the Columbia School of Journalism (also established by Pulitzer’s estate). The first Pulitzer Prizes in reporting were given in 1917 to Herbert Bayard Swope of New York World for a series of articles titled “Inside the German Empire” and to the New York Tribune for its editorial on the first anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania.
In All’s Well that Ends Well (3.7), Helena devises a plan to ignite the affections of her husband, for which she needs the help of her new acquaintances, a widow and her daughter. The widow is naturally suspicious, but Helena persuades her by offering to pay for her daughter’s marriage.
Would you like to pay a halfpenny for a small beer, 1 shilling for a liter of wine, or less than 2 pounds for a horse? If you lived in 17th century England you could buy all of these and even afford Shakespeare’s First Folio, which was only £1 when it was published.
There are times when it feels like Anthony Trollope’s Irish novels might just as well have fallen overboard on the journey across the Irish Sea. Their disappearance would, for the better part of a century, have largely gone unnoticed and unlamented by readers and critics alike. Although interest has grown in recent times, the reality is that his Irish novels have never achieved more than qualified success, and occupy only a marginal place in his overall oeuvre.
George Bernard Shaw considered himself a socialist, but was apt to make surprising remarks about the poor. “Hamlet’s experiences simply could not have happened to a plumber,” he wrote in the preface to his play The Dark Lady of the Sonnets in 1910, and “A poor man is useful on the stage only as a blind man is: to excite sympathy.”
What would it be like to live in Elizabethan England? One might be lucky enough to dress in embroidered clothing and commission portraits, or one might be forced to beg for alms or peddle trinkets in order to survive.
Why make New Year’s Resolutions you don’t want to keep? This year the Very Short Introductions team have decided to fill the gaps in their knowledge by picking a VSI to read in 2016. Which VSIs will you be reading in 2016? Let us know in the comment section below or via the Very Short Introductions Facebook page.
Terrorism in the early modern world was rather different from terrorism today. In the first place, there wasn’t any dynamite or automatic weaponry. It was harder to kill. In the second place, the idea of killing people indiscriminately, without regard to their identity, didn’t seem to occur to anyone yet. But still, there was lots of violence using terrorist tactics.