There is a wonderful Christopher Rush novel, Will (2007), in which Shakespeare says that what he does best is death: “I do deaths you see. And I can do the deaths of children. Their lips were four red roses on a stalk… – that sort of thing.” From the death of young Rutland in 2 Henry VI to the unexpected death of Mamillius in The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare’s plays are full of loss.
In early modern England, social violence and recurring diseases ensured death was a constant presence, so it is only natural to find such a prominent theme in Shakespeare’s plays, especially his tragedies. His characters died at the hands of one another more often than from natural causes, whether stabbing, poisoning, or beheading (or a combination of the three!).
Season Six of Game of Thrones is about to air. One of the great pleasures of watching the show is the way in which George R. R. Martin, the author of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and the show-producers, David Benioff and Dan Weiss, build their imagined world from the real and imagined structures of medieval history and literature.
Forever demanding new performers to interpret them for new audiences under new circumstances, and continuing to elicit a rich worldwide profusion of editions, translations, commentaries, adaptations and spin-offs, Shakespeare’s works have never behaved like unchanging monuments about which nothing new remains to be said.
His words still shape our consciousness, even if we fail to read him. This is not due to some hackneyed idealism (“tilting at windmills”), but rather to his pervasive impact on the genre that taught us to think like moderns: the novel. He pioneered the representation of individual subjectivity and aspiration, which today undergirds the construction of agency in any narrative, whether in novels, films, television, or the daily self-fashioning by millions of users of social media.
In 2012, when the world tuned in for the opening ceremony of London’s Olympic Games, they were witness in part to a performance of one of Shakespeare’s most famed speeches, delivered by one of today’s most revered Shakespearean actors. Kenneth Branagh, dressed as English engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, offered lines from The Tempest in the spirit of the ceremony’s larger theme, “The Isles of Wonder”.
To celebrate the life of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, who died four hundred years ago today, here is an extract taken from Don Quixote de la Mancha.
How did it come to this? How was evolution transformed from a scientific principle of human-as-animal to a contentious policy battle concerning children’s education? From the mid-19th century to today, evolution has been in a huge tug-of-war as to what it meant and who, politically speaking, got to claim it.
It’s 1608. You are passing by the bookstall of the publisher Thomas Pavier on Cornhill, a stone’s throw from the elegant colonnades of London’s Royal Exchange, when something catches your eye: a sensational play dramatising a series of real-life gruesome domestic murders. A Yorkshire Tragedy has that enticing whiff of scandal about it, but what persuades you to part with your hard-earned cash is seeing the dramatist’s name proudly emblazoned on the title-page: “Written by W. Shak[e]speare”.
Certain facts surrounding Shakespeare, his work, and Elizabethan England have been easy to establish. But there is a wealth of Shakespeare knowledge only gained centuries after his time, across the globe, and far beyond the Anglophone realm.
Although a man named “Homer” was accepted in antiquity as the author of the poems, there is no evidence supporting the existence of such an author. By the late 1700s, careful dissection of the Iliad and Odyssey raised doubts about their composition by a single poet. Explore more about the “Homeric question” and the influence of these epics in the infographic below.
If, like most people these days, you take as much notice (perhaps more) of the books you don’t have time to read as the ones you are reading, you’ve probably heard of Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick. The book, a slow-burning cult classic since its first publication in 1997, has recently been the focus of renewed attention. In 2015, the novel was republished in a hardback edition, and had its first release in the UK.
William Shakespeare died four hundred years ago this month and my local library is celebrating the anniversary. It sounds a bit macabre when you put it that way, of course, so they are billing it as a celebration of Shakespeare’s legacy. I took this celebratory occasion to talk with my students about Shakespeare’s linguistic legacy.
We’ve heard a lot lately about what Shakespeare would do. He’d be kind to migrants, for instance, because of this passage from the unpublished collaborative play ‘Sir Thomas More’ often attributed to him: ‘Imagine that you see the wretched stranger / Their babies at their backs, with their poor luggage / Plodding to th’ports and coasts for transportation (Scene 6: 84-6).
The first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays printed in 1623 – known as the First Folio – has a rich history. It is estimated that around 700 or 750 copies were printed, and today we know the whereabouts of over 230. They exist in some form or another, often incomplete or a combination of different copies melded together, in libraries and personal collections all over the world.
A self-professed “comprehensive anticipatory design scientist,” the inventor Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) was undoubtedly a visionary. Fuller’s creations often bordered on the realm of science fiction, ranging from the freestanding geodesic dome to the three-wheel Dymaxion car.