This Easter, Dublin experienced the culmination of the commemorative activities planned for the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising. There was the traditional reading of the Proclamation in front of the General Post Office (GPO), the military parade, and a series of talks and seminars, held at various locations of historical and national significance.
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.
Austerity, uncertainty, instability … all problems we associate with Europe today as it cycles from pre-GFC exuberance to today’s austerity. But to put things in perspective, these are minor problems compared what our grandparents endured after World War Two. In Britain many people did not have enough to eat, the government had secret plans for national catastrophe, the Cold War was raging, the colonies erupting, and Sterling was in crisis. In those days there were few policy economists, and macroeconomics was caught in a battle between non-interventionist classical economics and the Keynesian revolution of demand management.
Easter was late in 1916, falling on 23 April, St George’s Day. This coincidence of faith and patriotism was inevitably both heightened and tempered by the ongoing struggles of the First World War. April 1916 came amidst the protracted fighting of the Battle of Verdun, a long and bloody conflict yet one which was only a foretaste of the horrors to come at the Somme the summer following. It also happened to mark the Tercentenary of the death of William Shakespeare.
Citizenship is central to our political discourse in Britain today. From John Major’s ‘Citizen’s Charter’ to New Labour’s introduction of citizenship classes for schoolchildren – and citizenship tests for immigrants – it is a preoccupation that spans the political spectrum. Citizenship suggests membership of the national community, membership that comes with both rights and responsibilities.
Mary Somerville: the new face on Royal Bank of Scotland’s ten-pound note is worthy of international recognition
From 2017, ten-pound notes issued by the Royal Bank of Scotland will feature a new face: that of the great nineteenth-century science communicator Mary Somerville. Her book on mathematical astronomy, Mechanism of the Heavens — published in 1831, when she was fifty years old — was used as an advanced textbook at Cambridge for a hundred years. This is a phenomenal achievement for a woman who taught herself science and mathematics.
Brexit—the prospect of Britain exiting the European Union—has garnered a great deal of attention in the past year as Britons debate the pros and cons of remaining a member of the EU. So-called Eurosceptics oppose integration with Europe for a variety of reasons, among them the constraints it places on the UK’s ability to negotiate more advantageous trade agreements, and the regulations and bureaucratic excesses the EU imposes on Britain in economic, financial, and judicial matters.
For 135 years the Dictionary of National Biography has been the national record of noteworthy men and women who’ve shaped the British past. Today’s Dictionary retains many attributes of its Victorian predecessor, not least a focus on concise and balanced accounts of individuals from all walks of national history. But there have also been changes in how these life stories are encapsulated and conveyed.
Sex was far from simple in 16th century England. Shakespeare himself wed a woman eight years his senior, a departure from the typical ages of both partners. While some of his characters follow the common conventions of Elizabethan culture (male courtship and the “transfer” of a woman from the care of her father to her husband), others show marked indifference toward appropriate gender roles and sexuality.
England’s first and most surprising elephant was given to Henry III in 1235 by the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, probably to mark his betrothal to Henry’s sister Isabella. Frederick had elephants to spare – he took several on his journeys round Europe along with lions, leopards, dromedaries, camels, falcons and bearded owls. This was an African elephant (recognized by its big ears).
Whether he fills his scenes with raunchy innuendos, or boldly writes erotic poetry, or frequently reverses the gender norms of the time period, Shakespeare addresses the multifaceted ways in which sex, love, marriage, relationships, gender, and sexuality play an integral part of human life.
Can solidarity exist? Or is it just a fantasy, a pious dream of the soft of heart and weak of brain? Gross inequality, greed and prejudice: these manifestations of selfishness which stalk our world may seem to invite our condemnation and to call for an alternative – but what if they are part of the natural order?
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.
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.
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.
There is nothing new about the notion that the English, and their history, are exceptional. This idea has, however, recently attracted renewed attention, since certain EU-sceptics have tried to advance their cause by asserting the United Kingdom’s historic distinctiveness from the Continent.