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review 2020-06-02 22:24
Verily, a Great Entertainment
William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope - Jonathan Davis,Marc Thompson,Daniel Davis,January LaVoy,Ian Doescher

"CHORUS:
As our scene to space, so deep and dark,
O’er your imagination we’ll hold sway.
For neither players nor the stage can mark
The great and mighty scene they must portray.
We ask you, let your keen mind’s eye be chief –
Think when we talk of starships, there they be."

 

"LUKE:
Friends, rebels, starfighters, lend me your ears
Wish not we had a single fighter more,
If we are mark’d to die, we are enough
To make our planets proud. But should we win,
We fewer rebels share the greater fame.
We have all sacrific’d unto this cause.
[...]
For with the Force and bravery we win.
O! Great shall be the triumph of that hour
When Empire haughty, vast and powerful
Is fell’d by simple hands of rebels base,
Is shown the might of our good company!
And citizens in Bespin now abed,
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here.
For never shall rebellion see a time
More glori’us then our strong attack today!"

Well, of course Doescher channels the Bard's great speeches, but this is not just parody (of either Shakespeare or Star Wars); it's a cleverly-executed synthesis, transposing the complete screenplay(s) into Shakespearean iambic pentameter -- and somehow managing to remain faithful to both.

 

I am glad that I opted for the audio version, though: Just as Shakespeare's plays are best experienced in performance (and, well, George Lukas wrote movie scripts, not novels), Doescher's synthesis of the two really comes to life when performed.  And I have to give huge kudos to the actors who, while they are clearly having more fun than should be permitted, take the work seriously and give it their full attention, all the way from R2-D2's "beep, squeak, squeeeaak"s (Death of Rats, anyone?) and Han Solo's "hey, I'm just here for the money" attitude to the weightier interactions between Obi-Wan, Luke, Leia, and Darth Vader.  (Interestingly, the total length of Doescher's text also falls squarely within the average range of that of a Shakespearean play.)   I'm not one of those who can do Star Wars marathons, nor will I typically watch more than one play by the Bard at a time, so I don't see myself bingeing on Doescher's syntheses of the two sources. But I'm glad there is more than one of these -- they just may turn out to be the things to turn to when my life needs a bit of brightening up.

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review 2020-05-03 16:43
Dickon
The Daughter of Time - Josephine Tey,Derek Jacobi
The Daughter Of Time - Josephine Tey
Dickon - Gordon Daviot,Josephine Tey Dickon - Gordon Daviot,Josephine Tey

This weekend's "let's-forget-the-pandemic" buddy read wasn't the first time I read Josephine Tey's setting-the-record-straight-about-Richard III novel, The Daughter of Time, but it was the first time that I did so by reading it together with her play on the same subject (written under the name Gordon Daviot), Dickon, and that combined reading changed my perspective on the novel yet again: not significantly, but in what I see as Tey's impetus in writing it.

 

To begin with, maybe I should call Dickon "her other play" on the subject, as I think Sorry kids, no feet nailed it when she said in a comment on one of Tannat's status updates that The Daughter of Time "read(s) like a play without actually being a play".  It actually is a play, with only one stage setting -- Grant's hotel room --, deliberately confining him (who becomes the audience's voice and brain) to that setting, depriving him of any and all other, and perhaps more conventional forms of entertainment right in the first chapter -- not without a few wry sidelines on the state of the literary art and industry of the day --, and thus neatly focusing his, and hence the reader's, attention on that one single thing remaining and apt enough to tease his brain: an investigation into an unsolved mystery of the past.  And of course, that hoary old chestnut, the fate of "the Princes in the Tower", will never do -- the investigation soon takes a completely different direction when Grant decides (very much like Ms. Tey herself, obviously) that Richard III's face and his reputation simply don't synch, and just how his name ended up on the list of history's greatest villains must thus urgently be looked into (and set right).

 

Dubious, overrated, and dated starting point ("face reading") aside, the real importance of Tey's book lies, of course, in the profound shattering of the reputation that Richard III had had until then, ever since he lost his life at Bosworth and the Tudors had the control of what history would eventually make of the reign of the last York Plantagenet king.  There had been previous attempts to set the record straight both in the 18th and the 19th century, but it arguably took Tey's deliberate choice of presenting the issue in the guise of a (well-researched) mass-marketed novel, in tandem with a stage play, to bring so much public attention to the matter that even well-known historic scholars could no longer ignore it -- and the debate has been alive and well ever since.  (Even the presentation at the Bosworth visitor center is now painstakingly neutral in its overall approach, though some of the exhibit's texts still clearly betray an anti-Ricardian bias.)

 

In The Daughter of Time, Tey presents the Tudors' campaign of blackening Richard III's name as only one, though a particularly grivous example of what she calls Tonypandy, for the town that was the focal point of the 1910-11 Welsh Miners' strike, and which has since become a subject of a similarly furious historic dispute: to Tey, "Tonypandy" is a summary term signifying any and all instances of falsified historic and political propaganda.  Yet, as her play Dickon shows, it's ultimately not "Tonypandy" at large that she is interested in but very much Richard III himself, in whom (and in whose features) she takes an enormous interest, reflected in Grant's comments and thoughts on his portrait in The Daughter of Time, as much as in her own passionate advocacy, both in the play and in the novel.

 

In fact, the play neatly distills the "Dickon" content of the novel down to its essentials and presents the events in question in their own, proper historical setting; refuting -- scene by scene -- Shakespeare's portrayal of the same events in his Richard III (or Tudor propaganda Exhibit A, as Tey saw it). And in one, perhaps the most endearing scene of the play, she has her Richard III do exactly what she expected of historians, and what Grant's American "woolly lamb" research assistant does in the novel: Tease out the minutiae of daily life from the records left behind; obtain your information straight from the source, instead of relying on hearsay accounts written only after the fact.  "All the stuff of Middleham is here.  All that I have missed", Richard tells his wife Anne when she wonders how he can possibly be so fascinated with their Yorkshire home's account books, even though she faithfully reports on everything that is going on while he is in London with his brother, the King.  "But you don't tell me that Betsy has been shod, that there is a new lock on the little east gate, that the dairy window was broken, that Kemp has had a boil on his neck," he answers.  "That is Middleham.  If I cannot live it, I can at least look at the picture." 

 

Some of the things that Tey considered Tudor propaganda have since been proven true; e.g., the discovery of Richard III's skeleton in that infamous Leicester parking lot has revealed that he really did have a spinal deformity and would thus have presented as a hunchback -- so the Tudors didn't need to lie about everything; they could also exploit features that their contemporaries would have been familiar with.  And other things, we will probably never know -- personally I doubt whether, even if the remains of the "Princes in the Tower" were now found, too (against all odds), centuries after their disappearance, that discovery would do much to clarify who engineered their disappearance and apparent murder (unless other instances would throw additional light on the issue at the same time).  But ultimately this is about more than the fates of Edward IV's sons; it's about truth in the historical record, about unbiased research, and about the value of primary (= direct) vs. secondary (= indirect) evidence / hearsay.

 

And whereas a reader interested in the period now may come to her (play-disguised-as-a-)novel (and her (other) play) with quite a different perspective on Richard III, his victorious rival Henry VII, and the period as such, the splash that her writing made upon its first publication can still be heard to this day.  For that in and of itself, her decision to take the issue out of the academic debate and into the realm of popular fiction can't be applauded loudly enough.

 


Bosworth: the battlefield today.

 


The Leicester parking lot where Richard III's remains were found.

 


Commemorative / explanatory plaque on a wall near the parking lot gates ...

 


... and an out-take of the above image: Richard III's skeleton



The parking lot is down a narrow alley from Leiceseter Cathedral

 


The Tomb in Leicester Cathedral



The gold-decorated chancel of Leicester Cathedral right behind the altar, where Richard's tomb is located

 


The coffin in which Richard's bones were carried into the cathedral for reburial (the cloth is hand-embroidered)

 

Tower of London: The round building center/left is the Bloody Tower, where King Edward IV's sons, today known simply as "the Princes in the Tower," are believed to have been held.

 

  
Bloody Tower: Exhibition on the disappearance of "the Princes in the Tower."

(All photos mine.)

 

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text 2020-03-10 22:28
Reading progress update: I've read 4%.
The Mirror and the Light - Hilary Mantel,Ben Miles

I've barely scratched the surface (we're just past Jane Seymour's rather startling wedding night), and I'm already settling back into the story as if it hadn't been years since I read the second book of the trilogy.  I just love being back in Cromwell's world, and still as much in awe of him (and Mantel's writing) as ever ... and already dreading the inevitable end.  This was SO worth the wait -- and then some.

 

I am very glad I read Diarmaid MacCulloch's biography of Cromwell in the interim, however.

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review 2020-02-02 12:04
For experts on the subject looking for top-notch research
Elizabeth Widville Lady Grey - John Ashdown-Hill

Thanks to Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for sending me an early hardback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review. This is a book that has put a new spin on the word “research” for me.

I am no expert on UK history in general, and my knowledge of the particular period covered in this book is patchy at best (we’ve all heard of the War of the Roses, and thanks to Shakespeare’s plays are familiar with at least some of the characters who played important parts in the events…), but a passing comment about this queen included in a book I read recently got me curious, and on reading the credentials of the author (who unfortunately passed away in 2018), I decided to read it.

This is not a book that simply picks up a few known facts and creates a semblance of a chronology and a fictionalised biography of the person. This is a truly exhaustive study of all the resources available (I’m no expert, so there might be some the author missed, but judging by the thoroughness of the text and the bibliography, they’d have to be pretty obscure), not only books, letters, official documents, court records, but also portraits, coins, sculptures, and even a study of the DNA of one of the queen’s known distant relatives. The author studies all aspects of this historical figure, many in dispute for years: the spelling of her name (there are many versions available and he explains the reasons why), her hair colour, her marriage (a secret marriage, which, it seems, was not as uncommon as it might sound, and definitely Edward IV was fond of them), her relationships with a number of historical figures (and her possible involvement in their fates), her religious faith, her lineage… He even tried to trace a possible sample of wood from her coffin, but it seems that if it had ever existed it was misplaced, and it’s not reappeared so far. Well, you get an idea.

This is not a book for a casual reader eager to get a bit of information about Lady Grey, but rather one for people who are looking for clarification on specific points of her life, or who want to deepen their knowledge of this figure and this historical period. Anybody interested in the many controversies surrounding the Kingdom of Edward IV, the disappearance of the two princes, Richard III’s role, and the many intrigues and controversies of the era (you have it all: secret marriages, bigamy, accusations of witchery, murders, possible poisonings, mysterious disappearances, executions, battles for the crown, treachery, marriages of convenience, bastardy… Modern soaps and spy novels can’t hold a candle to this), should check this book. Ashdown-Hill comments on biographies and books on the subject, pointing out factual errors, and trying his best to separate fact from fiction. He takes a scientific approach to the subject and does not offer his personal opinion, but sticks to the information available and avoids flights of fancy. In his conclusion he reiterates that there is much we’ll never know about Elizabeth, but some of the things that have been said about her are wrong. I’ve learned plenty reading this book, and although I am sure readers with more knowledge will gain much more from it, it has made me want to dig a bit deeper into the period.

The volume contains a number of family trees for the different branches of Elizabeth’s family, up to present day, and also photos (black and white and colour), illustrations, detailed notes for each chapter, a bibliography and an index.

I’d recommend this book to readers with a good knowledge of the period, looking to learn more about Lady Grey or about all the political intricacies of the era. It will be of particular interest to historians and also to writers eager to ensure accuracy in their depiction of the era, with its intrigues, secrets, and unanswered questions. A rigorous work of historical enquiry.

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review 2020-01-20 22:59
audio version
The Royal Art of Poison: Filthy Palaces, Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicine, and Murder Most Foul - Eleanor Herman

The book isn't bad, but like many of the Herman books, if you have read about the people then there isn't much new here. I found the tone at times very strange, almost dismissive of women.

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