Showing posts from 2012

Pentland Robson Dramatic Club - A Murder Has Been Arranged

A Murder Has Been Arranged, a ghost story in three acts by Emlyn Williams, was first produced in 1929, and revived circa 1973-74 by the Pentland Robson Dramatic Club.

It was the theatre company's second production in its new home at the Aventine Club Theatre, Cuthbert Street, Gateshead.

The play's central character, Sir Charles Jasper, will inherit £2m if he can survive the night of his fortieth birthday in a supposedly haunted theatre. A dramatic irony, as the Aventine Club Theatre was itself said to have been haunted, perhaps by a errant spirit from the Wesleyan Methodist Church, which stood adjacent to the theatre until its demolition in 1967.

The Dramatic Club had a varied repertoire which included melodrama, swashbuckling adventure, as well as modern classics, including a production of N.F. Simpson's theatre of the absurd play One Way Pendulum.

The Dark Lady of the Sonnets - Patricia Cornwell, where are you?

"I have had great difficulty in containing myself or making myself go off to sleep the last few days, for on Thursday [2 March 1972]..... I found that I had identified the Dark Lady of Shakespeare's sonnets".
Thus A.L. Rowse in his diary entry for 5 March 1972. And there was more...
" is difficult to keep such a secret - I feel ready to burst. ...the only way to hold on is to tease my enemies, who have made me suffer so much anguish, and now get some fun out of it, and them".
The 'enemies' that had caused so much 'anguish' were other academics, among them renowned Shakespeare scholar Samuel Schoenbaum. 

In 1964, when Rouse had asserted that the 'young man' of the sonnets was Shakespeare's patron, the Earl of Southampton, it was Professor Schoenbaum who pointed out that this claim had been made as early as 1817 by Nathan Drake.

And Rowse's pronouncement that the 'rival poet' of the sonnets was Christopher Marlowe, had fall…

The business portfolio of William Shakespeare

If the financial crisis is bad today, in Elizabethan times it was infinitely worse.

Inflation was breaking all records, prices were rising steeply, and wages were at their lowest in real terms for 300 years.

But all was not gloomy. It was a good time to invest in land and property. Usury was a profitable venture. And there was a burgeoning demand for entertainment. And Shakespeare had a finger in them all.

As a shareholder in his theatre company Shakespeare generated capital which he could then invest in property and land deals. 

In 1602 he bought lands in Old Stratford, and in 1605 he bought a lease in Stratford and in three hamlets nearby. He bought New Place, the biggest house in Stratford. And his new wealth was able to procure for him his own coat of arms from a snobbish College of Heralds.

But it is Shakespeare’s moneylending which causes the most debate and controversy. 

In 1604 he sued his Stratford neighbour Philip Rogers over a debit of just £4. And four or five years later he pur…

The History of England from 1689 to 1783

The ‘bloodless’ and ‘glorious’ Revolution of 1688 had brought the nephew and daughter of James II, William and Mary, to the English throne. Protestant Stuart had succeeded Catholic Stuart. But it is a dangerous time as Louis XIV of France still recognises James as the legitimate king of England. Irish Catholics also support James, and in 1689 French troops along with James land in Ireland and make siege of Londonderry. The siege is raised, and in July 1690 an army of English and Dutch led by William defeats an Irish and French army under James. But William’s main concern is to save his native Holland from Louis XIV, and he drags his new kingdom into another war with France. A static war of sieges follows. Then in May 1692 William has a great victory in the naval Battle of La Hogue which repulses a French invasion of England. Peace is concluded in 1697, but it is inconclusive, and leads to the creation of two institutions which are still with us today: the Bank of England and the Natio…

The vedute artists who painted Venice - Canaletto, Luca Carlevarjis, Francesco Guardi

veduta (pl. vedute) (Italian) view, vista

The vedutagenre of detailed urban landscape painting had its beginnings in Venice towards the end of the 17th century. 

The great Venetian masters, from Luca Carlevarjis to Canaletto and Francesco Guardi, worked incessantly to satisfy the demand throughout the continent.

Francesco Guardi was just starting when Canaletto was enjoying great success. He continued to create in his paintings the atmosphere present in the master's work.

Squares and avenues appear in the paintings, as well as country scenes with ruins and lush vegetation. 

With the scrupulous detail of Canaletto, and the emotional content of Guardi, they remain the masters of the art of the veduta.

Chocolate - the Food for the Gods

[Women] think the most wonderful thing in the world is chocolate. [Men Behaving Badly]
In Aztec culture the god Quetzalcoati came down from the firmament with a cocoa tree that he filched from the Heavens.

The Aztecs ground the cocoa seeds and seasoned it with cereals and chilli peppers to produce the spicy drink they called chocolati.

Christopher Columbus, the last man to discover America, stumbled across it in 1502 when he robbed a native trader, and thought it was a kind of almond. 

“They seemed to hold these almonds at a great price. For when they were brought on board ship together with their goods, I observed that when one of these almost fell, they all stooped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen”.
But he failed to realise the importance of his chance discovery, and it was left to Hernando Cortez in 1519 to establish the first plantation for the growing of cocoa beans.

In 1528 Cortez introduced chocolate to the Spanish court of Charles V where they added sugar, vanilla and spices t…

Invasion of the Saucer People. Is it already too late?

The one thing we can be sure about conspiracy theorists who tell us that aliens from outer space have infiltrated positions of power on Earth in order to take over the planet, is that they are wrong.

For if there were space aliens in our midst we would know them at once by their appearance. The green skin, the three heads, the propensity to hop along the ground on their twelve pairs of legs, would all tend to convince us that they were not native and to the manor born. 

And even if they had evolved human forms, and had been able to adapt to the gravity of our planet, and to sustain themselves on our alien cuisine, and to master our languages, including the ones with the tricky prepositions, we still may get suspicious when one of them arrives for a job interview and announces: ‘My - name - is - Mr - Smith - querk! - and - I - have - an - appointment - with - Mr - Brown - querk! - Please - let - him - know - I - am - here - querk!’

And, yet, we could be wrong. When we see our leaders, our…

Yuletide, Saturnalia and the Feast of Fools

Lo!the Yuletide festivities are upon us once more, and already people will stocking up with the booze, the liver salts and the paper hats. But to what do we owe this our annual manifestation of silliness? Or put another way: From whence comes it thither? And for wherefore does it why?

The winter solstice celebrations, of which Christmas is a part, owe their origins to the ancient Roman tradition of Saturnalia, the festival of Saturn. 

During this period, which lasted seven days, all schools and law courts closed, prisoners went unpunished, and the population indulged in a frenzy of drinking and debauchery. Not very different from the office Christmas party, in fact.

Social boundaries of class and gender were also swept aside as all and sundry celebrated the coming of the New Year in a passionate sexual re-enactment of ancient fertility rites. Once again not very different to the office Christmas party.

In England, in mediaeval times, the Christmas festivities were presided over by the Lor…

Death of the Man in the Iron Mask

On 19 November 1703, a prisoner in France’s notorious Bastille Prison, his identity hidden behind a mask of black velvet, suddenly died. But who was the mysterious masked man who occupied the third chamber of the prison’s Bretaudière Tower? The elder brother of Louis XIV? The illegitimate son of Oliver Cromwell? It is a mystery which has continued for over 300 years.

What is known about the celebrated prisoner, named in the burial register as M. de Marchiel, is the day and the circumstances of his death. According to his gaoler, Du Junca, on 19 November 1703, after attending Mass, he suddenly felt ill, and had to be helped back to his cell. There he quickly lost consciousness and died at about 10 o’clock that night. 

The prison doctor was summoned, but could find no cause for the prisoner’s terrible death. The following morning he was secretly buried in the cemetery of the Church of St. Paul. According to the gaoler, the funeral expenses amounted to forty pounds.

Du Junca also recorded i…

Artists of the Place Clichy, Paris

The Place Clichy is one of the most animated squares in Paris, so it is not surprising that it has attracted many artists, such as Manet, Renoir, Signac, Pissarro, and most notably Pierre Bonnard.

The square also caught the attention of Italian-born Giovanni 'Master of Swish' Baldini (1842-1931), best known as a portrait artists, who subjects included Sarah Bernhardt.

More paintings of the Place Clichy through the eyes of painters here.

Popes' Palace, Avignon

Avignon is located in the Rhone Valley of France. The main attraction of the town is the Popes’ Palace, which in 1309 became the business headquarters of the Papal Empire.

It came about as the result of a quarrel between two of the principal stakeholders - Philip the Fair, King of France, and Pope Bonifice VIII. 

Philip was unhappy that Rome was extorting vast sums of money from the Christian nations to finance its Crusades. It was creating an imbalance between the spiritual and the temporal powers of Europe, with the spiritual gaining the upper hand. So he determined to stop the drain from his dominions.

He began by prohibiting the export of gold and silver without a licence, and requiring the clergy to pay their taxes directly to him. Pope Boniface responded by excommunicating the king. 

Being excommunicated was the thing that Christian souls feared the most, so it was a useful weapon in the Vatican’s armoury. 

It was also good business, since persons who were excommunicated were compell…

Pope Leo X - open for business

Leo X was pope from 1513 to 1521. He was pope while syphilis, introduced to Europe by the companions of Columbus, was spreading across the continent with wonderful rapidity. He may have contracted the disease himself. 

But syphilis or not, he never let it interfere with his money making activities. He spent his own income and squandered the savings of his predecessors. He created hundreds of new offices and put them up for auction. In all this he was following the habits of his predecessors. As Bishop Alvaro Pelayo 200 years previously had said: “Whenever I entered the apartments of the Roman court clergy, I found them occupied in counting up gold-coin, which lay about the rooms in heaps”.

Seated behind the pope on his right in Raphael's portrait of 1518/19 is his cousin Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici, the future Pope Clement VII, who advocated an aggressive approach to the spreading the Word of God. And hovering on his left is Cardinal Luigi de’ Rossi, on whom he had bestowed (or sold)…

Theresa Garnett - a scolding for Mr. Churchill

3 p.m. on Saturday 13th November 1909 and Winston Churchill is alighting from a railway carriage at Bristol station. Suddenly a mad woman comes rushing towards him brandishing a dog whip. “Take that, you brute!” she screams as she tries to beat Mr Churchill with the whip. 

The woman is Theresa Garnett, a 21-year old suffragette militant from a time in which feminists preferred physical confrontation to baring their boobs. Her assault on Mr Churchill was reported in The Times as follows:

'Mr Churchill … had just alighted from the carriage and had introduced his host, Sir William Howell Davies, M.P., and others to Mrs Churchill. Surrounding the party was a number of Bristol detectives in a semi-circle. Mr Churchill was recognized, and a crowd began to assemble. Suddenly a woman broke through the cordon of police, shouting frantically and flourishing a dog whip. She gripped Mr Churchill’s coat with one hand, and with the other which held the whip she aimed a blow at Mr Churchill. She f…

Guy Fawkes and J.M.W. Turner

Mr Fawkes's intention, of course, was to blow the building up, or to burn it down, he probably didn't care which.

He failed in this endeavour, though the edifice was finally consumed in flames in 1834, and witnessed by the artist J.M.W. Turner. 

Angelica Kauffman (1741 - 1807)

Swiss-born Angelica Kauffman was an artist child prodigy. As a teenager she was painting portraits of the European nobility. She spoke Italian, German, French and English. She played musical stringed instruments and was an accomplished opera singer. In mid-1760s London she was the darling of the portraitists counting royalty among her clients. Her alluring beauty had men throwing themselves at her feet.   But she was duped into marrying a confidence trickster posing as a count. She got out of the marriage only when the husband died in 1780. She married a second husband in 1781 and spent the last 25 years of her life in Rome, where she died on 5 November 1807.

Louis VIII - the French king who refused doctor's orders

“Your Majesty is dying. The only remedy for you is to deflower this young virgin”.
Such was the proposition made to Louis VIII of France on 8 November 1226 as he lay on his death bed. But the king replied that he was in love with his wife, Blanche de Castille, whom he had married when both were twelve years old, and must therefore refuse his physician’s thoughtful advice.

Louis had the cognomen ‘the Lion’, and had fallen sick on his way back to Paris from the Crusades in the south of France. He was struck down with a fever and debilitating diarrhoea and was probably suffering for dysentery, a common illness of soldiers at the time, though some think he may have been poisoned. On 3 November he took to his bed and became delirious. His doctors consulted and diagnosed a severe case of sexual abstinence due to several months of campaigning, and that the remedy was a night of passion with a young virgin. As reported by Guillaume de Puylaurens: 

‘…. coming back from the Crusades in Albigeois t…

Place Masséna, Nice

Nice's beautiful Place Masséna owes its name to Marshall André Masséna, a lieutenant in Bonaparte's Italian Army. He saw victory in Zurich in 1799, distinguished himself at the siege of Genoa in 1800, defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Caldiero in 1805, and was conqueror of the Kingdom of Naples in 1806. In 1804 he was made Marshall of the Empire, in 1808 he became Duke of Rivoli, and in 1809 Prince of Essling. But he fell from grace after reverses in Portugal in 1810. More interested in pleasure than in patriotism, he aged prematurely and died in 1817.

An important date for Nice, and for the Place Masséna is 26 May 1832 as this is the day that the king Charles-Albert established an institution with the task of creating an urban plan which would determine the shape of the modern city. This led in 1844 to the creation of the Place Masséna with Boulevard Barthélemy (later Avenue de la Victoire, now Avenue Jean Médecin) to the north. 

And in 1928, Jean Médecin, an energetic an…