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Showing posts from October, 2012

James Joyce Tower & Museum, Sandycove

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The James Joyce Tower & Museum in Sandycove is housed in one of the Martello towers built during the Napoleonic wars as a defence against a French invasion. It later became a residence, and for a single week in September 1904, James Joyce shared the tower with Oliver St. John Gogarty. The brief stay was later immortalised in the opening chapter of Ulysses, though for the purpose of the story Joyce re-dated the period to June.

Joyce's week in the Tower was marked by a dramatic incident. Gogarty had been lending money to Joyce all year, and on the morning of 15 September 1904 there was, according to Gogarty, some horseplay involving a gun, which sent Joyce fleeing for his life, and thence into his self-imposed exile from Ireland.

Included in the Museum are letters, photographs and rare book editions, in addition to a reproduction of the room in which Joyce slept and in which the gun incident apparently occurred.


Pablo Picasso and William Shakespeare

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In days gone by Cambridge University Press adorned the covers of their New Shakespearewith a drawing of Shakespeare by Picasso. Pictured here is Othello from 1969.

The inspiration for the drawing was British art patron Roland Penrose, who visited the artist in November 1963 and suggested that he do a portrait of Shakespeare to mark the quatercentenary of the poet's birth to be celebrated the following year. Picasso was amused by the suggestion and asked for some images of the poet to work from. He then produced three sketches, measuring 10 x 8 inches, spending no more than five minutes on each.

One of the drawings was exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery (London) where the deputy keeper, Dr Roy Strong, described it as "magnificent", adding "It's a remarkable piece of art all right". And Roland Penrose said that it "made Shakespeare the great observer of life".

At the same time, Picasso also made a series of drawings on the theme of Hamlet, whic…

Thomas Chatterton (1752-1770)

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The clock strikes eight; the taper dully shines;
Farewell my Muse, nor think of further lines;
Nine leaves, and in two hours, or something odd,
Shut up the book; it is enough by God !
                                       [Conversations, 47-50]

Thomas Chatterton was born in Bristol on 20 November 1752. His father had died shortly before his birth, and his mother, who was 21 years old at the time, lived by keeping a 'dame-school' and by taking in sewing.

In his early years Chatterton was sullen and brooding. He would learn nothing, refused to play with other boys, and was  expelled from his first school as little more than an idiot. Then, during his seventh year, he underwent a considerable transformation. According to the story, his mother was tearing up for waste paper some old music folios, when Chatterton, to quote his mother, 'fell in love' with the illuminated capitals. Encouraged by his aroused interest, with the aid of the manuscript she taught him to read, and he so…

Jean Béraud (1849 - 1936) - Paris street life in the Belle Epoque

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French Impressionist artist Jean Béraud was born in St. Petersburg in 1849. Upon the death of his father, a sculptor by profession and also called Jean, the family moved to Paris, where Jean fils studied under Léon Bonnat. He began his painting career working in portraits, but at the end of the 1870s, during the period known as the Belle Epoque, he set to work on his series of charming Parisian street scenes, for which he is most remembered today.



The Elizabethan Underworld

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Sometime after 1584 William Shakespeare packed his belongings and took the highway to London. And as a boy from the provinces he would have needed all his wits about him when he got there, for the metropolis had a thriving underworld of criminals intent on divesting the greenhorn newcomer of his purse, his horse, and even the very clothes on his back.

According to one contemporary account, there were no fewer than 23 categories of thieves and swindlers listed by the authorities. Aside from the regulation pickpockets and cutpurses, there were the confidence tricksters, known as ‘coney-catchers*’; the horse thieves, called ‘priggers of pransers’; the ‘anglers’, adept at removing clothing from washing lines with long poles; and the 'setters', thieves' accomplices in the fleecing of innocent travellers.


* The Conny-catchers, apparalled like honest ciull gentlemen, or good fellows, with a smooth face, as if butter would not melt in their mouthes, after dinner when the clients are…

Carlo Gesualdo, or The Cuckold's Revenge

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In the year of the world 1590 Don Carlo Gesualdo was the son of the Prince of Venosa and one of the most renowned composers of his time. But when he learned that his wife Maria had been cuckolding him for two years, he decided to set a trap for her and her lover, Fabrizio Carafa, the Duke of Andria, and assassinate them both.

He tells Maria that he going hunting and will be gone two days. She implores him not to go, asks him to hurry back, tells him that their bed will be cold without him. But the moment he leaves she sends for her lover who hastens to his mistress’s side.

The lover arrives and they slip into the marriage bed, make love, and then fall asleep in each other’s embrace. To protect himself from the cold of the night, the duke wears one of Maria’s night dresses. Then, around midnight, Carlo returns with three henchmen, all armed. He leads them to Maria’s chambers, and rings his valet, Bartodo, for something to drink. The servant is surprised that his master should be back so …

Richard Burbage and the Burbage family

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No more young Hamlett, ould Hieronymoe,
King Leer, the greued Moore and more beside,
That liued in him, haue now for ever dy'de.
Oft haue I seene him leap into the graue,
Suiting the person which he seem'd to haue
Of a sadd louer with soe true an eye,
That theer I would have sworne, he meant to dye.
[Funeral elogy for Richard Burbage]

Richard Burbage was born in 1568, the son of James Burbage, 'the first builder of playhouses',* whose workmen began the construction of a custom-built open air playhouse, called the Theatre, in the spring of 1576 in the parish of St. Leonard's, Shoreditch, about half a mile outside the Bishopsgate entrance to the city of London in an area known as the Liberty of Halliwell (or Holywell). James had previously been an actor in the Earl of Leicester's troupe, and his two sons, Cuthbert and Richard, followed him into the profession,  although Cuthbert's contribution was as share-holder (or sharer) and administrator, and not as an actor. 

* …

Constable Dogberry - Shakespeare's most endearing officer of the law

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Able-bodied citizens charged with preserving the Queen’s peace were a great source of comic fun for Shakespeare, and none more than Constable Dogberry of Much Ado About Nothing. 

Much of the fun in this comically incompetent constable is in his humorous malapropisms, such as his claim to have ‘comprehended two auspicious persons’, when he means ‘apprehended two suspicious persons’. This must have been especially amusing to the playgoers of the Globe familiar with the character-type portrayed on the stage, particularly if he was based on an individual familiar to them.

Constables at the time were elected, and any man who refused to serve could face a fine of £5. Besides their duties of keeping the peace, they were also charged with dealing with absences from church, and had the thoroughly thankless task of filling the role of a fire brigade, fighting the flames with leather buckets and hooked-poles to pull apart the wooden buildings to prevent the fire from spreading.

The first actor to p…

Bardot and van Dongen - The Sex Icon and the Wild Beast

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In 1959, Franco-Dutch artist Kees van Dongen painted a portrait of French cinema icon Brigitte Bardot. 25-year old BB was on the verge of becoming the sex symbol of the new decade, while 82-year old van Dongen was coming to the end of his illustrious career. 

In 1950, at the age of 15, Bardot appeared on the front cover of Elle magazine, and in 1956 starred in the international success Et Dieu... crea la femme [And God Created Woman]. Over 50 years earlier van Dongen was one of the avant garde group of artists known as fauvists, or wild beasts, and in the course of his career painted many portraits. In addition to BB, he painted King Leopold III of Belgium, and the popular French singer and entertainer Maurice Chevalier.


Modern Art Circle - Six Gentleman in Search of an Artist(s)

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In 1906, six passionate art collectors from the French city of Le Havre - Olivier Senn, Charles-Auguste Marande, Pieter van der Velde, Georges Dussueil, Oscar Schmitz and Franz-Edouard Luthy - formed an association which they called The Modern Art Circle, with the aim of promoting the work of living artists of their time.

They sought out works by Dufy, Braque, Matisse, Cézanne, Pissarro, Renoir, and others, and organised exhibitions of their works in Le Havre, and in the process made the industrial city into an important centre for avant garde art.

Their collection was later dispersed to art galleries in London, New York, and around Europe, but has now been reunited for an exhibition in Paris at the Musée du Luxembourg, where it will be until 6 January 2013.


Le Beau Mariage - A Good Marriage

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Le beau mariage is a delightful film that encompasses many of the features of a Shakespeare romantic comedy. 

The action  centres around Sabine, the plucky, self-confident heroine, who abruptly ends an affair with Simon, a married man, and embarks upon a quest to find a husband. Like Rosalind in As You Like It, Sabine has an inseparable friend, Clarisse, in whom she confides her deepest feelings. At first Clarisse is bemused by Sabine's impulsive decision, then later she introduces Sabine to her cousin Edmond, a 35 year old lawyer. Sabine decides on the instant that Edmond is the one. Unfortunately for Sabine, Edmond has other plans.

Sabine tells her mother of her decision to marry Edmond, and in shocked when her mother suggests that they live together rather than marry. It is not the suggestion per se that shocks Sabine, after all had she not just ended an adulterous affair with a married man? What shocked Sabine was that the suggestion should come from her mother.

The rest of the f…