Friday, 21 December 2012

Pentland Robson Dramatic Club - A Murder Has Been Arranged

A dramatic scene from A Murder Has Been Arranged 
performed by Pentland Robson Dramatic Club

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 Wesleyan Methodist Church overshadows
the Aventine Club Theatre in 1966

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 Little Theatre, Saltwell, circa 1990
The venue of the Pentland Robson Dramatic Club's
1970s production of One Way Pendulum 

Pentland Robson Dramatic Club members
stroll through a wood on their annual chill out
at Otterburn Hall

Thursday, 20 December 2012

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

Costume design for The Dark Lady of the Sonnets (1910)
by Charles Ricketts
Harley Granville-Barker as William Shakespeare
with Red Elizabethan Lady

"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 fallen on deaf ears.

But now the tables had been turned. He had unravelled the secret of English literature's greatest conundrum - 
"and it is right for all I have had to put up with, that it should have fallen to me to solve it".

Contemporary image used by Rowse on the title page
of his book on the Dark Lady

The lady he identified as the 'Dark Lady' was Emilia Lanier née Bassano, the Italianate daughter of a court musician and the mistress of Lord Hunsdon, with whom she had a son in 1593.

Rowse based his conclusion on his reading of the casebooks of the astrologer Simon Forman, on whom he was preparing a biography. From these he discovered that Emilia had been 'somewhat brown in youth', which corresponds nicely with 'dark' lady; and that her husband was called William, which neatly fits Sonnet 135:

So thou, being rich in Will, add to thy Will
One will of mine, to make thy large Will more.
Let no unkind nor fair beseechers kill;
Think all but one, and me in that one Will.

The evidence seemed impressive, until it was pointed out that Emilia's husband was not named William at all, but Alfonso. And that 'somewhat brown in youth' had been a mis-reading of 'somewhat brave in youth'.

As Professor Schoenbaum unkindly commented: 
"It is useful for a Dark Lady to be demonstrably dark". [William Shakespeare - A Compact Documentary Life].

Nevertheless, Rowse's book Shakespeare's Sonnets: The Problem Solved*, became a bestseller among Shakespeare enthusiasts avid for the tiniest piece of new information on the life of their hero.

*Compare the title with Patricia Cornwell's Jack the Ripper - Case Closed, in which the popular novelist claimed to have solved a mystery which had eluded police and criminologists for over a century.

The historian Michael Wood also unequivocally endorsed Rowse in his television series In Search of Shakespeare.

Michael Wood also believes that the Grafton Portrait is a depiction
of how Shakespeare would have been at 24, declaring: "Shakespeare looked like this: a young blade, diffident, sensitive, witty, ambitious, a provincial poet making his way in the world", and suggesting that he could have commissioned the portrait to send back to his proud parents as proof of how well he was doing in London.

Needless to say, however, there is a long list of alternative candidates for the post of the elusive Dark Lady, including the poet's wife, Anne Hathaway, Queen Elizabeth I, and, most recently, Lucy Negrowidely reported in the media. (1) So maybe the true identity will never been known. 

Patricia Cornwell, where are you?

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The business portfolio of William Shakespeare

Elizabethan England was a land of high inflation and unemployed.
But there were also business opportunities in the developing
capitalist system.

Image: Engraving by Peter Bruegel.

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.

Elizabethan society had Poor Laws and there was 
a Poor House in parishes overseen by 
Justices of the Peace.

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.

Built in 1595, the Swan theatre was an entertainment
arena for plays, bear bating and swashbuckling.

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.

New Place - Shakespeare's Stratford residence.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

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 pursued one John Addenbrooke for an unpaid loan of £6.  

In 1598 one Richard Quiney wrote a letter to his
'Lovinge good ffriend and contreymann Mr Will Shackespere' 

asking for a loan of £30. It is not known if Shakespeare 
replied to the letter
or that he even received it.

There were attempts to ban usury completely, on the grounds that it was forbidden in the Bible. 

But a developing capitalist system, and the financing of voyages of trade and discovery, made it an indispensable part of a new order than was emerging. 

And it is perhaps in these terms that Shakespeare could justify his actions, if indeed he wanted to justify them at all.

The vessel Red Dragon was used by the East India Company 
in trade with the East Indies.
It is believed that Hamlet was performed
onboard the ship in 1607.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Shakespeare's life was one of contrasts. A poet and actor on the one hand, an astute businessman on the other. 

Were these contradictions in his mind when he wrote The Merchant of Venice, itself a play of contrasts in which the action alternates between the magical island of Belmont with its fairy-tale princess, and the world of Venetian commerce with its usury and business deals? 

Was the poet-actor-businessman Shakespeare questioning his own values in the play? 

Warren Mitchell's Shylock was one of the highlights 
of the BBC TV Shakespeare 

Of course we can never know for certain what was passing through the mind of a man as complex as Shakespeare, and who lived 400 years ago, and in an age in which people's view of the world may have been very different to our own. 

And is it even important to know? As a character in Joyce's Ulysses states:

...when we read the poetry of King Lear what is it to us how the poet lived?

Friday, 7 December 2012

The History of England from 1689 to 1783

The arrival in England of William of Orange
as depicted by Sir James Thornhill
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 National Debt. 
Sir Christopher Wren rebuilds St. Pauls after
the old edifice was destroyed in the
conflagration of 1666
The eighteenth century opens on a sombre note for England. Louis XIV’s grandson inherits the throne of Spain and with it the Spanish empire and the Netherlands. This greatly increases the power of France. Then, in 1702, William dies, and with Mary also dead, the throne passes to Mary’s sister, Anne. John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, becomes commander of the army, and proves himself a brilliant military leader. He destroys the power of Louis XIV at the War of the Spanish Succession, fought to put an Austrian on the throne of Spain. With his Austrian allies he defeats a combined French and Bavarian army. The queen rewards him with a gift of the royal manor of Woodstock, along with Blenheim Palace, constructed by Sir John Vanbrugh. A further victory drives the French out of the 
John Churchill
1st Duke of Marlborough
Netherlands and Louis sues for peace. In 1707 England agrees an Act of Union with Scotland to create Great Britain, with a single flag, the Union Jack. But the war with France continues, with the English army advancing into France. Once more the French king sues for peace. But the Tories have a majority in the House of Commons and oppose the war as it financially benefits their political rivals the Whigs. In 1713 they conclude the Treaty of Utrecht, which gives Gibraltar to Britain, as well as Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Then, in 1714, Anne dies, and with no living issue, the crown passes to the Protestant descendants of the House of Hanover. After 700 years of Danish, Norman, French, Welsh, Scottish and Dutch sovereigns, England now has a German monarch who speaks no English - George I. The new king dispenses with many of his royal prerogatives, and the Whigs regain power in Parliament. Government by cabinet is created, and in 1721 Sir Robert Walpole becomes the first Prime Minister. 
Sir Robert Walpole in conversation
with Speaker Onslow in a painting
by Sir James Thornhill (1730)
In 1727 George I is succeeded by George II. Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels are published, It is also the age of Pope, Handel and Hogarth. In 1739 John Wesley begins his evangelising, and Walpole is forced into a sea war with Spain which leads to a full scale war involving most European powers. The war lasts eight years and like many wars achieves nothing. In 1745 the Young Pretender, Charles Edward, leads a Jacobite rebellion in Scotland with just seven followers. The Highlanders rise to support him, enter Edinburgh, and move south into England. But promised help from France does not materialise and the rebels are forced to retreat and are routed by the English on Culloden Moor near Inverness. In the same year Venetian artist Canaletto produces his paintings of Georgian London. And the first true novels are published, among them Tom Jones by Henry Fielding. The war ends in 1748, but tensions mount in North America, where France erects forts along several important rivers, the St. Lawrence, the Hudson and the Mississippi, confining to the coast the thirteen British colonies. In 1755 there is fighting on the Hudson 
The Thames on Lord Mayor's Day (1752)
by Canaletto (abstract)
which leads in 1756 to the Seven Years’ War in Europe. The war in Europe inhibits the French from reinforcing their North American colonies, and one by one their fortresses fall. 1759 sees a Year of Victories for the British, including the capture of Quebec by General Wolfe on 13 September 1759. Peace is finally agreed in 1763 with France ceding to Britain all Canada and all her territories west of the thirteen colonies.
William Pitt the Younger
In 1760 George II is succeeded by his grandson George III, who sees himself as the Patriot King. Government by cabinet is suspended, and replaced with a period of rule by the King and the ‘King’s Friends’. The year 1761 sees the departure of William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, and the force behind the recent victories, and is also marked by a deterioration of relations with the American colonies. Though self-governing, their trade was regulated by the British, who insisted they contribute to the high cost of the war in their defence. This is not unreasonable, but the colonies refuse to tax themselves, so the British Parliament prepares to tax them direct. The colonies protest ‘No taxation without representation’. Parliament imposes duties on a variety of imports only to repeal them after riots in Boston. But the tax on tea remains. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Captain Cook touches land in the newly discovered Australia. But the king continues to mismanage the nation’s affairs. In 1773 the North American colonists throw tea into the Boston harbour in an action known as the Boston Tea Party. Parliament’s response is to pass penal measures against Massachusetts. Skirmishes break out in the summer of 1775, and a year later, on 4 July 1776, a Declaration of Independence is issues by Congress. Canada remains loyal to the British, but an army marching south is surrounded at Saratoga and forced to surrender. France and Spain profit from a British defeat to declare war on their old adversary. In 1781 a British force at Yorktown is forced to surrender when it is caught between a Franco-American army and a French naval fleet. Finally, in 1782, Britain cedes all her territories south of Canada to the thirteen colonies.
In England the cabinet system is restored to government after the disaster of George’s personal rule. In 1783 William Pitt the younger, at 24 years of age, becomes Prime Minister.  In 1776 Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations is published. It is the age of Burke, Goldsmith, Gibbon, Sheridan and Gainsborough, and of the literary giant, Dr. Samuel Johnson. And in 1782 James Watt develops the steam engine, which is to lead to the creation of the railways and the Industrial Revolution.

Samuel Johnson 'the Great Cham'
by Sir Joshua Reynolds (c. 1772)
In April 1775 he published his Dictionary of the English Language

Sunday, 2 December 2012

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

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

The Grand Canal and the Church of the Salute (1730)

The veduta genre 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.

Venice: The Wharf, Looking towards the Doge's Palace
(first half 1700s) Luca Carlevarjis

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.

Venice: The Dogana and the Giudecca (c1775)
Francesco Guardi

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

Ruins of a Temple
Bernardo Bellotto (nephew of Canaletto)

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

Venice: Grand Canal