Despite All Evidence to the Contrary, I am Not Dead

I wish I could give some extraordinarily compelling excuse for my extended absence over the past few months: alien abduction, Freaky Friday-esque body-switching, or an improbable scenario in which I somehow discover that Jules Verne was right all along and the earth is indeed hollow and inhabited by dinosaurs, and I end up shacking up with Brendan Fraser and making it all the way to China through the Earth’s crust. But sadly the excuse is, as ever, an extraordinary banal one: a new job, the kind of cold that’s so persistent that after a few weeks it brings along a few of its friends and turns your sinuses into its own personal party bus, all combined with the usual leg-dragging laziness. Continue reading

The Taming of the Shrew: Misogynistic or Just ‘Of Its Time’?

Taming of the Shrew

This post is a response to Pages Unbound’s Classic Remarks meme.

The Taming of the Shrew is Shakespeare’s family-friendly romp about a tough, street-wise hero who falls in love with and marries a fast-talking heroine. They decide to play an elaborate prank on their friends and family, so the pair pretend to hate each other and the hero torments the heroine, in order to highlight the atrociously misogynistic attitudes of early modern England.

Hmm. Maybe not so much. Although there’s been some debate about the extent to which Taming of the Shrew is in fact a misogynistic play (some people even argue that it’s just the opposite) I think it’s fair to say that it’s pretty problematic. It includes a great many jokes about women needing to be ‘tamed’, not to mention scenes of abuse: Katharina, the ‘Shrew’, is abducted and starved by her new husband Petruchio. Continue reading

Wherein I Take A Crack At ‘The Problem of Susan’

Narnia Susan

This week’s Classic Remarks prompt from Pages Unbound is brought to you by Susan Pevensie, problem child of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series. So, as you might expect:

Warning: major spoilers for the Narnia series ahead!

I always found the ending of The Last Battle so unbearably crappy and depressing. The Pevensies were in a terrible train accident and then got transported to the apocalyptic end of the Narnia they had known and loved to live in a suspiciously small-looking walled garden with all the people they’d met in Narnia, ever? (Remember, as a kid I had no idea that the series was an allegory, but even knowing that fact doesn’t make it any less of a crappy and depressing allegory.) Continue reading

Austen in Edinburgh: A Lecture at the NLS

Emma FlyerI don’t normally write about lectures and seminars that I go to, but I recently had the opportunity to attend a rather interesting lecture at the National Library of Scotland that I thought I’d share with you all. The lecture has some fun bookish connections: organised by the Edinburgh-based author Alexander McCall Smith, the Isabel Dalhousie lecture is dedicated to one of Smith’s beloved characters, Isabel Dalhousie, philosopher and amateur sleuth, and (naturally) lover of Edinburgh and Scottish culture. This year’s lecture just happened to be on a topic I’m particularly interested in. Juliette Wells, an American scholar, gave a talk on the first American edition of Jane Austen’s Emma and its significance for Austen scholarship and the study of Austen’s reception in America. I read Wells’ book, Everybody’s Jane, for Austen in August last year (I was also supposed to re-read Emma itself for that particular event, but as I mentioned in my review of the novel, that turned out to be a massive bust…) so I was curious to hear her talk. Continue reading

Revenge Overload: The Spanish Tragedy (1592), by Thomas Kyd

Spanish TragedyPlease note: there are spoilers ahead. Mostly of the who-kills-whom variety. If you’re a fan of mystery, I’d recommend you get comfy with a copy of Kyd before you read on with my review.

BALTHAZAR
Hieronimo, methinks a comedy were better.

HIERONIMO
A comedy?
Fie, comedies are fit for common wits:
But to present a kingly troupe withal,
Give me a stately-written tragedy,
Tragedia cothurnata, fitting kings,
Containing matter, and not common things.

(IV:i, ll. 155-161)

The Spanish Tragedy is one of those plays that shows up very frequently on college courses and Shakespeare-related reading lists. Yet despite its popularity with Theatre Studies professors the world over, it’s very rarely the first thing to pop into someone’s head when they think of Elizabethan theatre. Or the second thing, for that matter.

I have to admit, this puzzles me a little. After all, The Spanish Tragedy pretty much does exactly what it says on the can: it’s set in Spain; it’s about revenge; and there’s enough tragedy to make even Romeo and Juliet take a break from their incessant adolescent whining to sit up and take notes. Continue reading

Things I Thought About Before I Watched ‘Shakespeare Lives!’

Shakespeare FireworksThis year, the world is going Shakespeare-mad. Or, at least, that’s what British tourism companies and theatre troupes the world over are hoping as we mark four hundred years since the Bard shuffled off this mortal coil, and about four hundred and fifteen years since he wrote the phrase “shuffled off this moral coil”. Last Saturday, the 23rd of April, was the official date, which by all accounts was met with the kind of enthusiasm usually reserved for football matches or the final episode of The Great British Bake-Off.

In Stratford-upon-Avon, the Royal Shakespeare Company held a two-hour event to celebrate the work of Britain’s best-known playwright. As I settled in to watch a show which featured British theatre royalty (and, indeed, some actual royalty too), I began thinking about the way that Shakespeare has settled into our collective understanding of literature, culture, and art. Continue reading

Top Ten Books That Have Made Me Laugh

I’ll admit, I’m cheating a little this week – instead of following The Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt this week, I’ve decided to make a small modification. This is mostly because I think humour is hugely subjective. It’s also because I’ve been told on multiple occasions that I have a simply dreadful sense of humour, so I feel it’s only fair that I not impose that on others. So instead of sharing ‘Ten Books That Will Make You Laugh’, I’ve decided to list the books that have made me laugh (or, at least, think ‘hey, that’s pretty funny’). Warning: the following may contain incredibly childish jokes, simply dreadful puns, and even a little toilet humour. You’ve been warned. Continue reading

Fat Men, Fat Gods: The Beauty Myth (1990), by Naomi Wolf

Beauty MythIf you’re a woman in 2016, chances are you’ve probably, at some stage in your life, seen a picture of another woman – whether it be in an advertisement, in a film, or just on the street – and thought, ‘Geez. She’s so much prettier than me’. You’ve probably done something painful or inconvenient or expensive to your body at least once – whether you’ve plucked, scrubbed, scraped, steamed, smeared, or even laid down on a table and let someone put a scalpel to your skin. And if you haven’t, then chances are you’re either: a) living outside human society as a cultureless hermit, in which case you probably won’t be reading this anyway, or b) you’re one of the rare people who are actually happy with their bodies, in which case I applaud you and beg you to kindly TELL ME HOW THE HELL YOU DO IT thank you please and kind regards. Continue reading