Top Ten Most Memorable Mothers in Literature

Happy belated Mother’s Day, Mums! Hopefully your kids remembered that Saturday was the big day, and bought you lots of nice presents and didn’t forget, like Steve always does. Nice job, Steve.

(Full disclosure: I did forget.)

So to make up for it, Mum, here are ten memorable mothers from literature for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday. Thank you for having all the qualities of the good ones and none of the qualities of the bad ones. Continue reading

William Shakespeare’s STAR WARS: Verily, A New Hope (2013), by Ian Doescher

william-shakespeares-star-warsWilliam Shakespeare’s STAR WARS seems to be written with a very specific audience in mind: one that both loves and knows the Star Wars movies (sci-fi nerds, myself included), as well as the works of Shakespeare (history and lit nerds). Which would seem to be a weirdly specific demographic, but in actual fact just goes to show how both Star Wars and Shakespeare can cross boundaries of genre and appeal to readers/viewers with all kinds of different tastes. Let’s face it, a lot of time it just isn’t helpful to make assumptions about what preferences for certain genres say about a person, because it’s almost always a lot more complicated than we’d like to think.

A mashup of Shakespeare, traditionally seen as the epitome of olde-worlde England (despite how often his plays are re-imagined in various contexts), and Star Wars, a seemingly futuristic story nevertheless set “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” (or, as Doescher has it, “In time so long ago […] / In star-crossed galaxy far, far away” [Prologue]) would seem to be a weird combination. Continue reading

Hello, Fellow Hypocrites! Tartuffe (1664), by Molière

tartuffeThis book is #31 on my Classics Club list. There’s also some spoilers below.

Molière was a French actor and playwright who was popular with the French aristocracy. At the time he was considered a comedic genius, presumably because he had impeccable timing. You can tell because he died after collapsing onstage during a performance of a play entitled The Imaginary Invalid, in which he played a hypochondriac. You can’t make this kind of stuff up, people.

Tartuffe is one of Molière’s best-known plays. It’s basically about a brilliant and witty housemaid called Dorine who works for a family of absolute nitwits. Or at least it would be, if I had my way. In actual fact, Dorine, while being the only character in the play I didn’t actively fantasise about drowning, is not the main character in this particular story. Instead, that honour perhaps goes to Tartuffe, although the man doesn’t actually make all that many appearances onstage. Continue reading

The One With the Big Hooter: Cyrano de Bergerac (1897), by Edmond Rostand

cyrano-de-bergeracThis book is #18 on my Classics Club list.

‘Tis well known, a big nose is indicative
Of a soul affable, and kind, and courteous,
Liberal, brave, just like myself, and such
As you can never dare to dream yourself,
Rascal contemptible!*

(Scene I: Act 4)

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a French musketeer with an enormous nose.

And no, I’m not making this up. The hero of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play, Cyrano de Bergerac, is a brilliant fighter, poet, and wit.

Oh – and he is also well-known for having an absolutely enormous nose. 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

Insta-Love and Innuendo: Just How Romantic is Romeo and Juliet?

Romeo Juliet Fishtank

Romeo and Juliet: distorting our understanding of romantic love since 1597.

Last week, I came across a fabulous post by Emily from Roseread, which discussed the question: should Jane Austen be included in the canon? It led me to the wonderful meme Classic Remarks from Pages Unbound, which poses weekly questions about literature. I was keen to try my hand at one of the questions, and this week’s prompt is particularly interesting:

Is Romeo and Juliet a tragic love story or an ironic comedy?  Should we take the play seriously when its protagonists are so young? Continue reading

Knaves and Fools: The Revenger’s Tragedy, by – Thomas Middleton? Or Cyril Tourneur? – (1607)

Four Revenge TragediesWarning: murder, mayhem, and spoilers ahead!

A man walks onstage holding a skull. He starts to speak.

No, you’re not watching Hamlet – though there’s little doubt that it is a cheeky reference to one of the most recognisable scenes in English dramatic history.

The play is The Revenger’s Tragedy, written either by Cyril Tourneur or crowd favourite Thomas Middleton, depending on which scholar you believe. It is a confusing, bloody, and at times hilarious look at the revenge tragedy genre and, like all good revenge tragedies, there are gory deaths aplenty.

The story’s protagonist is Vindice, the aforementioned skull-handler. The skull belongs to his love, Gloriana, who was murdered by an unscrupulous Duke some nine years ago. As you can probably guess (based on the weird and obsessive hoarding of his beloved’s bones) Vindice has had a little bit of trouble getting over it. So he devises a scheme to avenge Gloriana by disguising himself as a servant and insinuating himself with the Duke’s son, Lussurioso. The usual murder, mayhem, and sexual escapades ensue. Continue reading

Death By Cauldron: Plus, Fifty Other Ways To Die in Elizabethan England: The Jew of Malta (c. 1590), by Christopher Marlowe

Jew of MaltaWarning! Dangerous spoilers ahead!

Renaissance drama certainly packs a punch. And Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta is no exception. If you’re ready for scheming, thieving, poisoning, blackmail, more poisoning, and Death By Cauldron, then you’ve certainly come to the right place. It’s hardly surprising that this play was so popular with the Elizabethans – and it’s amazing that Marlowe managed to stuff so much murder and mayhem into just one play.

The Jew of Malta, unsurprisingly, is set on the tiny Mediterranean island, which is being besieged by Turkish troops. The slippery governor of the island decides that in order to pay a tribute demanded by the Turks, he will take the money of Malta’s wealthiest citizen, a Jewish merchant called Barabas. As you can probably imagine, Barabas doesn’t take too kindly to being robbed blind, and sets out to take his revenge on the unscrupulous Christians. With the help of a Turkish slave called Ithamore, Barabas does any number of nasty things, including poisoning an entire nunnery (including his own daughter, Abigail), and tricking his daughter’s suitors into killing one another. As might be expected, the whole situation quickly deteriorates, and double-crossings and murders ensue by the bucketload. 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

So You Think You Can Write Blank Verse?: The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (1604), by Christopher Marlowe

Doctor FaustusThis book is #41 on my Classics Club list.

Shakespeare’s identity is so contested in some circles that scanning a list of possible alternative ‘real Shakespeares’ these days can feel a little like watching audition videos for Big Brother (or just about any reality TV show screened after 8pm). There’s so many wacky and even worrying choices that you begin to wonder if you’ll ever reach the end of them. Christopher Marlowe is somewhat of a crowd favourite on both So You Think You Can Write Blank Verse? and Who Wants to be Shakespeare?*. His is a tale of trial over adversity, mostly because he died in 1593, about twenty years before Shakespeare’s last known play was performed.

Other than this slight mortuary hiccup, however, the Marlowe-as-Shakespeare story is attractive to many because it would be a fantastic tale if it were true. Continue reading