Friday, 23 September 2016

WS ABC Part 22 - William D'avenant WS's godson?

WILLIAM D'AVENANT (1606-68) {WS's son/godson? - more on this later} the son of an Oxford vintner was an English playwright, poet and theatre manager. He wrote many masques and plays and King Charles I appointed him to be the Poet Laureate in 1638. In the Civil war that broke out four years later, D'Avenant was a Royalist. He fought for the king and was knighted after the siege of Gloucester in 1643. Later he was captured and imprisoned (1650-52) and while he was a prisoner in the Tower of London he composed his epic Gondibert. He is said to have been released by Cromwell's secretary, John Milton. He repaid the writer of Paradise Lost by helping him out during the Restoration period.
                         William D'Avenant (before 1630)

After the Restoration in 1660, D'Avenant, together with Thomas Kiiligrew received official permission to form an acting company - the Duke's Men - and also to manage a theatre at Lincoln's Inn Fields. Here, among other plays, they also staged several of Shakespeare's.  

D'Avenant had quite an influence on how plays were acted then and his productions of Macbeth, The Tempest, Measure for Measure and Much Ado About Nothing were considered important steps in the development of the theatre. He also put on Two Noble Kinsmen (as The Rivals) a Shakespearean play that has since been lost. He also wrote The Siege of Rhodes in 1656, the first English opera which introduced actresses to the stage.

D'Avenant produced his own first tragedy, Albovine in 1629 and he followed this up with The Cruel Brother and The Just Italian. He also worked with Inigo Jones, an important and influential architect and stage-designer, to co-produce three masques.  

The famous and gossipy writer, John Aubrey, (1626-97) recorded that D'Avenant was Shakespeare's natural (i.e. illegitimate) son although other theories state that he was the Bard's godson. Aubrey based this theory (c.1680) on that WS had to pass through Oxford on his journeys back and forth between Stratford-upon-Avon and London and it was in Oxford, D'Avenant was conceived. So far no-one has found any positive proof to back up this theory. Aubrey's theory first appeared in print in 1749.
                                              John Aubrey

D'Avenant is also said to have preserved and transmitted a number of Shakespearean theatrical traditions, especially in connection with the stage direction of production of Hamlet.

On a less pleasant note, D'Avenant contracted syphilis in 1630, a disease which caused him to lose part of his nose. This accounts for the discreet way his nose appears in John Greenhill's best-known portrait of him.
                     D'Avenant as Poet Laureate (after 1638)

Next time: The Elizabethan theatre.
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Thursday, 15 September 2016

WS ABC Part 21 - Desdemona

DESDEMONA - "the sweetest innocent that e'er did lift up eye" starts off on the wrong foot. Without consulting her father, a Venetian senator, she runs off and marries Othello, a Moorish gentleman and soldier of fortune. She is brought to the council to explain her behaviour and her father reluctantly accepts it that she loves her husband.

She is then escorted to Cyprus by the evil and jealous Iago and learns that another officer, Cassio has been disgraced as a result of Iago's stratagem. Cassio asks Desdemona to intercede for him with Othello, and Iago, who is annoyed that he wasn't promoted, used this contact to suggest to Othello that Cassio and Desdemona are lovers. Iago then boosts Othello's jealousy and in the end Othello kills his wife by smothering her in her bed. 

In many productions of the play, Desdemona is shown as a soft and passive beauty. This is not true. She has the strength of character to 'buck the system' and marry without her father's permission. But not only that, but she marries a Moor as well. She is also a sophisticated woman of the world who has a witty tongue, this being apparent when we hear her flippant banter with Iago and Cassio on the quayside in Act II. sc.i. 

On the other hand, although she is an educated Venetian lady, she is slow to realise the depth of Othello's jealousy and tends to belittle Cassio's flirting. It is this innocence on her part that causes many directors to cast her as a simple, passive wife.
Iago's wife, Emilia, sums her up best, "O she was heavenly true!'

Desdemona was first played by an actress (not allowed in WS time) by Margaret Hughes in 1669, this performance being watched by Samuel Pepys. The 19th century actor, Charles Kean (1811-68), son of the famous actor, Edmund Kean collapsed while playing in Othello and died soon after. Memorable performances of Desdemona were given both by Sarah Siddons (1755-1831) and Dame Ellen Terry (1847-1928).
                               Maggie Smith as Desdemona

More recently in 1966, Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey, Marigold Hotel and Pride of Miss Jean Brodie) played Desdemona opposite Sir Laurence Olivier and the film received more Academy awards for a WS play than any other. An Indian Bollywood version was produced in 2006 and starred the ever-popular Kareena Kapoor as Desdemona.

It is generally agreed that WS based Othello on Giraldi Cinthio's novella, Hectommithi (1565), but the only direct link is Desdemona's name which is the only name that appears in both the original and the WS version. In the original, Desdemona dies when the bed falls on her while other versions have Othello smothering, stifling or strangling her to death. In the 1948 film, A Double Life, actor Ronald Coleman kisses his wife to death.

In another version, Orson Welles stretches a scarf across Desdemona's mouth before kissing her to death. Some other versions in keeping with the Elizabethan stage tradition had Desdemona killed off-stage. The murder was accompanied by lurid and fatal noises.

Next time: Sir William D'Avenant (Shakespeare's godson?)


Saturday, 10 September 2016

WS ABC Part 20 - Cordelia

CORDELIA, "the unpriz'd precious maid" whose "voice was ever soft, gentle and low," was the third and youngest daughter of King Lear, the ruler of pre-Christian Britain. When asked to flatter her father and so receive her third of the kingdom on her father's abdication, all she can say is, "Nothing, my lord."
Lear is furious with his honest daughter and banishes her. 

Later she returns with her husband at the head of a French army in order to avenge the wrongs that Lear's other daughters, Goneril and Regan, two "gilded serpents," "she-foxes" and "tigers, not daughters" have done to their ageing father. Cordelia's forces are defeated and she is reunited with her father. They are captured and imprisoned and Edmund, the bastard son of Lear's ally, the Earl of Gloucester, gives orders that Cordelia is to be hanged. At the last moment, in a moment of remorse, Edmund tries to countermand his previous order but it is too late. Cordelia has been hanged. The last we see of her in this powerful tragedy is King Lear holding her dead body as he cries out:

I might have saved her;now she's gone for ever!
Cordelia, Cordelia! stay a little. 

Although Cordelia has a small part in the play, (117 lines), she plays a  critical role. She represents true love, honesty and virtue in contrast to her evil sisters. (forerunner of Cinderella?) and acts out the role of the dutiful daughter, her love overcoming any materialistic demands.

The original WS tragic end of this play was found to be too much for many 17th century audiences. In 1681, Nahum Tate, an Irish poet and playwright, (1652-1715) changed its final scenes. Cordelia is not hanged. Instead she falls in love with Edgar (Gloucester's good son) and Lear retires peacefully. This version became the standard for 150 years until 1838 when W.C. Macready, an actor and the manager of Covent Garden and Drury Lane theatres, had the play returned to its original words.

Shakespeare probably based his play on an earlier happier play, The True Chronicle History of King Leir and his Three Daughters, c.1594. In other versions by Holinshed and Edmund Spenser, Cordelia stabs herself, but several years after Lear dies.

Next time: Yet another tragic lady: Desdemona.
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Saturday, 3 September 2016

WS ABC Part 23, Cressida (of Troillus &)

CRESSIDA, "there's language in her eye, her cheek, her lip, nay her foot..." is the beautiful daughter of Chalchas, who, during the siege of Troy, has defected to the Greek camp. Troilus, the son of the Trojan King Priam, falls in love with her. Her mischievous Uncle Pandarus decides he will be their go-between but in the meanwhile, Chalchas has persuaded the Greek general, Agamemnon to arrange a prison exchange. 

As a result, when Troilus sees Cressida again, he finds her embracing Diomedes, another Greek general. Troilus is out for blood but when he fights Diomedes, the latter merely takes his horse away from him and sends it to Cressida. And Cressida, what does she have to say about all this? This passive creature, the victim of her emotions, doesn't say much. She merely justifies her flighty behaviour before fleeing off stage in Act V. sc ii:

                    Ah, poor our sex!this fault in us I find,
                    The error of our mind directs our mind:
                   What error leads must err; O, then conclude,
                   Minds sway'd by eyes are full of turpitude.

 This play was probably written before 1603 and was first published in 1609. It was then described as a new work, 'never staled with the stage, never clapper-clawed with the palms of the vulgar.' Its sources include Homer's Iliad together with Caxton's Recuyell of the Histories of Troy {the first book printed in English in 1475} and John Lydgate's Troybook. (c.1412-20). Shakespeare also possibly used Chaucer's poem Troilus and Cressida, itself a work based on Boccaccio's Filostrato. 

Although this play is often categorised as a tragedy, it is really a 'problem play' in that it is a mixture of tragedy and comedy. Chivalric-heroism is mocked; Achilles is a stupid, boastful homosexual braggart; the great lover, Troilus, is debased and looks like a romantic fool while Cressida is shown to be 'a daughter of the game.' She is heartless and has no real depth of feeling. All she succeeds in doing is to wake an excessive passion for her in Troilus.

The Shakespeare expert, Prof. Stanley Wells, comments that Troilus and Cressida is perhaps, the Bard's most pessimistic play, 'a profound examination of human values, especially in relation to love and war, in the light of eternity. It does not seek popular appeal, but has found receptive audiences for the first time in the twentieth century.'

Personal post-script: My faithful 1997 Honda CR-V is also called Cressida. I hope she continues to be more loyal and faithful than the classic Cressida of ancient mythology and of the Swan of Avon.
Next time I will deal with Cordelia, another unfortunate Shakespearean heroine.

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Tuesday, 30 August 2016

WS ABC Shakespeare Cartoons - Last part

Please accept my grovelling apologies but, owing to technical problems, the second part has had to be split into two. here is the last section.

Richard III not only fell at Bosworth Field but he also fell victim to the cartoonist's pen.

Finally, a random selection to finish off with: 

                              Sorry, there isn't. he died 400 years ago!

Next time, we'll be a tad more serious and concentrate on Cressida, of "Troilus & Cressida" and Co.

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WS ABC Shakespeare Cartoons # 2

Last time we dealt with Shakespeare and cartoons I concentrated on those that were inspired by Hamlet, Yorick and To be or not to be.. This time the cartoonists inspiration will come from Shakespeare's own life and his questionable relationship with his wife, Anne Hathaway, as well as relating to Macbeth and even the Sonnets
Whoops, wrong Anne Hathaway. She is said to have looked more like the lady below.

Here for a start, in the eyes of three cartoonists, is a picture of the domestic life of the Bard of Avon.

From here we move on to the royal court where King James I was one of his chief fans. In fact he was so much so, that it is said that Macbeth was written with him in mind. According to tradition, this king who hated witches (and the new habit of smoking) asked our William for a Scottish flavoured play. As part of this play, it was said that the king, who was also King James VI of Scotland (and also son of the unfortunate Mary, Queen of Scots) was the last of the descendants of Banquo as shown by the Witches when Macbeth goes for the last time to seek their help.

Shakespeare wrote 154 Sonnets. The most popular one with cartoonists seems to be #18, Shall I compare thee to a summer's day... For some reason Sonnet 130, "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun" plus a full glowing description of his mistress and the rest of her anatomy, or Sonnet 73, "That time of year thou mayst in me behold" when he invokes images of old age and death do not merit a single line or squiggle. 

Monday, 22 August 2016

WS ABC Richard III - Special memorial Blog

                                            Richard III

Today, August 22nd is the 531st anniversary of the death of King Richard III. This king, the last of the Plantagenet dynasty, was killed at Bosworth Field, Leicester, UK trying to defend his country from the usurper, Henry, Duke of Richmond. Although this minor aristocrat was one of several who claimed the throne, he was the one who succeeded.
                                             Henry VII
Henry was a direct descendant of Henry V's wife, Catherine, who, after this king's untimely death from dysentery, married Owen Tudor, one of her serving men. Owen's son, Edmund became the father of the future Henry Tudor, Henry VII.

Richard III (1452-1485) was the younger brother of Edward IV and played a key role in helping his brother regain the throne from Henry VI during the Wars of the Roses. Richard was appointed Duke of Gloucester and Lord Protector of Edward IV's, son Edward V when Edward IV died in 1483. Soon after, Edward V and his brother, Richard Duke of York - 'the Princes in the Tower' - disappeared and Uncle Richard was crowned King Richard III.

He was suspected of killing his nephews so that they could not inherit the the throne even though, due to their illegitimacy, they would not have been allowed to do so in any case. 

Bosworth Field, Leicestershire, today.

Richard III's 'White Boar' flag at Bosworth Field today

'Richard's Well', Bosworth where he was reputed to have drunk   before his final battle. (Author's photos)

Richard reigned for only two years, 1483-85 but despite his popularity in the north of England, he was unable to win broad-based support as king. When Henry defeated him at Bosworth Field, this was his second attempt. Richard fought and died bravely and even Henry VII's official historian, Polydore Vergil, described Richard as a valiant warrior.

Shakespeare, whose play Richard III has permanently blackened Richard's reputation, has written the best and most effective piece of propaganda ever. Our William had vested interests in doing so. Assuming he wished to keep his head on his shoulders, or at least stay out of the Tower of London, Shakespeare had no choice but to describe Richard as 'a bottl'd spider, that foul hunch-back'd toad.' How could Shakespeare have written that his queen's grandfather, Henry VII, an anointed king, had killed another good and anointed king? Richard just had to be a 'foul defacer of God's handiwork.' 

Statue of Richard III today outside Leicester Cathedral (left) and his tomb in thee cathedral below.
(Author's photos)
Interestingly enough, even though Richard reigned for only two years, he is one of the most studied and intriguing of English kings. For many years there has been a thriving international Richard III Society and much noise was made when this maligned king's body was found buried below a parking lot in Leicester in September 2012. His body was found below the letter 'R'. His remains were re-interred in Leicester Cathedral complete with full royal and religious honours in March 2015. 
            King Richard III in the centre of Leicester today.

I will write more about the man and Shakespeare's ever popular play, Richard III, later in this blog, i.e. when I reach the letter R. Please, kind gentles, do be patient.

Will return to Shakespearean cartoons next time.
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