Cannae

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Image from page 24 of "The battle of Cann...

Exactly two thousand two hundred and thirty years ago, near the city of Cannae, Romans and Carthaginians were facing each others, ready to fight one of the greatest battles in history. Well, they didn’t know that – or at least, the Romans didn’t. Sure in their strenght and greater numbers, consuls Aemilius Paulus and Varro were confident that they’d finally give the Carthaginian usptart what was his.

But Hannibal? He must have known the battle he had designed was a tactical masterpiece. Certainly, he didn’t expect it to be his last great victory in the field… In the end, Cannae was his masterpiece and the high point of his flaming parable, and part of his intangible legacy – considering his tactics are still studied in military schools all over the worlds… Who knows, how would he like to know that in spite of losing his war, he won some sort of immortality for himself?

Oh, never mind me. I’m more than a little in love with the man – I’ve even written a novel about him. Well, two novels, technically. And a play, which I’m going to rewrite, because… because. And there are at least a couple of stories and a monologue still to be written…

And meanwhile, yes – today is the 2230th anniversary of Cannae, and here is a nice depiction of Cannae according to the BBC.

Song of the Summer Books

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6a011570c3de61970c0192aaa933ac970dI’ll confess I’m beginning to feel like taking a break, a vacation, a something…

Oh, I’m not going anywhere, not this summer. Too much work, too many projects, too many engagements, too many things to do. There is no conceivable way to do what I did last year: ten days in a little seaside hotel, writing and reading to my heart’s content, only interrupting myself for sleep, meals, and some nordic walking on the beach. I even had a lovely storm once, and sat up through half the night to watch the dark and angry sea… Very nice, on the whole, but when I realised there would be no chance for a repeat this summer, I just shrugged it off. Who needs vacations, I told myself.

But this was back in early June, and now is early August, and I’m not all that sure anymore.

It’s not that I miss the seaside – if anything, last year served as proof that I can live without the Adriatic, and that I like the literary notion of the sea much better than the thing itself – but… but.

There is a tiny pile of books, you see. One is John Masefield‘s Live and Kicking Ned. Then there are Rafael Sabatini‘s The Sea Hawk, Baroness Orczy‘s The Nest of the Sparrowhawk, and a couple of historical mysteries… All of them the sort of summer readings that are a vacation in and of themselves. Books that are the adult equivalent of an afternoon of glorious make-believe – you know the sort.

I came by them at different times through the last six or sevent months, and set them aside. For summer, I told myself. To pack in my bag when – if – I go anywhere. To give myself a treat if I go nowhere at all. A nice notion, don’t you think? Deck chairs in the garden, lemon popsicles, cricket-filled nights of reading in bed… Very nice.tyjtr

Except, there is no time. Days are too full to indulge – and frankly, there are far too many mosquitos to linger in the garden at all – and reading time is swallowed up by things I need to read for documentation… Which is all very interesting, but not at all restful, and… and yes, I’m really beginning to feel like that vacation now.

But I rather doubt I’ll have it… I’m beginning a summer course tomorrow, and a new translation job just rolled in, and I have a couple of deadlines looming, and then there is the Paper Stage project, and ten days of intense volunteer work await me at the end of August, and what remains of summer looks dreadfully short as it is. I very, very much doubt there’s going to be time for much. Perhaps one little book, if I try hard?

Ah well, Tiny Pile of Summer Books, what can I say? It would have been nice. Next year, perhaps.

Of History and Stories

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histnov2Kate Taylor of The Globe and Mail did this lovely double interview with historical novelists Philippa Gregory and Wayne Johnston, about… well, about how hard it is to make people understand the nature, purpose and rules of historical fiction.

Why, why, why, oh why is it that we have to spend so much time rebutting angry accusations of sloppiness, laziness, too much imagination, too little imagination – or pointing out that it is, you know, a novel? And this is not about historical accuracy, mind, but about the fictional characters and bits we all weave into the historical context…

But do read the interview – tellingly titled Truth and Lies: I’m not sure it really answers the question Why, but it certainly gives fodder for thought.

 

Conferencing Away

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Loc Casa AndreasiIt all begins in the morning, when an elderly cousin calls to say how lovely you look in that photo in the newspaper…

“Oh yes,” you say. “The talk. Tonight.”

“How nice,” the cousin coos. “Shakespeare and Marlowe!”

“No, just Marlowe.”

“Well, that’s not what the paper says…”

And this is how, over tea, you find out the local newspaper messed up and announced you at the right spot – with the wrong conference… oh dear. Well, you decide after some nail-biting, after all it’s still Elizabethans. At least, no one will arrive there expecting to hear about chinchilla breeding, right?

And let us skip over the rest of the day, and the fact that you barely manage one small rehearsal between a rush to the vet, and a funeral, and a minor domestic catastrophe… By all means, let us fast-forward to the evening, when you drive yourself to the venue under the stormiest of summer skies, wondering is this going to be a monsoon, a typhoon or a tempest? But the lady who supervises the place – a beautiful 15th Century city house with a perfect tiny garden – is recklessly cheerful about it. Why don’t you do it in the garden? You point to the threatening sky, and she waves away the gathering apocalypse. It would be so much nicer to have the talk in the garden…

True, you think but don’t say, unless a storm blows us all away…

And so the garden it is, and you help moving equipment from inside to outside, all the time keeping an eye on the sulky sky. But by the time a handful of people begin to appear, it is clear that, if you are not going to have a starry night, there will be no deluge, either.

And this is good. You try your memory stick on the laptop the Optimistic Lady provided, and it all works, and people begin to crowd – a bunch of grinning pupils of yours, among others – and you start to relax, and then the Conference Loon makes her appearance. The Conference Loon is a red-headed, more than slightly deranged lady who makes it a habit to dissent from… oh, anything. She likes to go to conferences, and upbraid the speaker, or ask unrelated question, and get miffed when the answer does not satisfy her.

“Well, perhaps she won’t this time,” chirps the Optimistic Lady…

Sure, you think but do not say, because frankly, what can you do? So you begin to tell your audience about Christopher Marlowe, and discover that, while your slides work just fine, the microphone does not. It hisses badly, and you have trouble doing without, because your vocal cords are ridiculously easy to upset. So there are some comings and goings all around you, while you keep up your stream of Marlowe-related chatter, and then there is the adorable, fat, inquisitive house cat, who decides that some dancing around your ankles will greatly improve the conference – and is captured once, and twice, and keeps coming back.

“Oh, let him,” you say at last. “He clearly appreciates Kit Marlowe.”

And the audience chuckles, and even more when the cat decides to take a nap on the loud-speaker… oh well. And on you forge from Canterbury to Cambridge, to London, to Flushing, to Scadbury, to Deptford, while all listen in what you feel would be presumptuous to call “spellbound attention”, but well… And oh, how you like applause. Which is why you forget the enemy is sitting in the back row.

“Any questions?” you ask, catching too late the panicked look in the Optimistic Lady’s eyes. Ops…

And sure as death, after one innocuous question about companies touring abroad, the Conference Loon raises her hand. She has a question.

“I don’t know if it is relevant, but what about John Donne?”

You blink.

“I’m in love with John Donne.”

“Er… yes. But I’m not sure I understand your question,” you try.

“Is he Marlowe’s contemporary?”

“A little less than a decade younger.”

“And is he influenced by Marlowe and the other writers before him?”

“Well… Nobody writes in a vacuum, you know, no writer is an island…”

“And what I want to know is–” she is beginning to grow noisy and very red in the face, so you jump in with the tale of Donne’s answer to Marlowe’s Come live with me and be my love, and it is an inspired move. She must not have known this particular poem, because she is momentarily silenced – long enough for the Optimistic Lady to regain control of the situation, and send the audience their separate ways until August 20, when you are to give another talk.

Diffused, the Conference Loon briefly compliments you. She loves Donne, you know – and no one knows a thing about him.

“With the obvious exception of Clara,” purrs the optimistic lady, clearly not new to small feuds with the Loon. There is a tense moment, killing glares are exchanged, then the Loon spins on her heel, and puffs her way out of the garden, and everyone leaves out a collectively held breath.

“She’s going to be here next month, you know?” the Optimistic Lady sighs.

You know. Of course she is. But oh well, you are happy and basking in the applause you received, and will think of the Loon, and the local newspaper, and the hissing microphones when the day comes. After all, next month is another month, right?

 

The Shakesperience etc.

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Discover-the-Shakesperience-1024x834I tend to be sceptical of enhanced ebooks when it comes to fiction, because it seems to me that the enhancements get in the way of the creative side of reading, by interfering with the reader’s imagination.

Nonfiction and study-guides, though, are horses of a different colour.

For instance The Shakesperience, Sourcebooks’ enhanced electronic editions of Shakespeare’s plays, offers such features as image and video galleries of content from great performances, audio clips of readings by great actors, interviews, production notes and essays by directors  – and this is good, because Elizabethan theatre was written for performance, not really – or not just – to be read. So yes, I’m sure all of this makes for an excellent complement to the study of Shakespeare’s plays.

The integration of commentary and footnotes in the text, all of it easily accessible by tapping on the screen, while  perhaps not quite the revolution promised by Sourcebooks, is the answer to the awkwardness of studying on e-texts. (And I really want to think that, by saying that “the way we do it now is to hard” because having to search for explanatory text is “an experience that involves a certain amount of work” and will “take the reader out of the learning experience”, Sourcebooks’ Dominique Raccah refers to non-enhanced ebooks, and not traditional books, because otherwise, all my reservations about enhancements would come back in full force.) Now, this article nicely compares the merits of several enhanced editions of Shakespeare, such as the Folger Luminary, Wordplay, and Shakespeare in Bits, and it seems clear that the quality of integrated commentary is what makes the difference.

So, I’m not sure the Shakesperience or its competitors will “change the way we read Shakespeare”, but they certainly seem to provide a nice way to study his works without paper.

 

The Shape of Things to Come

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head_wip_bw.jpg3Nina is the director in one of the companies I write for – not the one with the Centipede. She called me the other day, and summoned me, because we had things to discuss. Several things.

So I reported to a sort of green-room meeting, and found Nina positively sizzling with ideas – hers and mine.

First of all, could I please prepare an abridged version of my Sonnets play for a staged reading, a sort of hors-d’oeuvre before they stage the whole thing in earnest next year?

And (before I could catch my breath) speaking of Shakespeare, why don’t I open their cycle of Shakespearean readings with… well, not exactly a conference, but a conversation about Shakespeare and Marlowe, with two to four voices to read pieces of my choice, and myself as a narrator?

Oh, and about an Italian Paper Stage – what a marvelous idea! And yes, we are most definitely doing it. Could I please manage the blogging side? And prepare something-something for their website too?

“Only if you feel like it, of course..”

As if I would turn down any of it. As if she thought I would…

It’s quite some work – with a strictish deadline, because roles and readings will have to be handed out before the company disbands for vacations at the beginning of august, and the rest must be ready for the press-conference in which the company will present the season, at the beginning of September. So last night I sat up until four to work on what Nina and I have named the Small Sonnets, to begin with, and I expect a repeat tonight, and then there will be the matter of choosing the readings, and the blog, oh the blog – and let’s not forget two conferences, and the summer course I’m teaching in August…

This is going to be a busy summer.

 

 

Drawing Books

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I’ve always wanted to draw – and it rather pains me that I cannot. But really, I couldn’t draw to save my soul.

I usually live with my lack of drawing skills, but now and then it will up and bite me.  At times it is all about a wish to draw one of my characters, or a scene I wrote, or a costume or setting idea, at times it’s just because I would like to sketch an elephant or a tree for the fun of it, at times it is because I chance on something like  this Huff Post article about Joshua Landsman’s book journal.

The man draws lovely sketches of authors and books he loves (or not)… Just how awesome would it be to be able to do that?

Ah well…

Pickled herrings, stinging tails, and puzzles for the centuries

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RgreeneThink of Robert Greene, whose 456th birthday would be tomorrow, and his supposed deathbed repentance.

I mean, as far as hundredth sheep go, his (supposed) last bleat sounds remarkably bilious, doesn’t it? After living a life that was wild even by Elizabethan standards, he took ill, and turned very pious and very censorious. If printer Henry Chettle is to be trusted, while sick and ailing (from an indigestion of pickled herrings, of all things) Greene found the energy not only to repent his recklessness, but to rant venomously against quite a few fellow writers.

Actually, we can’t be sure Chettle is to be trusted at all, for he was quite a shady character, with the moral stature of a railway sleeper – far from above writing the Groatsworth of Wit himself, to publish it under dead Greene’s name for selling value… Anyway, whoever wrote the pamphlet had it in for two men in particular: a famous gracer of Tragedian – undoubtedly Kit Marlowe – and the Upstart Crow.

To Marlowe he preached about his sinful ways – either oblivious or not caring a button that to call someone an atheist in print might very well send this someone off to the gallows. Instead, with the Crow it was not a matter of religion: him Greene loathed because he had the gall to write plays in spite of being an unlettered player – a combination clearly synonymous with “cockroach” to Robert Greene, MA.

While there is no doubt where Marlowe is concerned, t is generally but not universally accepted that the Crow was Shakespeare, the grammar-schoolboy who strutted on a stage and presumed to write. The alternative theory that it might have been actor Edward Alleyn makes some measure of sense when you consider that in 1592 Shakespeare was perhaps not yet as famous as Greene seems to imply of the Crow, and that Greene, while despising all players, despised young Ned Alleyn most of all.

Whatever the case, it is little wonder that two of the Groatsworth’s targets didn’t take it too well, and complained with enough vehemence to force apologies – which, Greene being dead, Chettle provided in the preface to a later book. Maddeningly enough, he made no names, but went to some pains to point out that one of the two he had come to know in the meantime and was sorry to have offended, while with the other he did not care to be acquainted.

Again, it is generally assumed that the nice one was Shakespeare (or at least the Crow), while to Marlowe one gave a wide berth… I don’t know. Once more, was Shakespeare the Crow? And even if he was, who was likelier to command the more sugared apology – the provincial player and part-time writer, or the famous poet out of Cambridge with friends in high places? On the other hand, one might well want to distance oneself from such a taint as suspected atheism. On the other hand again, I wouldn discount the chance of some sarcasm, either – with Chettle waxing extravagant in his forced apology… After all, insincere adulation is hard to call to task without risking some ridicule…

Ah well – it might be one of those things we’ll never know. Things we’ve lost, because they were written – both the Groatsworth and the apology – for an audience of contemporaries, who woul know how to read between the lines, and not for us, four centuries and a half later.

I can’t help thinking, though, that Robin Greene, mischief-maker that he was, would have relished in the notion of these people of the future puzzling cluelessly about his Crow, and who was madder, worse, and more dangerous to know: Shakespeare or Marlowe – or maybe Alleyn?

Backstage With John Lithgow

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18artsbeat-lithgow1-articleInlineDon’t you love backstage glimpses? Don’t you love rehearsals? Don’t you love to find out how the magic works?

I do – very much, so I was delighted when I found this delightful series of posts actor John Lithgow is writing for The New York Times’  ArtsBeat blog. Lithgow is currently rehearsing the title role in King Lear for Free Shakespeare in the Park, and finds the time to write Learning Lear, a diary of the rehearsals that is both thoughtful and chatty, with lots of interesting insight on the daily works of a theatre company.

Learning Lear is an ongoing series, and you can find the first handful of entries here. With more to come, of course…

Nearly Averted Centipedicide

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You may, or may not, have wondered how it ended with the Centipede

I’haven’t murdered him – but it was a close thing. I know I ended the other post on a hopeful note, saying that we’d stopped hating each other, that things were beginning to work, that perhaps, perhaps…

Actually, no.

He ruined my Nicholas Nickleby moment...

He ruined my Nicholas Nickleby moment…

Things seemed to be getting better for a while, and the Director was rather happy with me, and we all felt a little relieved. And perhaps the mistake was in letting the Centipede know of the company’s collective rosier outlook, because I can only imagine that, once we stopped scowling at the very mention of the boy’s name, he must have thought he’d done enough. So the brainless creature started missing rehearsals and training session – when it was too late to replace him.

He even appeared unforgivably late for dress rehearsal, and then disappeared again before we could start his final drilling – because he had another engagement. He even had the gall to tell the Director that hey, it was just seven lines, for crying out loud…

Which is where we should have sent him to Jericho, shared out his lines, and good riddance. But we didn’t – and paid for it. In the end, he missed two cues out of seven (bless the quick-thinking souls who filled in), messed up his and everyone else’s blocking like mad, stepped into a dance sequence he didn’t belong to and butchered it…

I was manning the lights consolle during all that – and pittikins, it was a blood-curdling experience just to watch. I can’t imagine what it must have been onstage and backstage. Or rather, I can – because I heard it all at the after-show dinner. The Centipede wasn’t there – or anywhere around us, since, which goes to show he is possessed of some survival instinct, if nothing else.

I’ve crossed him twice in town, after the debacle, and found him very careful in avoiding me…

What’s the bottom line of this story? Very likely that there is only so much one can expect even from the magic of theatre. Miracles don’t happen – unless everyone involved works very hard to make them happen. And it was clearly not the case with this Centipede.

I don’t know what the Centipede’s theatrical future will be – either with “my” company or elsewhere.  As far as I’m concerned, he can stay in the ditch and flail all he likes: it’s nice not to have committed a murder, after all, but I am most certainly never wasting any more time and energy on him.

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