Late in January 1593, the Privy Council, worried about what looked like a new bout of plague, wrote a letter to London’s authorities, ordering to close all playhouses. It was one of many times this happened: City fathers, Privy Council, Puritans – a lot of people seemed ready to blame the playhouses for anything, from the corruption of minds, to general dishonesty and health troubles. Let us say that an attempt to contain contagion was one of the saner reasons for closing them down… Continue reading
One particular discovery of this last trip to London was Sir John Soane’s museum house at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. I think I’d been there before, perhaps some twenty years ago, on my very first time in London – but, for some reason, the place had failed to strike me the way it has this time.
Now I’m rather in love.
In love with the unbelievable Crypt: you access the rear basement via the kitchen – and find yourself entirely surrounded by Sir John’s antiquities, filling every available space, piling up the walls, up to the eaves – in the most literal sense. Wherever you turn there is another statue, another fragment, another vase, another model, another, and another, and another… You pick your way from cabinet to small room, up narrow stairs, you look up and down this sort of antique-lined well, with its fanlight above… and then there is the room entirely lined with paintings – and not any paintings, either: a few Canalettos, a handful of Hogarts, a collection of Piranesi… Continue reading
More empires, then…
Vienna is, on many levels, a lovely city – but after reading Joseph Roth I was never able to see it in the same way again. Roth’s Empire, the one of the Hapsburgs, of the many ethnic groups, of my Dreiländer grandmother who gave her son an Emperor’s name, that elephantine, multilingual Empire, orderly in it chaos, austere, slow and immutable – that Empire died with Franz Josef, and decomposed with World War One. Most surely it is not to be found in the quaint patisseries in the form of the Sachertorten fed to endless tourists, nor in the ubiquitous Mozartkügeln, the girls dressed up as Sisi, the maudlin songs played in garden restaurants… Vienna has chosen a sugary image of the Empire, flattering for the national character and good for tourism – betraying the ancient, supranational and hallowed idea. Because while kingdoms are places, empires are ideas… Now a shadow of that idea only remains, perhaps, in the Kapuzinergruft in the Neue Markt. Continue reading
Now this was sparked by an exchange of mails with an archeologist friend. We came to discuss empires – falling and fallen, lost and surviving in shadows… which brought me to muse on my personal collection of Lost Empires – or, at least, of shadows I found, sometimes in strange places or in the pages of a book.
Lisbon, for instance, I found to be a strange place: melancholy, grand, and neglected, still dotted with ruins from the 1746 earthquake, with its tower overlooking the Tago, the cramped, untidy Alfama clinging around the crumbling castle, and caravels everywhere. Caravels are exhibited in museums, double as ex-votos in churches or children’s swings in parks, recur in trademarks and symbols everywhere… There is a sense of proud decay – as though the whole city whispered “let it all go to ruin, what matters now that the Empire is lost? Continue reading
I’ve been meaning to write this post for some time now – and I mean quite some time. Last Spring, as I adapted Puck of Pook’s Hill for the stage and chose Rackham illustrations to make into scenery, and later, as I rehearsed the thing with my cherry-picked cast, and then as our Monday drew close – and later again, when all was done and gone well… Only, there was always something else to post about, or perhaps it was too soon, or… you know how it goes.
But at last, here we go. Continue reading
So, my own Lunedì is right behind the corner…
The Lunedìs are this series of weekly staged readings centred around a theme – and last year we had Greek Tragedy. And we also had the members of a Psychoanalysis Club following the readings with some sort of analysis and debate. I know it sounds weird – but it worked really well: eager audiences loved the readings and then debated with gusto, and the house was beyond packed for six consecutive Mondays… Continue reading
The Maiden’s Holiday is a lost comedy, entered in the Stationers’ Register in the early 1650s as “written by Christopher Marlowe and John Day“. Since Day doesn’t appear to have been active as a playwright before 1599 – six years after Marlowe’s death – a later reworking seems far more likely than an actual collaboration, but we cannot tell for sure. The only known manuscript copy belonged to 18th Century antiquarian John Warburton’s collection, that went… er, lost. Continue reading
Obviously Scotland does this to me: it sends me on Jacobite tangents. Fictional tangents, mostly – because really, the moment you try a history book, the whole adventure loses much of its shine. Then again, seven decades of intermittent and unsuccessful attempts at restoring a royal line with the dubious aid of a foreign power were bound to be, on the one hand not terribly well organised, and on the other, perfect novel material… I mean: how can you have plenty of exiles headed by a handsome and charming prince, loyal clans, recurring bursts of violence, conspirations, secret messages, toasts to the King Across the Water, songs, divided families, spirited ladies, battles, and an ultimately doomed cause – and not expect an abundance of fiction? And of course, the foremost charm of the Jacobites is that of the doomed and defeated. Would we care very much about them, would we write novels, if they’d won? Continue reading
And so I learned that, while I’d always assumed that people walked to the Theatre via Bishopsgate, Bishopsgate Street and Shoreditch, this was not the case. Not that the Burbages wouldn’t have liked such a straightforward route to their playhouse – but there was opposition from the local landowners – particularly from the Earl of Rutland, who effectively blocked the easy access… Continue reading
Once upon a time, I contacted this American writer, asking about his play featuring Kit Marlowe – published but impossible to find. Because there was no answer, I tried with the publisher: was there any way to get in touch with the author, and/or acquire a copy of the play? Now, you see, I’d done it before – and usually authors are pleased to find someone interested enough in their work to seek them out. Why, I’ve e-met several wonderful people, that way… Continue reading