Titian’s Boatman, by Victoria Blake


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I remember reading once that George Eliot wanted everything in Daniel Deronda “to be connected to everything else”.

Well, this is exactly what Titian’s Boatman feels like.

It may not look like it at first, when the reader is introduced to several characters in various places and various times. There is the eponymous boatman, plying his trade in a plague-ridden Venice in 1576, ferrying back and forth Titian’s last surviving son and plucky courtesan Tullia Buffo. Then, in present day London, there are actor Terry Jardine and Italian director Ludovico Zabarella, brought together by Shakespeare and personal loss. Lastly, there’s Cuban maid Aurora, carrying the weight of childhood trauma and widowhood – and finding consolation in a painting… Continue reading

Scribbling in Group


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writinggroupredI’m off to the first meeting of my first writing group in a few hours.

In a burst of wild originality, I’ve named it “The Scribblers”, and it is composed of myself and three former pupils, for the moment. These three hardy souls attended not one, but two writing courses of mine – and, finding they haven’t had enough, they were clamouring for more… Except, an even mildly advanced course is no picnic to prepare and teach, and I’m quite up to my ears as it is in my own writing, and theatre, and commissions, and talks. Besides, the times being what they are, it is not easy to find a library/school/club/town council willing to organise – and much less sponsor – a writing course… Continue reading

The Historical Novelist’s Dilemma


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dilemma-676x305redI’m dithering…

Yes – it’s the novel. Again. But the fact is, you see, that there is this rather grim thing happening in June 1594 – historically happening, I mean. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, because while not directly involving my hero, it has two sets of ties to his circumstances – one practical (and historically documented), and one, shall we say, psychological… Continue reading

Elements of Advanced Procrastination


mehSo this is a couple of stupid days inside a mostly stupid week.

By which I mean that last week’s Shakespearean glow has faded, and I’m getting nowhere much, both work-wise and writing wise, and I’ve managed to destroy a memory stick with lots of useful things on it, and I’m squandering inordinate amounts of time on notions that might become relevant next Autumn – or then again might not at all – and even rehearsals last night rather meandered into pointlessness… Continue reading

Hieronimo in California


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tstThis is from back in 2013, but the fact is, it struck me that productions of Thomas Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy are few and far between, nowadays – although we know it was wildly succesful in the 1580s and long later, with its dark tale of revenge and madness. Another Grammar-School man like Shakespeare, Kyd seems to have enjoyed quite a reputation in his time – but most of his work has gone lost, and his fame has been largely eclipsed… Continue reading

That I like best that flies beyond my reach


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guiseOh, let’s have some poetry, today – poetry and theatre. Kit Marlowe’s Duc de Guise, painting the full colours of his restless ambition, proudly boasting his cleverness and strength – and, most of all, chomping at the bit:

Now Guise, begin those deepe ingendred thoughts
To burst abroad, those never dying flames,
Which cannot be extinguisht but by bloud.
Oft have I leveld, and at last have learnd,
That perill is the cheefest way to happines,
And resolution honors fairest aime.
What glory is there in a common good,
That hanges for every peasant to atchive?
That like I best that flyes beyond my reach.
Set me to scale the high Peramides,
And thereon set the Diadem of Fraunce,
Ile either rend it with my nayles to naught,
Or mount the top with my aspiring winges,
Although my downfall be the deepest hell.
For this, I wake, when others think I sleepe,
For this, I waite, that scorn attendance else:
For this, my quenchles thirst whereon I builde,
Hath often pleaded kindred to the King.
For this, this head, this heart, this hand and sworde,
Contrive, imagine and fully execute
Matters of importe, aimed at by many,
Yet understoode by none.
For this, hath heaven engendred me of earth,
For this, the earth sustaines my bodies weight,
And with this wait Ile counterpoise a Crowne,
Or with seditions weary all the worlde:
For this, from Spaine the stately Catholic
Sends Indian golde to coyne me French ecues:
For this have I a largesse from the Pope,
A pension and a dispensation too:
And by that priviledge to worke upon,
My policye hath framde religion.
Religion: O Diabole.
Fye, I am ashamde, how ever that I seeme,
To think a word of such a simple sound,
Of so great matter should be made the ground.
The gentle King whose pleasure uncontrolde,
Weakneth his body, and will waste his Realme,
If I repaire not what he ruinates:
Him as a childe I dayly winne with words,
So that for proofe, he barely beares the name:
I execute, and he sustaines the blame.
The Mother Queene workes wonders for my sake,
And in my love entombes the hope of Fraunce:
Rifling the bowels of her treasurie,
To supply my wants and necessitie.
Paris hath full five hundred Colledges,
As Monestaries, Priories, Abbyes and halles,
Wherein are thirtie thousand able men,
Besides a thousand sturdy student Catholicks,
And more: of my knowledge in one cloyster keep,
Five hundred fatte Franciscan Fryers and priestes.
All this and more, if more may be comprisde,
To bring the will of our desires to end.
Then Guise,
Since thou hast all the Cardes within thy hands
To shuffle or to cut, take this as surest thing:
That right or wrong, thou deal’st thy selfe a King.
I but, Navarre. Tis but a nook of France.
Sufficient yet for such a pettie King:
That with a rablement of his hereticks,
Blindes Europs eyes and troubleth our estate:
Him will we–

(Pointing to his Sworde.)

But first lets follow those in France.
That hinder our possession to the crowne:
As Caesar to his souldiers, so say I:
Those that hate me, will I learn to loath.
Give me a look, that when I bend the browes,
Pale death may walke in furrowes of my face:
A hand, that with a graspe may gripe the world,
An eare, to heare what my detractors say,
A royall seate, a scepter and a crowne:
That those which doe behold them may become
As men that stand and gase against the Sunne.
The plot is laide, and things shall come to passe,
Where resolution strives for victory.

One imagines that Ned Alleyn, with his imposing presence and deep, dark voice, must have been rather impressive in the part.

And besides… what can I say? I never read Marlowe’s dark heroes without imagining that there must have been days when he felt too large and too fiery for his own circumstances – and not much besides poetry as an outlet. Is it fanciful to think that he was the one forever burning for things beyond his reach?