Twenty-First Century Foxes? Historical Figures Get Make Overs

The good folks over at Laughing Squid decided to give  iconic historical figures updates to some pretty dated looks. C’mon, once every four hundred years or so…everyone deserves a spa day!

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William Shakespeare in skinny jeans?  Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! Lord Chamberlain’s Barista? Noooooooooooooo!

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Is that Elizabeth the First, the Virgin Queen, or is that my Statistics professor? Well, half of that nickname is probably right….

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Marie-Antoinette, the Lindsay Lohan of the 18th century….

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Henry VIII, apparently after becoming a vegan (and of course he won’t shut up about it).

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 Admiral Horatio Nelson looking dapper with his new mechanical 21st century hand! Ladies????


Four Bizarre Theories About Shakespeare

facespeareHappy belated birthday, Shakes!  Just a day late. Actually, the exact date of his birth has long been disputed.  Generally, April 23, 1564, which is also St. George’s Day, is accepted as the date of the Bard’s birth, but because his baptismal records reflect April 26th as the date, no one is completely sure. So hey, maybe I’m not a day late but two days early!  (You can read more about the conflicting birth information here.)

As with any celebrity, from Lindsay Lohan to our beloved Bard (let the record show that this is the only time you will ever see these two names so closely linked), all kinds of bizarre theories abound.  Here are a few of my favorites. Feel free to perform your own facepalms.

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Number I: Shakespeare Was a Jewish Woman

In this theory, John Hudson argues that Shakespeare was, you guessed it, a Jewish woman. The woman Hudson has in mind is Amelia Bassano Lanier, who was the first woman to publish a book of poetry in England.  The theory rests largely on the circumstances of Bassano’s life, which Hudson contends match, much better than William Shakespeare’s did, the content of “Shakespeare’s” work. But Hudson has also identified technical similarities between the language used in Bassano’s known poetry and that used in “Shakespeare’s” verse. And he has located clues in the text – recently noted Jewish allegories and the statistically significant appearance of Amelia Bassano Lanier’s various names in the plays – that he says point to her as the only convincing candidate for the author of Shakespeare’s work. (Source)

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“Methinks thou art a general offense”: Cats Deliver Shakespearean Insults

Because what goes better with a haughty insult than a haughty, haughty feline?

Henry IV, Part Two

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Letters to Juliet: A Project of Love for the Lovelorn

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One of my favorite things that has been going around the internet for some time is the EMO person who posted, “What if he’s your Romeo, but you’re not his Juliet?” The lightning-fast response was, “That means you’re his Rosaline and you survive the friggin’ play.”

Despite the reality of what happens to the “star cross’d lovers,” the persistence in thinking of them as the romantic ideal lives on.

See?

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Most people, even those who have never read or seen the play, are more likely to conjure up this image, or something close to it, than gruesome deaths:

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I didn’t know, however, until I heard a story on NPR’s “Morning Edition” yesterday, that men (mostly, I guess) have been penning letters to Juliet for centuries.  Initially, shortly after the play’s performances, people left notes at what was thought to be her tomb. The numbers of letters left became so great that the post office of Verona established a special office to handle the volume. 

The remarkable thing about the letters left for Juliet is that she actually answers. Well, understudies for Juliet do. Dozens of volunteers in Verona, who call themselves “The Juliet Club” answer, by hand, each of the 6,000+ letters addressed to Shakespeare’s heroine each year.  All of the letters are retained in a massive archive, to which more letters are regularly added.

The job must be tough but many of the volunteers have been at it for ten and twenty years, some even longer. What do they say to these heartbroken people? Here is one of their answers to someone who was driving herself crazy asking, “What if?”

“What” and “If” are two words as non-threatening as words can be. But put them together side-by-side and they have the power to haunt you for the rest of your life: What if? What if? What if? I don’t know how your story ended but if what you felt then was true love, then it’s never too late. If it was true then, why wouldn’t it be true now? You need only the courage to follow your heart. I don’t know what a love like Juliet’s feels like – love to leave loved ones for, love to cross oceans for but I’d like to believe if I ever were to feel it, that I will have the courage to seize it. And, Claire, if you didn’t, I hope one day that you will. All my love, Juliet”

You can read more about the long history of the Juliet Project in Lise Friedman’s study,  Letters to Juliet: Celebrating Shakespeare’s Greatest Heroine, the Magical City of Verona, and the Power of Love


A Very Bad Bard, Indeed

William Shakespeare—playwright, poet… ruthless tax evader?

So says a new research paper to be presented next month by academics Dr Jayne Archer, Professor Richard Marggraf Turley and Professor Howard Thomas of Aberystwyth University, Wales. These three have exposed the Bard for offenses he committed more than four hundred years ago—those of hoarding grain during a food shortage and evading taxes. For these crimes Shakespeare was fined in 1598 and threatened with jail time.

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Naughty, naughty Shakes

Since the records clearly prove these facts to be true, it seems impossible that Will’s crimes could have been kept a secret for so long. As it turns out, though, these were never actually hidden from the academic community. Rather, it seems that scholars downplayed this information because they “cannot countenance the idea of a creative genius also being motivated by self-interest,” according to the Sunday Times. But in doing so, the Aberystwyth researchers argue, critics also ignore a large influence on Shakespeare’s work.

Take the play Coriolanus, for instance, a fiercely political tragedy that finds conflict in the juxtaposition of rich and poor. Art imitates life so greatly that the plot actually centers around a famine exploited by the rich, who drive up the price of grain to be sold to the poor—precisely what Shakespeare himself partook in. Since it was written around 1607, the same time of the Warwickshire food riots (where Shakes owned a considerate amount of land), some now argue that Coriolanus came out of the playwright’s desire to assuage some of his guilt for hoarding grain and exploiting famine. While nobody can prove that for certain, at the end of the day we can walk away having learnt of a new side to Shakespeare’s persona, that of the “ruthless businessman who did all he could to avoid taxes, maximise profits at others’ expense, and exploit the vulnerable–while also writing plays about their plight to entertain them,” says Dr. Archer.

“They ne’er cared for us yet: suffer us to famish, and their store-houses crammed with grain” (Coriolanus, Act I, scene i).

King Lear is another work that features a similar focus, continues Archer, as “there is a very subtle depiction of how dividing up land also involves impacts on the distribution of food.” Examining his works in this new light, it seems clear that Shakespeare had more practical, earthly matters on the mind than we normally credit (or discredit) him with. In so far that it might actually affect the reading of his plays, was the scholarly community right to keep this information hushed for so long? Does it change the way you think of William Shakespeare?


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