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.

william-shakespeare

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?


Uncovering the Real Richard III: Why It Matters

Fellow Shakespeare nerds! Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this finding of one twisted old skeleton at the bottom of a car park. That’s right, the long lost body of the last Plantagenet king, Richard III, is now found!

For a while now, archaeologists determined to uncover Richard III’s body, long since presumed to be lost to history or dissolved at the base of a river bed, have suspected a Leicester car park to house his remains. Unglamorous as it is for a royal burial site, the lot was built over the site of the old Grey Friars monastery in which some records report Richard was interred. Last September, all the drilling and digging away of 500 years’ worth of debris paid off, as the research team pulled from the earth the twisted skeleton of a man killed in combat. Despite the seemingly obvious evidence before them–that the 15th c. skeleton of a man with a deformed spine was found exactly where King Richard’s body was said to be buried–the researchers held the body’s identity in question until only yesterday. On Monday, February 4th, a day that will forever go down in Corpsegate history, a press conference on the scale of a hot young pop star’s perfume launch descended on the University of Leicester, and the Guardian was there to deliver it to the greedy public in real time. Because who doesn’t want to receive minute by minute updates on a 500 year old, unidentified corpse? Nobody.

Well, maybe Cambridge academic Mary Beard didn’t:

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But whatevs. Finding Richard’s body can totally lay to rest the pesky rumors that have haunted his reputation since his fateful death at Bosworth Field in 1485.

Richard III was embroiled in a bloody British civil war during the 1400s. This period was named the Wars of the Roses for the emblems of the two feuding royal families–a white rose for the house of York (Richard’s), and a red rose for the house of Lancaster. York eventually lost the crown, and Richard of Gloucester’s death in the Battle at Bosworth Field signified the end of a thirty year war. His defeat came at the hands of Henry Tudor, who was subsequently crowned Henry VII–father of Henry VIII and grandfather of Elizabeth I.

Enter the Renaissance and the Elizabethan golden age. Eager to impress his Tudor queen, Shakespeare wrote histories that painted the house of Lancaster in a favorable light. But no monarch presented quite as much opportunity for propagandizing as Richard of Gloucester; labeled for centuries as “deformed,” Richard’s image only worsened when Shakespeare penned him as the evil, scheming hunchback, the killer of two young princes, an incestuous savage.

In actuality, Richard’s lopsided figure has been speculated before as resulting from his skills at archery–the thought being that one side became overdeveloped, causing a curvature of the spine. No word on the pathology of the skeleton’s misshapen back has been released, however, except to say that it was not caused by scoliosis. Still, the conflicting accounts reveal the murkiness surrounding Richard III’s legacy.

Because in fact, Gloucester made some rather liberal reforms in his time, the most prominent of which stand to this day:

In December 1483, Richard instituted what later became known as the Court of Requests, a court to which poor people who could not afford legal representation could apply for their grievances to be heard. He also introduced bail in January 1484, to protect suspected felons from imprisonment before trial and to protect their property from seizure during that time. He founded the College of Arms in 1484, he banned restrictions on the printing and sale of books, and he ordered the translation of the written Laws and Statutes from the traditional French into English.

And although most people already know that Shakespeare’s play was more fiction than history, the unfair image of an old, withered, and bitter king has been a hard one for poor Richard to shake. Now the recovery of his old, withered skeletal remains might not be much help with altering that, but if anything it puts a face, nay, skull to a tired myth. The skull that proves Richard was mercilessly treated by both his captors and history, as he was laid to rest beneath a whole lot of ugly European hatchbacks forever.

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For all the juicy updates from the University of Leicester press conference, check out that Guardian article here. And if you’re suddenly starting to miss that heinously evil version of ol’ Dick, well we’ve got some dastardly Richard III quotes to devour here.


Shakespeare? It’s in the DNA

shks_dna

Are you old enough to remember when floppy disks were actually floppy? Or maybe when disks were 3″ wide? (Yes, kids, that’s what that little icon to “save” your work to your hard drives and flash drives represents, a hard little disk that held approximately two Word files or a half a dozen pictures (but not at the same time).

Maybe you think data storage has reached its pinnacle. It is rather startling to realize you carry more technology in your pocket on your smart phone than was available for the moon landing (but with considerably less LOL cats).  But when you understand that there is now over one trillion gigabytes of information in the world, not even the iPhone 204 can keep up with that pace. (Here’s what 10 trillion gigabytes looks like in numbers: 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000…. ten plus twenty one zeroes).

Every method of storage we have thus far employed has had long-term storage problems. CDs and DVDs scratch and wear out, as do magnetic tapes. But what about DNA, nature’s storage system? DNA is compact and durable. We can extract DNA information from bones that are millions of years old.

It sounds like science fiction, but it’s actually science-in-action. Nick Goldman heads up a research team at European Bioinformatics Institute in the U.K. Goldman and his fellow scientists are studying DNA data storage and Goldman has written a paper on the process which appeared  in the journal Nature last week.

In an interview with Ira Flatow on NPR’s “Science Friday,” Goldman explains that DNA utilizes a storage system much like computers use ones and zeroes so “[w]e wrote a computer program that embodied a code that would convert the zeros and ones from a hard disk drive into the letters that we use to represent DNA, and then we – our collaborators in California  – were able to actually synthesize physical DNA.”

Once the scientists realized this was possible, they decided what they would first try to encode and store:

[W]e chose a photograph of our own institute because we’re sort of self-publicists at heart, I guess, and an excerpt from Martin Luther King’s speech “I Have a Dream,” all of Shakespeare’s sonnets and a PDF that contained in fact the paper, the scientific paper by Watson and Crick that first described the structure of DNA itself.

All of this information, Golman says, is saved  on the equivalent of a speck of dust. How large of an area would contain all 10 trillion gigabytes of the world’s information? It would “fit in the back of a station wagon.”


Shakespeare and Fry and Bly, Oh My! : Literary Quotes On Storms

At eNotes, we want all of our followers and customers to know we are thinking about you in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and wish everyone a speedy and safe recovery. Hopefully, you have power and can read this… but if your battery is running low, I hear there is a Starbucks on Broadway where you can charge up AND whose wifi is still working… See??

To cheer you up, we thought you might enjoy reading some insights from literature and writers about stormy weather. So here ya go.

1.  Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!
Crack nature’s molds, all germens spill at once
That make ingrateful man!

King Lear, Act 3.2 by William Shakespeare

2.  Stephen Fry

Here are some obvious things about weather

It’s real.
You can’t change it by wishing it away.
If it’s dark and rainy it really is dark and rainy, you can’t alter it.
It might be dark and rainy for two weeks in a row.

BUT

It will be sunny one day.
It isn’t under one’s control as to when the sun comes out but it will.
One day.

3.  The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

4.  “Why the Egyptian, Arabic, Abyssinian, Choctaw? Well, what tongue does the wind talk? What nationality is a storm? What country do rains come from? What color is lightning? Where does thunder go when it dies?” Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

5.  “Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it.” ― Mark Twain

6.  “Tut, Tut, looks like rain.” Winne-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne 

7.  “A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.” ~ Carl Reiner

8.  “After three days men grow weary, of a wench, a guest, and weather rainy.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

9.  In Rainy September by Robert Bly 

In rainy September when leaves grow down to the dark
I put my forehead down to the damp seaweed-smelling sand.
What can we do but choose? The only way for human beings
is to choose. The fern has no choice but to live;
for this crime it receives earth water and night.

And finally, at Number 10, a word from the coming year’s Farmer’s  Almanac 

“Flurries early, pristine and pearly. Winter’s come calling! Can we endure so premature a falling? Some may find this trend distressing- others bend to say a blessing over sage and onion dressing.”


Top Ten Better Book Titles

Better Book Titles is an amusing collection of attempts to rename well-known works of literature. The results are pithy and appropriate, summarizing everything you really need to know about a book right on its cover (ex. Oedipus Rex becomes “How I Met Your Mother,” The Giver = “Love in the Time of Death Panels,” and Atonement translates to “Kids Say the Darndest Things”). There are so many entires to browse and chuckle over in the archive, it was difficult to comprise just one “top ten” list from them! Take a peek at the selection below, then tell us which book you’d like to rename in a comment.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

IQ84 by Haruki Murakami

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell


The Greatest Books of All Time

Is it possible to rank the world’s best literature?

Well, no, and we’re certainly not going to try. Although in 2007, one publication did. Now we ask, did it get it right?

The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books is a collection of “Top Ten” lists provided by some of the world’s most respected authors–125 altogether, from Norman Mailer, to Jonathan Franzen, to Stephen King and Annie Proulx. In all, a total of 544 works were mentioned at least once in the 125 lists, which were further separated by different criteria to concoct a number of other lists:

• The Top Top Ten Books of All Time
• The Top Ten Books by Living Writers
• The Top Ten Books of the Twentieth Century
• The Top Ten Mysteries
• The Top Ten Comedies

… and many more.

Despite the book’s seemingly absolutist mission to seek out the best ten books ever, its editor J. Peder Zane views the collection more as a reading guide. He was inspired by a dream that other readers will probably find familiar; stranded on a desert island and thirsting for nothing other than a really good book, Zane suddenly found himself pelted from above with one masterpiece after another, turning his “little isle into a Tower of Biblio-Babel.” He interpreted the dream to represent the “opportunity and befuddlement” book lovers face, and resolved to answer that perpetual reader’s question, “What should I read next?”

“Part Rand-McNally, part Zagat’s, part cultural Prozac, it takes the anxiety out of bibliophilia by offering a comprehensive and authoritative guide to the world’s best books.”–J. Peder Zane

Something notable about the reduction of a near infinite choice of works to one relatively small collection is the resultant ability to point out patterns in the writers’ selections. Amongst all of them, there is an overwhelming prevalence to go for “memorable character-driven dramas of love and death, delineated by nuanced prose,” as Sven Birkerts so elegantly puts it. We can also see that across all of the lists, the 1920s produced the most popular works, comprising 15 novels named on two or more lists. (The twentieth century in all was the far more appreciated century.) The book’s appendix cross-references the 544 books by many other illuminating standards.

And yet, can we really reduce the supposed best literature of all time into lists, no matter how many we have of them? Annie Proulx, who submitted a list of her own top ten didn’t seem to think so as she penned, “Lists, unless grocery shopping lists, are truly a reductio ad absurdum.”

Whatever you believe, whether the 544 books in The Top Ten can be considered the best books ever or not, the collection must at least highlight a multitude of books that can all be deemed “worth your time.” Close your eyes and stab your finger on any one of its pages and you’ll stumble upon a good read (or at least somebody’s good read). After all, given that 125 famous and respected living writers contributed to the list of “top top ten” below, it wouldn’t do you any harm to give each a try. At least, I know what my next New Year’s resolution will be.

Thanks to Flavorwire, we have a nifty infograph to pictorially dilute the massive amount of information found in the book. Have a look through the results and tell us what you think in a comment. Who was shafted? Who doesn’t deserve to be on the list? We want to hear your thoughts!

 


Shakespeare in the Original Pronunciation: Worthy Exercise?

Opening ext week at the University of Kansas, a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is billed as the first original pronunciation production of a Shakespeare play to ever be staged on American soil. The video above is from the rehearsals but does a good job of giving you an idea of what the play will sound like. It’s definitely an interesting approach, but is it useful from an academic standpoint? Would you enjoy seeing the Bard in this format? Let us know in the comments!


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