After the Dash: Ten Literary Epitaphs

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It’s Halloween!  In honor of the creepiest of holidays, why not contemplate your own mortality? GOOD TIMES!

Here are ten well-written or interesting conceived final goodbyes from folks (or folks who knew them) who have shuffled off this mortal coil.

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1.  William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
[Gravestone in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon]
GOOD FREND FOR IESVS SAKE FORBEARE
TO DIGG THE DVST ENCLOASED HEARE
BLESTE BE Y MAN Y SPARES THES STONES
AND CVRST BE HE THAT MOVES MY BONES

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2.  Edmund Spenser (1510-1596)
Here lyes
(expecting the second Comminge of our Saviour Christ Jesus)
the body of Edmond Spenser, the Prince of Poets in his time;
whose divine spirit needs no other witness
than the works he left behind him.

Read the rest of this entry »


Rewriting Shakespeare

In yet more news of Shakespearean retellings, Random House is now set to publish a series of the Bard’s plays rewritten as prose. The RH imprint Hogarth has commissioned authors Anne Tyler and Jeanette Winterson as the first to release novels in the forthcoming “Hogarth Shakespeare Project.” The two will be rewriting The Taming of the Shrew and The Winter’s Tale respectively. These are set for release in 2016 (alas, still far away), exactly 400 years after the Bard’s death.

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Hogarth explains that these new releases are intended to “be true to the spirit of the original dramas and their popular appeal, while giving authors an exciting opportunity to reinvent these seminal works of English literature.” And from the sounds of it, the writers can’t wait to get their hands on these texts…

Tyler, who has previously won the Pulitzer prize for her novel Breathing Lessons, says, “I don’t know which I’m looking forward to more: ‘Delving into the mysteries of shrewish Kate or finding out what all the other writers do with their Shakespeare characters.’”

Her counterpart, meanwhile, feels a special draw to The Winter’s Tale: “All of us have talismanic texts that we have carried around and that carry us around. I have worked with The Winter’s Tale in many disguises for many years. This is a brilliant opportunity to work with it in its own right.” Winterston has written both novels and BAFTA award winning scripts.

Excitement about a new imagining of Shakespeare’s works aside, what are your thoughts on how the new prose form will change the way we think of Shakespeare’s tales? Will the inevitable loss of his poetic language leave readers wanting? Or will we find a fresh new way to appreciate these stories?

If you were to rewrite one of Shakespeare’s works in this way, what would you choose and where would you take it? 


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????


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?


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.


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