The Pemberley Post, No. 10 (Mar 4 – Mar 10, 2019) ~ Jane Austen on the Block! and More!

Not too much this week, as I have had company, and as it should, internet cruising takes a back seat. But this latest finds blog post starts with an Austen on the Block! – then moves on to Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, nursery rhymes, John Steinbeck, and various things about books ….

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First and foremost: Austen on the Block!

An interesting set of Jane Austen’s novels (a 1854 reprint of the Bentley set of 1833) that was owned by Austen’s niece Fanny Catherine Knatchbull is up for auction on March 28, 2019 at Forum Auctions in the UK:

Lot 225:

Austen (Jane) Novels, 6 vol. in 5, reprint of first collected edition, engraved frontispiece to each vol. but lacking half-titles and additional engraved vignette titles, vol.1 with presentation inscription from F.C. Knatchbull to her daughter Louisa dated 1856 (in Louisa’s hand) and remaining vol. with ownership signature of Louisa to front free endpaper, contemporary half calf, spines gilt with double morocco labels (3 lacking, a few chipped), rubbed, 8vo, Richard Bentley, 1833 [but c.1854]

A lovely association copy, once owned by Jane Austen’s favourite niece. Estimate is £4,000 – £6,000

Read more about it here at Forum Auctions.

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A new website “Shakespeare Census” has been launched: it is a database that attempts to locate and describe all extant copies of all editions of Shakespeare’s works through 1700 (excluding the four folio editions). Visit https://shakespearecensus.org/homepage

 

Each play or poem has a logo – this is the one for Romeo & Juliet

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The Ides of March is upon us (March 15th), and so this is interesting news:

Assassination of Julius Caesar, by William Sullivan (ArtUK)

The ruins in the Largo di Torre Argentina in Rome, and where Julius Caesar met his untimely end, is home to dozens of stray cats and is currently crumbling and fenced off. It will soon undergo extensive renovations and open to the public in 2021. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/site-where-julius-caesar-was-stabbed-will-finally-open-public-180971613/

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See-Saw Margery Daw

Read about and view many of the illustrations from William Darton’s Nursey Songs at Spitalfield’s Life: http://spitalfieldslife.com/2019/03/09/dartons-nursery-songs/

This edition from 1822 sold at auction in 2014 for $12,500!:

Songs for the Nursery, Collected From the Works of the Most Renowned Poets, and Adapted To Favourite National Melodies. London: Printed [By R. & A. Taylor] For William Darton, 1822. Estimate $ 6,000 — 8,000

Visit http://www.indiana.edu/~liblilly/etexts/darton/ for a bibliography of the William Darton and Sons works exhibited in 1992 at the Lilly Library.

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The Library of Congress “Today in History” for March 9, 1841: Survivors of Amistad Mutiny Released

“The Supreme Court issued a ruling on March 9, 1841, freeing the remaining thirty-five survivors of the Amistad mutiny. Although seven of the nine justices on the court hailed from Southern states, only one dissented from Justice Joseph Story’s majority opinion. Private donations ensured the Africans’ safe return to Sierra Leone in January 1842.”

Image: Joseph Cinquez, the Brave Congolese Chief…
[Drawn by James or Isaac Sheffield]; Moses Yale Beach, lith.;
Boston: Joseph A. Arnold, c1839

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A Miniature Books collection on exhibit at The Grolier Club in NYC: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/07/books/tiny-books-grolier-club.html

“A Matter of Size: Miniature Texts & Bindings” from the Collection of Patricia J. Pistner. March 5 – May 18, 2019

Image: Two Speeches by Abraham Lincoln: “The Gettysburg Address” and his “Second Inaugural Address;” written and bound by London bookbinders Sangorski & Sutcliffe in 1930.

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Good to know that the Nobel Prize for Literature (not awarded in 2018) is back, and 2018 and 2019 winners will be announced at the same time this year (in October)… https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/awards-and-prizes/article/79431-after-changes-the-nobel-prize-for-literature-returns.html

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A more than creative way to make use of Old Books: https://www.boredpanda.com/old-book-recycling-paper-art-cecilia-levy/

See more teacups and other made-from-books objects by Cecilia Levy here: https://www.cecilialevy.com/

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Most of you likely know that I collect books by and about John SteinbeckOpen Culture shares this great tale of Steinbeck as autograph seeker – and from Marilyn Monroe of all people! The letter sold at auction in 2016 for $3,520: http://www.openculture.com/2019/03/heres-john-steinbeck-asking-marilyn-monroe-for-her-autograph-1955.html

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A “Rules of the Circulating Library in Ashborne” broadside sold at Forum Auctions in November: this article appears in the Antiques Trade Gazette by Ian McKay: https://www.antiquestradegazette.com/print-edition/2019/january/2374/auction-reports/library-laws-laid-down-at-auction/

“Dated April 5, 1768, the simple printed broadside shown below lays down the ‘Rules…’ that apply to those wishing to use the Circulating Library in Ashbo[u]rne in Derbyshire.

As well as a joining fee of 7/6d, library users were charged six shillings a year for membership, payable in two instalments. They were also entitled to attend quarterly meetings at The Green Man or other designated venue to propose, discuss and vote on what new books might be purchased for the library.

Anyone keeping a book out on loan for longer than what had been agreed on as a reasonable period was liable to a fine of tuppence a day.

All users are reminded “…not to lend any Library Book out of his Dwelling-House on any Pretence whatever.”


It sold for £1200 at Forum Auctions on November 29, 2018.

 

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What were your favorite finds this past week?

c2019 Jane Austen in Vermont

The Pemberley Post, No. 8 (Feb 18-24, 2019) ~ Jane Austen and More!

Welcome to my weekly round-up: from amorous footmen to Dickens’s shoddy treatment of his wife, the upstanding Mr. Knightley, and dieting with Jane; with further thoughts on the taxation of dogs, the Mona Lisa, dust jackets and Austen’s Sanditon – can one have a life without knowing all this??

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A new journal to be launched in April: The Southampton Centre for Nineteenth-Century Research‘s enthusiastic PhD students have just launched a fabulous new online, Open Access peer reviewed journal called Romance, Revolution and Reform: https://www.rrrjournal.com/

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If you’ve been watching Victoria on Masterpiece (and you should be…), here’s a real-life tale along the lines of The Footman and the Duchess: “The Amorous Footman”: https://penandpension.com/2019/02/20/the-case-of-the-amorous-footman/

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Mrs. Dickens (image: TLS)

So, it’s common knowledge now that Dickens left his wife for another woman – Ellen Tiernan the actress (fabulous book on this by Claire Tomalin: The Invisible Woman – if you have not read this, go out and buy it right now) – but letters recently discovered and studied by Professor John Bowen reveal that Dickens tried, like so many other men who had strayed and wanted out, to have his wife Catherine declared insane and institutionalized…https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2019/research/dickens-letters-asylum/

  • and also this at the Smithsonian:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/newly-analyzed-trove-letters-charles-dickens-180971545/

Harvard University [Image: University of York]

And more on Dickens (he loved decorating his home, worked from home, had no musical talent, etc…): https://www.historyextra.com/period/victorian/facts-charles-dickens-writer-children-family-home/

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Aunt Busy Bee’s New London Cries (Image: Spitalfields Life)

Lovely images – Cries of London: http://spitalfieldslife.com/2019/02/22/aunt-busy-bees-new-london-cries-x/

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An archived Austenonly post on Mr. Knightley, Magistrate: https://austenonly.com/2010/01/25/austen-only-emma-season-mr-knightley-magistrate/

New book out on Jane Austen: The Jane Austen Diet: Austen’s Secrets to Food, Health, and Incandescent Happiness, by Bryan Kozlowski. See the Jane Austen VOGUE (of all places!) for an article on the author, the book, and Jane as a nutritionist! (lots of meat, lots of walking…)

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Ever wonder why the Mona Lisa is so famous?? (I wonder about this every day…) – here’s the answer: http://www.openculture.com/2019/02/how-the-mona-lisa-went-from-being-barely-known-to-suddenly-the-most-famous-painting-in-the-world-1911.html

For you Bard-Lovers out there (and who isn’t?), how about starting a Shakespeare Book Club? https://shakespeareandbeyond.folger.edu/2019/02/19/shakespeare-book-clubs-austin-tichenor/

 

Into Dust Jackets? – here is an old essay in Publishers Weekly about a book on jackets from 1920-1970, published in 2017: (great covers here – even one by NC Wyeth): https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/tip-sheet/article/75327-11-beautiful-vintage-book-covers.html

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A Cook Book we should all have, recently catalogued at the Lewis Walpole Library: https://lewiswalpole.wordpress.com/2019/02/21/the-complete-house-keeper-and-professed-cook/

Smith, Mary, of Newcastle. The complete house-keeper, and professed cook : calculated for the greater ease and assistance of ladies, house-keepers, cooks, &c. &c. : containing upwards of seven hundred practical and approved receipts … / by Mary Smith …Newcastle: Printed by T. Slack, for the author, 1772.

You can read it all here: https://archive.org/details/b21527404/page/n5

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Well, since we just got a dog (our 5th Springer Spaniel), I can’t resist passing this on from All Things Georgian – we all know of some of the ridiculous taxes imposed on the Georgians (think windows, candles, hair powder, and wallpaper, to name a few), but this one took forever to pass and was difficult to implement: Parliament going to the Dogs we could say:

https://georgianera.wordpress.com/2019/02/21/taxing-of-dogs-in-the-eighteenth-century/

Hayman, Francis; A Hound, a Spaniel and a Pug (A Portrait of a Mastiff); Norfolk Museums Service

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And because we always have to end with Jane: here are the wildly anticipated first photos of the filming of Andrew Davies’ Sanditon, Austen’s unfinished manuscript giving little direction with the plot and nearly no info on the possible Hero – so from what we DO know, who are these people??

https://www.burnham-on-sea.com/news/itv-jane-austen-drama-sanditon-filmed-brean-beach/

[Theo James here – do hope he is Sidney Parker, who I believe IS the Hero…] – your thoughts?? [image from Burnham-on-the-sea.com]

Have a good week all – send me your favorite finds on the internet!

c2019 Jane Austen in Vermont

Shakespeare’s Influence on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park ~ Guest Post By Chris Sandrawich, Part II

Gentle Readers: Chris Sandrawich posts here today in Part II of his writings on Mansfield Park, here focusing on Shakespeare’s influence on Austen.

Shakespeare’s Influence on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park

by Chris Sandrawich

All of Jane Austen’s novels have direct quotations or echoes from Shakespeare’s plays but Jane Austen goes into overdrive with Mansfield Park.

The Wilderness and A Midsummer Night’s Dream: When they all go to Sotherton and stroll towards the Ha Ha, the barred gate and the wilderness beyond we see that various pairings are made, official or unofficial, and broken up, and reformed again, with Fanny as silent observer but only of part, and couples returning “from the woods” claim to have ‘been lost’ or have ‘forgotten time’ so there is more than an echo of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in amongst it all.

RushworthAtGate-CEBrock-mollands

[Source: Mollands]

There has been a mountain of interest displayed down the years in the prank played by Maria in wrong-footing the poor hapless Mr Rushworth who is sent away for a key whilst she takes an opportunity to squeeze through the bars and into the freedom of the wilderness beyond. Fanny’s pleas for patience and caution are ignored. On Mr Rushworth’s side of the fence we have his house and his mother, and all the feelings of restraint from manners, rules, etiquette and standards of behaviour to keep to. Gaining access to comparative freedom by an escape seemingly on an irresistible impulse takes Maria past the formidable barriers of the iron gates the bars of the fence and the Ha Ha, and even at the risk of tearing her clothes she effectively abandons herself to the freedom of being alone with Henry. Most commentators who wish for more “hanky panky” than is evident make a lot of this allusion to the renting of clothing. However, unlike the “great slit in my worked muslin gown” that Lydia in Pride and Prejudice wants Sally to mend – which is an actual slit and therefore an allusion to an event already taken place – Maria actually gets through unscathed. Acting with Mr Crawford’s encouragement Maria puts herself “out-of-bounds” and Henry follows immediately. It is significant that their first action is not to do what they claimed was their motivation and which would keep them in sight. They do not go up to the copse of trees so as to turn and survey the house from there. No, they disappear out of sight immediately. Every reader is free to think for themselves what Edmund and Mary on one side and Henry and Maria on the other actually get up to, all unobserved in the woods and wilderness and let us just leave it that time, opportunity and inclinations were all there for use and mischief. Certainly Shakespeare mentions the opportunities that present themselves with Lysander, Demetrius, Helena and Hermia, who are all discovered asleep together in the woods, and on waking have difficulty still in separating dream from reality. However, in Mansfield Park there is no after affect visible on person, clothing or behaviour and no future considerations are mentioned as affecting their various thoughts and feelings in later chapters. So we may conclude that very little happened, or at least I do! Others may disagree – and suggest quite a lot went on.

Three Daughters of King Lear, Gustav Pope - wikipedia

Three Daughters of King Lear, Gustav Pope – wikipedia

Plot Structure and King Lear: There are echoes of Alls Well That Ends Well in Mansfield Park but most critics would plump for King Lear as having most resonance. In both plot structures we have an authoritarian father who does not know his children, or anything else as he should, and who loses his authority by overestimating his eldest daughters and undervaluing the youngest (although Fanny is not Sir Thomas Bertram’s natural daughter she is to all intents and purposes being treated as such, accept by Mrs Norris). In King Lear, Regan and Goneril are rivals for the treacherous Edmund just as Julia and Maria are rivals for Henry Crawford. Cordelia rejects Lear’s auctioning of her affections and gets a “Nothing comes from nothing” response and Fanny rejects Sir Thomas’s encouragement to accept Henry Crawford. Both Cordelia and Fanny, the youngest daughters, are misunderstood, or not listened to properly and are certainly not trusted. They are accordingly banished in punishment. Both are accused of ingratitude.

Edmund at one stage advises Fanny to let Henry, “succeed at last” and she bursts out with, ”Oh! Never, never, never he will never succeed with me.” This is only one less never than from King Lear, “Thou’lt come no more. Never, never, never, never, never!” as the King addresses his dead daughter.

However, Fanny is recognised as the daughter he always wanted by Sir Thomas, who in the end has revised many opinions based on experience. The fates do not spare Cordelia or King Lear and they ‘enjoy’ grim ends.

General links to Shakespeare:

We have the Bertram brothers talking of plays they read as boys and list: Henry VIII, Julius Caesar and Hamlet when Tom tries to use them in claiming his Father’s encouragement to theatricals! Sir Thomas had instead thought of them more as an aid for diction and good material for young men to work with as useful preparation for speaking in public. Jane Austen shows her belief in the power of Shakespeare’s work by the conversation between Henry Crawford and Edmund in Mansfield Park. As Henry Crawford and Edmund seem to hardly agree on anything we can interpret their agreement on Shakespeare as being Jane Austen’s authorial voice showing through (in a similar fashion to the defence of the Novel in Northanger Abbey) as we hear Edmund say:

“That play must be a favourite with you”, said he; “You read it as if you knew it well.” “It will be a favourite I believe from this hour,” replied Crawford; – “but I do not think I have had a volume of Shakespeare in my hand before, since I was fifteen. – I once saw Henry VIII acted. – Or I have heard it from someone who did – I am not certain which. But Shakespeare one gets acquainted with without knowing how. It is part of an English-man’s constitution. His thoughts and beauties are so spread abroad that one touches them every where, one is intimate with him by instinct. – No man of any brain can open at a good part of one of his plays, without falling into the flow of his meaning immediately.”

“No doubt, one is familiar with Shakespeare in a degree.” said Edmund, “from one’s earliest years. His celebrated passages are quoted by everybody, they are in half the books we open and we all talk Shakespeare use his similes and describe with his descriptions . . . . .”

And so Jane Austen is telling us that Shakespeare’s influence is all-pervading and that his plays are well-known to every educated person, whilst subtly giving doubtful sincerity to Crawford’s lines.

Critics in Jane Austen’s time made reference to Shakespeare when commenting on her novels. As Paula Byrne mentions, a critic in the Quarterly Review in 1821, just four years after Austen’s death, compared Jane Austen’s art to Shakespeare’s. “Saying as little as possible in her own person and giving a dramatic air to the narrative by introducing frequent conversation,” she created in her fictional world “with regard to character hardly exceeded even by Shakespeare himself.”

Yet another 19th Century writer, Thomas Lister, ascribed her genius to revelation of character through dramatic dialogue, “She possessed the rare and difficult art of making readers intimately acquainted with the character of all whom she describes . . . . . . she scarcely does more than make them act and talk and we know them directly.”

Henry Crawford’s Choices of Parts: When they get into the theatricals it is interesting just which characters Henry Crawford picks out as parts he could readily play bearing in mind he has a free choice. He starts with Richard III, then he suggests Shylock from The Merchant of Venice and finally the singing hero of a farce in his scarlet coat and cocked hat. Is this Jane Austen suggesting he will act as either the villain or the fool in this novel?

Before they settle upon Lovers’ Vows they look at and reject: Hamlet, Othello and Macbeth.

Henry VIII: Later we have Henry Crawford thrilling Fanny, and even stirring Lady Bertram (which I think all will agree takes some doing), with his reading of Henry VIII. Once again, is this a subtle hint from Jane Austen? Henry VIII, in this play wavers between the virtuous but passive Queen Katherine and the vivacious, lively Anne Boleyn; and so should we expect Henry Crawford to act the same way when comparing Fanny with Maria? We know which one the King ends up with, and that it doesn’t last.

Merchant of Venice: Fanny is standing by a window admiring nature and saying its delights are superior to music and art and draws Edmund away from the ‘Glee’ by saying as she looks at the stars, “In such a night as this” which matches a line from The Merchant of Venice and a conversation between Lorenzo and Jessica in Act 5 Scene 1 as they stand in the avenue before Portia’s house. The full passage is:

JessicaLorenzo-ShakespeareInternet

Illustrator: H.C. Selous. London: Cassell, 1830. [Internet Shakespeare]

LORENZO

The moon shines bright: in such a night as this,
When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees
And they did make no noise, in such a night
Troilus methinks mounted the Troyan walls
And sigh’d his soul toward the Grecian tents,
Where Cressid lay that night.

JESSICA

In such a night
Did Thisbe fearfully o’ertrip the dew
And saw the lion’s shadow ere himself
And ran dismay’d away.

LORENZO

In such a night
Stood Dido with a willow in her hand
Upon the wild sea banks and waft her love
To come again to Carthage.

JESSICA

In such a night Medea gather’d the enchanted herbs
That did renew old Aeson.

LORENZO

In such a night
Did Jessica steal from the wealthy Jew
And with an unthrift love did run from Venice
As far as Belmont.

JESSICA

In such a night
Did young Lorenzo swear he loved her well,
Stealing her soul with many vows of faith
And ne’er a true one.

LORENZO

In such a night
Did pretty Jessica, like a little shrew,
Slander her love, and he forgave it her.

JESSICA

I would out-night you, did no body come;
But, hark, I hear the footing of a man.   [Enter STEPHANO]        

Now this allusion is very striking. Not only during this passage is the belling of “in such a night” very suggestive as we hear it eight times going through a listing of famous lovers. In almost all the pairings there is eventual betrayal by one or other and so they are all “star-crossed” lovers.

  • We have Chaucer’s Troilus and Cressida, and Cressida albeit with some heavy persuasion agreeing to betray Troilus and become Diomede’s lover.
  • We have Ovid’s Pyramus and Thisbe, who grow up as neighbours and lovers even though their families are at war. This is a neat template for Romeo and Juliet. In each story the hero kills himself thinking his lover is dead and she finding him dead then kills herself too.
  • We have Virgil’s Dido and Aeneas: Henry Purcell created an opera from Virgil’s story of Dido Queen of Carthage who loved Aeneas a Trojan hero. Aeneas abandons Dido and sails away.
  • We have from Greek Mythology Medea and Jason, and Jason leaves Medea for the King of Corinth’s daughter. Later they get back together and Medea cuts Aeson’s (Jason’s father) throat and puts his corpse in a pot with herbs and with a few incantations overnight he re-emerges as a young man. But as Medea was the grand-daughter of the Sun God Helios then all things are possible, I suppose.

So, Jane Austen is alluding to the recurring theme of lovers and looming tragedy, and we therefore wonder what is in store for Shakespeare’s Lorenzo and Jessica as well as the love triangle of Edmund, Fanny and Mary Crawford.

Hassell-MP-pemberley

“It is a great while since we have had any star-gazing.” The glee began. “We will stay till this is finished, Fanny,”
said [Edmund], turning his back on the window.

[Joan Hassall, Mansfield Park – Pemberley.com]

So is it meant to be significant that rather than stay and enjoy the quiet contemplative joys with Fanny, Edmund chooses to withdraw back into the room drawn by the music the singing group and Mary Crawford’s more vivacious charms, leaving Fanny isolated at the window?

Going by the Shakespeare allusion is it this first pairing that will fail? Jane Austen leaves it to us to judge; that is if we’ve noticed!

Sources read as background or alluded to in this paper:

1. George Crabbe – The Parish Register
2. Paula Byrne – Biography of Dido Elizabeth Belle
3. Austen Family letters.
4. Transactions No’s 3 and 6 especially Nell Poucher “Jane Austen in the Midlands”
5. Stoneleigh Abbey The House, It’s Owners, It’s Lands edited by Robert Bearman
6. AustenOnly website maintained by Julie Wakefield
7. Shakespeare’s Plays
8. J K Rowling’s novels and website
9. Jane Austen’s novels

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Any comments or questions for Chris? – please reply below, and stay tuned for Part III, where Chris will share his thoughts on Mrs. Norris!

c2015 Jane Austen in Vermont; text by Chris Sandrawich [originally published in JASM Transactions 25 (2014)], images as noted.

Happy Birthday Will Shakespeare!

 

1stfolio-frontis-bodleian

William Shakespeare – circa April 23, 1564 – April 23, 1616

The Bodleian First Folio
A digital facsimile of the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays

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Henry Crawford: “…But Shakespeare one gets acquainted with without knowing how. It is a part of an English-man’s constitution. His thoughts and beauties are so spread abroad that one touches them every where; one is intimate with him by instinct. – No man of any brain can open at a good part of one of his plays, without falling into the flow of his meaning immediately.” 

“No doubt, one is familiar with Shakespeare in a degree,” said Edmund, “from one’s earliest years. His celebrated passages are quoted by every body; they are in half the books we open, and we all talk Shakespeare, use his similes, and describe with his descriptions; but this is totally distinct from giving his sense as you gave it. To know him in bits and scraps is common enough; to know him pretty thoroughly is, perhaps, not uncommon; but to read him well aloud is no everyday talent.” 

– Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, Vol. III, Ch. III

CrawfordReading-brock-mollands

“His reading was capital…”
Mansfield Park, illus. CE Brock [Mollands]

c2014, Jane Austen in Vermont

Book Review: Nicholas Ennos’ Jane Austen: A New Revelation ~ “Conspiracy is the Sincerest Form of Flattery”

Dear Gentle Readers: I welcome today Janine Barchas with her review of the recently published Jane Austen: A New Revelation by Nicholas Ennos – his book tackles the question of who really authored Jane Austen’ s six novels and juvenilia…

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“Conspiracy is the Sincerest Form of Flattery”

Review of Nicholas Ennos, Jane Austen: A New Revelation (Senesino Books, Oct. 2013).  Pp. 372.  £25.  Available from Amazon.com as an e-book for Kindle for $10.99. 

cover-ennos-jarevelation

The litmus test of true literary achievement is whether your works are deemed so great that you simply could not have written them.

Janeites need no longer envy students of Shakespeare their intricate web of Renaissance conspiracy theories.  Whereas Shakespeare scholarship has long enjoyed the spectral presence of the Earl of Oxford, Austen studies can now boast a countess named Eliza de Feuillide.

The self-published Jane Austen: A New Revelation alleges that “a poor, uneducated woman with no experience of sex or marriage” could not possibly have written the sophisticated works of social satire and enduring romance that we traditionally attribute to Jane Austen.  The book’s author, Nicholas Ennos (the aura of conspiracy allows that this is not necessarily his/her real name), asserts that biographers have been leading everyone by the nose.  The true author of the Austen canon is, instead, Madame la Comtesse de Feuillide, born Eliza Hancock (1761-1813).  Eliza was the worldly and well-educated older cousin of Jane Austen who, after being made a young widow by the French Revolution, married Henry Austen, Jane’s favorite brother.  The sassy Eliza has long been pointed to as a model for the morally challenged characters of Lady Susan and Mary Crawford in the fictions.  To identify Eliza as the actual author was, Ennos explains, the next logical step.

shakespeare-1stfolio-haverford

Shakespeare’s First Folio – Haverford.edu

Just so, and also about two centuries into his literary afterlife, William Shakespeare’s lofty literary achievements were judged incompatible with his humble origins, sowing seeds of doubt that a person so little known could have achieved so much.  Slowly, the man named Will Shakespeare from Stratford-upon-Avon came to be considered by a small-but-articulate fringe to be a mere front shielding the genuine author (or authors) of the works written under the pen name of Shakespeare.  Austen’s genteel poverty, relative isolation, and biographical quiet allows for a similar approach.  For how, asks Ennos, can genius thrive with so little food of experience to feed it?

The arguments for Shakespeare reattribution rely heavily upon biographical allusions as well as the absence of works in manuscript.  Similarly, Austen critics who have been keen to spot biographical references to real places and family members in the fictions have apparently opened the door to skeptics who can now point to Cassandra’s “systematic destruction” of her sister’s letters as proof of a conspiracy.  Ennos also draws attention to the “suspicious” parallel fact that no Austen novel survives in manuscript.  The juvenilia, which does survive in Jane’s hand, is explained away as early secretarial work for Eliza during her visits to the Steventon household.

Eliza died in April of 1813, well before the publication of Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1815), or Persuasion and Northanger Abbey (Dec 1817).  The so-called Oxfordians overcame the timeline obstacles posed by Edward de Vere’s early death in 1604 by redating many Shakespeare texts, which (their logic dictates) must have been composed earlier than previously thought and squirreled away for later publication by an appointed agent.  So too is the Austen corpus deftly redated by Ennos—with husband Henry, cousin Cassandra, and amanuensis Jane as co-conspirators.  Some historians allow that Eliza was in all probability the natural daughter of politician Warren Hastings.  Ennos adds to this existing context of secrecy that Eliza’s illegitimacy was the “disgrace” that the Austens “were determined to cover up after Eliza’s death” and the reason that “the myth of Jane Austen’s authorship was invented.”

Readers of Austen will doubtless need some time to process the implications of these revelations.  For example, what of the presumed poignancy of Persuasion’s temporal setting?  The events in this novel take place during the false peace of the summer of 1814—a short reprieve in the Napoleonic wars that saw the premature return of Britain’s navy men after the initial exile of Napoleon to Elba.  Persuasion has been on record as composed between August 1815 and August 1816, in the full knowledge of both the false hopes of that summer and the true end to the war that came with the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815.  Ennos moves the novel’s date of composition prior to April 1813.  Although he does not go so far as to urge Eliza’s historical prescience, he suggests that these features are merely evidence of judicious tweaks to manuscripts left in Henry’s care at Eliza’s death.

Eliza de Feuillide                 Frances Burney                 Jane Austen

This is not all.  Ennos further declares that the precocious Eliza also wrote the novels conventionally attributed to Frances Burney (1752-1840).  The resemblances between Evelina and Pride and Prejudice have long been acknowledged by scholars who have (mistakenly, according to Ennos) attributed this to Burney’s literary influence upon the young Austen.  Ennos reasons that Frances Burney’s lack of literary success after Eliza’s death, including her “truly dreadful” novel The Wanderer in 1814, is evidence of her being, in fact, an imposter.  While future stylometric analysis may eventually confirm that Jane and Fanny were one and the same Eliza, this method has not settled the authorship question irrevocably for Shakespeare.  Perhaps this is why Ennos does not turn to computer analysis or linguistics for help.  He does identify Elizabeth Hamilton, the name of another minor authoress, as a further pseudonym used by the talented Eliza—ever widening the corpus of works that might appeal to those already interested in Austen.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the novels attributed to Jane Austen were published anonymously during her lifetime.  Logically, any book written anonymously must be in want of a conspiracy.   The grassy knoll of this particular conspiracy is the biographical notice in Northanger Abbey, released simultaneously with Persuasion six months after Jane Austen’s death in 1817.  History has taken Henry Austen, a failed banker, at his word in identifying the author as his sister.  Ennos, who is not very gallant towards the species of academics and literary critics whom he dismisses as “simple souls,” suggests that Austen scholarship has been surprisingly gullible in accepting Henry’s attribution without question.

In the wake of the Ireland forgeries of the 1790s, generations of Shakespeare scholars offered dozens of different names for the man behind the mask of “Will Shakespeare.”  Although the Earl of Oxford has garnered Hollywood’s vote, Francis Bacon and Christopher Marlowe are next in popularity.  We can only hope that these allegations by Ennos prop open the doors of Austen authorship so that additional candidates can step forward to provide generations of graduate students with dissertation fodder.

Does the Eliza attribution theory expect to be taken seriously?  Or does this maverick publication deliberately mock established scholarship by means of cartoonish imitation?  I’m not sure it really matters.  If this project had ambitions to be a serious Sokal-style hoax, then it did not manage to convince a top publisher and, as a result, lacks the ability to wound deeply.  The prose is also too earnest and unadorned for an academic satire—devoid of the jargon that should dutifully accompany a spoof.  The resulting pace is too sluggish for irony.  That said, there are plenty of moments that even David Lodge could not improve upon.  For example, Ennos points to an acrostic “proof” of hidden clues in the dedicatory poem to Evelina (only visible if decoded into Latin abbreviations).  There is also the syllogistic central assertion that if the novels of both Burney and Austen resemble the Latinate style of Tacitus, then these could only have been written by 1) the same person and 2) someone schooled in Latin.  Ergo, Eliza is the true author behind both, since only she could have learned Latin from Reverend George Austen, Jane’s father (who might teach a niece but never his youngest daughter).  Finally, there are gestures towards wider bodies of knowledge: “In this respect the philosophy of both authors has been linked to the views of the Swedish philosopher, Swedenborg.”  Perhaps Ennos is simply angling for someone to buy the movie option.  “Anonymous” did well at the box office, so why not a film dubbed “Eliza”?

No matter what the intention, hearty congratulations are due to Jane Austen.  For her, this news makes for a strong start to the New Year.  Exactly two centuries into her literary afterlife, a doubting Thomas was the last requirement of literary celebrity still missing from her resume.  Austen can now take her seat next to Shakespeare, secure in the knowledge that her authorship, too, has begun to be questioned.

You know you’ve hit the big time when you didn’t write your own work.

— Reviewed by Janine Barchas

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Barchas is the author of Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity (Johns Hopkins, 2012).  She is also the creator of “What Jane Saw”, an on-line reconstruction of an art exhibit attended by Jane Austen on 24 May 1813.   Recently, she has written for The New York Times and the Johns Hopkins University Press Blog.

c2014 Jane Austen in Vermont; text c2014 Janine Barchas

Guest Post: Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing at the Courtyard Theatre, by Chris Sandrawich

Gentle Readers: I have posted previously a review of Shakespeare’s Richard III, a review written by Chris Sandrawich of the JAS-Midlands Branch in the UK [ you can read this review here], and I welcome Chris back today with his review of another play in this year’s World Shakespeare Festival. This festival has been an outstanding, stunning event, and because I live Here [and alas! have not seen a single one] and Chris lives There, I am most pleased to have him share his witty and brilliant analysis of the plays he has attended… [the delay in posting entirely my fault – blaming this like everything else on Moving…] – so herewith, without further ado and with my heartfelt Thanks, is Chris on Much Ado About Nothing.

[image: Courtyard Theatre, Stratford – wikipedia]

Much Ado About Nothing at The Courtyard Theatre on 9th August 2012.

Driving south and approaching Stratford we felt an element of sadness that this Play was to be our penultimate visit in the series of six that we had booked and this one would be the only play showing at The Courtyard Theatre.

Getting there in good time is a must for car-parking in Stratford and as we strolled in good time into the paved courtyard space dividing the theatre building from the road the first signs of an Indian influence and a different flavour to the evening were evident as an impending “assault on our senses.” There was a caterwauling of car horns, bangs and shrieks layered with sitars, tablas, as well as western drum kits and reed instruments too varied for my limited musical ear to distinguish which ones, all emerging as a wall of sound from inside the theatre proper. The whiff of spices and burning joss-sticks made me feel once again that I was in my youthful days of the South Kensington of our swinging sixties. The aromas were doing their best but any olfaction was losing against an off-putting drift of a zephyr sufficiently persistent to ruin the overall effect of “something in the air” on what was, for this very wet unseasonable season, a beautifully rare azure skied summer’s evening. Directly in the centre stood a man with a tray selling freshly baked pakoras and samosas, and although we had eaten earlier they seemed too tempting to resist. Just like Oscar Wilde we can resist anything except temptation and gave in gratefully.  We sat on a bench to one side and enjoying the evening sunshine ate these delicious starters. The fascination of the British with Indian food is now remarkably well-entrenched for something which was so negligible it did not exist when I was born in the baby-boom. The relationship of the British with the subcontinent had run for over two centuries without much of an encroachment of curries into a land of roast beef and three veg. At the time I was ushered into the world there were only three, very expensively posh, London West End, Indian restaurants (or so I am informed) and all essentially serving food to those who had been in the Armed Forces based in India or who had lived through the days of the Raj. Even at half my present years, there were easily more fish and chip shops than all the rest put together, and any Briton wanting a taste of the East went to a Chinese Restaurant. Now, and nobody is quite sure why, except that Indian food tastes great, two-thirds of all restaurants are Indian (over 10,000) and they serve over two and a half million customers a week generating a yearly turnover of well over £3 Billion pa. The taste of India is here to stay. Of course, when the British say “Indian food” they include without any discrimination indigenous Pakistani foods, especially Balti dishes. Neither is there any great distinction between the types of Indian food originating in India which varies as does the availability of foodstuffs and spices determined by the sea, forests, plains and mountains that are nearby and the endless variety of cultural and regional differences. From the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to West Bengal these thirty-three distinctively different types of Indian Cuisine (see Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_cuisine) are all merged into an “Indian” for the mostly unknowing but very ‘hungry for a curry’ British. We, the British, do have very cosmopolitan tastes these days. To somebody of my parents’ generation such a description of the amounts of Indian food consumed in these Islands would have seemed as far-fetched as landing a one-ton atomic-powered vehicle on Mars which can motor up a 3000 metre high mountain and which sends back pictures, performs experiments and tests rock samples remotely with a laser gun. Or as the bizarre and outlandish events of seeing in the same wet English summer a winner of the Tour de France and a winner of a men’s Tennis Grand Slam tournament by Britons.

[Samosas at Indian Foods Co]

Polishing off these snacks we idly watched other theatre goers wander about and chatted, as is my wont, to some of them about their experience of The World Shakespeare Festival 2012.  Everyone was very positive and had something good to say about the plays they had chosen to go to. There was this communal feeling of yearning to be able, subject to the constraints of time and expense, to see all the Plays and at all venues. We may not like to concede inevitable defeat in the face of such a commitment, but we all had to choose only some, and give up many, to see. We did so with some regret at what we were missing as well as the great pleasure in what we had seen and heard. There is no doubting the overall success of this venture and I do hope that in future years this “International Flavour” is encouraged and nurtured alongside home-grown talent. We must recognise that Shakespeare is owned by the whole world these days and is studied and played everywhere, phenomenal though that thought is. Normally the British are more tight-lipped than seemed the case in these discussions and I wondered whether there was some overspill of general bonhomie from the feel-good factor of the Olympics. I rather think there was, and I hope it lasts.

Meera Syal as Beatrice

Deciding that, interesting as chatting proved to be, we could wait no longer to explore what this cacophony of sounds was all about we wandered in to look and lurk on a slow dawdle to our seats. The cast, with many associates, were doing their level best to recreate Indian City street scenes (I assume successfully but I have not had any first-hand experience) with vendors, musicians, singer sewing machines, comestibles, bright colours and a generous dollop of paraphernalia seeping in all directions. As the zephyr’s powers failed at the portal we got a lovely whiff of spices and joss-sticks so that our eyes, ears and nostrils were acutely aware of all things Indian. There were no elephants or sacred cows lumbering about but I suppose there are limits! Enjoying the scene we ambled down aisle 5 into seats 20 and 21 on the end of Row A which put us in the stalls front centre. The stage came right up to us, of course, and directly in front of us were steps up onto the stage and so we could surreptitiously hang our feet out onto the first steps and later claim we were onstage, treading those Shakespearean boards at Stratford, during a live performance. It has a similar ring to my saying I was “up at Oxford in the sixties” when in reality I was only there to see Boro play Oxford Town in the third round of the FA Cup in a cold snowy January.

To get a flavour of just how well the cast play and look, and how they dress, and to hear “Benedick” speaking against a background of Indian rhythms then go to http://www.rsc.org.uk/whats-on/much-ado-about-nothing/ and press play.

Much Ado About Nothing

Whenever I think about Much Ado About Nothing I think about another kind of nothing associated with the Play and wonder about what Shakespeare originally intended. The original versions of the Play have many stage directions and in the opening directions there is a mention of Leonato’s wife Innogen. However, she never appears or says anything and so in most versions of the Play in modern times she does not even rate a mention. Shakespeare in his creative passion must originally have had a role in mind, but later found the plot and dialogue had no way of including her and so she is left as much ado about nothing, as well. I still wonder though.

The stage looked magnificent with an imposing edifice at the back of the stage of a family house of someone well-to-do if the numbers of doors, windows and balconies were any indicator. There was an enormous (artificial, of course but nonetheless imposing) tree on the right and around the tree, which is exactly how it has been described to me, depicting the rapid growth of technological industries and usage in India without the necessary time or money to build an infrastructure that keeps such things out of sight; were the coiled wrappings of cables thick and thin and of many colours. This is typical of the pragmatism that makes do whilst allowing the flow of commerce and telecommunications unabated. Actors on stage were involved in comings, goings and all the minutia of filling in the time until the Play proper could begin whilst giving the early arrivals something to look at and listen to.

Courtyard Theatre – image: The Guardian

Chatting to the couple just behind us we learned that this was their third visit this year to see this Play alone and that they simply loved it, especially this production. They had tried sitting both left and right and were now viewing from front and centre. They lived locally and wished to see other plays but each time the subject arose between them they kept returning just like frogs to a pond to see this one again. The lady did say that although the Play had received rave notices she had thought the Times Critic a little picky for adversely commenting that Paul Bhattacharjee (Benedick) and Meera Syal (Beatrice) were a little too ‘long in the tooth’ for the parts suggested. We were unable to establish just how much we could agree on about the critic being mistaken when the Play started. Have you noticed how they never seem to worry about an interesting conversation or two going on out there but just start when they want to? Later, I pondered on the merits of the Times critic’s attack (although I did not actually read what he said) and found that although I could see where he might be coming from I did not agree.

Beatrice and Bendick

Unlike Romeo and Juliet there are no exact mentions of age with Beatrice and Benedick, and although Claudio and Benedick are described as “young lads” of Florence and Padua respectively they do not have to be of the same age bracket. There are many suggestions of Benedick being older than Claudio. When Beatrice says, “Scratching could not make it worse, an ‘twere such a face as yours were” is she describing a young visage? When she later says, “You always end with a jade’s trick: I know you of old” she is not talking of a brief acquaintance. When Benedick says to Claudio, “I can see yet without spectacles . . . . .” is not that a reference to advancing years and an age difference between them? There is also references to Benedick regularly taking up the company of young(er) men, the latest being Claudio, and there is in Elizabethan times (and even with Shakespeare himself it seems) as shown in The Merchant of Venice with Antonio and Bassanio the examples of “close relationships” between an older and a younger man. There are as a counter argument references to “young” or “youth” in the play but such terms are relative. All I know is that having Beatrice and Benedick older than Claudio and Hero as with the Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson film version worked very well and our two leads were brilliant.

Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh as Beatrice and Benedick

The naming of Hero as “Hero” is quite deliberate by Shakespeare to foreshadow her “doubtful chastity” which is part of his plot. The myth of “Hero and Leander” was well known to Elizabethans and Shakespeare himself uses references to them in many of his plays, and Christopher Marlowe had written a poem Hero and Leander in 1598, and the timing of Much Ado About Nothing is generally fixed as 1599, so as usual Shakespeare borrowed from ancient and modern and just about any good story he could get his hands on. What he did with these stories is the real mark of his genius. In the same way with naming characters it is no coincidence, we can infer, that Don John is chosen as our villain when the bastard brother of Phillip II was also called Don John and was a personage well known to Elizabethans.

The Play transfers very well from Italy to India and to Delhi. Messina, Padua and Florence are kept in the text but references to Italy are simply replaced with India and all the rest unchanged with the obvious notable exception of the Friar replaced by the Panditji.

Well the Play rattled along with its wonderful set and fine troupe of actors but as mentioned above Meera Syal and Paul Bhattacharjee were scintillating as the brightly sparkling duellists in language that prickles with the heat of their exchanges and they displayed a great chemistry between them as sparks flew off in their verbal sparring sessions. Whilst tearing down each other’s reputations they did take careful note of exactly what the other was up to at all times and demonstrated a fulsome ambiguity throughout of the real nature of their interest in each other.

In the Kenneth Branagh film alluded to above the parts of Dogberry and Verges are wonderfully played and sent up to the moon and back by Michael Keaton and Ben Elton (who can ever forget their boyishly ‘pretend’ horses and dismounts) and they have ruined forever in Olivier fashion these parts for a generation of actors. Simon Nagra and Bhati Patel did their best, I suppose; but I was unimpressed. Long before Richard Brinsley Sheridan invented Mrs Malaprop in the The Rivals we have Dogberry butchering the English Language and uncannily substituting a similar but wrong word for the one intended. This misuse reaches a high art form as Dogberry urges his charges to be “vigitant” and expressed his hopes that they remain “senseless” of it! For me this difficult part did not quite work for Simon Nagra’s skills, and a lot of the humour was lost in the lack of emphasis and facial expressions needed to bring the audience along with each new twisting verbal cudgel swiped at the passing words.

“Dogberry and Verges with the Watch.” Engraving by Robert Mitchell Meadows, before 1812. Public domain.

The parts of Dogberry and Verges are important enough to require more powerful actors than we saw here to not only make them memorable but to extract all the humour their use of language brings to the play. These absurd officials were stretched by Shakespeare into seemingly unlikely “real people” but the audience of the time recognised only too clearly that these sorts of constables could be met with everywhere. “Hazlitt praised Dogberry, regularly hailed since as an all too convincing depiction of petty officialdom” (as taken from page 309 of The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare Edited by Michael Dobson & Stanley Wells – which Dame Judi Dench describes (and I warmly agree) “A wonderful treasure-house of information and insight”). As further supporting evidence of just how “real” Dogberry and Verges are to their time my Annotated Shakespeare by A L Rowse offers on page 394 a letter from Lord Burghley to Walsingham (Elizabeth’s principal Ministers at the time of the hue and cry over the search for the Babington Conspirators who intended Elizabeth’s death and her replacement by Mary Stuart) which says:

Sir, As I came from London homeward in my coach. I saw at every town’s end the number of ten or twelve standing with long staves, and until I came to Enfield I thought no other of them but that they had stayed for avoiding of the rain, or to drink at some alehouse, for so they did stand under pentices at alehouses. But at Enfield finding a dozen in a plump, when there was no rain, I bethought myself that they were appointed as watchmen, for the apprehending of such as are missing. And thereupon I called some of them to me apart, and asked them wherefore they stood there. And one of them answered, “To take three young men.” And demanding how they should know the persons, one answered with these words, “Marry, my Lord, by intelligence of their favour.” “What mean you by that?” quoth I. “Marry”, said they, “one of the parties hath a hooked nose.” “And have you,” quoth I, “no other mark?” “No,” saith they. And then I asked who appointed them. And they answered one Banks, a head constable, whom I willed to be sent to me. “Surely, sir, whoever had the charge from you hath used the matter negligently. For these watchmen stand so openly in plumps as no suspected person will come near them; and if they be no better instructed but to find three persons by one of them having a hooked nose, they may miss thereof.”

You get from this slice of Elizabethan writing (don’t you just love the ‘standing in plumps’) and reported speech a pretty picture of “idiots in charge”.

It is interesting to note that “pentices”, mentioned by Lord Burghley, is normally used in modern usage to signify Penthouses but in Tudor times it meant a ‘hipped building’ where the upstairs was larger than the ground floor and so there would be an overhang that offered shelter from inclement weather. Don John’s agent in malice, Borachio, actually says to Conrad, “Stand thee close then under this pent-house, for it drizzles rain, and I will, like a true drunkard, utter all to thee.” And confesses to the trick played on Hero whilst the Watch listen. This shows some change of meaning to the word “penthouse” over the centuries, unless the original Penthouses also had an overhang being on the topmost floor. Anyone out there know?

One of the cameos of the evening’s entertainment was the brilliant acting of Anjana Vasan (the maid) who they used instead of the ‘boy’ bid by Benedick to fetch his book from his chamber window to bring to the orchard. She arrives back but is unable to find Benedick hidden as he is from the others. She kneels down in the front centre of the stage in order to get away from the others and not attract their attention or distract them as they circle and try in loud conversation to catch Benedick’s ear.

Anjana Vasan as Maid in Much Ado About Nothing. Photo by Ellie Kurtz.

[Image: RSC website]

Wide-eyed she kneels there drinking in and believing every word of their overblown description of how much Beatrice is fancied to be in love with Benedick. This maid’s face reflects the action as she enters more and more into the supposed turmoil of Beatrice’s mind as her excitement grows and reveals a most delightful range of high-flown passionate expressions as in a crescendo Claudio gets to his speech

Hero thinks surely she will die, for
She says she will die, if he love her not, and
She will die, ere she make her love known,
And she will die, if he woo her, rather than
She will bate on breath of her accustomed crossness

And at each belling of the word die the lovely Anjana’s face was a picture to behold, riven through with Beatrice’s living pain, whilst holding onto Benedick’s book as a kind of talisman in defence all the while, and finally collapsing in a heap as the rest take absolutely no notice of her whatsoever. A marvellous piece of unwritten addition to the Play and the Director and cast should be well pleased with themselves for its inclusion. Well done Anjana Vasan.

When the entire Play was done the cast received from a full house a most rapturous and fully deserved burst of applause. They (apart from my gripes about Dogberry and Verges) were simply wonderful. On the way home we discussed how well the play had worked and just where we had seen the actors perform in other areas. We really could not call anything to mind for the excellent Paul Bhattacharjee although he seemed very familiar to us indeed. As luck would have it and without even planning to have an Indian theme to our week we saw the film, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” the next night and whilst enjoying the main parts we noted how so many of the smaller roles in this film were also being played by first class performers. If you have seen the film there is a wonderful hospital scene in which Maggie Smith’s character is displaying rampant racism and insists upon an English doctor. The Staff Nurse brings her one speaking perfect English and lo and behold there in his pin-stripe suit stood our Benedick from the previous night, Paul Bhattacharjee, this time playing a hospital doctor.  We were also able to compare the attempts at giving us a flavour of a city in India with those from the film and found them, space and expense permitting, pretty close.

Another Triumph seen and heard and once more worth every penny of the £48 per seat, and as we had booked six for a ‘Stratford Pass’ we got 20% off as well.

Chris Sandrawich, 14th September 2012.

The Schedule:

  • 26 July – 15 September (The Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon) – alas! it has already moved to London!
  • 22 September – 27 October (The Noël Coward Theatre, London)
c2012 Jane Austen in Vermont

Guest Post: Shakespeare’s Richard III at the Swan Theatre

Richard III, by an unknown artist – National Portrait Gallery

Fellow Readers:  I welcome this morning Christopher Sandrawich, in a guest essay on the new production of Richard III at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon – [Chris last posted here on his visit to Worthing, wherein he wrote of his concerns about the closing of the “Library Passage”, the twitten frequented by Jane Austen during her stay in Worthing in 1805.] – I expressed some jealousy of his attendance at this new take on Richard III, and he kindly offered to write a full review, which only increases my jealousy to nearly rabid levels … I confess to an obsession with the much maligned Richard since reading many years ago Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time,

[The Daughter of Time – cover from Open Library]

where through the eyes of her detective Alan Grant , she sets out to “prove” the innocence of Richard III – [ a compelling read and I highly recommend it!] – but I digress! – and how does any of this relate to Jane Austen you might ask? – well,  let’s recall her first paragraph in Northanger Abbey, where she denigrates Catherine’s father so: 

Her father was a clergyman, without being neglected, or poor, and a very respectable man, though his name was Richard … 

And later in a 1796 letter to her sister, she remarks on Mr. Richard Harvey’s match being put off, “till he has got a better Christian name, of which he has great Hopes.” [Letters, p. 10] 

No one has ever satisfactorily explained this aversion to the name ‘Richard’ – and if you read her History of England, her tale of Richard III is a tad contradictory, so one does not quite know what she really thought [forever the elusive Jane] – though she does say she is “inclined to suppose him a very respectable Man” [see above!] and later “I am inclined to beleive true” that he did not kill his two nephews. So Jane likely would have been a reigning member of the Richard III Society, no?

[You can read Austen’s History here at the British Library, and here at Jane Austen’ Fiction Manuscripts , both in the original edition and facsimile. Here is Cassandra’s sketch of Richard, hump and all:

… but I am digressing again, the ‘play is the thing’ after all, and here is Chris on that right now,  Shakespeare’s view of poor Richard though it be:

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Richard III at the Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon
on Thursday 15th June 2012

As those in the know, know, we are well into the start of the World Shakespeare Festival 2012 planned to coincide with the Olympic Games and Para-Olympic Games taking place in London, England this year. Using some thirty stages throughout the UK and bringing artists, companies, directors and actors from all over the world we are seeing an unprecedented celebration of all of Shakespeare’s work which is as daring as it is inspiring as all the productions and adaptations are fresh and new. As we live close to Stratford, if ninety miles is close, then six plays have been pre-booked for family and friends. As the Tempest at the RSC has already come and gone leaving us panting for the next, then a few days ago it was the turn of Richard III at the Swan Theatre. Four still to see.

All three Stratford stages have a new, and similar, look with a “Thrust Stage” and a three tiered horseshoe around for spectators which allows for uninterrupted views and a warm closeness to the action that is almost tangible. The action is as central to the audience as seems possible to achieve and all with the minimum of fuss. All the stages also allow for actors to make entrances along aisles through the spectators onto any of the four corners, and frequently lines are spoken just feet away or from behind the spectators. This allows the audience an intimate relationship with whatever is unfolding right in front of, or alongside, their vantage point. The RSC, The Swan and the Courtyard now differ only in size. Chatting to other theatre goers before the performance we found some who had been to the RSC the previous night buzzing with fervour about Julius Caesar whilst others who had seen King John at The Swan were interested in what a different play, but with the same actors, would feel like for them. I find these newly redesigned staging arrangements to be an improvement on the old, but I never felt any previous cause for complaint, anyway.

The Programme opens with something ‘saucy’ from James Shapiro that I will share with you,

In 1602, John Manningham, a law student at London’s Middle Temple, jotted down in his journal a racy story that had been making the rounds:

“Upon a time when Burbage played Richard III, there was a citizen grown so far in liking with him, that before she went from the play she appointed him to come that night unto her by the name of Richard III. Shakespeare, overhearing their conclusion, went before, was entertained, and at his game ere Burbage came. Then message being brought that Richard III was at the door, Shakespeare caused return to be made that William the Conqueror was before Richard III.”

David Garrick as Richard III – by Hogarth –Liverpool Museum

Amusing though the story is it provides an insight into just how charismatic, powerful and sexy the character of Richard III appears despite the hump, limp and withered hand on top of being “cheated of feature by dissembling nature”. The problem for any actor playing Richard III is just how to be so very seductive, both with other characters and the audience, whilst trying to resemble “a bottled spider”, and in turn show such a bewildering array of character traits in turn as they suit the opportunity of the moment. Taking the audience with him on his ascent and continuingly vicious butchering ascent to the throne is an art so that we almost feel sorry for his immediate fall happening abruptly in the classical style of the Roman Plays about despots. To say that the character facets and motivations of Richard III are complicated is like saying astronomical distances are large. Much easier to say than to grasp or understand.

[Jonjo O’Neill as Richard III]

The actors were attired mainly in modern dress apart from weapons and armour but Richard III wears boots and leathers (just like a biker) throughout, even when he puts on ermine for his crowning moment. There is little in the way of props and so the rapidity with which the scenes change from the Tower, to Streets, Castles, Palaces and countryside keeps the pace of this long play galloping along. Including a twenty minute intermission, presumably whilst Jonjo has a lie down and takes pause to get his breath back, this play runs for three and a quarter hours. Only Hamlet’s longer. Jonjo O’Neill and all the cast require a large dollop of stamina to maintain this level of intensity.

The beauty of seeing new productions of Shakespeare’s Plays that bring the old lines afresh to modern audiences is to see how the Director’s interpretation works, or not. It is simultaneously a challenge to avoid reworking the past and a risk to make a new departure into untested waters. I was idly wondering if we were in for a rendition of the play along the lines Richard Dreyfuss’ character in “The Goodbye Girl” is forced to take in his off-Broadway production; and if modern audiences were quite ready yet to see a version in which Richard tries to become King and Queen at once. Well, Roxana Silbert’s direction takes a moderately conventional line, as one might expect.

You can see a clip of O’Neill as Richard III in Act I,  Scene I  here:
[a youtube link that refuses to embed today!]

http://www.youtube.com/embed/K9wzWYtYGBI

However, Jonjo O’Neill’s teeth were blackened (at least I hoped so) so that they resembled “points” reminding me strongly of Christopher Walken’s “Hessian Horseman” in Sleepy Hollow (a film of a Washington Irving story) and I wondered if the same hellish, relentlessly remorseless, murdering intent as the headless horseman was being suggested with each of Gloucester’s crocodile smiles. Whilst on the subject of films I rate Al Pacino’s Looking for Richard very highly indeed. It’s well worth watching and boasts an all-star cast.

Jonjo O’Neill’s depiction of Richard III is wryly beguiling, horrifying, dynamic, passionate, charmingly subtle, brutal, and focused on his ambitious rise, and rise, as those between him and the throne are disposed of piecemeal, by trickery, villainy or craftily laid spoors, and always by the hands of others. The energy displayed throughout in these constant betrayals wanes only as does his declining star in the ghost-filled night before Bosworth Field. To watch at the start of events Jonjo confront, bewilder, disarm and finally seduce the beautiful Lady Anne as she stands by her husband’s bier is as exciting as it seemed unlikely in its success. After this he seems capable of anything. 

The role of Richard III is very demanding containing over 1000 lines and about one-third of the play. There is hardly a scene he is not in, but even when he is not speaking other characters are speaking of him, mostly with as much spluttering vim as they can muster. Whilst I thought Jonjo O’Neill’s performance was a triumph, it must be said that the whole cast put a lot of energy and verve into their performances and the rousing ovations given at the end were well-deserved.

First Quarto, wikipedia

In writing this “History Play” about Richard III, Shakespeare synthesises a rich brew of facts and scenarios from a wide range of historical, literacy and dramatic sources. We must recognise the politics of the times and realise that Richard III was the last of the Plantagenet’s and Elizabeth I was a Tudor just like Richmond who defeats him in battle. So, like Thomas More before him Shakespeare paints Richard much blacker than other accounts may show. Looking at likely sources we have Edward Halle’s Union of the Two Noble and Illustrious Families of Lancaster and York (1548) from which Shakespeare takes the nightmares before the Battle of Bosworth and the suggestion for “A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!” It is said that Shakespeare gets his idea for the wooing of Lady Anne from the Senacan tragedy Hercules furens with Lycus’ wooing of Megara. There is also a document edited by Raphael Holinshed, Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (1587) from which Shakespeare takes the idea of Henry’s corpse bleeding afresh with Richard III mere presence coupled to the violence of the original deed. But it is Thomas More’s History of King Richard III, so biased against Richard as to make him Machiavellian, and “The Prince” was widely read at the time, and gives full reign to the idea of ruthlessness in powerful men when disposing of competitors whilst dissembling and breaking promise as it suits. It must be borne in mind that these plays are fictions and any attempt to treat them as historically accurate is doomed to failure. It was Shakespeare’s intention, it seems, to entertain and explore ideas about human relationships and the truth of history is a casualty in this exercise. The Play is very popular and still entertains today, and in turn I was staggered, bewildered and shocked as I followed headlong the tortuous twists and turns (trying not to be confused by the multiplicity of Edwards) in hot pursuit of Richard’s rise to power, and left the theatre thrilled, entertained and wondering if this sort of thing still goes on in the corridors of power . . . . . . . . . . . . . surely not?

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Further Reading:

@2012 Jane Austen in Vermont, by Christopher Sandrawich