Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “historicals”

Bard Bits: Being a Bad Be


Be the best you can be

Even if you are not familiar with Hamlet you are probably aware of Hamlet’s anguished soliloquy of questioning his existence. It’s such a well-known speech that it is almost a cliché. It’s ripe for parody.

A “B” by any other name…

However, there is a wee bit of scholarly doubt if the “To Be” speech that is proffered in plays is the “To Be” that Shakespeare intended. The problem being (yes, a bit of play on the play’s speech) is that Shakespeare’s plays were published without him having proofed the final copy, and most of his plays were published after his death. That’s another post.

When his plays were sent to the printer, they might have been copies taken from someone’s memory, such as an actor or an audience member—accuracy wasn’t exactly sound. These manuscripts came in three forms: good (from the theatre company and with permission), bad (someone’s recall), and dubious (another version of recall, but even worse in content).

The printer would create “quartos,” which were pages folded twice to create four leaves, or eight pages. Scholars have divided the available found quartos in “good” and “bad.”

Bad quartos have no authority and the manuscript content is suspect. Here is an example of a “bad” quarto line:

To be, or not to be, Ay, there’s the point,

To Die, to sleepe, is that all? Ay all:

No, to sleep to dreame, I marry there it goes.

Compared with the standard, recognized lines:

To be, or not to be–that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles

And by opposing end them. To die to sleep–

Some scholarly squabbles exist concerning if “bad” quartos are really all that bad.. The lines might have been rough drafts and since Shakespeare isn’t about for consultation, it’s suggested to leave the matter be.

Reader Round Up: Good Night Mr. Tom


One book pops up as the June spotlight read: Good Night, Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian.

Though it was published in 1986, it has an old-fashioned story cadence to it, being almost a Dickens novel in scope.

A captivating read

The story has so many deep issues that it is surprising it is considered a children’s novel. Child abuse and abandonment are two central issues. There is also the painful experiences of children evacuated from London to billet safely out in the country with strangers during WWII. Magorian weaves these and other issues in with her engaging story of matching a young malnourished boy, William, with a flinty widower, Tom.

Tom’s unhurried persistence to helping William settle in hastens the boy to heal both physically and emotionally, and as a result Tom also begins healing of the grief over losing his wife and child forty years earlier.

The joy of childhood, making friends, trying out new experiences, and the deep bond of friendship comes singing through the expressive prose. A thoughtful perspective of how the London evacuees fared as well as those who took them in during the war.
For those who enjoyed Carrie’s War, Goodnight, Mister Tom is recommended.

Hysterical Drama: Victoria


Settling into a corset series, one of those lavish PBS costume dramas based on a historical figure or event, has been a go to strategy for dreary winter evenings, long before stay home/stay safe became a mainstay.

The truth is in the telling

Watching people come to life in all their period finery, re-enacting events that shaped history is both enlightening and entertaining. Although show runners tend to lean more towards the entertaining, rather than the enlightenment aspect when presenting their slice of history.

Victoria, now in its third season, is quite guilty of drifting towards a soap opera since its attention to accurately portraying events leans more towards hysteria than historical.

Major considerations:

Victoria constantly refers to her miserable childhood at Kensington, especially being an only child. While it’s true life at Kensington was abominable in many ways, Victoria was not an only child, a lament she emphasizes. In actuality she had the company of her much older half-sister Feodora until she was eight years old and they had a close relationship through correspondence, although actual visits to London were rare. The scheming frenemy relationship portrayed is all for show.

Skerretelli: ah, the romance of the head cook and the queen’s dresser is so endearing, so captivating—so untrue. Charles Francatelli never married the Queen’s Head Dresser. Nancy, whose real name was Marianne Skerrett, served the queen for twenty-five years (and was 44 years old when she came to the palace to serve the 18 year old monarch). She spoke several languages, came from a well-connected family, and had considerable responsibilities. Francatelli did not work long at the palace, and there is no record of he and Skerrett being together. Skerrett was married to her job. So much for that romance.

Another false romance is that of Ernest and Harriet. In real life, Ernest was married at that time, and so was Harriett, plus, she was twelve years older than him. Oh, she eventually had eleven children, while Ernest did not have any with his wife. He did have that problem referred to throughout the episodes—thanks to his dear Papa who introduced him to brothels. Albert declined, of course that initiation.

Albert’s parentage remains a historical titillation since Leopold happened to be visiting when Albert’s mother conceived. Even historians tend towards questionable conclusions.

And yes, there were several assassination attempts on Victoria.

As for Lord M…much ado about nothing. Lord Melbourne did indeed have a huge influence as her prime minister, yet he acted as a mentor for the young queen, advising and guiding her first years as a monarch. He was more of a father figure, although it might be conceivable Victoria had a crush on Lord M, although being 40 years older creates doubt.

Other points of detouring from fact include the Duchess of Bucceouth being in her spritely 30s instead of the curmudgeonly older woman Diana Riggs brought to the role.

The duchess and the footman romance is loosely based on Caroline Norton’s sad experience (accused of adultery with Lord M), and being denied access to her children. She was able to change the law so women had more rights—now that would make for an excellent episode. Instead we get trysts and time outs.

Although Queen Victoria is not one of my British monarch faves, costume dramas, BBC style, are so colorful and elaborate, such a visual feast, such an escape, especially in winter when evenings start at 4 pm.

I do wonder why the writers feel the necessity to tinker with the historical truths. Actual events were plentiful and interesting enough in their own without elaboration or bending.

So, an open request to BBC showrunners: Really, we can handle history as it happened. If we want dramatized history we can turn to Shakespeare.

That reminds me—maybe it’s time to revisit The Hollow Crown since I’ve gone through All Creatures Great and Small, Sanditon, Wolf Hall, and even a revisit of Dr Who’s second season.

What series gets you through winter evenings?

Shakespeare Celeb: Birthday Condolences


Image result for shakespeare's 400th birthday

One of those learned Shakespeare facts to pull out to impress students is that he died on his birthday. They think that fact is weird and cool. I used to think Mark Twain died on his birthday as well. Turns out I was wrong. He came into the world with Halley’s Comet and left when it reappeared. Now, that is a weird and cool fact that gets my attention.

According to Mental Floss, there is a phenomena known as The Birthday Effect.  Apparently a person has a 14 percent higher chance of dying on his or her birthday. The Swiss did a study in 2012, so it must be true. This probably isn’t a planned event, at least it’s hoped not. That would be a terrible closure to a birthday party. It’s conjectured that Shakespeare partied a bit too “merrily” with his chums and succumbed to a fever. Watch out for combining ale and pickled herring. Or at least check the expiration date on the herring.

Image result for pickled herring

April 23, 1616. This is both Shakespeare’s birthday and day of passing, making him 403 years old. There isn’t much of a to-do at 403, but his 400th birthday was a world wide event. Stopping to think about it, if you celebrate his birthday you are also celebrating his death. I don’t think Hallmark makes a birthday condolence card. Yet. On a lighter consideration, Shakespeare does share this Birthday Effect with some other notables. Maybe this is a condolence of sorts, that he shares his birthday/deathday with a few other famous folk:

Raphael–painter

corrie ten boom

Corrie Ten Boom-Holocaust survivor

Grant Wood-painter of the American Gothic

Ingrid Bergman–actress

Movie Musings: The Crown


Oh, those royals. They are always in the news. From wedding bliss to adorable Charlotte pics they somehow beguile us. At least they beguile me.

Maybe my interest, bordering on fascination, with the royals stems from my Bardinator status, that compelling need to embrace the world of Shakespeare. Part of Shakespeare’s world is Queen Elizabeth I. Without Good Queen Bess’s nod of approval to Shakespeare’s acting troupe, the world might not have been influenced by his wordsmithing.

Becoming smitten with QEI wasn’t difficult-wow, whatta monarch. Patron of the arts, survivor of parental malpractice, as well as sibling rivalry to a dangerous maximum, she led troops against the Spanish Armada, turned down marriage for the good of her country, and ruled the most powerful country at a time when women were considered property. And yes, I have watched the adaptations of her life. My pick is Helen Mirren.

I also pick Helen for her portrayal of the current Elizabeth. It’s always been risky to present suppositions of living persons, especially ones as iconic as Britain’s current monarch: Elizabeth II. Yet, Mirren’s portrayal provided sensitivity and respect which is credit to her abilities as an actress.

This is why it was with difficulty I finally succumbed to watching The Crown. First of all, Buckingham palace isn’t known for leaking royal tidbits, so I sensed there would be much embellishment about presenting the private moments of Elizabeth as she began her long and unexpected reign.

My verdict? Stunning production. Five stars for the lavish attention to details to create impressive time period background. Four stars for acting in totality. Matt Smith stepping from Doctor Who into Prince Philip barely toned down his man-child persona and comes across as a sulking bad boy. Claire Foy, an unknown to me, interprets her role as the young queen being perpetually surprised, or that’s what her subdued reaction to the antics of husband, sister, and world events registers as: a demure deer caught in the headlights. Then again, she doesn’t have much to go on. It must be awkward to represent someone so well-known but so unknowable.

In rating the storyline, the first season drops down to a two out of five stars. So much drama. Too much in the way of soap opera hysterics. Clandestine love affairs, political intrigue, marriage trauma–it became mundane watching the script try to spice up gathered intel on the Windsors. I felt like I was watching a lavish gossip magazine story: all glitter, without substance.

As much as there is not like about season one, I am queuing for my turn for the library’s copy of season two. I am still wondering why. Then again, there is something about those royals.

Are any of you royal watchers?

Author Snapshot: D.E.Stevenson


As we know authors wax and wane in popularity. Books that eager readers  once  grabbed off the shelves now forlornly gather dust, or go out of print or end up in the free bin. That’s why it’s exciting when an author can rekindle interest and prove she still holds staying power forty years after her death and last book was published. The author? D.E. Stevenson. Her devotees are known as “Dessies.”

  Some fine facts:

  • Dorothy Emily Stevenson was a related to THE Robert Louis Stevenson.
  • Educated by a governess and denied college because her father didn’t want an educated woman in the family.
  • She published nearly fifty books in her career.
  • At the height of her career, her books sold in the millions internationally.
  • A granddaughter discovered a couple of manuscripts in the attic in 2011 and they were immediately snapped up and published.
  • Being Scottish, most of her plots center around Scotland and England, with WWI and WWII’s affect on its people often being a main theme. 
  • Her books gave clear insights into the lives of those who called the countryside their home.
  • Adept at characterization, her books often overflowed and intermingled with one another.
  • Died in 1973, yet beginning in 2009, her books are slowing being reissued.

A snippet from a BBC article

Members of Stevenson’s family are amazed by her enduring popularity. Her daughter, Rosemary Swallow, remembers how her mother worked.

“She would sit down on the sofa, put her legs up and light a cigarette,” she said.

“She had a special writing board, a wooden board covered in green baize and she would just carry on writing whatever was going on around her.

“She was very, very good at character writing. There’s no rude sex or anything like that, just a good yarn with a beginning, a middle and an end.”

On a personal note: 

I discovered her books about twenty years ago when working at a public library. A friend and co-worker knew I preferred “gentle” reads and suggested Stevenson. I read everything the library owned, and even ventured into the scary overflow storage basement to retrieve forgotten copies. 

Currently I’m on a mission to read all her titles. The writing is solid, with its intriguing plots involving mysteries, light romance, and brilliant characterization. When I’m feeling a bit lost due to stress from a long week, I find myself again by reading a Stevenson novel.  

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