Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “Queen Elizabeth”

Bard Bits: Playing with Propaganda

Today’s playwright might fear a bad review if a play doesn’t meet the critic’s choice, but if Shakespeare blew a play he faced a fearsome critic: The Queen, QEI, and then later a king, James I. A monarch for a main critic could involve more than a “We are not amused” commentary (okay, that was Victoria, not Elizabeth). It could have involved being hanged, drawn, and quartered. A bad review takes on new meaning, in that regard.

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Plays were the cat’s meow in the 1600s

The Master of Revels, as jolly as a title as that sounds, was a fearsome critic. His duties included scrutinizing all plays for possible slander against the royalty. He had the power to remove any possible line that hinted trouble. In fact, the monarchy was to be presented in the best possible manner. That might explain why QEI’s father, King Henry VIII, a rather notorious fellow, is presented more decently than not in the Henry plays by Shakespeare. The man not only knew how his bread was buttered, Shakespeare was consciously aware of the knife in the butter dish.

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No one, not even the Bard, could knock Henry off his horse

Shakespeare took advantage of how the 1600s was moving from Latin being the language of literature to that of English. His puns, sonnets, banter, and general wordplay, which gave double meanings to many of his words, helped establish England’s identity as a country whose people could have a bit of fun with the language and keep a straight face–something seen throughout the ages with the likes of Monty Python and long lasting shows such as Dr. Who.

Shakespeare followed the dictates of his monarchs and his country’s tastes, which is why his plays have disparaging lines about foreign aspects, particularly concerning the French. While snide lines might have been popular in his time, they tend to ruffle and offend as time moves on.

Playing with words amounted to Shakespeare fashioning some propaganda to suit the need. Shakespeare not only moved words around to move the audience, he moved his nation to be one established as possessing wit and a respecter of language, although in his heyday he tended to play with propaganda.

So, a question pops up: is Shakespeare still “…not of an age, but for all time,” as Ben Jonson once said? With more emphasis on cultural, social, and political awareness, are some of Shakespeare’s plays, and even sonnets, facing censure?

Are his plays to be taken with a grain of salt as a reflection of his period or just plain taken off the reading list?

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?

An Uncommon Unexpected Read Among the Shelves

The other day as I was filling up my book bag I came across a book I must share: The Uncommon Reader

First off, the title grabbed my attention: The Uncommon Reader.  Being a Book Booster I naturally felt inclined, even obligated to inspect it.

Image Detail The Uncommon Reader is one of those “supposes” about Queen Elizabeth II, much as the movie The Queen supposed her reaction to Princess Diana’s death, TUR supposes the reaction of the Queen once she discovers reading.  From the flyleaf:

When her corgis stray into a mobile library parked near Buckingham Palace, the Queen feels duty-bound to borrow a book.  Discovering the joy of reading widely (from J.R. Ackerley, Jean Genet, and Ivy Compton-Burnett to the classics) and intelligently, she finds that her view of the world changes dramatically.  Abetted in her new found obsession by Norman, a young man from the royal kitchens, the Queen comes to question the prescribed order of the world and loses patience with the routines of her role as monarch.  Her new passion for reading initially alarms the palace staff, and soon leads to surprising and very funny consequences for the country at large.

Though I am not familiar with Alan Bennett, the book jacket reviews sang his praises loudly and enough to reel me in, and anyone willing to poke a bit of fun at the monarchy gets a try out.

Another reason I stuck TUR into my bag is it’s size.  Thick paperbacks and scrawny print do wear on one after a while.  I slated my dishy little find for Saturday afternoon’s nap/read.

Like many Brits, Bennett has a dry sense of humor.  I totally spoon up and relish the Brit Wit, partly because its my ancestry, and partly because I tend to love the understated which drifts into the ridiculous.  Not Monty Python overboard, more like Terry Jones when he does one of his historical videos.

At first I thought, “Of course the Queen is a reader.”  I found out from a review she prefers her dogs and horses to books. Yet, she has met and knighted many an author during her reign.  However, this does not necessarily mean she’s read them.

After the Queen mentions what a waste she had not actually read the books of the authors she knighted and therefore could not actually converse with the authors at the ceremony, her secretary replies:

‘But ma’am must have been briefed, surely?’

Of course,’ said the Queen, ‘but briefing is not reading.  In fact it is the antithesis of reading.  Briefing is terse, factual and to the point.  Reading is untidy, discursive and perpetually inviting. Briefing closes down a subject, reading opens it up.’

I thought about this and had to agree with her.  Often I will skip the book and check out the video.  I’ve done much of Dickens this way.  Some of you will nod your head in agreement, and others will more than likely berate my laziness (or temerity).  I also think those wretched abridged stories I’m faced with teaching in my curriculum are a form of briefing.  Two pages of King Arthur is not the same thing as diving into The Once and Future King  or relishing Mary Stewart’s Crystal Cave series.  I doubt the slim, anemic textbook offerings entice students to check out further readings.  No, I think these briefings close down their interest instead of opening it up.

I also applaud any book that has me scrabbling for my chairside dictionary. Reading this little gem provided me at least two new words: amanuensis and opsimath.  Both I do and have done.

Another aspect of the book is the clever play on words.  According to Wikipedia:

The title is a play on the phrase “common reader”. This can mean a person who reads for pleasure, as opposed to a critic or scholar. It can also mean a set text, a book that everyone in a group (for example, all students entering a university) are expected to read, so that they can have something in common. A Common Reader is used by Virginia Woolf as the title work of her 1925 essay collection. Plus a triple play – Virginia Woolf’s title came from Dr. Johnson: “I rejoice to concur with the common reader; for by the common sense of readers, uncorrupted by literary prejudices, after all the refinements of subtilty and the dogmatism of learning, must be generally decided all claims to poetical honours.”

In British English, “common” holds levels of connotation. A commoner is anyone other than royalty or nobility. Common can also mean vulgar, as common taste; mean, as common thief; or ordinary, as common folk.

I have to admire any author who can get so much mileage out of a three word title.

The best for last is when the Queen discovers something about reading–it leads to writing.

She found, though, that when she had written something down, even if it was just an entry in her notebook, she was happy as once she would have been happy after dong some reading.  And it came to her again that she did not want simply to be a reader.  A reader was next door to being a spectator, whereas when she was writing she was doing, and doing was her duty.

Just when the book seems like an overplayed joke, Bennett snips it off with an absolutely brilliant and perfect ending.

It’s hoped you are enticed to look up this delightful little offering.

Wait a minute, I’ve got the sequel to the book.  If she next discovers writing she could open up her own WordPress account.  Yes, bang on, that’s the ticket–The Uncommon Blogger.

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