Tearing Down the Fourth Wall

Pushing Up Daisies vs A Comedy of Errors

“O! I’m going to the theatre, Darling. The cinema is sooo plebeian. Mink or Chinchilla to guard against the cold?”

Nauseating!

“It’s a Brechtian interpretation. Perfect for my essay on comparative approaches to theatrical storytelling on the early 20th Century Stage.”

Alienating!

“Ohh, goody, there’s a hearing loop in the auditorium!”

Tragicomedy!

“Chookas, Sweetie. I’ll be in the fifth row, towards stage left.”

Familial, fidelity.

“How could he be cast over me?????”

No Comment.

The demountable Pop-Up Globe at the Entertainment Quarter, formerly Fox Studios, Sydney.

The demountable Pop-Up Globe at the Entertainment Quarter, formerly Fox Studios, Sydney.

 

Theatre audiences haven’t always fallen into such broad categories. Look around an auditorium and you will see a refined bunch of people with seemingly singular taste. But they’re a small umbrella group. Of course, I’m not referring to the big musicals that seem to break out and draw people in – crossing boundaries of wealth, sub-cultural fixations and education, and beyond the community of theatre practitioners who love and support the craft and each other.

Spending two to five times as much as the price of going to the footy to see a drama or an opera, can be an edifying, fulfilling experience but it won’t provoke the same audience response and loud catharsis that the footy can. Oops! Isn’t the theatre supposed to be cathartic? Hasn’t that old Greek word entered the English language to describe what goes on in your heart when theatre is at its best? When it lifts you, makes you see yourself and realise that you have changed or can change or that somehow life can be better?

Catharsis in the theatre is a very personal thing. It quietly slips down your cheek when no one is watching.  It wasn’t always the case. In Shakespeare’s day it was caterwauled at the performers, its heckling parleyed back and forth between the auditorium and the stage along with a barrage of soft tomatoes, and it could take to the streets in insurrection.

I don’t think you have to go so far back as Shakespeare to find audiences so engaged with performances – perhaps only back to just before the advent of television. When theatre was the only choice of dramatic storytelling for all.

In modern presentations of plays directors and their troupes try to instigate some of that interaction.

Shakespeare wrote the asides, as if they were improvised, to address his audience directly into his texts. At the Pop-Up Globe the performers run through the groundlings’ standing pit, and the stalls. They invite the audience to photograph them mid performance; they hurl fruit into the audience and lewd staging is used to raise laughs and lower everyone’s inhibitions. The twenty-first century audience smiles in appreciation of their nod to historical performance peccadillos and laugh too, but say nothing in response.

The Cast of Pushing Up Daisies aka Ta Radikia Anapoda (Hellenic Art Theatre)

The Cast of Pushing Up Daisies aka Ta Radikia Anapoda (Hellenic Art Theatre)

What would happen if the audience did respond? and as often as they were invited to and, when they weren’t invited.

Over the past week I have attended two very different productions. Both were comedies. The first was Shakespeare’s classic, A Comedy of Errors in the Pop-Up Globe and the other was Pushing Up Daisies or Τα Ραδικια Αναποδα, by the Hellenic Art Theatre. In the first production, the ensemble dared the audience to interact. In the second, they had to deal with it as a matter of course.

How to cook with no ingredients - feeding the hungry in Athens with the Chef (Nick Tsioukanis)

How to cook with no ingredients – feeding the hungry in Athens with the Chef (Nick Tsioukanis)

Τα Ραδικια Αναποδα, by Γιωρου Γαλιτη,  under the direction of Stavros Economidis satirises stereotypes found in modern day Athenian society. It does this by a series of monologues presented as eulogies to the newly departed. Each eulogy is honest rather than diplomatic and more revealing about the living than the dead. Among the different types we hear from is a thief, a bishop, a socialite, a politician, a surgeon and, poignantly, a chef (Nick Tsioukanis) who advises how to cook for life under the austerity measures imposed on Greece in the wake of the economic crisis.

The stage is bare, dressed with only two coffins, diagonally pointing into centre stage. Each monologue is delivered between these two coffins beginning with the personification of death himself.

The nature of monologues is to be addressed to the audience directly as much if not more than the stage environment. Conventionally, the audience sits up and listens closer. In this production the audience is alert and engaged from the get go. As Death enters and requests mobile phones be switched off, the pre-show chatter is diverted and acknowledges his request. Chatter isn’t entirely quelled and remarks fly on every entrance by a subsequent performer.

The Metropolitan (John Daviskas) eulogizing the assets of the holy departed.

The Metropolitan (John Daviskas) eulogizing the assets of the holy departed.

“Ah, here she is! It’s Evelyn.”

“Hmm, Stavros has lost weight.”

It’s clear there is a familiarity between the performers and their audience that has been accumulating over years of offering and attendance.

When each eulogy begins with an address to the deceased, someone has to voice the audience concerns that the latest performer has made a mistake. Clearly the dead man was named for someone else.

“Get it right, it’s so-and-so in that coffin.”

“No. It’s supposed to be a different person, now.”

As each monologue is given, audience members comment and add short anecdotes among themselves. It’s clear and loud that they can relate. Occasionally the performers were heckled within the context of the character that they were presenting.

Without even having to try, the fourth wall is down. Why did the Pop-Up Globe troupe have to put such an effort? Could it be that the answer lies with the audience?

The widow

The Widow (Evelyn Tsavales)

I’m apt to hypothesize that a lot has to do with the fact that the Hellenic Art Theatre have a relationship with their audience that spans many decades. There is a familiarity of faces across the fourth wall and also between the pews of the auditorium. They are not the disconnected group that attend the larger commercial theatres of the city. They share the migrant experience that binds them whether its mink on the shoulders or uni books in the backpack or personal connections to the company. There is security in this familiarity.  It’s something that I’m betting this audience shares with that of the audiences at the Globe in the age of Elizabeth and James. Then, there was the homogenous experience of being citizens of London who waited for the theatre for their drama where for decades HA Theatre’s audience waited for HA Theatre to be the sole provider of theirs.

A lot has to do with the comedy as well. When they offer Euripides’ tragedy, The Trojan Women later in the year, I can’t imagine that there’ll be heckling.

With such an abundance of audience banter – how do the performers deal with it?

The General

The General (Stavros Economidis)

It would take a seasoned performer with the resilience of a street performer or swift repartee of a stand-up comedian to take it all in stride and keep the momentum of the written text going. That’s how I imagine the King’s Men, Shakespeare’s company, to have been like. The exercise of the same members of the ensemble, play after play in front of a familiar audience would insite asides, heckling and banter that Shakespeare never recorded.

The cast of the Hellenic Art Theatre take it all in stride and offer a very enjoyable night at the theatre.

Pushing Up Daisies or Τα Ραδικια Αναποδα is playing at the Mantouridion Greek Theatre at the Addison Rd Community Complex in Marrickville until 30th September. English surtitles are projected throughout the performance. Bookings: www.hellenicarttheatre.com.au

The Pop-Up Globe is offering Shakespeare in Moore Park from this September and October.

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Pop-Up Globe: A Comedy of Errors

“The Best Night of Theatre Ever” – Australian Stage on Pop-Up Globe Melbourne

“This isn’t dusty Shakespeare. This is now. Alive. Like a Party”

“LIMITED SEASON, STARTS SEPT 5”

Read the hype. Are you excited? Do you absolutely have to go? If you miss the Sydney shows will the only alternative be flying the 21+ hours – if you’re lucky to get a direct flight – no stopovers – to London? Will your experience of Shakespeare ever be the same again? Following this train of thought I had to go. I had to go now – like the persistent urge to pee that’s never sated, my anticipation ran at a cross-legged stampede through my patience. Opening night wasn’t soon enough. It had to be, now, now, now.

So it was I saw a matinee preview and thus couldn’t enjoy the best night. What about the best day?

The demountable Pop-Up Globe at the Entertainment Quarter, formerly Fox Studios, Sydney.

The demountable Pop-Up Globe at the Entertainment Quarter, formerly Fox Studios, Sydney.

New Zealand’s Pop-Up Globe company have put the latest research from Sydney University into what the second Globe Theatre would have looked like into their construction of their demountable theatre. The second Globe Theatre stood longer than the first and would lave seen a greater number of performances of Shakespeare in the Jacobean Era before the closure of the Theatres in the 1630s. For this reason they tell us they chose the second Globe over the first to emulate. The groundlings stand before the thrust stage and each level of stalls provides seating with appropriate price fluctuations. Draughty and wet at times, towels brought along could be needed as well as a pair of sunnies to proof against the stealthy sunlight chasing through the scaffolded stalls. But the experience is about emulating that of the early 17th Century and it seems to do just that.

At eye level with the thrust stage: discovery space and entrances on the back wall, structural columns break up the performance space and scaffolding on the right supports the stalls for the audience.

Taking away all hype and advertising, if I were to stumble upon this theatre I’d be very, very excited. Much has been said of the lack of props and setting on the Shakespearean stage but their lack doesn’t justify performers having to work within a pool of light in a nebulous black void filled only by their costumes and presence, as we often see. That’s not the Jacobean stage at all. No, what is missed is that the entrance doors and discovery spaces – both the central double doors and the balcony alcoves over the stage proper – have roles to play. They conceal and they reveal. The columns of the entrance porch and the columns supporting the ceiling all break up the space and lend the actor their presence to be reimagined.

The Pop-Up Globe’s, Southampton’s Company, under the direction of Miles Gregory use all of these architectural features to bring to life the plot. They don’t limit their playing space to the stage but traipse through the stalls and ground entrances claiming all areas. They extend the reality of the play into the groundlings throwing produce and asides their way. What’s wonderful – fresh and classic at the same time – is their ability to step out of the reality of the plot and refer to themselves as players without breaking the illusion of the play. I imagine this to be experience with the other plays on offer over the next six weeks: Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Merchant of Venice.

From the programme and publicity leaflet

A Comedy of Errors was a lot of fun. Few opportunities to extend the play with visual gags and slapstick were passed up. The cast have a lot of fun with it. Ryan Bennet and Blake Kubena as the twins Dromio are perfectly cast. They look enough alike to pass as twins but differ enough to be told apart. Both are wonderful comic actors who project the same incorrigible comic soul. Watching their antics is pure joy. Serena Cotton’s Luciana is exuberant, energetic and endearing. Romy Hooper’s gloriously uninhibited Adriana is sure to raise eyebrows.

A lot of the laughs come from visual extensions that move beyond the intension of the playwright. Shakespeare was a bawdy fellow if his scripts tell us anything about him. This is a bawdy interpretation and very funny but the physical extensions of the script don’t necessarily aid the understanding of the relationship between Adriana and her husband that Shakespeare intended. Shakespeare’s bawdy wit is obvious in his words. When his words dictated the visual gags, I found the humour more gratifying.

The action is set in the Ottoman court under whose jurisdiction Ephesus was in thrall when this play was written. Musicians aid the exotic setting with drums and flute. An arghile pipe stands with the band and wafts its incense through the air. Colourful costumes represent a mish-mash of cultures ruled by the Ottomans, Sufi’s, Bulgarian, Romanian, Greek and the Duke who is dressed as a Turkish Pasha. The costumes are so exotic where the courtesan is dressed as a 1960’s socialite and Aegeon wears a modern-day con’s coveralls I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed. But just a little.

The Pop-Up Globe is here for the next 6 weeks. To experience Shakespeare in this replica environment is a real treat. As promised, The Comedy of Errors was alive, like a party – a well dusted one. It’s left me itching to see more.

Online Bookings can be made at http://www.ticketmaster.com.au/popupglobe

The beautiful canopy/ceiling above the stage, with the upper level discovery alcoves and balcony.

Shakespeare in the Abbey

Spontaneous Shakespeare in an Abbey in Sydney? or through The Rocks plaza or in Hyde Park? or Martin Place? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to experience Shakespeare like Shakespeare in the Abbey!

Reviews From The Gods

Date: Saturday 28th April 2018, 8:30pm

Director: Sarah Bedi

Price: £27 (using Friend of Globe discount, would be £37 without)

A truly individual experience. Every audience member leaves this event with a different experience and set of memories to anyone else.

I first attended this event last year as a Steward. No one knew what to expect, there was not a lot of information about the format of the performance or the actors involved. The experience turned out to be one of the most magical I have ever had, so when I saw they were running the event again this year I knew I had to go. Luckily, my friend Sarah and I had jointly purchased a Globe membership as we knew this season would have many events we would want to attend outside of our stewarding allowances.

We queued outside the Abbey for about 15 minutes, perusing a map…

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Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Guild Theatre Limited, Walz St, Rockdale
www.guildtheatre.com.au
Director: Susan Stapleton
18 May-9 June
Didn’t get an invite to the royal wedding? Couldn’t hobnob it with English aristocrats? Lost the chance to eavesdrop in the forest of their hidden desires? Missed coochie-cooing at fairy imps in floral finery? No fear, King Theseus & Hippolyta will be repeating their nuptials over and again at the Guild Theatre, Rockdale, until June 9. And you’re most welcome.

Dream4wdps

Oberon and Puck conspire to humiliate Titania with Bottom in his ass-ears – centre Oberon (Haki Pepo Olu Crisden) and from left to right, Puck (Rosemary Ghazi), Titania (Donna Randall) and Bottom (Russell Godwin) Photo courtesy: Susan Stapleton

 

Shakespeare’s best known comedy is about love found, love lost, love fought for, and love renewed. With his own wedding looming, King Theseus is called upon to arbitrate a dispute between Hermia and her father over her refusal to marry Demetrius: for she loves Lysander and he, her. But Demetrius won’t give her up. Helena, only recently cast off by Demetrius, will betray her childhood friend to get him back. Faced with an impossible choice Hermia and Lysander run away to an Athenian wood. Demetrius follows hotly on their heels and Helena on his.

Under cover of night the fairy realm awakes and watches. Elven King Oberon charges his mischievous imp, Puck, with administering a love potion to Demetrius to re-invigorate his love for Helena. While he’s at it, they even a score with Oberon’s fairy queen, Titania. She is made to faun over the first dolt she sees – Bottom, the would-be actor. Over-eager Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius and midsummer mayhem ensues.

Shakespeare challenges directors and designers of AMSND by mixing up mythical realms of England, Medieval Europe, Greece and Rome. Theseus and Hippolyta are clearly Ancient Greek while Roman gods Cupid and Venus step back for the real love brokers, the medieval elf, Oberon, and English folklore’s, Robin Goodfellow, aka Puck. Which world is it? As the supernatural world is shown through an Elizabethan lens, Director Sue Stapleton sets it in Tudor England.

It’s a beautiful production. Stapleton makes good use of the creative talents of Costume Designer Leone Sharp, Set Designers Jim Searle and David Pointon, and Lighting Designers Roger Hind and Ruth Lowry. Tall trunks rise from dense low foliage lending depth to the stage and projected shadows of branches and camouflage extend the world of the stage into the aisles of the auditorium. Costumes are lavish. Elaborate headpieces of bone, feather and foliage created by Jodi Burns give a nod to popular images of Celtic goddesses and the Green Man.

The tone of the performance is set early by Kim Jones’ feisty Hermia. Her energy and passion are carried on in Rachael Howard’s Helena. Neither are biddable Elizabethan gentlewomen. Rather they’re rebellious, shrewish, smart and strong, modern women. It works. Rosemary Ghazi delights as the incorrigible mischief-maker, Puck. Despite the crowd-pleasing, ham acting in the play within the play, Calib James’ big but disciplined interpretation of Thisbe shone through. He’s an actor to look out for. Overall, AMSND can boast good performances from its ensemble cast.

A comedy with plenty of colour, fairies, romance, clear annunciation, and the crowd-pleasing play within the play, make this a very easy introduction to Shakespeare for young theatre goers. This is the Guild Theatre of Rockdale’s first offering of Shakespeare since 1979. It’s charming. Hopefully they will revisit the Bard a lot more regularly. Tickets are $25/$20. Bookings ph: 9521 6358.

This blogpost was first published as an article in the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader

 

Theatre Review: Richard III

Bard On The Beach Theatre Company

Gunamatta Park, Cronulla

March 1st, 2018 – touring around Sydney until April 20

image

Whether you think about Shakespeare’s Richard  III as a Revenger Tragey or History play is irrelevant when casting the chief protagonist. He (or recently, she) has to be superbly, immaculately, unabashedly conniving and manipulative and self serving and most importantly, must revel in his /her vices – exalting in them like a cool breeze through the mire of a humid day. It’s not a role for anyone with any qualms about going there – laying aside their own morality and conscience for the duration of rehearsals and performances. Nor for anyone too concerned with how they personally may be perceived after the final applause. These days audiences are savvy enough to distinguish between the performer and the role, however, it’s still daunting. Bard on the Beach‘s Christian Heath nailed it.

It was a joy to see him plot and scheme and work the fates of all through the fingers of his one good hand. We laid aside our own morality to take pleasure in his success even though we might have cringed at the blood trail. Heath’s portrayal was BIG. His presence and delivery filled the space and brought the audience closer to him. Not a mean feat when you consider the stage is an open air amphitheatre, by a community centre, in a park, by the bay. His only aid was the night. Had the performance been staged earlier in the day, the magic would have been compromised I’m sure.

His big acting style was complemented by big staging. The performers used the amphitheatre including pathways through the seating to make measured entrances throughout, encapsulating the performance and its audience as a localised event in the park. They created a spectacle in the best sense of the word – the kind of thing an Elizabethan audience hankered after, from a cleverly staged beheading to Richard’s ghostly victims popping up from all directions in their bloody tunics wreaking their revenge on a dreaming Richard. Gory and sudden in their appearance they were fearsome and shocking. All this without an Elizabethan discovery ‘closet’ or trapdoor in sight. Soldiers marched down the hillside setting and onto the battle stage, thrusting and parrying a well choreographed fight scene that saw in, the play’s climactic ending. The spectacle was ably handled and presented and necessary.

Amphitheatre’s call for that, spectacle and big acting. By big acting, I don’t mean hamming it up. I mean big demonstrations of emotion that are delivered with the whole body – gestures of the hands, torso, head/neck as well as the gait of the performer. Emotions have to be conveyed across a greater distance to the audience and the audience has to be able to empathize with the performer. Communication has to be big in an open-air amphitheatre.

The stage was bare, the costumes were lavish and the Shakespearean language a no-brainer for this troupe. Yet something wasn’t gelling 100%. I found that I couldn’t connect with the female characters. I couldn’t feel for Buckingham’s fall. And the scene straight after the ghosts accost Richard where he is finally moved by his conscience-despite the wonderful work done by Heath, I couldn’t connect with the scene. I became a passive observer not Richard’s temporal accomplice. Why?

Richard III contains some of the flattest written females in the Shakespeare canon. To make them rounded so much has to be read into the role that an English teacher would cringe. But it has to be done, the words alone do not suffice. The women are the personal conscience and the public conscience of a would be nation’s ruler, the play and the audience.

While the staging was big, occasionally the realization of the text diminished to a tableau of talking heads in gorgeous costumes. On a bare stage with wordy text this is a constant hazard. The actors would have benefitted from a little more from the set – a dais, platform, freestanding buttress – something to break up the space. Something to allow movement to, up and around, something to aid relationships be established visually and help to convey the subtext.

Martin Estridge’s Buckingham was ably handled but the development arc of his character wasn’t big enough. I couldn’t feel for the loyal right-hand man being overlooked, deserting the despot and then losing his life. It’s really important that as an audience we do. If we don’t feel for Buckingham we don’t begin to disentangle our allegiances from Richard. The ghostly assassination of Richard becomes a good bit of spectacle but fails to move us. The moral of the play, if one is to be observed – unrestrained conscience/power in the hands of one man is no good, is not felt by the audience. Would the assassination of Richard by the ghosts have the cathartic effect the dramatist aimed for if we could see Richard’s face? Or if we felt more for his victims?

All in all, it was a good night out. I look forward to seeing more from this company. Bard on the Beach is touring Two Gentleman of Verona in Tandem with Richard III until April 20. Disappointed I couldn’t catch the Gentlemen this time around, I’ll be looking out for more from Bard in The Beach.

I’d love to see Christian Heath take on Iago.

 

2 monuments, 1 church, 2 Shakespeares

“Shakespear’s Monument in the Chancell (not in the Parish Church of Stratford Upon Avon) by adjoyning it (I have seen it) Mr Garter Anstis offer’d to get me a cast of it his face . . .( I have got it)”

George Vertue, c.1737

So what if there were two monuments in or adjoining the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford? What’s the big deal? So what if the Darmstadt Death Mask is the cast of the now long forgotten other monument? What is the significance to history and to Shakespeare?

Droeshout’s Engraving for the First Folio.

 

Shakespeare is a shadowy character. He is a body of work with a whisker of a biography. The only images of him that we are supposed to acknowledge as true representations were made after his death. The first is the Droeshout engraving in the opening pages of the First Folio of his collected works and the other is the funerary monument set into the chancery wall of the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford. The high domed head, the goatee, the gravity-defying shirt collar of the Droeshout and those intense, heavy-lidded eyes are instantly recognizable. But are they true representations?

File:Dugdale sketch 1634 Detail.jpg

A thumbnail sketch, from life, of the monument by William Dugdale (1636). Notice the sack of grain? wool? agriculture! See the differences in the top of the monuments.

The Shakespeare Monument as it has appeared since the 18th Century and can be seen today in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford

The Shakespeare Monument as it has appeared since about the 18th Century and can be seen today in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford

The earliest visual reproduction of the Stratford monument depicts a very different figure to the portly fellow with the beatified features we see in the Holy Trinity Church today. The original sketch by Dugdale in 1636 shows a leaner man with a drooping moustache whose hands jealously covet his sack of agriculture. The quill and paper are missing. The cupids and square pediment above the entablature are different. Could the Dugdale sketch be an accurate depiction of the monument Vertue saw adjoining the church in 1737? If it is, how did the church come to have two monuments? What is the implication of the difference in the two monuments?

For those who question the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, the Dugdale sketch is evidence in their favour. Shakespeare is depicted in his relationship to the town – a successful grain merchant, not a renowned poet. Apologists have attempted to explain away the sketch by postulating hypotheses that the sketch is inaccurate because it was a quick depiction, copied from another monument and finished later. Another view follows the idea that the Dugdale depicts Shakespeare’s father. The monument would have to be altered to accommodate the bardolatry of the son. But what if the monument was not altered but remade? Remade to be more inline with the Droeshout engraving? What if the Dugdale-depicted monument is not of the father but of the son who was miserly in his grain dealings and not a magnanimous, philosopher-poet?

For the true-believers, the Stratford Monument is the one , the only, the ever-present (since sometime after April 23, 1616) icon of the true Bard. Intransient. Immutable. Omnipotent. Vertue’s jotted notes in his Notebooks wreak of brine, in the same way the Dead Sea Scrolls may have. Vertue’s notes confirm that there were two monuments. Taking Dugdale into account, they were different. One is of a merchant, the other is of a writer. Were the writer and the merchant the same person? When did the one monument replace the other? Was the earlier bust replaced in an innocent practice of bardolatry or was a concerted cover-up involved?

photo credits

 – Droeshout Engraving

Photo credit: The British Library / Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions

 – 1636 thumbnail sketch by Dugdale (1605-1686) of the Stratford Monument, from Wikimedia Commons

 – Stratford Monument as we know it:

Image from page 183 of “Shakespeare’s England” (1895)

Photo credit: Internet Archive Book Images /Foter / No known copyright restrictions

The Mask, the Monument, the Antiquarian & the Antipodean SF

“Shakespear’s Monument in the Chancell (not in the Parish Church of Stratford Upon Avon) by adjoyning it (I have seen it) Mr Garter Anstis offer’d to get me a cast of it his face . . .( I have got it)”

George Vertue, c.1737.

Writing an, “about me” page or biog is daunting. Attached to my blog, I inevitably feel that I have to somehow justify why I would have the knowledge or know-how to interest you. The other question that it confronts me with is, why blog? And then, why WordPress? The simple answer is that I’ve been told to. Along with, ” If you want to write you must read a lot, and write every day.” As well as the idea that when you blog you put yourself on the line. You have to push yourself to be clear in your thoughts and focus on communicating your ideas. Because WordPress was the buzzword at writer’s festivals, I chose this platform. I think it was a good choice as we who blog here are a part of a writer-reader community. I think it’s paid off. Why?

I’ve just had my first short story published in the Anitpodean SF – issue 206. My story is Regene-eration and, yes, there is a theatrical element to it. If you are interested in reading it – GO AWAY NOW!!!!! Because I’m going to write about the inspiration behind it before my thoughts trail off.

AntipodeanSF Issue 206

AntipodeanSF Issue 206

We write about what we know, what we think we know or what we can imagine. In my case I had recently read Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel’s, The True Face of William Shakespeare and was inspired.  I read the coffee table version of her thesis that used forensics, professional criminology techniques, old fashioned reading and archival research to find the true likeness of William Shakespeare and in the process test the authenticity of the Darmstadt Death Mask. What is the Darmstadt Death mask? Why, it’s an authentic plaster cast of the face of the man from Stratford, complete with an inscription date of its execution, 1616, and with the down turned moustache and gaunter face of the first sketch-picture of the Stratford monument by antiquarian William Dugdale! So we are told. Hammerschmidt-Hummel’s thesis is an impressive case study.

Her extraordinary research techniques are fun and fascinating, if not convincing. (I can’t have faith in the results of a study that seriously considers images painted with the subjective eye of another human being as being true and precise testimonies of the appearance of their sitter. One of the first pitfalls I was warned against in studying life drawing is that we who draw/paint portraits will err with our judgement primordially making our sitter look a little like ourselves.) Where I admire Hammershimidt-Hummel’s work is in her archival research. The Darmstadt Death Mask turned up in the 19th Century with the claim that it was Shakespeare’s Death Mask but its provenance was incomplete. How did it come to be in Germany?

Hummel tells us that it first appeared in 1842 in an auction catalogue for the possessions of Count Franz Ludwig von Kesselstatt, former Canon at the Cathedral in Mainz. It was displayed in the British Museum in 1864 as Shakespeare’s Death Mask, despite the lack of explanation of how it came to be in Germany. Hammerschmidt-Hummel came across the following quote in her archival searches:

“After his return from Vienna, he (Franz Ludwig von Kesselstatt) went to Strasbourg and Nancy to improve himself, stayed there until March 1775, and then set off on his Journey to London.” (1)

So he went to London. She presents no evidence for his having purchased the mask and indeed whose mask it may have been. Many men died in England in 1616. It could be anyone’s death mask. Where is the evidence that Shakespeare of Stratford had a plaster death mask made?

When I read The True Face of William Shakespeare, I got sooooooo excited. You see I had gone through the Walpole Society’s compilation and publication of the 18th Century English antiquarian, George Vertue’s (1684-1756) Notebooks, and read this:

“Shakespear’s Monument in the Chancell (not in the Parish Church of Stratford Upon Avon) by adjoyning it (I have seen it) Mr Garter Anstis offer’d to get me a cast of it his face . . .( I have got it)”(2)

Vertue I [v.106, BM 586],The Volume of the Walpole Society, XVIII (1929–1930)

And then he repeats this in a different notebook:

“. . . to Stratford on Avon – W(m) Shakespear Poet his monument in the Church his bust got a cast of it in plaister”

Vertue [v.47 BM 30] (3)

Vertue furnishes us with two mysteries here.

The First Mystery

Could Kesselstatt’s mask be the plaster cast John Anstis made from a monument to Shakespeare residing in a room adjacent to the Church in Stratford? The Charnel House perhaps? George Vertue’s notes are intriguing. He was compiling information about all the painters, limner’s and engravers who were active in England to his day. Like many early antiquarians, he gathered a lot of information that he never edited into a history. His Notebooks were not kept for the use of anyone outside of himself. They are lists of art and in whose household he had seen them or where one of his antiquarian buddies had. Entries are not dated nor in chronological order and he seems to have filled some of them simultaneously.

Just before Vertue’s death, Horace Walpole (1717-1797) purchased his Notebooks and compiled the first history of artists working in England. Walpole, a connoisseur in his own right, edited the Notebooks and presented the history from his own understanding.Could he have also purchased the plaster cast? The plaster cast is not listed in the auction catalogue for the sale of Vertue’s books. He may have sold it privately before his death. Walpole being a connoisseur with a taste for the macabre would have been a candidate to purchase it.

Walpole is credited with writing the first English Gothic novel, The Castle of Ortranto (1764). Shakespearean scholar, Samuel Schoenbaum, in his Shakespeare’s Lives(4) reports his more macabre interest in Shakespeare. Apparently in 1769, Walpole offered a challenge to anyone who could furnish him with the skull of Shakespeare.  When it was presented to him in 1794, he declined to pay. If we entertain the idea that Walpole purchased the mask along with the Notebooks in the 1750s, he may have offered the challenge so that he could validate the authenticity of the mask. By the time he was offered the skull, he may have already on-sold the mask and therefore had no need of its authentication. Why would he sell the mask you may ask? In building his dream manor, Strawberry Hill, he was conscious always of his available funds.

Walpole is remembered today as a letter writer as well as an art historian and connoisseur. His letters are an important source of information for his times. He wrote them with his eye on posterity. He is said to have asked them all back and edited them and so they survive in a form that he would have approved for print. Did he mention the mask or Kesselstatt in any of his letters for 1775-6? Not that I could pick up. Would he have wanted posterity to know of such a deal if he did?

Thus the mystery of the provenance remains. But then there is the other mystery. George Vertue makes reference to there being TWO monuments in the 1730s – one in the Chancel and one in the room beside it! Are these the two he meant. . .?

File:Dugdale sketch 1634 Detail.jpg

A thumbnail sketch, from life, of the monument before by William Dugdale (1636). Notice the sack of grain?wool?agriculture! See the differences in the top of the monuments.

The Shakespeare Monument as it has appeared since the 18th Century and can be seen today in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford

The Shakespeare Monument as it has appeared since about the 18th Century and can be seen today in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford

References

(1) Hammerschmidt-Hummel, Hildegard, The True Face of William Shakespeare, Chaucer Press, London, 2006, p.117.

(2)George Vertue, “Notebooks”, The Volume of the Walpole Society, XVIII (1929–1930), XX (1931–1932), XXII (1933–1934), XXIV (1935–1936), XXVI (1937–1938), XXIV (1947; Index), XXX (1951–1952; Index).

(3) ibid.

(4)Schoenbaum references Argosy and C.C.Langton, A Warwickshire Man, How Shakespeare’s Skull was Stolen and Found, (1879) in:

Schoenbaum, Samuel, Shakespeare’s Lives, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1991.

photo credits

The cover of Antipodean SF issue 206 features the cover art  – Who wins? (credit – Photovision, Pixabay)

1636 thumbnail sketch by Dugdale (1605-1686) of the Stratford Monument, from Wikimedia Commons

Stratford Monument as we know it:

Image from page 183 of “Shakespeare’s England” (1895)

Photo credit: Internet Archive Book Images /Foter / No known copyright restrictions

W.S., the Also Wrotes (or Edits)

Who was W.S.? Was he really mocking Shakespeare in his pamphlet, Bought Wit is Best, or Tom Long’s Journey to London to buy wit? Did he know Shakespeare to be an illiterate from the country? Did he actually teach Shakespeare how to write comedies? For SAQ enthusiasts getting access to EEBO is worth it just to read this pamphlet. It holds a number of works attributed to W.S. from the late 16th Century and early 17th Century. Not all of them appear to be from the same author. It’s their content that has to be considered when trying to group them as having passed through the editorial or authorial hands of W.S..

What has puzzled me about the Elizabethan writer Edward Oxenford, Earl of Oxford, is that he was lauded as being the best for writing comedies by his contemporary Francis Meres, but none of his comedies is said to have survived. Meres mentions many poets, but the best of each age he places first.

Edward Oxenford, 17th Earl of Oxford aka Edward de Vere

Edward Oxenford, 17th Earl of Oxford, aka Edward de Vere

“The best Poets for Comedy among the Greeks are these, Menander, Aristophanes . . . and among the Latines, Plautus, Terence, . . . so the best for Comedy amongst us bee, Edward Earle of Oxforde, . . .”

Francis Meres Palladis Tamia (1598)(1)

I love this quote as by listing first the Ancient Greek comic writers then the Latin, followed by the English, it puts them on a par. Meres also relates the styles of the first among each age. Plautus and Terence deferred themselves to Menander, as in Shakespeare’s time, Shakespeare greatness was compared to Plautus and Terence. In their comedies of mixed identities and convoluted storylines each of these playwrights passed on a Chinese whisper that informed their plots. Oops!. . .  I said Shakespeare and not Oxford. But was Shakespeare, Oxford? I don’t hold the proof for that but I think I have an argument that Oxford was W.S.(Musario).

Musario was the beloved of the Muses, the comic impresario of 1590’s London. He was London’s greatest wit, a well read scholar of the upper classes. According to the W.S. pamphlet, he taught Tom Long, the country bumpkin, how to write comedy. If we take Francis Mere’s 1598 word for it, a simple socratic deduction would conclude that Musario had to be the Earl of Oxford.

But this is just one pointer. It’s unsatisfying. The argument needs more. I went over my past searches for lost plays by Oxford.

The first pamphlet I came across was The Complaint, which made me suspect erroneously, that Edward Oxenford(e) had written it. I came to this incorrect conclusion based on the biographical references in the prefatory epistle.  In my mind, he is most likely to have been its editor. Soon afterward I discovered EEBO and started searching for works by W.S.. Since then it has been a waiting game as more and more early modern lit is scanned and made available. Following is a list of works that I consider that Oxford either wrote or prepared for print, based on those searches. For some, Oxford’s authorship has already been debated and rejected or held. The criteria for my search has not taken into consideration the style of writing but the content and the possibility, however remote, that Oxford had a hand in them. They are all credited as the work of W.S.. Dates of publication are purely based on my searches and are the earliest that I have found. A date of publication is not a date of authorship, particularly in Elizabethan times.

1574 – A Newe Balade or Songe of the Lambes Feast and Another out of Goodwill (By W.S. Veritatis)

1581- A Compendious or Briefe Examination of Certayne Ordinary Complaints (aka The Complaint by W.S. Gentleman, at one time attributed to William Shakespeare, now shown to be by Sir Thomas Smith)

1595 – The Lamentable Tragedie of Locrine . . Newly set foorth, overseene and corrected, by W.S. (A play also attributed to William Shakespeare and reprinted in the 3rd Folio of Shakespeare’s works) – An edited piece by W.S.?

1602 – The True Chronicle Historie of the Whole Life and Death of Thomas Lord Cromwell As it has Sundry Times publikely acted by the Right Honourable the Lord Chamberlaine his servants. Written by W.S..(A play also attributed to William Shakespeare and reprinted in the 3rd Folio of Shakespeare’s works)

1607 – To the Faithful Christians – A religious pamphlet/diagram, dense with biblical references signed, “Christes unworthy minister, that desireth your edification. W.S.”

1607 – The Puritaine or the Widow of Watling- Streete Acted by the Children of Paules, written by W.S..(A play also attributed to William Shakespeare and reprinted in the 3rd Folio of Shakespeare’s works)

1612 – A Funerall Elergye in memory of the late virtuous Maister William Peter of Whipton neere Excester – thought also to have been written by Shakespeare at some time.

1634 – Bought Wit is Best, or Tom Long’s Journey to London to Buy Wit, the Prefatory Epistle is signed by W.S..

Of the earliest of the works above, in signing W.S. Veritatis on A Newe Balade or Song, W.S. provides us with a surname that is a play on Oxford’s family name, Vere. In the Complaint he furnishes us with particulars of his personal life and situation in 1581 that match the Earl’s. He also forces us to consider that he may have been an editor of others’ works. Oxfordian scholar, Nina Green, argues convincingly that The Widow of Watling Streete, was written much earlier than 1607, in the 1570s. (2) She offers, “a matrix of topical references in the play” to argue that it may have been written by Oxford.

Is this enough to require an academic investigation into the possibility that the Earl was W.S.? And if the Earl was W.S., a writer and editor and also Musario, could he also have been responsible for the finished works of Shakespeare? It is a bit of a leap – Oxford as W.S. to W.S. as Shakespeare. However, five of the seven titles signed W.S. above have been considered as the works of William Shakespeare.

Oops! I’m assuming that you’ve already heard that Shakespeare’s authorship of his plays and poems is disputable – along with his image.

(1) Quoted from the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship: www.shakespeareoxfordfellowship.org/wp-content/uploads/Meres.pdf ·

(2) Edward de Vere Newsletter, no.4., De Vere Press, June 1989,February 2001.

WS- Pamphleteer, Playwright, Poet…Persona Incognitus

Scaramouche, Scaramouche! But who is Mufario, and why does he hide his face behind a mask?

Musario, Musario! But who is Mufario, and why does he hide his face behind a mask?

oxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

oxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

“Musario, Musario! But who is Musario? And why does he hide his face behind a mask? You don’t know? Well, I’ll tell you . . . ” – misquoted from Scaramouche, MGM, 1952.

oxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

oxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

In my recent post, 3.What Authorship Question: Shakespeare? Who? Homer? I toyed with the idea that Shakespeare’s plays were written by several hands. Why? His universal view of women changes between the genres of his plays, and does so in a stratified way i.e., his comedies show a greater understanding than his histories.

Group Theory is not a new concept in terms of the discussion of the Bard’s immortal plays. It dates back to at least Delia Bacon’s, The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakespeare Unfolded, 1857. Despite the vaccuous, vapid logic of people who haven’t actually read her manifesto, and who will tell you otherwise, she was not a Baconian but a Groupist. She proposed a group of writers working together with the aim of bringing enlightenment to their audiences using that great educator of the soul, storytelling. Her group included Walter Raleigh, Francis Bacon, and the Earl of Oxford, among others.

The idea that more than one hand created the works, is popular today also among orthodox Shakespearean scholars who concede collaboration. A book that I have found very persuasive on the topic is John Mitchell’s, Who Wrote Shakespeare? (1996). In it he goes through the candidates, popular to his day, and discusses the strengths and weaknesses of their cases beginning with William of Stratford. If he had to choose a single candidate, he leans towards Bacon because he sees in the workings of Bacon, “(a) subtle, devious mind and (a) practical idealistic purpose.” (1). However, a single author doesn’t satisfy him and he at one point proposes a group headed by Oxford (2), that included the Earl of Derby, the Earl of Rutland, Walter Raleigh and Christopher Marlowe, and of course, Bacon was an integral member .

The problem with Group Theory is talk. If such a Group existed and were sworn to secrecy, wouldn’t someone let the cat out of the bag? And what of the theatre shareholder who bore their label, William Shakespeare, wouldn’t he talk? Where is the evidence of this talk? Can it all be restricted to euphemistic and oblique references in plays whose meaning has now exited, pursued by a bear?

Well, it’s not all obscure. Sonnet 81 is the author’s paeanful dirge to his unacknowledged authorship. I am not the first, nor the last, to proclaim its importance to the SAQ. It’s the alpha and the omega of why William Shakspere was not the author, William Shakespeare. However, it isn’t the only published slight.

Bought Wit is Best, or Tom Long’s Journey to London to Buy Wit, by the anonymous pamphleteer, W.S., is very telling. The pamphlet is a parody of Theophrastus’ ancient parody on human character, Characters. Tom Long is a countryman who comes from the town of Gotham(3) where the citizens have the reputation of being witless. He has been sent to London by the aldermen because the town has been prevailed upon to stage a comedy or masque for the entertainment of its lord. The problem is that there is no one in the town with the wit to write it, so they have sent Tom off to procure wit by the horse-load. Unfortunately, Tom can’t read. If he is to learn wit, it has to be spoken to him. He hears tell of a marvellously witty scholar, Musario, who he presently encounters.

Musario proceeds to satirise all different kinds of scholars that he sees in society. Because life is a School of Repentance, his witty scholars are just people who have had to learn wisdom from their experiences. His advice to these people is that rather than suffer the consequences of experience, buying their wit would be preferable. Conversely, he also promotes the idea that by their suffering and repentence they have paid for their wit, or wisdom if you like.

Musario has a broader understanding of wit than we commonly use today. For Musario wit is wisdom, experience, understanding, and the ability to laugh at our own foibles. Thus he associates having wit with the capability to write comedies.

Musario is presented, and then presents himself, as a doyen of wit. The point of view of the author quickly moves from a god’s eye perspective to Musario’s perspective. Tom Long is presented as a country bumpkin. Coming from a place of no wit, he stays in London at least another five years after which time he has Musario’s words of wisdom published. Why? “So by mingling wit and mirth together, he might please those that desire to be merry.”

John Dee Seal

John Dee’s alchemical seal

The question to be asked of the pamphlet is whether Musario had in mind certain people who he was satirising? One of the scholars, Mr Phantastes bears a great resemblance to the polymath, John Dee. Musario describes a humoursome man with too many professions to spend his estate on, who cannot focus on one. He dabbles in alchemy to the point that he changes his own form until he looks, “a page of Saturn … melancholy black, looking so pale and wan.” Is he having a bit of fun at specific wits of London? Were they contributors of Shakespeare’s canon?

To tackle this question the first thing that has to be determined is when the pamphlet was written as opposed to when it was published. Musario tells us that it was first published 5 years after he wrote it. The copy that I have read was published in 1634. Nowhere on the front cover does it state whether it is a first or subsequent printing. By this reckoning the latest it could have been written is 1629. But when is the earliest? To ascertain this we may look at the names Musario gives his Wits. One of them is Pierce Pennilesse the Ploughman. Pierce Penniless first appeared in print in a pamphlet by Tom Nashe in 1592. It was an incredibly successful pamphlet of the early 1590’s going into three print runs and being translated into French.  It stands to reason that Bought Wit is Best was first published after Pierce Penniless, His Supplication to the Divell but soon enough in memory for the reference to have meaning.

 A probable date of composition for Bought Wit is Best is in the 1590s. Shakespeare’s greatest period of writing in London. Shakespeare, like Tom Long, was from the country and came to London to do commerce in wit. But if Tom Long is supposed to be Shakespeare, why is it that he can’t read? Mufario couldn’t mean William Shakespeare? Was he of the opinion that it pained Shakespeare to write, too?

Who was Musario anyway? Was Musario a construct of the author W.S., or was he W.S.? Who is Tom Long supposed to be? Is Gotham really the historic town in Lancashire? Is London meant to be London?

Who was the pamphleteer, playwright, poet and lyricist, W.S.? In the 1600s the publishers of the third and fourth folios knew him to be William Shakespeare. They published three of W.S.’s plays in the Third (1663) and Fourth (1685) Folios of the Collected Works of William Shakespeare: The History of Thomas Lord Cromwell, The Puritan Widow and The Tragedy of Locrine. All of these plays had been printed in quarto editions during the lifetime of William of Stratford with the initials, W.S.. According to Wikipedia, The Puritan Widow has now been reattributed to Thomas Middleton on stylistic comparison; the Tragedy of Locrine is still of unknown authorship, but it’s stiff verse excludes it from Shakespeare’s hand although he may have edited it; and the penmanship of The History of Thomas, Lord Cromwell, has also eluded scholars and baffled them with the strange way the first half of the play is more polished than the second.

For scholars, the three plays in question just don’t live up to their expectations of Shakespeare. But what of his juvenilia? Did he not cut his teeth somewhere? Was he born with a full set of teeth? Why were these plays excluded from the first and second Folios? Was there an induction process whereby only the best plays were included? These plays by W.S. were added to the canon alongside 4 others. Of the seven, only Pericles, Prince of Tyre has been acknowledged a genuine Shakespeare original. However, even Pericles is said to have been a collaborative effort.

Interestingly enough, when reading through the Wits satirised by W.S., a few bring to mind characters in Shakespeare’s plays.  Antonio from the Merchant of Venice can be though as having bought his wit thus:

There is a third way of buying wit, and that is by suretyship, when some young man or any other (being of a good nature, and so more easily deceived) is willing to pleasure his friend, and to stand between him and harm by being bound for him and by setting his hand and seal to it, makes so fair a hand, that in short time his friend shrinks away and he is left to the mercy of the creditor… (4)

Shakespeare’s fascination with the cuckholded husband also runs through a few of the characters as a consequence of their actions. Is this enough to pin the Shakespeare name on the pamphlet? Would he lampoon himself as being from the country, unable to read, unable to write comedy, and from a society whose greatest foible was its propensity to go to court over petty concerns eg a trespassing goose?

W.S. holds Tom Long apart from Musario. In fact, Musario’s wits are almost all Londoners. Be they men or women, they are from the merchant class or above. They are educated and have money to spend. He doesn’t understand the countryman’s concerns and can only poke fun at his antics involving lawyers in the city.

From Musario’s judgements we can infer certain things about him. He is a man-about-London-Town, a scholar and a wit. He has knowledge enough of English folklore, Old Testament stories and Greek mythology but not the confidence to quote in Greek, though he bandies about his Latin. He hints at his once having been wealthy when he talks of prodigal youth waxing philosophically. His advice to women on choosing a husband brand him an aristocrat. In marriage to choose money over birth/social rank is folly. As is choosing money over wit. In fact his advice is best kept by those with money and/or rank. In this pamphlet he presupposes that living in the country, in an agricultural profession precludes having wit.

The exhibited knowledge in this pamphlet overlaps with that of Shakespeare the writer down to Ben Jonson’s claim that his Latin was better than his Greek. But why would he lampoon countrymen, his own? And if he did, why doesn’t the satire encompass the various issues of countrymen and their character stock types? For Musario, countrymen are litigious, petty, uneducated “Goodmen Clodpoles” who in coming to the city can best hope for local preferment on their return having gained city wit.

We aren’t told whether Tom Long learns enough wit from Mufario to write his own comedies. From the little factual information that has come down to us about William of Stratford, the evidence of his life resonates with Tom Long and the Goodmen “Halfpenny” and “Clodpole” of Bought Wit is Best: a litigious nature, an extended stay in London, a return home a success, an interest in civic advancement (the attainment of the coat of arms for his father) a delving into the production of comedies, and a questionable education (the only evidence of his handwriting are the near illegible signatures and the story that it pained him to write.)

Was Tom Long meant for William Shakspere of Stratford? Are the Wits satirised in the pamphlet Shakespeare’s collaborators? Who was W.S.?

Further Reading

For references to the greatest poets in the Elizabethan Age, that omit Shakespeare and pre-date the publication of the first folio see: http://shakespeareoxfordfellowship.org/peacham-on-oxford/

On Pierce Penniless https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierce_Penniless

References

  • Mitchell, John, Who Wrote Shakespeare, Thames and Hudson, London, 1996, Chapter IX: A Last Look Round, 259.
  • ibid, p.244.
  • During the reign of King John the citizens of Gotham did not want the upkeep of a new highway by their town so they feigned madness to dissuade the powers that were from building the King’s road through there. The legend of the madness of their citizens stuck.
  • S., W, Tom Long’s Journey to London to Buy Wit or Bought Wit is Best, E.A. for Francis Smith, London,1634. From EEBO.

Photo Credit

John Dee’s seal

Photo credit: Arenamontanus / Foter / CC BY

1. What Authorship Question: Homer, Who, Shakespeare?

In my previous post I posed the question, could a computer differentiate between episodes of Dr Who that were under the artisitic guidance of Russell T. Davies and those of his successor, Steven Moffat. Supposedly a computer can recognize the hand of Shakepeare in Early Modern Literature. Actually, faith in such programs is so fervent that they are being used to pinpoint exactly which bits of Shakespeare, Shakespeare actually wrote and which bits belong in the chops of a horse.

Now, if you were writing this post and I was reading it, my immediate reaction would be that TV and Early Modern Playscripts use different storytelling techniques. That TV guides the majority of the viewer’s responses to a text through its clever use of mise-en-scene, editing, casting, and special effects. A playscript is a raw thing, yet to be basted and baked on a stage. The theatre’s audience, more difficult to lead. Computers can count words, their forms and usage in early modern texts: what are they to measure in an episode of Dr Who? An impossible comparison.

What if the arena were to be circumscribed? Could an essential parameter box in the ring? Could we take this parameter to be the writer’s underlying world view? To my mind there is an issue with counting words and their usage: the writer as an artist. The writer may have a preferred style, but doesn’t it change at all over the course of their writing careers? Doesn’t style develop over time? over experimentation? over admiration of others’ works? over response to their own? What of vaulting a mindblock or orchestrating a conceit?

Shakespeare isn’t the earliest writer to have his penmanship questioned. Homer shares the stigma with him. Homer has left two great epics, The Illiad and The Odyssey. Like Shakespeare, there is little of his life on historical record. We dont know the year or circumstances of the creation of either of his works. They are so different in style and content that it is believed that they must have been written at the beginning and the end of his career if he were to have written both of them. This begs the question, where are his transitional works?

Statue of Homer in Munich

Statue of Homer in Munich

While The Illiad is a concentrated recount of the skirmishes of the last battle of the Trojan War, the Odyssey is a narrative of Oysseas (Ulysses) ten year-long journey home. Immediately we see a different approach to the treatment of the passage of time between the texts – one is broad ranging the other, very particular. In The Illiad, Homer identifies the players in the war through their families, allegiances, achievements and relationships to a particular god. The gods themselves are part of his narrative. No warrior is a statistic. No warrior fights alone. There is a sense that this history is told to honour the generals, the soldiers, their families, their communities and their gods. A pious reverence pervades the text. Those who will read him, will honour his gods and the gods will hear them.

The Odyssey is a different kind of yarn, spun and pulled out over the course of ten years. It could easily be retitled, Odysseas’ Seafaring Advenures. Unlike The Illiad, it focusses on one protagonist. This is Odysseas tale. It’s an ancient melodrama, romance, and thriller. But not a history. Odysseas is clearly the hero. The goddess Athena takes a personal interest in his domestic situation and his return home. She serves him. The goddess serves the mortal! Not to say she was a serving woman but this is not a war of nations.

There is a more light-hearted approach to The Odyssey. The family histories and relationships of the characters sailing with Odysseas are not given. The story is meant to move forward sprightly, and it does. It can be suspenceful and is engaging.The story of Odysseas’ journey is almost a story within a story. Yes, Calypso tells the tale but within the story of Telemachus and Penelope (his son and his wife respectively), the wanderings of our hero are a play within a play. There is a huge leap in innovation where storytelling is concerned.

Most importantly, the mindset, the attitude of the writer of The Illiad is very different to the attitude of the writer of The Odyssey, when it comes to the sanctity of life. There is a concern for the soldiers and a weight over their loss in one and a feeling that the sailors are mere pawns in the world of a good story in the other. In one, there is a sense of a battle veteran writing, in the other a good imagination. Were they from the same pen?

Statue of Homer, Munich

Photo credit: Source / CC BY-SA