My Fiction

Sci-fi, romance? No, fantasy. No, not really. Romantic – sort of – science fiction, fantasy with space travel but not with space ships, with sea shells – well, not quite. Ammonites, space travel with ammonites – fossils of prehistoric organisms. But they are more than just organisms. They are curious, adventurous and a wee bit unethical.

During the lead up to Christmas and New Year I’ll be posting four instalments of a novella that I’ve written that coincides with the holiday period and the major focus of this blog – the theatre. It’s set in the Sydney CBD and railway tunnels and, drum roll… Sydney’s subterranean, Theatre Royal.

It’s a work of fiction that I’ve drawn from my experiences working in stage blacks as well as taking in the sights, exhibitions and traffic of my city. I call it, Ghosting Europa, as in the moon orbiting Jupiter. As each new post is blogged out, I’ll be transferring each instalment to the tab in the horizontal bar above, Ghosting Europa. I hope you like it.

If not, no fear, the new year I’ll be questioning history and theatre with my usual appetite.

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Revisiting the Nemes Crown

It’s been over two years since I began making the first Nemes crown to interest my son in Ancient Egyptian history. Since then the posts on my thoughts and process have been viewed many times more than I could have anticipated. Initially, they were getting too few views to persist with, but I did. I was entrenched in a 12 hour a day job in hospitality and believed that if I didn’t keep blogging that I’d lose whatever ground I had made with it and perhaps forget how to write. I had to publish something. Reading over them the other day I cringed. What has made them so popular?

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I ended up making two crowns as I wasn’t happy with the first and blogging about both of them. What intrigued me at the time was the difference between Tutankhamen’s crown and other King/Pharaoh’s. There was the uraeus and vulture coupling at the forehead and the ponytail at the back. I encountered many considerations in making them sit evenly:-

  • should I use a support for the fabric – as starching fabric didn’t come into use until about the 16th century CE in Europe
  • ensuring that the stripes presented correctly
  • ensuring that the shoulder lappets stood perpendicular to the face and sat on the shoulders
  • ensuring the lappets didn’t flap
  • and an unexpected one, making sure that the crown didn’t ride back.

I had to consider the possibility that the golden crown was a figurative representation of a religious idea – that the pharaoh shone golden light. The problem was in choosing a fabric – what colour should the stripes be – golden thread and applique would not come into use until the time of the Romans.

With all of these considerations, wouldn’t it all be easier if it was made out of gold? And if it was to be gold why didn’t they just bury it with him when the time came?

Two years down the track and I’m faced with another possibility. Recently there has been an announcement that the artefacts from King Tutankhmen’s tomb will be making their way Down Under in 2021. Very exciting news – more work for me. You see, if I were to take my son to see the exhibition wearing either of the Nemes Crowns that I made, he would look ridiculous. He has out grown them already. Twelve years old when I made them, he is now nearly fifteen. His age coincides with that of King Tut when he reigned. If Tutankhamen wore a linen Nemes crown then several must have been made for him over the course of his reign. I wonder whether there will be a few in the exhibition if any at all.

I hypothesized at the time that perhaps King Tut never wore a cloth Nemes Crown. As a child growing up, wouldn’t it be convenient to have an official pharaonic mask and crown that someone else could wear on ceremony for him? How awe-inspiring could a child-king be? Could this be the idea that has inspired interest in visitors to this blog?

Or could it be questions about the coupling of the vulture and uraeus. Looking at many images through Lionel Casson’s Time-Life Books, Ancient Egypt,  and confirming my suspicions with google image searches, and Pinterest searches I noticed that the vulture on his Nemes Crown only appears on his funerary artifacts – something that he couldn’t have arranged for himself. Why would his successor, Ay, have instigated this? Was it politically motivated to present a united Egypt – each animal representing a different half of Egypt? Did it have more to do with added protection for the boy-king in the afterlife?

What I’ve taken away from the exercise which saw me comparing crowns from different eras of Egyptian history is the belief that in the Old Kingdom Nemes crowns were linen and the king didn’t necessarily have to wear a uraeus. By the time of the New Kingdom –  I will believe until I get to that exhibition in 2021 – the uraeus was entrenched in the presentation of the Pharoah and his crown was made of gold.

An index to all of my Nemes Crown related posts appears at the end of the post, King Tut’s Crown: A Lapidary Jeweller’s Perspective.

My interview with History of Egypt podcaster, Dominic Perry, appears here. I was listening to this wonderful podcast while I was crafting and researching my ideas. Joyce Tydlesley’s Tutankhamen’s Curse and Carl Roebuck’s World of Ancient Times were also very informative and thought provoking.

Now my challenge is to write something just as interesting, if not more.

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

Thank you!

Today marks the first anniversary of my blogging behaviour! On the 20th November last year I aired my first post!

Thank you to all who have read, liked, commented, shared, ping-backed and followed my blog. I’m grateful to WordPress for making this platform available. WordPress is pretty special. They provide the platform, the tools, advice, and most importantly, a community willing to read. This environment has provided the necessary prod to improve my writing as it is a community of writers who will or won’t choose to read it.

A big thank you to fellow blogger and author, Stella Tarakson, for her support and advice. I don’t think I’ll ever get my regular posts down under 500 words as she sagely advises, but I can aim to.

Not quite a Soap box but a statue of a soeaker in the Domain, Sydey

Not quite a soap box, in the Domain, Sydney

I’m also grateful I don’t have to take a soap crate down to the Domain and, “Shout it to the wind.” It’s been a while since I’ve seen anyone airing their views down there. Perhaps it’s a thing of the past? (I had to sneak at least one question in.) I don’t think I could do it without a computer interface. Without the anonymity of my laptop, my convictions would disintegrate. I’m not as gutsy as they were, back then. Thanks again, WordPress, for being my soap box.

I haven’t run out of things to say quite yet, so you will have to put up with me for a little while longer. Thank you again to those who come back regularly, and those who’ve stopped by, by chance. I appreciate your having alighted here.

Photo credit: RubyGoes / Foter / CC BY