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19 August 2014 @ 04:16 pm
In case someone else would enjoy this as much as I did, here are a bunch of phrases from an English-to-Latin textbook from the sixteenth century:

Some of the phrases, in isolation, make me rather sad - or wildly intrigued. So many little stories...
05 August 2014 @ 02:50 pm
This one by Rebecca Mead in the New Yorker, inspired by Ira Glass' tweeting that Shakespeare wasn't relatable:

The Scourge of "Relatability"

Key quotations:

"The concept of identification implies that the reader or viewer is, to some degree at least, actively engaged with the work in question: she is thinking herself into the experience of the characters on the page or screen or stage.

But to demand that a work be 'relatable' expresses a different expectation: that the work itself be somehow accommodating to, or reflective of, the experience of the reader or viewer. The reader or viewer remains passive in the face of the book or movie or play: she expects the work to be done for her."

" reject any work because we feel that it does not reflect us in a shape that we can easily recognize—because it does not exempt us from the active exercise of imagination or the effortful summoning of empathy—is our own failure. It’s a failure that has been dispiritingly sanctioned by the rise of 'relatable.' "
30 June 2014 @ 03:15 pm
Dispatch from the Department of Stuff No One Else Cares About, "Eight Actors in Britain" edition: In yesterday's episode of the most recent season of Endeavour (the prequel series to Inspector Morse), I did not spot any actors from Doctor Who, but there were four actors who had been in Globe productions. Two of these are series regulars: Jack Laskey (Orlando in the Thea Sharrock-directed AYLI), and Roger Allam (Falstaff in 1 and 2 Henry IV; also Prospero in last summer's production of The Tempest). The amusing thing was that the other two actors had also been in those same productions: I was of course thrilled to note Jamie Parker's name in the opening credits; he played Oliver opposite Jack Laskey's Orlando, and Hal to Roger Allam's Falstaff. And then Jessie Buckley was Roger Allam's Miranda! (They filmed this production of The Tempest, but who knows if they'll ever get their act together for US screenings; they never did for last year's, as far as I know - which was not a terrible hardship, I suppose, since I'd always planned to buy the DVDs for Jamie's Henry V and Sam Barnett's Twelfth Night anyway, but I still would have loved to see Jamie cry God for Harry, England, and Saint George on a big screen too.)

(Jamie played an utterly obnoxious Oxford tutor of medieval history, clipped upper-crust accent and all - but his voice was still so lovely that I kind of just wanted him to keep being obnoxious forever...)
07 June 2014 @ 11:56 am
I only discovered this website because I happened to check out a book written by someone who has contributed to the site, so in case you didn't know that Bess of Hardwick's letters were online, either:

There's also a lot of supplementary material on her life, and on early modern language and letter-writing, so I plan to spend a lot of time with it once my end-of-year grading is done...
03 June 2014 @ 10:59 am
Posting for later listening:

‘The two hours’ traffic of our stage’:
Time for Shakespeare

Professor Tiffany Stern

Wednesday 21 May 2014, 6pm-7.15pm
Venue: Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare's Globe, London
23 May 2014 @ 02:30 pm
So…I'm very annoyed about the existence of this documentary, and my inability to watch it:

The Mysterious Mr. Webster

I really liked James Shapiro's book 1599, which actually concentrated more on what would have been available for Shakespeare to read and see that might have gone into the plays he wrote during this period, instead of trying to determine what sort of man Shakespeare must have been based on the plays, so one hopes that he'll do that here as well...
12 May 2014 @ 04:34 pm
There are several actors announced in this article on the upcoming BBC miniseries of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, but the one I'm most interested in is Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn:

(Maybe this summer I will actually get around to reading Wolf Hall? I mean, I'm not holding my breath, but maybe.)
10 May 2014 @ 04:50 pm

(Key quotation: "'s still all-too-maddeningly rare to see a gentle romance about the loveliness or adorableness or winsome sweetness of black women...the wonderful thing about Asante's carefully constructed film is that it's not a story grounded in black suffering.)


10 May 2014 @ 04:25 pm
So, before I get started, here's a review of Belle that I don't like or agree with much:
"In 'Belle,' a complex life tangled in class and commerce"

If you like Jane Austen film adaptations and/or period drama more generally, I think you should go out and see Belle if it's playing near you. And obviously I can't tell anyone what to do, but if this is the kind of thing that interests you, then I think it's worth going out to see it in the theater if that is within your means - voting with your wallet and all that - rather than waiting to catch it on DVD or Netflix. Personally, having done it yesterday*, I think it was very much worth the money, and also, Gugu Mbatha-Raw has the kind of vividly expressive face that is just made for closeups. I thought the whole thing was moving and immersive, with a script that was spare but still containing a real sense of eighteenth-century cadence, and Gugu did a fabulous job.

*I got home yesterday at about ten minutes to six, took my shoes off, ate a spoonful of peanut butter and two dried apricots while I tried to figure out what I was going to make for dinner - and then abruptly remembered that Belle was opening at my local cinema that day. It turned out that there was a 7:05 screening, so I ran back out to catch it. Happily, the theater was mostly full by the time the movie started.

As I sat there waiting for the movie to start, I amused myself by trying to imagine the kinds of ways that people might discount this movie. It was going to be "too much like other period pieces," I imagined, too much like Jane Austen, not big or significant enough to be a worthy film. And sure enough, check out the end of this review:
While the basic outline of Belle's story is real, the filmmakers have invented freely within that outline, and most of what they've invented has the themes and tone of vintage Jane Austen — dowries, deceptions, suitors only some of whom are suitable. This has the effect of making the film feel elegant but a little weightless despite the weighty matters at its center.

Still, it's smartly acted, handsome and well-crafted in a way that'll make it irresistible to the Merchant-Ivory/Masterpiece Theater set — think pride, with a whole lot of prejudice.

Got it in one, guys. (This is literally the first review of the film that I pulled up.) Because you can't tell a story about slavery without showing whips and chains and suffering black bodies; because a film set in drawing rooms can't ever matter as much as one out on the open seas; because apparently the fact that women of color rarely if ever get to be the heroine of Austen-style period dramas has totally escaped this reviewer's notice. (This was in fact the director's point, but whatever.) Because everyone knows there's only one way to talk about race in the movies, and race is always the only thing that could matter to characters of color: how could Dido (the way "Belle" is referred to in the film) be concerned with…finding a husband? That paltry subject? How could she want to find the personal happiness that everyone else might want when there is slavery on the line???

[Here is an interview with the director, Amma Asante, that is *not* tone-deaf and infuriating:
“I wanted to ask the question, ‘Who defines us — society or ourselves?’ ” Asante says. “If society simply sees her as the child of a slave but she feels like the child of an aristocrat, what is the most important predictor of her success?”

I also probably shouldn't be as annoyed as I am about the fact that this review calls Dido a "slave girl" raised in an aristocratic family when the movie tells us in, like, minute two that Dido was born on British soil - and hence not a slave, ever - but I AM, anyway. It's like the desire to fit this movie into the particular expected boxes turned the reviewer selectively deaf. This movie is *so* much about class and status as well, not just about race - it's almost like intersectionality is an actual thing, you guys! One of the major points of the movie - I don't think this was true in actual fact - is that Dido is able to inherit 2000 pounds a year from her father after his death, because he acknowledged her while he was alive, whereas her white cousin was penniless - and that meant that in that ruthless marriage market of the eighteenth century, there were people who would see Dido as the catch, even if they felt they had to "overlook" her color; this is a plot point as well. Dido's great-uncle/adopted father (Lord Mansfield, played by that period-drama stalwart Tom Wilkinson) is terribly angry when his new law student tells Dido about the slavery-ship case that he's struggling with, because as far as he is concerned, slavery should never have to matter to her: she is a Murray, and you are the son of a vicar, how dare you even speak to her! (This is, of course, naive and infantilizing; but the point is that for Lord Mansfield, Dido's color is really not the salient fact in some ways, though of course not all. And the Black servant Mabel highlights this point: she's a servant (not a slave; Dido asks pointed questions about this when they go to the house in London), not because of her color, but because in the 18th-century English aristocratic mind, some people are servants and some people are lords - they have plenty of white servants as well. But it's like there's so little frame of reference for this reviewer to imagine a Black character in a pre-1900 period film who is *not* a slave that this just passed him by.

And I do think that this attitude has ramifications beyond this one film - because there are certain kinds of Black experiences that are considered "authentic," and some that are not, regardless of whether there are actual people who live them (someone on TV - et tu, PBS! - called The Cosby Show less "authentic" than Good Times in a documentary just the other day); because people still think there were basically no Black people in the UK before the 1950s (guess who's still mad at Downton Abbey for importing a Black character from the US instead of challenging that view and finding a character from right there at home? Go on, guess). Et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum. (To say nothing of the continued stupidity of claiming that the concerns that governed women's lives in the past are weightless. How dare you.)

Anyway, you should go see Belle, because Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a delight, and it's got lovely costumes, and it's romantic (because yes, figuring out whom you are going to spend the rest of your life with is a pretty big deal when you can't get a divorce and can't own your own money because you're a gentlewoman and so can't have a job; and even if that weren't the case, people have relationships and therefore stories about those relationships are important), and I cried a bunch of times, and maybe if enough people go see this movie, maybe someday I will get my Benjamin Banneker biopic, or - no disrespect to 12 Years a Slave or the real lives that inspired it - at least some other pre-1900 period drama that isn't about a slave, because I still think it's totally fishy that Hollywood overlooks the many people of color, even in slave-holding societies, who lived in the past and weren't slaves.
10 May 2014 @ 04:07 pm
On people of African descent in England and Europe in the early modern period:

--a Guardian piece from 2012:

--and a link to the above author's website and her other articles, etc. on the subject: