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Monday, 19 October 2020

WHEREFORE THE BARD?


Today it's my turn on the Historical Writers' Forum blog hop, in which we talk about our favourite historical characters and the reason for our choice.  For those of you who know me at all well, it will come as no surprise that my chosen subject is William Shakespeare - the Bard of Avon.


William Shakespeare, the eldest surviving son of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden, was born in Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, in April 1564.  Information about his early life is sketchy at best (even the exact date of his birth is not known for certain), but he probably attended the local grammar school, and in November 1582 he married Anne Hathaway, who was eight years his senior and three months pregnant.  Their daughter Susanna was born in May 1583, followed in 1595 by twins Hamnet and Judith.  Hamnet died of plague just eleven years later.

From this point onwards, nothing is known about Shakespeare until 1592, when he appeared in London and joined a company of actors called The Lord Chamberlain's Men.  He became the company's principal playwright, producing on average two plays per year for nearly twenty years.  His total works include 38 plays, 154 sonnets and and 2 lengthy narrative poems.  He died aged 52 on 23 April 1616, and is buried in Holy Trinity Church in his native Stratford-upon-Avon.

My first encounter with Shakespeare was at secondary school.  Then, as now, studying his works was a non-negotiable part of the English Literature curriculum.  Like most stroppy teenagers I found it very hard to understand the plays, and even harder to understand why anyone in their right mind would ever want to read them.  Faced with a few hundred pages of solid text written more than three centuries earlier, and in a near-incomprehensible style into the bargain, the class's collective response was “What on earth is the point of all this?”  (That, at any rate, was the gist of our collective response…)

What we stroppy teenagers had totally failed to appreciate, at least at first, is that the plays were never meant to be read in the same way that one would read novels.  They were written for performance.  It’s only when the text is translated into speech and action (on stage, screen or radio) that it really comes alive – and nowhere is this more apparent than in works which consist entirely of dialogue.

In an attempt to keep us interested, our wonderful English teacher allocated the main parts in the play to members of the class, and the key scenes were acted out at the front of the classroom.   Our efforts were hardly RSC standard, but they did serve as an early lesson in the basic principle of “show-don’t-tell”. And after this, Shakespeare did begin to make some kind of sense.

Whatever their original contexts or settings might be, the themes of many of his plays (love, power, war, rivalry, jealousy and betrayal) are still relevant today, and some of his works have formed the basis for modern theatre, musical and film productions.  West Side Story is an updated version of Romeo & Juliet, Kiss Me Kate and Ten Things I Hate About You are both based on The Taming of the Shrew, and The Lion King owes much of its basic plot to Hamlet.



Shakespeare has also contributed a huge amount to the everyday English language. A surprisingly large number of words and phrases in common use today were first penned by the Bard himself.  If you're on a wild goose chase and find yourself neither here nor there, feeling faint-hearted (having not slept one wink), waiting with bated breath for the naked truth, and all of a sudden find yourself saying "Good riddance" as those who have eaten you out of house and home whilst playing "Knock, knock, who's there?" vanish into thin air - you are quoting Shakespeare. The world is [your] oyster, but for goodness sake, don't wear your heart on your sleeve and end up looking a sorry sight in a fool's paradise.  Truth will out, and it's a foregone conclusion that you can still have too much of a good thing.  Click here to see the lovely Rob Brydon telling us more about this.

The Bard of Avon has certainly inspired much of my own writing.  One of my first successes as a poet was winning a limerick competition, in which I summed up the plot of Macbeth in five lines:

On the strength of a witches' conjection 
a regicide's planned to perfection, 
but revenge is prepared 
by a tree-moving laird 
who'd been born by Caesarean section.

One of my long-term projects is to produce a limerick for each of the plays.  That's still very much a work in progress, but in the meantime, two of Shakespeare's other plays - Romeo & Juliet and Julius Caesar - have formed the basis of two of my novels.


The Ghostly Father takes a new look at Romeo & Juliet, and asks the question "What might have happened if the events of the story had taken a different turn?"  If, like me, you love the original story but wish it didn't end so tragically, here is your chance to read an alternative version - one with a few new twists and a whole new outcome.



The Unkindest Cut of All is a murder mystery set in a theatre, during an amateur dramatic society's performance of Julius Caesar, the play I studied for O-Level (the equivalent of modern-day GCSE). What really happened to the actor playing the title role, during the final performance on the infamous Ides of March?

So if you were put off Shakespeare by less-than-perfect experiences during your formative years, do consider giving him another try.  You might be pleasantly surprised!


To find out more about the other fascinating historical characters featured in this amazing blog tour, check out the sites listed below:




Thursday, 15 October 2020

FREE FOR TODAY ONLY - BEATHAN THE BRIGANTE by Nancy Jardine

 


My dear friend and fellow-Ocelot author Nancy Jardine is delighted to announce that Beathan The Brigante, the latest addition to her highly-interlinked Celtic Fervour Series, is *FREE* on the 15th October 2020 across the Amazon network!

(Psst! And if you’re quick, you should find that some of the other books in the series have a reduced price during this special promotion.)

Book 5, Beathan The Brigante, features young Beathan of Garrigill, but it also depicts the interlinking of his life and that of the Ancient Roman General –  Gnaeus Iulius Agricola who is a main character in Books 4 & 5.

Having been captured by the Ancient Roman legions, after the battle at Beinn na Ciche in north-east Caledonia, we pick up Beathan’s story in AD 85 at Trimontium Roman Fort where he is used as a menial fort slave. General Agricola, having been summoned back to Rome by Emperor Domitian, collects Beathan and some other high-ranking hostages at Trimontium Fort and drags them all off in chains.

During the long trek to Rome, Beathan learns surprising things about General Agricola. In turn, Agricola finds aspects to grudgingly admire in young warrior Beathan. Escape from, and revenge against, his captors doesn’t come quickly for Beathan. However, by AD 89 he is back in Brigantia – the land of his birth – where revenge blazes for him at Vindolanda Roman Fort. It’s gratifying that by then he is closer to a reunion with his much-missed Garrigill kin ,and it’s even better that romance with a young Brigante warrior-woman named Torrin has lightened his eventful life, even though he is still only seventeen.

Moving from place to place is a regular feature for the Garrigill Brigantes in the Celtic Fervour Series novels, especially as they become refugees fleeing from Brigantia to Caledonia, but young warrior Beathan can truly say that he is the most widely-travelled across the Roman Empire!

It’s a reasonable assumption that youths matured into men much faster in 1st Century AD, especially if they were subjected to the treatment that’s meted out to Beathan of Garrigill!

Look forward to that **FREE** copy on the 15th October 2020 and enjoy reading about young Beathan of Garrigill!

Link for Beathan The Brigante getbook.at/BeathanTBrigantehere

You can find out more about the Celtic Fervour Series   HERE

 

Nancy Jardine writes historical fiction, time travel historical adventure and contemporary mysteries. Research, grandchildren, gardening and reading novels all take up non-writing time. Interacting with readers is a joy at Craft Fairs and larger venues where she signs/sells paperback versions of her novels. She enjoys giving author presentations on her books and Ancient Roman Scotland, though these activities are presently curtailed due to Covid 19!