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Current Events, Ancient History

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I had a mild cold about a week and a half ago, the kind of thing that sort of hangs on without being too much of a bother. 

Then I started to feel a little better and there was something I needed to do, so I went and did it.

And it washed me out, but I still thought I was probably okay.

Then Thursday night came and I–

Let’s just say you’ll have to excuse the typing more than usual today.  I feel awful, and as soon as I finish this I’m going to go back to bed and have a nap.

And I’ve only been up since six.

But it’s warmish today, for New England in January, and I have things to say, so I’ll say them.

Then I’ll just fall over like a tree.

The good news is that tomorrow is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which means no mail and no business and nobody yelling at me to get things done.

The other good thing is that school doesn’t open until the 25th, and I don’t have a Friday class, so I don’t have to be in to do anything until the following Wednesday. 

By then, I should either be over this or so far worse that it doesn’t matter. 

I do think that I made something of an odd choice to put Anonymous 4’s Origins of Fire on for the background, as if I were in need of someone to save my soul.

Okay, maybe I am.

But, for now, the report:

Book number four on the list was

4) Thomas Penn.  Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England.

This is a new book just out, and oddly for me I heard about it from a book review. 

I do hear about some of the books I read through book reviews, but I also tend not to take reviews seriously.  And once, many years ago, I bought a book–a thriller–simply because the New York Times review was so outrageously negative, I was sure it had to be a hatchet job.

I was wrong.

In this case, the reviewer was Florence King, a writer whose tastes tend to coincide with mine on lots of points, and with whose life I have a certain amount of sympathy.

I mean, here she is, a bisexual agnostic, but she’s a “conservative,” and can only get published in “conservative” because–well, I don’t know what it is that started it.

I will say she is one of a growing number of people who have been tossed out of the mainstream and liberal press because of some view or other that is considered completely beyond the pale, and that in no such case so far was the view in question anything like outrageous.

I will also say that this kind of thing must be counterproductive. 

Eventually, you begin to look like the Inquisition.


The review was not political, and the book is only political in the sense that it talks about the politics of fifteenth and sixteenth century England.

Let’s get the quibbles out of the way first.

This is Thomas Penn’s first book, and he graduated from Cambridge.  The second thing makes me think he ought to know better. 

For some reason beyond my comprehension, he has given up on the subjunction mood and the word “whom” both, and every time I ran into places where they were needed I ended up swearing at him a little.

Fortunately, those particular grammatical errors weren’t so numerous as to make the book unreadable.  They did get in the way when they did show up, though, and it was very annoying.

The other quibble is only sort of a quibble.

Although this book was classed as a biography of Henry VII, it isn’t really.

What it is is the chronicle of Henry VII’s rise and reign, with the emphasis largely placed on the people around the king instead of on the king himself.

And you know what?

That was fine.  It was a very clarifying book for me.  It brought together a lot of people and events not only in England but across Europe in a way that made it possible for me to fix the time in a way I hadn’t before.

It’s the problem with reading history the way I read it.  I read a book about fifteenth century Florence and another book about the development of political philosphy from Aquinas to John Locke and I don’t put it all together into a comprehensive timeline.

This book put a lot of that together for me, including Erasmus, Macchiavelli, Pope Alexander VI, Savonarola and a lot else.

It’s an excellent book and worth reading for a lot of reasons.  It’s even fun every once in a while. 

There’s a detailed description of the sixteen year old Henry VIII as he ascended the throne–a description that, taken out of context, would apply almost exactly to the present Prince Harry.

I then ran into a problem with my list.

Unlike some of you, I do not read more than one book at a time.  I find it distracting. 

I do, however, read things other than books while I have a book going–magazines, newspapers, web sites, etc.

I had already decided that, for the purposes of this list those things wouldn’t count, but then I ran into another problem.

I sometimes read short stories either between books or while I’m reading books. 

This is especially the case when I have finished one book and don’t know what I want to go on to.

When that  happens, my practice for the last couple of years is to read one or more of the Sherlock Holmes stories.  There’s an excellent two volume collection of all of them in order of publication put out by Barnes and Noble.   And since I only read one or two of them at a time, they’ve been lasting me quite well.

This time, though, I reread a different kind of story in the middle of reading Winter King, because the story was part of a conversation I was having about Hemingway. 

I’ve thought about it, and I’ve decided that short stories ought to count, if only because I don’t think of them as ephemeral. 

The story in question was

a) Ernest Hemingway.  “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”

For what it’s worth, it’s my all time favorite Hemingway story (followed by “The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber”), and I’ll be putting short stories on this list as lettered entries instead of numbers.

And that brings us back to Winter King, because when I was finished reading it I suddenly got a bright idea. 

One of the things I have around the house is my father’s old complete set of the Yale Shakespeare, the old ones in the Yale b;ue cloth covers first published in 1927 and reprinted innumerable times since.

If Shakespeare had written a play about Henry VII, I would have read that–but he didn’t, and Winter King makes it clear why not. 

He did write Richard III, though, and that’s what I went back to.

5) William Shakespeare.  Richard III.

I read my way all the way through the plays when I was in junior high, and then I read them through again in college as part of Vassar’s year-long Shakespeare course requirement.

This therefore made the third time I’d read the play, although it had been many years since the second time.

But the history plays are the Shakespeare I love best, and Richard III was in some ways very memorable for me. 

What I hadn’t realized before I read Winter King was that, for Shakespeare’s audiences, the history plays must often have been closer to current events than history.

If there were not people alive who remembered the reign of Richard III, there would certainly have been people alive who remembered the reign of Henry VIII.  And maybe even Henry VI.

It must have made an enormous difference in the experience of watching those plays performed. 

It must have created some problematic moments in the writing of them.

I do wonder how easily the audiences would have accept the idea of the Lady Anne, widow of the Prince of Wales, as such a consummate twit.

But then, twits don’t seem to me to be very common in Shakespeare, at least among his women.


I’m really  not well.

I’m going to go lie down for a while.



Written by janeh

January 20th, 2013 at 11:17 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to 'Current Events, Ancient History'

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  1. I hope you’re feeling well soon. The viral or bacterial Yucks are no fun, especially when they’re messing up what should be a vacation or break. :/


    20 Jan 13 at 2:51 pm

  2. Jane belongs to that category of person which is ONLY sick on weekends and vacations. As long as she has a scheduled obligation, she’ll tell herself she’s not really too sick to carry it out.

    Henry VII falls between periods with me. I started out with Tey’s THE DAUGHTER OF TIME and then Costain’s “Plantagenet” books, then followed my wife into Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Mind you, my background is military history, so my not knowing a ruler in some respects speaks well of him. The ones I know well often end up debasing the currency and drafting children. This doesn’t make Henry VII a good man–but it may make him a better king under which to be a commoner.
    Shakespeare. I think I’d give him a pass in this instance. There’s a century between the Battle of Bosworth and the staging of RICHARD III. I’ll grant anyone it’s bad history. (In HENRY VI, Richard is egging his father on into rebellion when, historically, Richard is three years old.) But except for MACBETH Shakespeare doesn’t use his historical plays to fawn over the current dynasty the way Virgil does every few cantos of the AENEID. RICHARD III is English history as a non-scholar of Shakespeare’s time understood it, with the usual alterations for dramatic effect.
    There are others, though. When Griffith filmed BIRTH OF A NATION, there were still pleny of men who had, shall we say, a different perspective on Reconstruction and the KKK. When Eisenstein staged a massacre on the Odessa steps in BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN, there were thousands of people alive who knew it wasn’t so–and kept their mouths shut, if they knew what was good for them. Don’t get me started on Cameron and TITANIC.
    But pariotic myth also has its place. Scores of books and films have honed the Miracle of Dunkirk. No good purpose would be served by a film about owners of small boats having to be forced to Dunkirk and rescued soldiers throwing away their rifles.

    At the end of FORT APACHE, reporters are discussing the famous painting of “Thursday’s Charge.” John Wayne, who was there and knows it to be a lie, calls it “correct in every detail” because if Colonel Thursday was no use to the regiment alive, the legend of Thursday is going to be of use to it nonetheless. As John Ford said elsewhere, “When the legend becomes the fact, print the legend.”


    20 Jan 13 at 7:07 pm

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