THE PEOPLE’S FRINGE: Edinburgh 2020

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August 7th-23rd


After much soul-searching & debate, the Mumble Team have decided that they will be launching a Fringe programme this August if the current climate of social distancing has evaporated. We will also be supplying free tickets for NHS workers as a way of saying thank-you. The Fringe just needs to happen, & with the ethos being one of Open Access, The Mumble are prepared to step up to the plate & keep the Fringe flag flying high.

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THE PEOPLE’S FRINGE is a chance to get back to the roots, to 1947 at the start of it all before it became the corporate behemoth of 2019. A certain quote has been banded around the media recently from theatre director Gerard Slevin, who argued in 1961, when the event was less than 15 years old & already starting to swell in size, it would be, “much better if only ten halls were licensed”.

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So, that is just what The Mumble will be curating this August; ten venues, each dedicated to one of the art forms, & sponsored by Mumble Theatre, Mumble Comedy, Mumble Cirque & others. Our Mumble Words venue will step into the spheres of the Book Festival. Being based in Edinburgh all year round, we are perfectly placed to make it all happen, & its kind of duty to do so, a fringe for the people, THE PEOPLE’S FRINGE.

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The Coronavirus may be assaulting the body, but the spirit of the Fringe is immune, & when all gets back to normal – as it surely will -, then the world will once more be able to find cheer, inspiration, hope & solace in an Edinburgh summer festival for the arts.

The Flight of the White Eagles: Act 1, Scene 3


Scene 3: The billiards room of a Moscow mansion


Bourgogne, Legrand, Boquet are stretched on animal skins, wearing turbans, drinking & smoking magnificent pipes

Bourgogne, Legrand, Boquet, Graingier, Leboude
{singing in a round}
We are resting in bubble beds of silk furs & feathers
In the nest of the double-headed eagles
We are blest with abundance & the punch does us wonders
As a guest of the double-headed eagle

Enter Rossi, the quartermaster

Rossi
I have prepared a dazzling punch for you

Graingier
Good man Rossi, quartermaster supreme

Rossi
What a sight you forge, like Turkish pashas
Discussing each other’s seraglios
& the passionate merits of your wives

Legrand
At this moment in time I’d take just one,
& ermine call her, skin soft as this fur

Boqet
Mine would be lion,

Bourgogne
Mine sable

Leboude
Mine fox

Graingier
& mine some buxom Siberian bear

Rossi
While you laugh & drink & smoke til you burst
I’ve been all-a-foraging, high & low
Up attics, down cellars, whose keeps disclosed
Rum from Jamaica, most excellent beer
Deep pack’d in ice to keep summer’s fresh
A drop of which ferments this punch newmade,
Its gusto an enthusiast should charm,
Come try a ladle’s worth

Graingier
Quite wonderful!

Leboude
No, not for me, I’ve had my fill of drink

Bourgogne
Then I’ll have his… that kicks like angry mule!

Enter Mother Dubois

Dubois
O what it is to be Cantiniere
To such an idle company as this

Legrand
But you love us Mother Dubois

Dubois
I did
When you were gallant, not lazy sultans

Boqet
What do you cook us today

Dubois
A little
Salted fish sauted in suet butter
& half a ham for supper if you please

Boqet
Such is the conqueror’s prerogative
To regally banquet in royal garb
To dinner as a Duke, & then return
To all the adulations in the town
Aline processions home, where glory waits

Graingier
There is a rumour rife among the ranks
Spiting Britain’s Continental blockade
We are to go to China, ensure there
Transglobal trade for our eaglet empire

Leboude
A few more thousand leages then, Graingier

Bourgogne
All I would need is a new pair of shoes

Boqet
But first we winter in this queenless hive
Where once a beekeper’s tap on the wall
Responded by unanimous humming
Of bees in tens of thousands, such a buzz;
But now, if he would open up the hive
Instead of serried rows aseal each gap
Just complex combs neglected, sickly frail
In the corners old bees languidly fight,
Clean themselves, or feed one another
Unknowing why they do these deeds at all
For in this Hive’s heart, that once was so grand,
The high mystery of generation
Reduced to sleeping shells of listless bees,
Reeking of death, a few move feebly still
Dragging blunt stingers uselessly behind

Enter Foucart & two young Russian women – Mila & Natasha – carrying bundles of clothes

Foucart
Boys, boys, my treasures are most splendid, look!

Legrand
How lucky you for two, you’ll be sharing

Foucart
Not these young haberdasher maids made mine
For six months service, no, but what they bare
The emboss’d costumes of many nations
Mens & womens, look, there are French dresses,
Fashion’d to favour Louis the Sixteenth

Dubois
& even a basket of wigs I see
I say lets shake a make-up & then dance

The party begin to dress up – Dubois becomes a French marquise, Mila & Natasha become brides of Christ – One of the soldiers accompanies the revelry on his flute, another on a drum

***

PARISIENNE SKIES

We will be going to the ball,
We’ll be rolling round the punch bowl
Drinking ambrosia
We shall be quaffing at the ball
We’ll be falling down, stand up again,
Cheeks turn’d rosier

Then when you see stardust come a tumbling down
On the dance floor, she’s a ballerina

Go, to Nepal, to Provence, go to Delhi
New York & Singapore, Berlin & Rome
Feel if its right then decide if Parisienne Skies
Were sent from on high to service our souls
There’s summer inside those cinnamon skies
Which sum up my soul

We shall be dancing at the ball,
We’ll be rolling round the dance floor
Kicking like stallions
We shall be trailing round the ball
We’ll be hail’d by all, regaling,
Sailing like galleons
Then when you see stardust come a tumbling down
On the dance floor, shes a ballerina

 

Go, to Milan, Budapest & Vienna
Dublin & Amsterdam, Tokyo too
Feel if its right then decide if the houses that rise
On Parisienne Skies were sent for our souls
There’s summer inside those cinnamon skies
Which sum up my soul

I heard that life is for living
Laughing & loving & finding the time
To graze on new pastures
Velvet horizons rise up in your mind
Tho’ I’m full of the wanderlust
Why don’t you come home with me
We could go touring the old arrondissiments
Of the empire’s pearl, Paris
So beautiful
She’s so beautiful…

***

Dubois
{drunk}
Temperance & Prudence, Lord, my guides be

Leboude
A march, strike the drum, my soldiers… at arms!
{the drummer starts a march}

*******

ON VA LEUR PERCER LE FLANC

As the soldiers are marching Mila & Natasha begin to dance quiet energetically, jumping like tartars, flying left to right, swinging arms & legs, falling backwards then getting back up again & redoubling the energy of their efforts, much to the amusement of the party

On va leur percer le flanc
Rantanplan tire lire lan
Ah! ce qu’on va rire!
Rantanplan tire lire
On va leur percer le flanc
Rantanplan tire lire lan.

Le petit tondu sera content
Rantanplan tire lire lan
Ca lui f’ra bien plaisir
Rantanplan tire lire
On va leur percer le flanc
Rantanplan tire lire lan.

Car c’est de là que dépend
Rantanplan tire lire lan
Le salut de l’Empire
Rantanplan tire lire
On va leur percer le flanc
Rantanplan tire lire lan.

 

 

***

Enter Captain Vachain / Natasha throws her arms around his neck & kisses him

Vachain
Get off me at once – in the name of God
What is happening, have you all gone mad

Leboude
We were just having a party, Captain

Vachain
Well halt at once, turn sober by the morn
The Emperor orders an inspection
Of the entire army, we its best troops
Apparently, I see such praise a sham

Leboude
Of course sir, company, to attention

Some of the soldiers attempt to stand, but are too drunk

Vachain
I cannot guess how we conquer’d Moscow!
I’ll be back at Dawn, & Madame Dubois

Dubois
Yes Captain Vachain, sir

Vachain
No alcohol
Is to be serv’d at the breakfast

Dubois
Yes sir

Exit Vauchain, the party burst into laughter

Boqet
You heard him lads, drink up your dregs, then shave
We’d hardly want the Emperor’s dispraise

The party begin to tidy up in a state of semi-revelry


THE CONCHORDIA FOLIO

“Its worth a pop, right, to try & knock that Shakespeare
Off his feffin’ perch!”

Interview: Damian Beeson Bullen

The Flight of the White Eagles: Act 1, Scene 2

SCENE 2: The Kremlin

Napoleon is in the Tsar’s apartments, being entertained by the Italian tenor, Tarquinio, & Martini, a pianist / with him are Berthier, Prince Eugene, General Gourgaud & Caulaincourt

***

PLAISIR D’AMOUR

Tarquinio
Plaisir d’amour ne dure qu’un moment,
Chagrin d’amour dure toute la vie.
J’ai tout quitte pour l’ingrate Sylvie,
Elle me quitte et prend un autre amant.
Plaisir d’amour ne dure qu’un moment,
Chagrin d’amour dure toute la vie.
Tant que cette eau coulera doucement
Vers ce ruisseau qui borde la prairie,
Je t’aimerai”, te repetait Sylvie,
L’eau coule encor, elle a change pourtant.
Plaisir d’amour ne dure qu’un moment,
Chagrin d’amour dure toute la vie.

 

***

Napoleon
A wonderful piece, eternal even
Your dear father, Martini, would be proud
To hear it played so magical abroad,
& Tarquinio how well you sing it,
Choiring as if a young-eye’d cherubim

Did court the gods on lofty Olympus
I wish my officers to hear the same
Promotion to a mental dignity
Could you prepare a concert for Sunday

Martini
Certainly sire

Napoleon
Today I shall decree
To open Moscow’s standing theatres
To see her noble boards restor’d to life
& have them play French comedies – perhaps
Italian – the troops are fond of those,
All actors & musicians shall be paid
Six months advance for each, do you accept

Martini
To furnish your best victory with art
Would be the perfect honour of my life

Napoleon
Good, if you will inform your close colleagues
Of this conversation’s fidelity
You are dismissed

Exit Tarquinio & Martini

Louis-Alexandre Berthier, Prince of Neuchetal

Berthier
Such timescale terrifies me, six months, sire!
When Moscow burn’d your dreams, too, turn’d to flames
I hear full well the warnings of Winter
The planet Saturn broods, by gloomy gaze,
Forebodings of terrible disaster
Shake me to my boots with unborn sorrows

Napoleon
What would you have me do my nervous prince
Seeing you are so wise?

Neuchetal
Return at once
To Paris & proclaim a victory
With ashes of Muscovite palaces
In your pockets

Napoleon
Release your ill censure
What frightful series of dangerous wars
Would follow from the first stepp’d retrograde,
Death is nothing, but to live defeated
& inglorious is to daily die
That self-same sun which led us to glory
Brightening our victory each morning,
Shall set not now leading us to darkness,
No, we shall face the rising sun, Moscow
From a pure military point of view
Holds no real value, but its name’s prestige
Remains untarnish’d, thus, if politics
Were a game of chess, the black queen is trapp’d,
Her trembling king helpless behind his pawns
Besides, in politics, one shoud never
Recede, never admit to being wrong

Caulaincourt
Sire, the city is in a dreadful state
The Russians left us nothing but ruin

Napoleon
Well, at least we are quiet among them
Eh, Caulaincourt?

Caulaincourt
That is true, I suppose

Napoleon
We have reduced Mother Russia to rags
Her warcry tongue turn’d stringless instrument
Her commerce set back half a century
Such violent shocks convulsing thro’ his throne
The Tsar, I’m sure, shall certain sue for peace

Eugene
I agree with positivities, sire,
The occupation of his capital
Is hampering aristocratic rents
Their revenues drifting with the peasants
Gone eating up the provinces, until
The whole of Russia gurgles on the blood
Drawn by the blade that was our Moscow march

Gourgaud
By number & by nature, the extant
Buildings & resources throughout Moscow
Offer a military position
Preferable to any other site
This side of the River Nieman, sire

Caulaincourt
But as you said yourself, there is in war
A singular favorable moment,
The great art is to seize it, we should leave

Napoleon
Gourgaud, explain to Caulaincourt, simply,
How well the army has been provided for

Gourgaud
For half a year our larders shall remain
With beets abundant, round as bowling balls,
Plump cabbages gathering like oceans,
Each passing hour discoveries are made
In shops & cellars; foodstuffs, clothes & drink
The deep-detritus of the bourgeoisie

Napoleon
You see, Caulaincourt, if we must remain
We shall do so, quartering in comfort
Designate the order of the season
Forage for furniture & firewood
& bring in all the hay for fifteen miles

Caulaincourt
This is a reckless gamble, if retreat
Will come, we are completely unprepar’d,
With wheat showing scarce, cattle dwindling fast
With no preparation for departure
When cold comes in we dare not take a step
Else lose our feet & fingers in the frosts
& while the horses shooed a pinless smooth
They’ll slip on ice & break their slender legs

Napoleon
Ha – like a fusswife you worry too much,
The ever, over-cautious Caulaincourt

Berthier
But sire, I urge on you heed his advice
Your hopes for peace keeping you prisoner
In this queer, gremlin castle call’d Kremlin

Napoleon
Eugene?

Eurgene remains silent

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Eugène de Beauharnais

Caulaincourt
What harm will come of idle hours
Spent lining coats with fur, or sewing hats
& gloves, constructing sledges just in case

Napoleon
Do what you will if it will ease my ears
This is no time to worry of biscuits
There are more pressing businesses at hand
Prince Neuchetal, you have read the despatch
From Murat

Berthier
I have, sire

Napoleon
What are its bones?

Berthier
The King of Naples full of flattery
Pays tribute to his Cossack counterpart
His linguals spun infloraling with praise
& says how Russian arms are readying
Capitulation, & how the Cossacks,
Embroil’d beneath mourning despondancy,
Could even fight for France, oppose the Tsar

Caulaincourt
But the Cossack could just be blowing dust
Into his eyes, blaming the wand’ring wind

Napoleon
So you see, Caulaincourt, it is only
A time or two before my fate’s fair tide
Oerwhelms this state

Caulaincourt
Do not trust half-accounts
They might be mischievous exaggerations
Look where we are, men of twenty nations
Secure within the city of the Tsars
Emanating European progress
Against this explicit, Asiatic
Barbarianism, this serf-struck land
Of strict taboos & prohibitive chains
Must make a common cause with our reforms

Eugene
Allow me to interject a moment

Napoleon
Of course Eugene, what patterns form your thoughts

Eugene
Like deer enstartl’d by a hunter’s gun
At a pace Petersburg is emptying
They flee to England those who can afford
Already the Tsarina’s jewellry
& royal archives heav’d off to London
With all the strength & purpose of his mind
The Tsar should be eager to make profit
Sire, seize this opportunity, enter
Negotiations, appease the nobles,
For the folly of Moscow’s flameletting
Is one that forms a madman’s boast today
But tomorrrow must end in penitence

Napoleon
I agree – & I thank you for your time
All of you, & now if you could all depart
Except for Caulaincourt, enjoy your day

Exit Eugene, Gourgaud & Berthier

Napoleon
Brandy?

Caulaincourt
I shall refrain your majesty

Napoleon
{pouring out a glass of brandy}
No other issue than peace, fair & prompt
Seems possible, I would hate to destroy
Alexander – I love the man too much
We must make peace – will you go Caulaincourt

Caulaincourt
Go

Napoleon
Yes, go, to Petersburg & the Tsar
Deliver my proposition of peace

Caulaincourt
He will refuse

Napoleon
What makes you so certain

Caulaincourt
He said to me if you’d make war on him
It is possible, even probable
He’d be defeated, but that would not mean
You could dictate a peace, an exemplar
Was made of Spain, tho’ beaten many times
Them no submittance pled, & are not so
Far away from Paris as we now stand,
Lacking recourse to call on resources
& climate, as the Russian calculates

Napoleon
Piffle! I have been proffer’d fairy tales
Upon your Russian climate – it is, well,
Pleasant

Caulaincourt
It is unseasonable sire

Napoleon
Whenever have the vanquish’d set the terms

Caulaincourt
He marvels at your abilities, sire
But not that of your marshalls, he will fight
& take no risk, use his natural room
Telling me frankly about Kamchatka
How he would set his court up in the east
Rather than ceding provinces & sign
A treaty more finite truce expected

Napoleon
Expel those thoughts at once, unhappiness
At all the punishments I’ve dealt your friend
Undermines your loyalty to this crown,
Cramm’d deep within some crannied hole or chink
When pressur’d by a tough reality
A sentence said in safety falls apart
Will you go

Caulaincourt
I will not be received, sire,
For certain, as he knows I know his mind,
To be there on such terms insult would prove
As such would tarnish everything hard wrought
Thro’ all my months in Petersburhg

Napoleon
You fear
Repugnancy to serve this task I ask

Caulaincourt
He will not sign peace in his capital
Until entirely evacuated
From his territories he will not hear
A word of your proposal, your letter
Will not be read

Napoleon
The Tsar is surrounded
By English partisans, who’d cut his throat
Before peace made with France, Alexander
Said to me himself he hates the English
As much as France does
{Napoleon takes Caulaincourt by the arm & paces to & fro}
You must go to him
Solicit peace upon your hands & knees
If it would deign be granted – but if not
We will march on the northern capital
From whose conquest conspiracy must fray
His sacred kingship, rip him from the throne
Thro’ circumstances well avoidable

Caulaincourt
The roads to distant Petersburg are long
Inching thro’ morrasses, impassable
Made by three hundred pitchfork peasants
Barring the advance, what of the wounded
Do we simply leave them for Kutusoff
Who would then snap at our heels all the way
As if we were fleeing to a conquest

Napoleon
Kutosoff is beaten, but I accept
The season for Petrsburg is passing
But if not the whole army, then just you,
Will you go

Caulaincourt
Not willfully to folly
Why would he set his capital on fire
To make peace in the ashes & the char
Only from facing banks of Nieman’s flow
Could understanding come

Napoleon
Where is your faith
It seems the Tsar infects your very thoughts
I ought to strip you of all your titles
Shall I send instead Monsieur Toutalmine
As my plenipotentiary, shall I

Caulaincourt
As you wish, sire, it will be of no use

Napoleon
I must have peace, I absolutely must
I want this peace, my honour must be saved
But if you dare not deliver my words
You can at least inscribe them on the page

Armand-Augustin-Louis de Caulaincourt

Caulaincourt
Yes Sire… they will be considered but proof
Of the poor state of your embarassment

Napoleon
Enough – remember, I am emporer,
Who thinks & acts in realms unknown to all
Except for those who lord oer millions
I shall begin

Caulaincourt
Sire

Napoleon
Dear Alexander
Russia’s emperor, I wish you no harm
This superb city exists no longer
Its governor had given the order
To burn the ornate work of centuries
But fires, at last, appearing to have ceas’d
Only a quarter of Moscow remains
Such conduct is uselessly atrocious
That leaves to ghosts each village from Smolensk
Since Moscow was exposed by Russian arms
In the interests of your majesty,
Humanity & its inhabitants,
Its care to me was confided in trust
Administration, magistrates & gaurds
Are set in place as to plans adopted
In Vienna, Madrid & Berlin twice
I know well your majesty’s principles
For justice, without animosity
While we were waging war a single note
Would have halted my march at any time
Sacrificing the advantage at once
Of entering Moscow – if you retain
Some remains of your former sentiments
You will take this letter in a good part
By this, my dear sir, my brother, I pray
To God he will preserve your majesty…
Is it neat

Caulaincourt
Yes

Napoleon
Then I shall sign straightways
{Napoleon signs the decree}
Have it despatched to Petersburg today
With Moseiur Toutalmine & twenty gaurds

Caulaincourt
Yes, your majesty

Napoleon
O, & Caulaincourt
Do not ever, ever, doubt ,me again

Exit Napoleon / Caulaincourt reads through the letter shaking his head


THE CONCHORDIA FOLIO

“Its worth a pop, right, to try & knock that Shakespeare
Off his feffin’ perch!”

 

 

Interview: Damian Beeson Bullen

The Flight Of The White Eagles: Overture – Act 1, Scene 1

OVERTURE

ACT 1, SCENE 1: Above The Chernishini River

Enter Murat & Miroladovitch. Murat is dress’d as a Spanish general, sporting a sable hat & silk brocades. Miroladovitch is wearing three shawls of different cloth.

Miroladovitch
I am happy you attended in peace
My petit pourparler, as Frenchmen say

Murat
We say so many things but never quite
As well as what leaps brightly from your tongue

Miroladovitch
One tries, for after all, the French possess
The first of all cultures, bursting finesse
Far from the wolfish wildness of my world

Murat
So good of you to say so – the silence
Of this strange, tacit armistice of sorts,
A miracle beyond thematic woes,
Allures a certain sense of the tourist,
On which I state your country might be wild
But beauties of your women quite refined.

Miroladovitch
High praise indeed from a Latinist king
With all of Naples bevvy to admire
But what are fair women without fine wine,
This bottle imported from Aquitaine
Would you share?

Murat
Why certainly, I admire
Your taste for French vines

Miroladovitch
Of course, the world’s best

Miroladovitch pours out the wine, which is used in a toast

Miroladovitch
To both our Emperors

Murat
The Emperors

Murat2

Joachim Murat: King of Naples

Miroladovitch
May they return soon to fraternity
An amity which made great nations friends
Injurious wasps we swarm no more
At Taurantino eighty-five thousand
Are waiting, daily, Petersburg’s reply
To messengers urging the Tsar to peace
Leave days of blood & battle in the past

Murat
Napoleon wants peace, for him enough
To come to Moscow, not to burn it down,
The governor uncaged its criminals,
Vile worms who wert oerlook’d even in birth
& gave them flames & powder, what a waste
of wond’rous worksmanship centuries old

Miroladovitch
The hour of conciliation transpires
There are many Muscovites in the army
Who boot-by-boot are stepping from the mist
Wishing to see the campaign’s termini
Them eager more for peace than Bounaparte
Believe me, King Murat, if you attack’d
The Cossacks will not answer & may join
With France in common cause

Murat
How say you so?

Miroladovitch
The surly peasant scrapes with discontent
No better now than when the Golden Horde
Enslaved them, they crave emancipation

Murat
I credit you for honesty, my friend
If I may call you so

Miroladovitch
Of course, we are

Murat
Then please accept this watch, with my jewels
But, as gifts are seldom altruistic
Plesae visit me in Paris in return
Next summer, in our peacetime, as I hope

Miroladovitch
Your overkindness wrings adoring tears
With all my heart accepted – I worship
Your opera, the Comedie Francaise
I long to see, there hear cantatas sung

Murat
A good song is to the woes, elixir

Miroladovitch
I know a very good song, will you hear

Murat
Why yes, what is its name?

Miroladovitch
It is The Sable Raven, an old tune

 

 

THE SABLE RAVEN
To the tune of Chornyy Voran

O Sable raven, black guest of our homestead
So unexpected are your wings,
Why bring this white hand to my bedside
Raven, what message from the kings

I recognized the white hand oer my bedside
Dropp’d by the raven in my own
It was the white hand of my precious brother
Raven, tell me why you here are flown

He said, ‘your brother, slain in the battle,
Naked, unburied on the strand;
He is now lying with a thousand horsemen
Dead in that far-off foreign land

***

Murat
A splendid song sung splendidly, there is
Parnassus in the pitch, Orpehus
Might have penn’d it, perhaps you’ll send the score

Miroladovitch
On one condition – you sing me a song

Murat
A song?

Miroladovitch
Why yes!

Murat
A song… ah yes… but first

Murat takes a drink of wine to clear his throat

 

 

MARLBROUGH IS GOING TO WAR

Marlbrough’s going to war
Marlbrough’s going to war
Marlbrough’s going to war
Don’t know when he’ll come back
Don’t know when he’ll come back

Marlbrough s’en va-t-en guerre
Mironton mironton mirontaine,
Marlbrough s’en va-t-en guerre
Ne sait quand reviendra
Ne sait quand reviendra.

Marlbrough’s going to war
Marlbrough’s going to war
Marlbrough’s going to war…
Don’t know when he’s coming back

***

Miroladovitch
That wins the brilliancy prize my friend
To think but yesterday we might have met
As soldiers in the field, with sabres drawn,
Slashing life from lives, bereft of hearing
Sweetnesses sweeping thro’ each others’ souls

Murat
Thank fate such awful bloodshed ne’er befell
& hope to God & Emporers ne’er will

Miroladovitch
I concur, now come, a village nearby
Stands home to some particular beauties
Like nosegays to smell & sweetmeats to taste
All their talk is of some handsome monarch
& how they are dreaming silky pleasure
He never could have tasted in Paris

Murat
If they would desire the meeting so much
One must respect all customs when abroad

Miroladovitch
Good man – Captain Akhlestyshev, bring up
King Murat’s horse & mine… your majesty
Please step this way

Murat
Tho’ very far from home
I feel at home with unremitting joy

Exit Murat & Miroladovitch


THE CONCHORDIA FOLIO

“Its worth a pop, right, to try & knock that Shakespeare
Off his feffin’ perch!”

 

Interview: Damian Beeson Bullen

The Young Shakespeare (10): Tasso & the Alchemist, John Dee


Discovering the fascinating truth

Of Shakespeare’s missing years


September 1586: Shakespeare Meets Tasso

On leaving Algeria, Stanley & Shakespeare sailed into the Tyrranean Sea, passing Sardinia & entering Italy at either Livorno or Genoa. From here they re-entered Lombardy, and in September reached Mantua. Its ruler, Duke William, father of Prince Vincenzo, was in a receptive mood to the arts. Analyzing the letters of Striggio, we learn that Duke William was looking for young instrumentalists, &  gives a lovely flavour of the age;

I have received from Messer Flavio Riccio Your Illustrious Lordship’s note and I have informed him that in Florence there are two lads, aged 16 or 17, but they are poor and brought up by Franzosino of the Abandonati. They play cornett, transverse flute, viola and trombone. Franzosino has them play constantly, every day on the Grand Duke’s balcony [on the Palazzo Vecchio; or the Loggia de’ Lanzi] and at table. They also performed at the comedy which the Grand Duke put on for the Ferrara wedding (Florence, 1586). They do not have a regular salary from His Highness, although they are constantly in service. But they go about playing in churches, accompanied by the organ, wherever necessary, in Lucca and Pistoia and elsewhere, as requested. One of them would be suitable for His Highness {Duke William}, and although they are not altogether excellent they are at least more than passable. Because they are dependent and obligated to Franzosino, who has taught them, it is necessary to refer to and come to an agreement with him; also to clothe and provide shoes for them, for they are still supplied with clothes from the Ospedale, and they still eat and sleep there, unless things have changed since I left Florence.

There are several pointers which suggest that Shakespeare encountered Tasso while visiting Mantua. Tasso’s sister was called Cornelia, the same name as Titus Andronicus, which I suspect Shakespeare was comping at the time. The birth of the bard’s version of Hamlet may have also been born from this prodigious meeting. There are clear connections between Hamlet’s madness & that of Tasso’s – both occasionaly feigned – & we can trace a connection between Hamlet’s drawing of his sword in his stepmother’s chamber, where he killed the chief counseller Polinus, & Tasso’s drawing of a knife on a servant in the Duchess of Urbino’s apartment in 1577. There is also the famous play-within-a-play embedded within Hamlet, which concerns the very family into which Tasso had been released. It appears in Act 3 scene 2 as a play called The Murder of Gonzago (or The Mousetrap), during which we hear;

He poisons him i’ th’ garden for ’s estate. His name’s Gonzago. The story is extant, and writ in choice Italian. You shall see anon how the murderer gets the love of Gonzago’s wife.

It is a delightful thought to imagine the Italian poet reciting some of his magnificent poem, Jerusalem Delivered, to Shakespeare in Mantua. One character in the epic that may have stuck was the Saracen sorceress, Armida, who in the strongest moments of emotion forgets her spellcraft & resorts to tears & prayers & persuasions. A few years later, when Shakespeare was writing Anthony & Cleopatra, he has the latter do just the same;

CLEOPATRA
O my lord, my lord,
Forgive my fearful sails! I little thought
You would have follow’d.

MARK ANTONY
Egypt, thou knew’st too well
My heart was to thy rudder tied by the strings,
And thou shouldst tow me after: o’er my spirit
Thy full supremacy thou knew’st, and that
Thy beck might from the bidding of the gods
Command me.

CLEOPATRA
O, my pardon!

MARK ANTONY
Now I must
To the young man send humble treaties, dodge
And palter in the shifts of lowness; who
With half the bulk o’ the world play’d as I pleased,
Making and marring fortunes. You did know
How much you were my conqueror; and that
My sword, made weak by my affection, would
Obey it on all cause.

CLEOPATRA
Pardon, pardon!

MARK ANTONY
Fall not a tear, I say; one of them rates
All that is won and lost: give me a kiss;
Even this repays me. We sent our schoolmaster;
Is he come back? Love, I am full of lead.
Some wine, within there, and our viands! Fortune knows
We scorn her most when most she offers blows.

Hamlet also seems to have been inspired by Tasso’s work on the Torrismondo, created in the very moment & the very city where I am placing the William Shakespeare of 1586. Louise George Clubb describes both plays possess, ‘a preoccupation with genre, with experimentation with hybrids & structure is made manifest by conducting a critical action simultaneously with a dramtic fable, underlaid with a paradigmatic myth calling attention to genre. In both, the choice of Scandinavian medieval chronicle is the sign of the sequence to come: from history to myth to genre to critical contemplation of structure. In short, Shakespeare & Tasso were upping their game with some pretty innovative drama, whose familial offerings in the history of theatre are with each other & each other only.‘ The materials of Torrismondo & Hamlet, adds Club, ‘allowed for a confrontation of ostensible history with undeclared myth in plots which silently claimed kinship with the very arguments cited by Aristotle.


1586: Shakespeare Encounters Tasso’s ‘Aminta’

Following its quiet debut in Ferrara in 1573, & more public performance at the 1574 Pesaro Carneveal, Tasso’s Aminta became a highly influential success, with Lisa Sampson observing how the play, ‘was rapidly seized upon for scenarios, episodes & characterisation by a wide range of writers from all over the peninsular.’ A 5-act play, it seems that Shakespeare witness’d the play at first hand. Love’s Labours Lost borrows from the Intermedio II chorus of Aminta, first printed in 1665, while As You Like It contains direct translations & numeorus echoes. Shakespeare was heavily influenced by Tasso’s mythology-steeped Renaissance Pastoralism, described by Cody as, ‘the Platonic theory of a good inner life, accomodated to the literary myth of the courtier as lover & poet. In the Italian Renaissance… pastoralism becomes the temper of the aristocratic mind: the reconciling of discors & contradictions in the medium of the work of art, that shadow of the ideal.’ Cody also describes Shakespeare as integrating Love’s Labours Lost into the, ‘Elizabethan aesthetic Platonism under its pastoral-comical aspect,’ adding, ‘the advantage of recognizing that the orthodox, elegaic Italians & the festive English comedian speak a common language of pastoral Neo-Platonism is considerable.’

Other plays to possess a strong streak of this consciously artificial, highly allegorical, hyper-mythomemed Pastoralism are Twelfth Night & the Two Gentleman of Verona, the latter worldscape described by Cody as ‘clearly the Italianate courtier-lover’s world, translated,’ adding, ‘the series of groups into which the play resolve sitself is pastoral & kinetic in the  manner of the Aminta.’ As in Aminta, the heroine is called Sylvia; & just as in the Two Gentlemen of Verona, Silvia is pursued & threatened with rape by Proteus, so in Aminta a satyr kidnaps & nearly rapes Sylvia. Cody also compares the Two Gentlemen of Verona’s Silvia scene to Tasso’s work, stating, ‘it is the one scene in which Shaksepeare successfully invokes the ‘magic potency of the theatre,’ seeking as Tasso does in his third intermedio in the Aminta to gather up his audience into the art of his play by reminding them of  a reality beyond their own.’ Perhaps the most pastoral of the plays, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream was created in 1595 – for William Stanleys wedding – & includes a passage heady in the language of pastoral myth, which also seems to nod at the early death of Tasso, also in 1595,

The battle with the Centaurs, to be sung
By an Athenian eunuch to the harp.”
We’ll none of that: that have I told my love
In glory of my kinsman Hercules.
“The riot of the tipsy Bacchanals,
Tearing the Thracian singer in their rage.”
That is an old device, and it was played
When I from Thebes came last a conqueror.
“The thrice three Muses mourning for the death
Of Learning, late deceased in beggary.”

The passage above makes reference to Hercules, allusions to whom crop up in the other two early Pastoral comedies, Loves Labours Lost & the Two Gentlemen of Verona. ‘Not that the comedies are the earliest of his plays,’ writes Cody, ‘in which pastoralism appears. In the histories there is at least one important pastoral theme among the cluster of commonplaces concerning Fortune, Nature, & the Prince: it has been termed ‘the rejection of the aspiring mind.’ It is central to the Henry VI trilogy, as witness the scene on Towton Field (2.5); & Shakespeare continues to develop it, more satisfyingly than anywhere perhaps in Henry IV.’ Cody also connects the garden scene of Richard II to the Renaissance habit of observing nature on a divine plane, stating, ‘It is to this aspect of the tradition – a Neo-Platonic landscape of the mind, mythopoeically conceived, as by Tasso in his Aminta – that appears to have been the model for Shakespeare’s orginiative experiments in romantic comedy.’


1586: Tasso Inspires Hamlet

Hamlet is a play supposedly from Shakespeare’s middle period. The story initially burst into literary life with Saxo Grammaticus in the 13th century, but could it be that during Shakespeare’s time with Tasso that he began to court the same affection for Scandinavian royal dramas of the Middle Ages as the Italian poet. Perhaps, in France, Shakespeare had picked up a copy of François de Belleforest’s Histoires Tragiques (published in 1574) while in France, in which Saxo’s story was given great embellishment. Was meeting Tasso the catalyst for Shakespeare to create what is called the ‘Ur-Hamlet’ (the German prefix means primordial). No copy of this has survived, but its existence must date to before 1589, when Thomas Nashe in his preface to Greene’s prose work Menaphon, entitled To The Gentlemen Students of Both Universities, referred to the ‘English Seneca read by candlelight yields many good sentences, as ‘Blood is a beggar,’ and so forth; and if you entreat him fair in a frosty morning, he will afford you whole Hamlets, I should say handfuls, of tragical speeches.’

Back in Italy, let us imagine Shakespeare’s hamlet being inspired by Tasso’s work on the Torrismondo. Louise George Clubb describes in both plays, ‘a preoccupation with genre, with experimentation with hybrids & structure is made manifest by conducting a critical action simultaneously with a dramtic fable, underlaid with a paradigmatic myth calling attention to genre. In both, the choice of Scandinavian medieval chronicle is the sign of the sequence to come: from history to myth to genre to critical contemplation of structure. In short, Shakespeare & Tasso were upping their game with some pretty innovative drama, whose familial offerings in the history of theatre are with each other & each other only.’

The materials of Torrismondo & Hamlet,’ adds Club, ‘allowed for a confrontation of ostensible history with undeclared myth in plots which silently claimed kinship with the very arguments cited by Aristotle.’ It certainly feels as if Shakespeare was inspired by Tasso’s Torrismondo, which was being created in the very moment & the very city where I am placing William Shakespeare of 1586.

It is also distinctly possible perhaps that Shakespeare’s knowledge of sail-making at Bergamo given in The Taming of the Shrew came from a visit there with Tasso, for it was the Italian poet’s paternal town.


OCTOBER 1586
Shakespeare Visits John Dee

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On leaving Mantua,Stanley & Shakespeare embark’d on a tough, overland, Brokeback Mountain ride up & over the Alps, during which time our budding bard may have etched the opening to sonnet 33;

Full many a glorious morning have I seen,
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye

There is also this passage from Anthony & Cleopatra which seems to invoke the Alpine crossing;

Sometimes we see a cloud that’s dragonish,
A vapor sometime like a bear or lion,
A towered citadel, a pendant rock,
A forkèd mountain, or blue promontory
With trees upon ’t that nod unto the world

According to the Garland of William Stanley, our young Lancastrian nobleman – & Shakespeare – had made a great geographical leap from Algeria to Russia (via Mantua) in order to spend some time with John Dee. It reads;

Within the Court of Barbary,
When two full years Sir William had been,
Into Russia he needs must go,
To visit the Emperor and his Queen,

One Doctor Dee he met with there,
Which Doctor was born at Manchester ;
Who knew Sir William Stanley well,
Tho’ he had not seen him for many a year.

Pray what’s the Cause, the Doctor said,
Brings you, Sir William, into this Country
I’m come to travel, Sir William replied,
And I pray thee, Doctor, what brought thee!

I came to do a cure, the Doctor said,
Which was of the Emperor’s feet to be done,
And I have perform’d it effectually,
Which none could do but an Englishman.

Then he brought him before the Emperor,
Who entertained him with Princely cheer,
And gave him Gold and Silver store,
Desiring his company for seven year.

But one three years Sir William would stay,
Within the Emperor’s court so freely,
And then Sir William he would go,
To Bethlehem right speedily

The Chispologist here identifies two chispers, the first being the exageration of the dates, & the other being the wrong Tsar. In the mid-1580s, John Dee, that famous Elizabethan alchemist & academic from Manchester, & his mate Edward Kelley were in Bohemia, at the court of another ‘Tsar,’ the Holy Roman Emporere, Rudolf II. His title was in fact ‘Ceasar, to the harking back to pagan Roman emporers whose authority he inherited. But of course the word Tsar is the Russian deviation of Ceasar. It was Dee’s eldest son, Arthur who was in Russia c.1600, who heal’d the the Tsar’s foot before returning to Norwich, & was subsequently confused with his father in the Garland.

Both Dee & Kelly were known to the group. Dee was from Manchester, near the Stanley lands, & indeed the Garland says, ‘knew Sir William Stanley well / Tho’ he had not seen him for many a year,‘ while Edward Kelley was the same man who created the woodcut images for Spenser’s Shepheard’s Calendar. Dee records a number of meetings with Derby in hi sdiaries, & other nuggets such as the date and time of William’s daughter’s birth. Derby would eventually swing Dee into being a director of Christ’s College, Manchester.

In late 1586 Dee & Kelly were in residence at Trebona in Bohemia (in the modern-day Czech Republic), during which time Dee was making contact with the court of the Russian Tsar, but from hundreds of miles away. On reaching Dee, the arch-magus would have filled them in on recent developments, of how at first he had been a valued guest of the court of Rudolf II, an intellectual hotbed centered on Prague. PJ French states, ‘Dee’s world view was thoroughly of the Renaissance, though it was one which is unfamiliar today, one of a line of philosopher-magicians that stemmed from Ficino & Pico della Mirandola & included, among others, Trithemius, Abbot of Sondheim, Henry Cornelius Agrippa Paracelsus. etc…. Like Dee, these philosophers lived in a world that was half magical, half scientific.’

Dee eventually fell upon the wrong side of Rudolf, & after being banished from Prague was given shelter at in the household of Vilém of Rožmberk, Bohemia’s most powerful nobleman, in the town of Trebona. Equidistant between Prague & Vienna, Trebon welcomed Dee & Kelley on the 14th September, 1586, along with Kelley’s wife Joanna, Dee’s wife Jane & their four children, including an infant boy called Michael.

Dulwich_Picture_Gallery’s_Venus_and_Adonis

Also in Prague at that time was a copy of Titian’s Venus & Adonis – or perhaps even the original – commissioned by the Holy Roman Emporer, Charles V (d.1558), as discerned through a letter written by F. Mueller, the correspondent in Italy for the court of Bavaria. Now held in the Galleria Nazionale of Palazzo Barberini in Rome, it is mark’d out from all the other V&As painted by Titian (there were many copies made, usually completed by his students) by the hat worn by Adonis. In Shakespeare’s poem we actually have various mentions of such a hat, as in, ‘with one fair hand she heaveth up his hat,’ & ‘therefore would he put his bonnet on.’ It is possible that Stanley & Shakespeare were living the swancy-fancy life of art connoisseurs at this point & making an effort to study the work of evidently their favorite painter & painting. Indeed, on their Italian itinerary they may have seen copies of the V&A at the Palazzo Mariscotti in Rome, or in the possession of the Barbarigo-Guistiniani family in Padua.


SHAKESPEARE & MAGIC

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Shakespeare’s knowledge of esoteric tradition is a highly sophisticated one, one that weaves through his sonnets and plays to a surprising degree. In The Winter’s Tale the statue of Hermione (from from Hermes) springs to life in the same way that the Hermetic Asclepius is described as being effected by Egyptian magic. Elsewhere, Sonnet 33 is full of alchemical references & also of the earth-heaven phenomena called ‘correspondancdes’ – surreptiously placed in a mountainous landscape such as Bohemia.

Full many a glorious morning have I seen,
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green;
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy:
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride,
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:
Even so my sun one early morn did shine,
With all triumphant splendour on my brow,
But out alack, he was but one hour mine,
The region cloud hath masked him from me now.
Yet him for this, my love no whit disdaineth,
Suns of the world may stain, when heaven’s sun staineth.

Shake-speare is using the idea of “correspondences”, in which earthly phenomena are related to the heavens, as the logical structure of this sonnet. In particular, macrocosmic heavenly phenomena are paralleled by microcosmic human ones. There are also numerous astrological references in Shake-speare’s plays, while Sonnet 15 is laden with astrology & the ‘secret influences’ of celestial bodies.

When I consider every thing that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment.
That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment.
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheered and checked even by the self-same sky:
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
And wear their brave state out of memory.
Then the conceit of this inconstant stay,
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Where wasteful time debateth with decay
To change your day of youth to sullied night,
And all in war with Time for love of you,
As he takes from you, I engraft you new.


November 1586
Shakespeare sketches the Tempest

At this point in the Stanleyan Grand Tour, the first outlines of the plot & structure of a play called the Tempest appeared in Shakespeare’s notebooks. It was first performed in public in 1611, yet a proto-version could have been one of the earliest creations of his blossoming mind – you can’t rush genius like – especially when the Tempest is the first play one comes to when entering the First Folio. A clue might be found in five consecutive lines of the Garland, where we observe quite succinctly the setting of the Tempest (Barbary is North Africa) & its principle subject Prospero, a dead-ringer for John Dee.

Within the Court of Barbary,
When two full years Sir William had been,
Into Russia he needs must go,
To visit the Emperor and his Queen,
One Doctor Dee he met with there

Where Prospero had his Ariel, Dee declared he possessed a benevolent angel called, ‘Uriel, the angel of light.’ Such an early date for the proto-Tempest is unwittingly hinted at by Sydney Lee’s; ‘the influence of Ovid, especially the Metamorphoses, was apparent throughout his earliest literary work, both poetic & dramatic, & is discernible in the ‘Tempest.’ This play reflects the early experiences Shakespeare enjoy’d with Commedia dell’Arte; which sometimes featured a magician, his daughter & supernatural attendants. CDA also contained archetypical clowns known as Arlecchino and Brighella, on which the Tempest’s Stephano and Trinculo are clearly based, while its lecherous Neapolitan hunchback has a perfect correspondence in Caliban. The Tempest is also one of only two of his plays that utilise the Classical Unities – a dramaturgical tradition of setting a play in a single place & time, with the other being the very early Comedy of Errors. Coincidence or not, CoE is set in the eastern Mediterranean, the same part of the world where Stanley & Shakespeare would be moving to next…


December 1586
The Trebona Familists

Many of the Shakespeare’s esoteric themes and sources lead the chispologist to the library of John Dee. Also using the library at that time was Edward Kelley, who seems to have dedicated a poem in the Venus & Adonis stanza form to his ‘especiall’ friend, GS. The reference appears in Elias Ashmole’ 1652 anthology, Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, when we must remember that the name Gulielmus Shaksper appears on the Bard’s baptism recodr. As already postulated, Shakespeare could well have been working on Venus & Adonis during the Grand Tour, perhaps even reading a few stanzas out to his compatriots in Trebona. This could later have inspired Kelly to try out the poetic form for himself, of which I’ll give a few of my favorites stanzas;

S.E.K. concerning the Philosophers Stone, written to his especiall good friend, G.S. Gent.

The heauenlie Cope hath in him natures fower,
Two hidden, but the rest to sight appeare:
Wherein the Spermes of all the bodies lower
Most secret are, yet spring forth once a yeare:
And as the earth with water Authors are,
So of his part is drines end of care.

If this my Doctrine bend not with thy braine,
Then say I nothing, though I sayd too much:
Of truth tis good, will mooued me, not gaine,
To write these lines: yet write I not to such
As catch at crabs, when better frutes appeare,
And want to chuse at fittest time of yeare.

Thou maist (my friend) say, What is this for lore?
I aunswere, Such as auncient Phisicke taught:
And though thou red a thousand bookes before,
Yet in respect of this, they teach thee naught:
Thou maist likewise be blinde, and call me foole,
Yet shall these Rules for euer praise their Schoole.

The same collection of poems also has a commentary which tells how Kelley performed an alchemical tansmutation to, “gratifie Master Edward Garland and his Brother Francis.”These brothers also turn up in Dee’s diary, along with two other ‘Garlands’, Robert & Henry, & none of the four of have ever turned up anywhere else in the Elizabethen world, suggesting the true names were incognito. The ‘Brothers’ element more than hints at the Familist connection. But this is rabbit-hole’s worth of a tangent, so its only a maybe for me, but adding a note of the going’s on with the Garland brothers as given in Dee’s diary – note its connection to the actual Russian Tsar.

8 Dec: Monday, about noon, Mr Edward Garland came to Trebona to me from the Emperor of Muscovia, according to the articles before sent unto me by Thomas Simkinson

9 Dec: On the 19 day (by the new calendar), to please Master Edward Garland (who had been sent as a messenger from the Emperor of Muscovy to ask me to come to him, etc, and his brother Francis, E.K. made a public demonstration of the philosophers’ stone in the proportion of one grain (no bigger than the least grain of sand) to 1 oz and a ¼ of common and almost 1 oz of the best gold was produced. When we had weighed the gold, we divided it up and gave the crucible to Edward at the same time.

 

Dee’s connection to the Familists is more assured, such as;

1: He was associated with many Continental Familists, including Christopher Plantin, the Antwerp printer who published the works of Niclaes) & the Antewerp bookseller Arnold Birckmann,

2: In 1577 Dee suggested to the cartographer Abraham Ortelius, another Familist, that correspondence could reach him via Birckmann’s servants.

3: Familists married within the group, & if widowed would quickly remarry, with age having no bearing on the choice. John Dee married three times, with little space between them, his third wife, Jane Fromond, being 28 years younger than him.

4: Dee & Kelley were friends with the Familist Francesco Pucci, spending time together in Krakow in 1585, & Prague the following year.

5: Dee & Kelley were also on excellent terms with Prince Albert Laski of Poland, whose relation, Johannes Alasko, lived in the Familst ‘capital’ of Emden.

6: Dee was a big favorite of Queen Elizabeth, whose own personal Yeomen Gaurd were Familists. In the anonymous Supplication of the Family of Love (1606) we read, “It appeareth that she [Elizabeth] had alwayes about her some Familistes, or favourers of that Sect, who alwaies related, or bare tidinges what was donne, or intended against them.”


Shakespeare in Bohemia

Shakespeare’s own brief stay in the region can be traced via three separate plays;

(i) Measure for Measure is set in Vienna.
(ii) The Winter’s Tale is set in ‘Bohemia’.
(iii) ‘The old hermit of Prague,’ is mentioned in Twelfth Night.

As the old hermit of 
Prague, that never saw pen and ink, very wittily 
Said to a niece of King Gorboduc, ‘That that is is;

A slender hint indeed, but when attached to Stanley’s recorded visit to Dee, we can trace the thought roots to seeds physically planted. Although no firm evidence has as yet been unearthed of their visit, we do know a little of what the skryrer’s Kelley & Dee were up to. Rudolf had given them a lab to practice their alchemy, including experiments on a mysterious red powder Kelly had found buried at Northwick Hill. Kelley was also dabbling with Catholcoism, even fasting for a whole month before a visit to a Jesuit priest.

Throughout January, a suddenly very wealthy Kelley made several visits to Prague, & let us for a whimsical moment conject that Shakespeare went with them. I normally have evidence to back my statements, but for once I’d like to just imagine Shakespeare going with Kelley to see Prague – I’ve been there myself, & thoroughly enjoyed the experience, including a rather ridiculous  encounter with some Mancunian drug-dealers back in 2001, which you can read all about in my Epistles to Posterity.

The Beaches of St. Valery


Oran Mor, Glasgow
March 16 – 21, 2020

Script: five-stars  Stagecraft: five-stars
Performance: five-stars S.O.D.:five-stars


This week’s wickedly lovely play, the Beaches of St.Valery, came from the pen of the excellent Stuart Hepburn. The show was making a welcome return to Oran Mor, with the original cast (James Rottger, Ron Donachie and Ashley Smith) reprising their roles. We were introduced to young Callum (Rottger) all dressed up in his smart army uniform, and soon caught up in the horrors of WW2. We watched as he and other Scottish soldiers of the 51 st Highland Division dealt with the reality of wartime.

The play effectively dealt with themes of duty and loyalty, as depicted in the character of Sergeant McGregor (Donachie), an old soldier with a lifetime of army and war experience. We also saw how the youngsters grew from being reluctant conscripts to embracing the idea of duty and service, no matter what it took. And it took a lot, especially for the Sergeant who had to give the terrible orders. The action took us right to the battlefield, using effects such as a castle backdrop, lights, explosions, the sound of planes flying overhead, radio reports, recollections. We followed them through well-choreographed manoeuvres as they fought, then retreated on the beach. We joined them as they huddled together in a bunker for warmth and Calum found love with Catriona (Smith) in the midst of all the turmoil. Somehow the fact that there was a smaller audience for today’s play (we are in Coronavirus territory after all), only made it all the more poignant. In the slightly eerie atmosphere no-one really wanted to laugh at the one small joke.

The author has thrown a light on the less well known fact that while thousands of British soldiers were rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk, this Scottish division was left to defend St Valery to the last man. Many died, many surrendered. The play wasn’t about anger at this apparently desperate situation, only the touching sense that though they were more than willing soldiers all they wanted really was to go home to their loved ones. An impressively well put together drama, with writing and craft that directly touched the heart and sent you home with a huge sense of compassion for those who had lived through it. It seems a fitting tribute to them and is well worth a visit.

Reviewer: Daniel Donnelly

Coronavirus & the Responsible Dundee Rep

Following the UK Government announcement on Monday 16 March 2020 to step up measures to fight the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, reinforced by guidance from both the Scottish Government and UK Theatre/the Society of London Theatre, we have taken the decision to temporarily close Dundee Rep Theatre. This decision was taken on the evening of Monday 16 March 2020 and is effective immediately. We take the health and safety of our audiences, staff, freelance colleagues and partners very seriously and as part of the temporary closure, we have suspended all our public activities as an Organisation including producing and presenting work, Engage classes and Scottish Dance Theatre touring.

At this stage, we do not know how long the closure and suspension of our activities will last. However, we anticipate that the rest of our published season will now not take place. We will continue to follow Government advice as it is issued.

This is an incredibly complex and fast-moving situation and it is with a heavy heart that we have taken this decision but the safety of all the people we work with is our number one priority. We would like to thank our audiences and supporters for all the messages of support we have received during these uncertain times. As an arts charity, we depend on this support.

We are currently in the process of informing all customers and would like to assure all those who are affected that you will receive a full refund or exchange for your tickets. Due to the large number of inquiries we are asking customers not to contact Box Office unless your query is urgent. Please bear with us as we do our best to answer a large volume of calls as quickly as possible. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

We recognise this is an incredibly worrying time for our audiences and that you will be concerned about your family and friends as well as having very real considerations about your income in the days and weeks ahead. If you feel able to do so, we are asking audiences who have purchased tickets with us to consider opting for the ticket value to be credited to your account, rather than refunded.

Some of our patrons have already taken the kind decision to donate the value of their tickets to us. As with many areas of our economy, there are real viability issues for the arts as a result of the Coronavirus and we want to ensure we can continue to create and present the work you love when we open to the public again.

To repeat, we understand the challenges facing you all and our society more generally, and so refunds will, of course, be available without question.

Your support means everything to us. We looking forward to welcoming you all back to our work, in happier times, once this is behind us all. In the meantime, stay safe.

Andrew Panton, Artistic Director, Dundee Rep, Joint Chief Executive
Liam Sinclair, Executive Director, Joint Chief Executive
Joan Clevillé, Artistic Director, Scottish Dance Theatre

Viriathus: Scenes 14-17


Scene 14: The Tent of Viriathus

Viriathus is sleeping / Audax, Minurus & Ditalco enter quietly / at a given signal Minurus holds Virathus down, Audax yanks back his head & Ditalco stabs him through the throat

Audax
{whispering}
It is passed, Viriathus, he is dead

Minurus
What have we done

Ditalco
We have stilled the slaughter

Audax
His body is a sacrifice to peace

Ditalco
Washing the blood away enables time
Before discovery, by when we shall
Be far-off & safe from this fatal thrust

Audax
But Caepio first, our promise fulfill’d

Minurus
Our murder done, you mean

Ditalco
Please, Minurus
Let it go, the gnawing rat of conscience
Replace with hopes of happier futures
For all of us & all our families

Audax
Tongina’s grief awaits a tender friend

Exit Minurus, Audax & Ditalco – the sun rises – enter Gulucia

Gulucia
Good morming my lord, time to face the day
Such an unusually long repose
Your lovely wife attendance shall make soon
Let me bathe you in fragrant rosewater
Tongina loves her husband to be clean
If you do so permit… Viriathus
Are you awake, master, are you alive?

Gulucia takes off the helmet of Viriathus – he rushes out of the tent & returns a few moments later with Camalo & Arantonio

Gulucia
Awake Viriathus , awake,

Arantonio
Shake him

Camalo
{checking pulse}
He is dead

Arantonio
Dead!?

Camalo
But how

Gulucia
It cannot be

Arantonio
What pungent hail of woes rain upon us
With painful jolts, then melting drench in tears

Camalo
Could this be murder, instinct wrangles thus
At point of greatest danger made bereft
Of our general & his genius

Arantonio
A timely happenstance make no mistake
A poisoning perhaps

Gulucia
Impossible
Each liquid drop, each morsel I prepare

Camalo
Then you our chief focus of suspicion

Enter Arco & Cabruno

Arco
It was not him

Arantonio
Soothsayer, what you say?

Arco
Who else had access to this tent last night

Camalo
Minurus, Audax, Ditalco, yes them
{Cabruno goes to inspect the body}
But

Arco
But what

Camalo
But it could not have been them
Why would they…

Cabruno
Look, here, daggertip punctures
Point deeply where the chinskin folds o’er throat

Gulucia
O day of grief, of weeping of despair
Of Lusitanian lamentations
Whose like shall ne’er be heard

Arantonio
Men, we must try
To hold as noble bearing as befits
The virtuousness of Viriathus
Prepare the pyre, send messengers abroad
The funeral begins tomorrow dusk

Cabruno
We must down hunt these treacherous jcackals

Arco
The gods will find a better fate for them
Than instant death before their guilt consumes
Their living fibres like a wasting plague

Enter Tongina

What is happening, what is the matter
With Viriathus, stand aside at once

Gulucia
Tongina – he is – he is

Arantonio
He is dead

Tongina
{wailing}
No————– But how

Arco
Murder

Camalo
By murderers foul

Cabruno
By Minurus, Audax & Ditalco

Tongina
How do you know

Arco
We know

Tongina
Why would they so

Arantonio
Roman gold?

Gulucia
They met with Caepio on the behalf
Of Viriathus hours before his death

Tongina
Too much, too much! Too little have I loved
This man enough, I shared him far too long,
Go, all of you go, leave us,
I wish to be alone with my husband

Exit all apart from Tongina

Tongina
When I met you I caught a falling star,
Your heart it was, that whisper’d unto me,
‘I love you,’ with a sigh-tempest of breath,
This breath gone now, & like a melt of snow
That make no noise, your silence ends our joys,
For we are ever absent from the sphere
That is the intersuredness of love,
Knock upon its memorial entrance,
I’ll never get back in, my own profess
Of love, like gold to airy thinness beat;
What sadness has descended on my soul!
The firmness of my being now in thrall
To some dark watcher, ever thro’ my days
That stands & haunts me ’till I weep once more!


Scene 15: The Roman Camp

Caepio is reading a scroll / enter Sempronius with Audax, Ditalco & Minurus

Sempronius
Enter, Caepio has been awaiting

Audax
It is done

Caepio
What is done

Ditalco
We have killed him

Caepio
O you have have you

Audax
We did as you asked

Caepio
Did I, O yes I did, but as men might
Change their own minds I seem to have changed mine

Ditalco
You have what

Caepio
Weeelll – I thought about it more
& realised it never pleases Rome
When Generals are slain by her soldiers
No, not at all, as such I cannot deal
with such dishonorable men as you

Audax
But our rewards

Caepio
Will not be forthcoming

Sempronius
We must set an example for the world
Traitors who bounty chiefs shall not be paid

Caepio
But I am not a man who lets distaste
Oertake decision-making, you may keep
Whatever you were given yester-e’en,
Safely, of course

Minurus
This is dark remission
You gave us your word, sworn on your Senate
In the eyes of your gods you must stand true

Caepio
My gods! stand true! this is quite a pickle


YE EAGLES OF ROME

Brothers in arms stick together
In the face of stormy weather
But the clever ones find shelter from the gales
& families of warriors
That shake a spear & roar at us
Are falling side by side in wild travails

Because Rome, Rome!
Rome is the greatest of them all
As we up rise the rest downfall
Because were Rome

Because Rome, Rome!
Rome is the greatest of them all
As we up rise the rest downfall
Because were Rome

Fly fly, ye legions of Rome
Go find a new home, fly, fly

Fly fly, ye eagles of Rome
Go find a new home, fly, fly

Brothers in arms stick together
In the face of all whatever
& we’ll never leave our honour to the crows
& families of warriors
That shake a spear & roar at us
Are falling side by side in crimson rows

Because Rome, Rome!
Rome is the greatest of them all
As we up rise the rest downfall
Because were Rome

Because Rome, Rome!
Rome is the greatest of them all
As we up rise the rest downfall
Because were Rome

Fly fly, ye legions of Rome
Go find a new home, fly, fly

Fly fly, ye eagles of Rome
Go find a new home, fly, fly


Caepio
I tell you what – why don’t you go to Rome
& bring it up with them, yes, they might pay
But me, I’m busy working on the war
Yes, better, that you go to Rome, & soon
Your countrymen will think the case severe
Diminuating names to shame’s disgrace

Audax
Your mind serpentine has mischief’d us

Caepio
No, not at all, your damage wrought by greed
Now leave me, I would not suffer the air
Of traitors creeping into honest lungs.

Ditalco
You scandalous scoundrel,

Caepio
Yes, goodbye… guards!
These murderous rascals throw from the camp

Minurus
This is outrageousness

Caepio
You are dismiss’d

Gaurds excort Audax, Minurus & Ditalco from the tent

Caepio
There is never honour, Sempronius,
In betraying one’s own for money mere


Scene 16:  A Mountain Valley

The body of Viriathus, clad in splendid garments & holding a falcata sword, is lain on a funerary pyre – troops of ssoldiers in armour form a circle around it – Can=bruno is sacrificing an animal

Cabruno
Ye gods of heaven, gods of underground,
What righteous sort has severed from the coil
That binds the universe to its bodies
We offer you this tender sacrifice
To carry Viriathus to the stars
Where he may gaze upon hour lives once more
{Tongina wails}
Our sun of finest magnitude has set
His life an inspiration to the song
Of those his spirit moves thro,’ we who mourn
His name’s elated immortality
To Viriathus

All
Viriathus, huh!

***

RECITATIVO TO THE DEAD

All
Viriathus (Viriathus, Viriathus)
You were glorious (glorius, glorious)
We ask you special spirit to watch over us

Repeat in a series of key changes until reaching the orginal key


Scene 17:  The Roman Senate

The Closing of the Viriathic War

Magistrate
Senators, the war of Viriathus
Is over, we have word from Saguntum
The same city Hannibal overthrew
& named New Carthage, just as Roman arms
Ensured to it Saguntum soon return’d,
So have the Lusitani surrender’d
To Caepio on favour’d conditions
They shall be simply subjects under Rome
Not friends, nor allies, as our former pact,
We vote today upon two positions;
The first – do we honour Caepio’s change
To the status of Lusitania
& if so, do we honour his return
With a glorious triumph into Rome,
Senators, your balls, let reason speak

The vote

Magistrate
How go the counts

Magistrate’s assistant
On the matter of law
Caepio’s conquest has been ratified
But there shall be no triumph for the coup

Magistrate
Very well, let these be struck on record
But there is one last appertanation
In reccomendation to your judgement,
The death of Viriathus wholly caus’d
By three of his own chieftans, they here seek
Renumeration, one of them shall speak
His name Ditalco, fetch him to the floor

Magistrate’s assistant brings in Ditalco

Magistrate
Well, you are here, what wish you to impart

Servilianus
Do not let him speak

Labaecus
He’s a murderer

Popilius
Barbarian

Senator 1
Regicide

Senator 2
Assassin

Ditalco
Let me speak

Servilianus
Rome will never pay traitors,
Who slay their chiefs

Ditalco
But we cannot go home
Caepio’s promise

Labaceus
Is not the senates’
Your leader was a noble man & you
Slew him for enrichment – you, the most vile

Magistrate
It seems the Senate does not wish to hear
Your case, this is a brain’d predicament,
Which we shall solve hen best course sprung to mind –
You are welcome to stay in the city
& work for your living – or better still
Join with the legions, their ranks depleted
Since Viriathus rose among your kind,
We need good soldiers, yes, this course is best,
Your case dismissed, please leave the Senate floor,

Enter Romans singing, Fly, Fly, Ye eagles of Rome……..’ / The Roman soldiers change the clothes of Ditalco to that of a Roman legionary


THE CONCHORDIA FOLIO

“Its worth a pop, right, to try & knock that Shakespeare
Off his feffin’ perch!”

Interview: Damian Beeson Bullen

The Young Shakespeare (9): Shakespeare At Sea

Capture


Discovering the fascinating truth

Of Shakespeare’s missing years


APRIL 1586
Shakespeare crosses the Adriatic

800px-Adriatic_Sea_-_Venice0448

images3That Shakespeare took to the whale-roads is reflected by an extremely accurate knowledge of both the sea & its sailing terms. Most scholars presume he acquired this knowledge thro’ book-reading, but with Sir Henry Mainwaring releasing the first nautical dictionary only in 1644, this avenue may be precluded. Instead, of Shakespeare’s sealore, AF Falconer declares he, ‘must have learned it first hand for there was no other way,’ adding that the Bard possess’d, ‘an understanding of naval ceremony, naval strategy & the duties & characteristic ways of officers & men.’ One passage in particular contains a highly obscure sailing term;

Believe me, sir, she is the goodliest woman
That ever lay by man: which when the people
Had the full view of, such a noise arose
As the shrouds make at sea in a stiff tempest

‘It is a puzzle,’ writes WB Whall, ‘how Shakespeare, unless he had been a sailor, could have known enough of sea life to write such a magnificently apt simile as this. It could not have occurred to anyone who had not been at sea. The shrouds are the heavy ropes of the rigging which supports the masts of a ship on neither side so that they can carry sail.’ Another naval accuracy comes in Hamlet’s, ‘methought I lay worse than the mutinies in the bilboes,’ with the latter word being sea-slang for leg-shackles. One also gets the feeling that Shakespeare even personally experienced a ship-wreck, his plays are simply littered with them, including;

After our ship did split,
When you and those poor number saved with you
Hung on our driving boat, I saw your brother,
Most provident in peril, bind himself,
Courage and hope both teaching him the practise,
To a strong mast that lived upon the sea;
Twelfth Night 1:2

Across the Adriatic from Italy lie the thousand-islands of Croatia, or Illyria as it was known in more antique times. In 1553, an English gentleman called John Locke recorded his own pilgrimage to Jerusalem, & withit being only three decades before Shakespeare, its pretty close to how it woudl have been for our party.

We sayled all the day long by the bowline alongst the coast of Ragusa {Dubrovnik}, and towardes night we were within 7 or 8 miles of Ragusa , that we might see the white walles, but because it was night, we cast about to the sea, minding at the second watch, to beare it againe to Ragusa… This citie of Ragusa paieth tribute to the Turke yerely fourteene thousand Sechinos, and every Sechino is of venetian money eight livers and two soldes, besides other presents which they give to the Turkes Bassas when they come thither. The Venetians have a rocke or cragge within a mile of the said towne, for the which the Raguseos would give them much money, but they doe keepe it more for the namesake, then for profite. This rocke lieth on the Southside of the towne, and is called Il cromo, there is nothing on it but onely a Monasterie called Sant Jeronimo. The maine of the Turkes countrie is bordering on it within one mile, for the which cause they are in great subjection.

In 1586 Illyria was the only independent city-state on the eastern littoral of the Adriatic in the sixteenth century. It is mentioned ten times by Shakespeare, who sets his Twelfth Night there, which we may now conject was after he had experienced for himself the port of Ragusa. As one hears references to Illyria’s coasts, sailors, the ‘Uskok’ pirates, tall population & robust wines, one senses the snatch of time Shakespeare had with the country as he sailed south through the Adriatic. Elsewhere in the canon, the term for Ragusa’s ships, Argosies (after Ragosies), was used by Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice, Measure for Measure, Henry VI, Part III and The Taming of the Shrew, while in Measure for Measure a plot turn in the last act depended on the substitution of the severed head of a “Rhagozin” pirate for Claudio’s. A Croatian on ths pot, Josip Torbarina, in his “The Setting of Shakespeare’s Plays,” (Studia Romanica et Anglica Zagrabiensia 17 (1964) & Shakespeare & Dubrovnik (1977) amasses compelling evidence for Shakespeare’s use of contemporary Dalmatia and the city of Ragusa as the setting for Twelfth Night.


MAY 1586
Stanley in Egypt

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Leaving ‘Illyria,’ our party sailed on to Egypt, & the sweaty flesh-pots of its capital, Cairo. On arriving they would have sought out the principle headquarters of the Levant Company, from which office emanated tendrils of pre-imperial trade into the ports & courts of the eastern Mediterranean. Powerful cities such as Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, Jerusalem, Damascus & Aleppo had all become secure stopping-stations for the Levant Company, as was Constantinople, where Company man William Harborne had become the de facto English ambassador to the Ottomans. Within two decades the East Indies Company would be formed, the majority of its nucleus members being Levant Company men, & one could say that British India has its true roots in these Elizabethan mercantile expeditions to the east.

The connection between William Stanley & the Levant Company begins with Barry Coward, author of a book on the history of the Stanley family, who states, ‘from 1584 to 1593 Earl Henry borrowed as he had never done before… the loans raised by Earl Henry & his son, Ferdinando, were all raised by bonds pledging a cash surety, made with important London merchant financiers, like John lacy, Richard Martin, Peter Vanlore, Michael Cornleius, William Cuslowe, Nicholas Mosley, & Sir Rowland Hayward.’ A key link here is Richard Martin, a two-time mayor of London & one of the founding members of the Levant Company in 1581. The Stanley’s financial embroilment with such a fellow would have led to William Stanley being sent to check up on the family’s investments in the new markets.

nile-crocodile-16th-century-artwork-middle-temple-libraryStanley’s journey to Egypt is given more details by Thomas Aspen, who records; ‘afterwards he proceeded to Egypt, and with the assistance of a native guide, went to reconnoitre the River Nile. Whilst on their journey, a large male tiger suddenly appeared from behind a thicket, and with a hideous howl came rushing towards them. Sir William had two pistols, and discharged one as the tiger was making a spring at them. Unfortunately he missed his aim, and it was only by dexterously stepping aside that he eluded the grasp of the ferocious brute. Before the animal had time to take another spring, Sir William drew a second pistol, discharged the contents into the tiger’s breast, and as it reeled drew his sword and killed it.’ That our party visited the River Nile allows us to look deeper into one of Donne’s sonnets.

See, sir, how, as the sun’s hot masculine flame
Begets strange creatures on Nile’s dirty slime,
In me your fatherly yet lusty rhyme
For these songs are their fruits—have wrought the same.
But though th’ engend’ring force from which they came
Be strong enough, and Nature doth admit
Seven to be born at once; I send as yet
But six; they say the seventh hath still some maim.
I choose your judgment, which the same degree
Doth with her sister, your invention, hold,
As fire these drossy rhymes to purify,
Or as elixir, to change them to gold.
You are that alchemist, which always had
Wit, whose one spark could make good things of bad.

This sonnet’s opening lines invoke a definite sense of witnessing the Nile at first hand. The decisive evidence comes with the sonnet being placed among a sequence dedicated by Donne to a certain ‘E of D,’ implying his Grand Tour patron,William Stanley, the 6th Earl of Derby.


MAY 1586
Shakespeare’s Sonnets to Stanley

Gay men in Egypt- it actually illegal in the country these days
Gay men in Egypt-  manlove is actually illegal in the country these days

Shakespeare’s own time in Egypt is reflected by two unusual eye-witness accounts found in two of his earliest plays;

Thou art more puzzled than the Egyptians in their fog
Twelfth Night

An Egyptian that had nine hours lien dead who was by good appliance recovered
Pericles

Just as Donne was writing deliciously sensuous sonnets to & for Stanley, so was Shakespeare. What happens on the Grand Tour stays on the Grand Tour, & here was our bard in Egypt, where the demands of a young family had been replaced by poetical yearnings to see pyramids & sail the love-barges of Cleopatra. He was also traveling with a prominent member of his country’s royal family, & as we have discerned from the secret back story behind Venus & Adonis, Stanley actually fancied him. Sleeping your way to the top has always been a good way to get ahead, & in Shakespeare’s case he didn’t mind if it was with a member of the opposite sex. Read what you will of it as you may, but on his return to England Shakespeare never sired another child, implying perhaps he became fully LGBTQ on the Grand Tour.

It is Shakespeare’s love for Stanley that provides an important keystone in the dissemination of the many mysteries behind Shakespeare’s famous sonnet sequence. The form chosen for these poetical lovegasms is the short, 14-line photo-poem – the sonnet –  a poetical form capable of storing some of the most refined & musical expressions of human thought. That Shakespeare was writing sonnets at such an early stage in his career was opined by his greatest biographer, & most ardent analyticist, Sydney Lee, who proclaim’d; ‘in both their excellences & their defects Shakespeare’s sonnets betray their kinship to his early dramatic work,’ compating their, ‘unimpressive displays of verbal jugglery,’ with similar instances in the early plays.

Eventually published in 1609, Shakespeare’s sequence seems to be a collection of individual sonnet-clusters. The exact order in which these sequences of creative pulses, eternally crystalized & unified by gorgeous iambic pentameter, were written is beyond the remit of this book. One of these mini-sequences reflects Shakespeare’s homosexual love for a young aristocratic man & in 1586, there were no love sonnet sequences from one man to another except for one – Michaelangelo’s impassioned sonnets to Tommasso dei Cavalieri which Shakespeare may even have come across in Italy.

So who was Shakespeare’s muse? That the fellow is a member of the uppermost echelons of the aristocracy is suggested by sonnet 125, which begins, ‘were it ought to me I bore the canopy.’ The ceremonial material in question is that carried over the head of the incumbent monarch by England’s leading noblemen, in procession to Westminster Abbey & the coronation. On becoming the Earl of Derby himself, William Stanley himself would conduct this very act at the 1603 coronation of James I.

Over the past two centuries, the Bard’s corpse has been argued over & dissected so much, that hardly anything remains of the man: his flesh & bones have been shredded, flung & scattered across the ever-expanding wastelands of Shakespearean criticism. The one bonus of all these efforts is that the Elizabethan Age has been scrutinized to a near infinite degree by scholars hoping to turn up some precious new nugget of biographical detail concerning the Bard. There have been successes & among this vast sea of uncertainty one may find the following island of logical thinking;

A few years down the road, & increasingly mindful of Haines’ caution to Buck Milligan that Shakespeare’s sonnets are, ‘the happy hunting ground of all minds that have lost their balance,’ I nonetheless came to conclude from the evidence I accumulated that not only was Barnfield’s Ganymede the sixth Earl of Derby, William Stanley, but also that Barnfield published poems from 1594 (including over twenty homoerotic love sonnets) were in dialogue with some of Shakespeare’s own homoerotic sonnets to his Fair Youth... we hardly have reason to be very surprised if, after all, Shakespeare’s beloved & revered male addressee might turn out to be William Stanley

This passage was written by Leo Daugherty whom, after surviving such a process of intense academic endeavour with his wits intact, stated in his brilliant book, ‘William Shakespeare, Richard Barnfield & the Sixth Earl of Derby’ that he had made, ‘conclusions of some enormity.’ The crux of his excited proclamation was that the identity of the Handsome Youth was a certain Elizabethan nobleman called William Stanley. Yes, our William Stanley! It makes sense, for there are positive analogies in language between Venus and this set of sonnets.

There is one sonnet in particular that reflects the logistical relationship between Shakespeare & Stanley, with our young poet highlighting his role as a retainer ;

Being your slave what should I do but tend
Upon the hours, and times of your desire?
I have no precious time at all to spend;
Nor services to do, till you require.
Nor dare I chide the world without end hour,
Whilst I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you,
Nor think the bitterness of absence sour,
When you have bid your servant once adieu;
Nor dare I question with my jealous thought
Where you may be, or your affairs suppose,
But, like a sad slave, stay and think ofnought
Save, where you are, how happy you make those.
So true a fool is love, that in your will,
Though you do anything, he thinks no ill.


JUNE 1586
Shakespeare joins the Levant Company fleet

We have now placed Shakespeare firmly among the buccaneering world of corsairs that constituted the Elizabethan navy, where men like Drake, Hawkins & Raleigh were the idols of the day. Our young bard is about to board one of the Levant Company shipsin Egypt with all five vessels of the mini-fleet having made successful trading operations in Turkey, Egypt & Syria. Three of the ships had met up in the Egyptian port of Alexandria: The Toby, the Susan & the Edward Bonaventure; & by the June of 1586 they had combined with the remaining two Company ships off the Greek island of Zante.

All five ships, & four other non-Compant vessels from England, had fused together for security reasons – the journey through the Straits of Gibraltar, a cannon’s shot from hostile Spain, would be treacherous for one or two vessels traveling on their own. It was a prudent move, as a very real danger was imminent; two separate squadrons of Spanish & Maltese galleys had left the Straits of Gibraltar & were hunting down the English like hungry, prowling wolves.


JULY 1586
The Battle of Pantelleria

Spanish_Galley

Deep in the middle of a sultry summer, Shakespeare found himself sailing west through the Mediterranean as a passenger of the Levant Company fleet. After safely bypassing Malta, they were suddenly intercepted by a squadron of eleven Spanish and Maltese galleys under Don Pedro de Leyva. The engagement took place off the island of Pantelleria on the 13th July, a five-hour running battle which saw the massive devastation of Spanish ships like some prophetic glimmer of the Armada. A Venetian ambassador to Rome, Giovanni Gritti, recorded;

Between Sicily & the island of Pantalara the galleys of Naples & of Sicily fell in with nine English galleys returning form Constantinople, full of merchandise, & although they attacked the English ships they failed to take them. The galleys have returned to Naples for reinforcement & will sail again to search for the English. They have sent news of these English to Genoa, so that they may be on the look out for them in the waters of Corsica & Sardinia

After five hours of fighting the Spanish galleys had been battered into submission. On the English side only two sailors had died, & a handful more being wounded. The tough English sailors had simply outmaneuvered, & more importantly, outgunned the Spanish. Remembrances of Shakespeare witnessing such a brutal sea-battle lies scatter’d throughout this plays. AF Falconer writes how he, ‘distinguishes between various types of ordnance & gun, understands how they work & are managed, & is familiar with gunnery terms & words of command.’ We can see for ourselves in examples, such as

The nimble gunner
With linstock now the devilish cannon touches
Henry V

Like an overcharged gun, recoil
And turn the force of them upon thyself
2 Henry VI

What’s this? a sleeve? ’tis like a demi-cannon
What, up and down, carved like an apple-tart?
Taming of the Shrew


JULY 1586
Shakespeare visits Linosa

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While stopping for provisions & water round about the time of the Battle of Pantelleria, Shakespeare took a wander of the island of Linosa – anciently ‘Aethusa.’ In a great moment of creative fusion, the island became embedded in his mnemonic vaults, & probably sketch & reported on in his notebooks, ready for the right moment to become the setting of one of his poems or plays. This eventually occurred when Shakespeare was writing the Tempest, the last to be performed publicaly in his lifetime.

Linosa is an extremely pretty island, its three lofty cones being the spiky remnants of ancient volcanoes. In Shakespeare’s time Linosa was deserted, like the other islands of the Pelagian archipelago in which it lies. Of a possible Tempestesque shipwreck on the island, GD Gussone wrote; ‘before 1828 some travelers going to Linosa found three human skeletons on those mountains which, in his opinion, where the remains of men who were perhaps thrown by a storm on to the island and that miserably perished for lack of food.’

imgresLinosa’s position between Sicily & Tunisia fits neatly with the geography of the Tempest, in which Alonso, King of Naples, washes up on a deserted island on his way to see the King of Tunis. The island also plays host to the witch Syrocrax, banished there from Tunisia’s neighbor, Algiers. The true Syrocrax is mentioned in John Ogilby’s ‘Accurate Description of Africa,’ in which she advises, soothsayer fashion, the commander of Algiers not to surrender the city to Emperor Charles V in 1541. The citizens did as they were bidden, & the fleet of Charles V was destroyed in a ‘terrible Tempest.’ Unfortunately for Syrocrax, ‘to palliate the shame and the reproaches that are thrown upon them for making use of a witch,’ she was exiled in a pregnant state on Linosa, & was perhaps even one of the skeletons found on the island. According to the Tempest, she was dead by the events of the play, but her son Caliban was still alive. His character, then, may have been based on a real meeting with Shakespeare, whose bones were laid to rest beside his mother’s on the mountains.


330px-Torquato_TassoJuly 6th 1586: Tasso released from the Asylum

While Shakespeare was fighting the Battle of Pantelleria, after seven years of poor mental health Torquato Tasso was released from Hospital of St. Anna at Ferrara, at the request of Vincenzo I Gonzaga, Prince of Mantua. Gonzago was a major patron of the arts and sciences, and had turn’d Mantua into a vibrant cultural center. Tasso, Italy’s finest renaissance poet, was given a beautiful apartment in the royal palace, furnished with comforts he could need. Perfect conditions for poetic composition, which climate soon inspired Tasso to rework his 1573 tragedy Galealto Re di Norvegia into a new drama, Torrismondo.


AUGUST 1586
Shakespeare in Algiers

After the battle of Pantelleria, the Company fleet headed for Algiers in order to restock supplies & make any necessary battle-repairs. These movements fit neatly into the itinerary of William Stanley, who according to the Garland visited ‘the King of Morocco and his nobles all / Then went to the King of Barbary.’ A connection between Stanley & North Africa comes through the Barbary Company, formed in 1585. The Queen herself had invested in the project, alongside Stanley’s father. The Levant Company connection is tentative, but the presence of William Stanley at this particular emporium further supports the notion he may have been working for his father – details on contracts needed to be fine-tuned, perhaps, or accounts checked.

Despite suffering little in losses & damage, the battle of Pantelleria would have shredded the nerves of our young party, & at this point Stanley would have ordered his youngest charge, John Donne, to make his way back to England in the relative safety of the armed merchantmen. With the help of a thick sea-mist, this little fleet avoided the waiting Spanish at Gibraltar, & was soon unloading their wares at the London docks. John Donne would eventually return once more to the service of the Earl of Derby, where on the 13th May 1587 the Derby Household Books included a ‘Mr John Downes’ alongside the same six waiters who appeared on the 1585 retinue list with a certain ‘Mr John Donnes.


 

Pairing Off

IMG_2025i Gail Watson, Tom McGovern..jpg


Oran Mor, Glasgow
Mar 9 – 16, 2020

Script: four-stars.png Stagecraft: four-stars.png
Performance: four-stars.png S.O.D.:four-stars.png


Paring Off, by Alma Cullen, is this week’s Play, Pie and Pint offering, and opened with pals Murdo (Tom McGovern) and Kenny (Steven Duffy), sharing a pint and enthusiastically discussing their team, St Mirren. Turned out that Kenny was the manager, and Murdo, a butcher by trade, had a vested interest in the shape of the club pie contract.

Enter Kenny’s girlfriend Mimi (Gail Watson) looking professional in a white dress. Mimi owned Happy Feet Chiropody and had come to treat Murdo who had terrible trouble with his feet (hence the “paring” of the title). It didn’t take us long to realise that Mimi and Kenny’s relationship involved a lot of high voltage quarrelling. However, she spread a towel on her lap settled down to her task of massaging Murdo’s feet while he lay back in utter bliss in a gorgeous looking leather and wood chair.

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The men were feeling optimistic and excited about the future of their team as they chatted about the various signings and prospective victories that were coming up. Then the mood abruptly changed when it was mentioned that one of the new signings was gay. Kenny immediately showed his revulsion, saying that it was wrong and against the law. Mimi denounces Kenny for being uptight just as she was drawn to Murdo’s more relaxed reaction.

An attraction that grew as Murdo and Mimi become more than enamoured with each other and ended up sleeping together. Mimi confided that she sometimes needed sex to sleep well and that she had a wonderful night with Murdo, enjoying his cavalier attitude towards the whole thing. So when Mimi discovered Murdo’s own secret – given away by the state of his feet – in the shape of his very own pair of women’s dancing shoes, it was all part of a highly charged romantic exchange that ended in Mimi appearing in a sexy red dress and a long dance sequence that left the clumsy Kenny standing on the sidelines.

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The music was lush, the action endearing and highly charged, catching you up in an intricate dance between the three characters. Funny and intense, it nearly set the place on fire…

Daniel Donnelly

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