Monday, May 27, 2019

King John by William Shakespeare

King John by William Shakespeare

This England never did, nor never shall,

Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror ~ the Bastard
The Life and Death of King John is a historical play, written in the late 16th Century, but not published until the early 17th Century.

I am slowly working my way through the entire works of Shakespeare and have finally gotten to his historical plays. I’ve read all the Sonnets and other poetry, quite a few comedies, and several tragedies. This is the first of the historical plays that I’ve read. I decided to read the historical plays in chronological order, so King John is first. The historical King John of England reigned from 1199 until his death in 1216. He was the son of King Henry II and Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine, succeeded his older brother Richard I to the throne, and was succeeded by his own son Henry who necessarily became King Henry III.
The play centers around the legitimacy of King John’s right to the throne. John is the oldest surviving son of King Henry II, but his older brother, Geffrey had a son, Arthur (no, not THAT Arthur). I am uncertain of 13th Century British rules of succession, but I think Arthur had a strong case. Other advocates for Arthur included King Philip of France, Cardinal Pandolf legate of the Holy See, and of course Arthur’s mother, Lady Constance. John’s advocates include Queen Eleanor, and the Bastard, the illegitimate son of John’s brother King Richard I.
The play is about confusing genealogies, shifting loyalties, and family feuds. I am tempted to call them petty feuds, but they do decide the King of England, so petty is probably unfair.
At one point, the matter is settled by the marriage of John’s niece Blanch, to King Philip’s son Louis (no, not THAT Louis). But moments after the marriage, older, more sacred alliances are recalled and the debate is renewed. Poor Blanch, caught in the middle of the muddled affair, faces war between her new husband and her uncle. She expresses her dismay – which is I think fairly representative of the entire matter:

     The sun’s o’ercast with blood. Fair day, adieu!

     Which is the side that I must go withal?

     I am with both:  each army hath a hand;

     And in their rage, I having hold of both,

     They whirl asunder and dismember me.

     Husband, I cannot pray that thou mayest win;

     Uncle, I needs must pray that thou mayest lose;

     Father, I may not wish the fortune thine;

     Grandam, I will not wish thy wishes thrive. 

     Whoever wins, on that side shall I lose:

     Assured loss before the match be play’d

SPOILER ALERT: In the end, it is all settled rather neatly, though tragically. Arthur dead, John dead, leaving Henry the undisputed heir to the throne. (Shakespeare did not write a play for Henry III. In fact, he skipped the next three monarchs: Henry III, Edward I, and Edward II. Next up is Edward III.)
It is easy to get caught up in the dozen or so august personalities named in the play, their divine mandates, and noble destinies, and forget the thousands of unnamed lives that were spent in settling such disputes. I am not criticizing the play – it is quite worthy of its author. I think I am simply reasserting something that may have been a subtle point of the Bard’s: the political, economic, familial, ecclesiastical, and egotistical plays for power in this period of Western Europe were indeed often – petty feuds with dreadful consequence.
And thou, to be endeared to a king,
Made it no conscience to destroy a prince. ~ King John to Hubert

Heaven keep my soul, and England keep my bones! ~ dying Arthur
And as usual, a couple phrases original to Shakespeare that have become part of English vernacular:

To gild refined gold, to paint the lily (which is clearer than the vernacular to gild the lily – to praise something that does not need further praise)
Play fast and loose

I read this for the 2019 Year of Shakespeare Challenge.


Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Valley of Fear – a Sherlock Holmes Novel (novel #127)

The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle a Sherlock Holmes novel

The Valley of Fear is the fourth and final Sherlock Holmes novel, though chronologically it is Holmes’ 16thcase. Most importantly perhaps, it introduces Holmes’ nemesis, Professor James Moriarty.

After a run of Holmes short stories that I was only lukewarm over, this was a wonderful surprise. It was a riveting mystery, with a stunning reveal, a lengthy backstory, justice in the end, and then an untidy epilogue which left me wanting more.

I was all over the map in my emotions. First, I was excited when I saw the name Moriarty on the page, but later mildly disappointed as Moriarty plays a very small part in this story, but ultimately captivated this mystery in its own right.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Actually, Moriarty plays a much larger role in the Sherlock Holmes mythos, than he does in the actual Sherlock Holmes stories. Moriarty only appears in two stories: The Valley of Fear and The Final Problem. Doyle uses this story to pique the reader's interest in anticipation of a climactic contest between the genius detective and criminal mastermind.

The Valley of Fear was highly entertaining on its own though, with one poor soul being murdered twice. It could easily have been told with no reference to Moriarty, but for the maddening epilogue.

At the end of the epilogue, when a friend of the newest victim of Moriarty’s villainy complains to Holmes.
‘Do you tell me that we have to sit down under this? Do you say that no one can ever get level with this king-devil?’
‘No, I don’t say that,’ said Holmes, and his eyes seemed to be looking far into the future. ‘I don’t say that he can’t be beat. But you must give me time – you must give me time!’
We all sat in silence for some minutes, while those fateful eyes still strained to pierce the veil. 

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Run for the Roses 2019

Kentucky Derby 2019

For my annual brief departure from the literary theme of this blog, and in deference to the thousands who have come to depend on this…I’ll now give you my Kentucky Derby Picks.

Roadster (pictured here winning the Santa Anita Derby)

Two reasons: He is the son of Quality Road and the great-great grandson of Secretariat. Quality Road was one of the greatest thoroughbreds you never heard of. He missed all the Triple Crown races of his eligible year due to injury. He still put together an impressive lifetime record of 8 wins, including Grade 1 wins in the Woodward and Florida Derby, 3 places, and 1 show – that is NEVER finished worse than third, and that only once. He was a versatile horse, who could lead wire to wire, stalk the front runners and blaze past them in the end, or hang at the back of the pack and then find another gear to pass the entire field in the stretch.

And then of course, Secretariat.

There are other things I like about Roadster: very capable jockey in Florent Geroux, best trainer in the business Bob Baffert, post position #17 should be good for him to stalk the leaders, and let the sprinters tire themselves, and when he did just that in the Santa Anita Derby, he looked like he had plenty left. But still – it is his bloodlines that set him apart for me.

The probable favorite Omaha Beach has scratched for sickness, so Roadster, Game Winner, and Improbable will be the likely favorites. 

I also like Maximum Security, Vekoma, Tactitus – and if you want a long shot – with a shot – Long Range Toddy.

Finish prediction: Roadster, Maximum Security, Vekoma, Long Range Toddy. 

And finally, shameless self-promotion, something I wrote once about the Greatest Two Minutes in Sports.