Things that distract me when thinking about Shakespeare’s Roman plays, a partial list

1. Bro Julius Caesar from Horrible Histories:

2. Asterix, because obviously I spent most of my childhood reading Asterix cartoons

3. This. Oh lawks, the memories:

4. Coriolanus jokes.  I’ll Corio-YOUR… sorry sorry sorry


They play the triumph bit in undergrad Shakespeare lectures and it is DISTRACTING

6. Anything Eddie Izzard has ever said about Romans/Latin:

A can of dog food for small yapper-type dogs (aka the reason I cannot think of Caesar without saying ‘I am played by JAMES MASON’ in my head)

On the audio recording of Definite Article I had on my ipod he described the Cesar dog as a ‘small dog with bushy face’. Once I was listening to it on a train and just when it got to that line I felt something brush my leg. I looked down and a small dog with a bushy face looked up at me. It had slipped its lead and gone for a walk down the train under the seats. Obviously the first thought I had was EDDIE IZZARD IS MAGIC. (Eddie Izzard IS magic. Of course).

7. Cartoons, as usual:

JC 'Danger knows full well / That Caesar is more dangerous than he.' HIGHWAY TO THE CAESAR ZONE

JC (well, his cultural presence in late C16th England) was described as ‘the ultimate Roman’ in one of our undergrad Shakespeare lectures. Related: I can’t draw arms.

Crap you can just imagine their OKCupid profiles can't you

‘Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look. / And I bet he doesn’t even lift.’

'I dunno, I'm just here to wear out these shoes'

Oh yes, jokes about Pompey’s ‘triumphs’ could be no.8 on this list

Finally: one of my students alerted me to this today. I had forgotten it, as it’s shamefully long since I saw Mean Girls. It is, of course, glorious.


Richard III comics

So obviously I meant my first blog post after submitting my thesis to be a) posted sooner than nearly two months after handing the damn thing in, and b) a lucid, pithy response to that whole thesis thing. This post is not that. There are plans afoot, though I am not sure of their pithiness or lucidity, but I haven’t managed to do any illustrations for them yet, and in defiance of all reasonable post-thesis expectations I appear to be in something of a work crisis right now.

So in lieu of such a thing, please accept several bad phone photos of dumb cartoons about Richard III. The Shakespeare version, not the actual version, in case any medievalists get mad (never make a medievalist angry. You won’t like them when they’re angry).

Sorry the first picture is well blurry. My phone doesn’t seem to like blue biro. My kingdom for a new scanner (just as soon as I have spent all the money I don’t have on attempting to fix my crappy computer) et cetera.

Nobody went to Richard's party and now look what happened

Don’t blame it on the sunshine, don’t blame it on the moonlight, don’t blame it on the good times, blame it on the guy with a G in his name

The disappearance of those princes has left you in a TOWERING rage amiright

This could be any of the women in the play, to be honest. Take yer pick.

richard haterz

I flipping love Richard III. I love how Richard keeps turning to the audience and going ‘Heh! Aren’t I awful!’ You ARE bad, Richard. You’re the WORST. Let’s have an evil disco.

See also the Richard III episode of We Are History, aka one of the greatest historical documentaries ever made.

Also, for balance: a lovely song.

* * * *

And, in memoriam… (sobs uncontrollably) (notes that he is wearing an overcoat in that picture, and THAT is why you can’t see his brooch with the flowers in it, in order to forestall criticism from her father)

He’s not the Prince of Bohemia, he’s a very naughty Elector

I’ve been enjoying the ‘World Shakespeare Festival’ (otherwise known, in London at least, as the ‘Let’s use the Olympics as an excuse to go nuts over Shakespeare, look if we leave the culture stuff to the Olympic Committee we’ll all be up to our ears in Duran Duran all the time, do you want that?’ Festival) that currently seems to be taking over the theatres and airwaves a great deal. There are some good things happening. Get thee to the Globe, especially.

Anyway, I watched James Shapiro’s three-part BBC4 series ‘The King and the Playwright’ on iPlayer yesterday, and I liked it. Most of it. Right up until the last twenty minutes of the final episode, in fact, when Shapiro intoned, over an image of Frederick V, Elector Palatine (this image, in fact), that ‘In 1612 [James I] secured for [his daughter] Elizabeth an excellent match: to the great Protestant prince, Frederick of Bohemia’. At which point I got annoyed, stopped watching, and drew this:

I feel a bit mean about this, because aside from this I thought the series was properly ace, plus I met Professor Shapiro when he was a visiting professor at my university and he was really nice. And 1599 is ace, I always tell my students to read it. But he was wrong about quite a crucial point here. Frederick was Elector Palatine, ruler of the Upper and Lower Palatinates, areas in Germany. It’s really quite important to European history that in 1612 he was not prince of Bohemia. The start of the Thirty Years’ War, wildly simplified version:

In 1612 Bohemia was ruled by the Habsburg Emperor Matthias. In 1617 he would be replaced by his cousin Ferdinand of Styria, later to become Emperor Ferdinand II. In 1618 the Protestant Bohemian Estates decided they didn’t like Ferdinand, chucked a couple of Imperial officials out of the window of the Hradschin castle in Prague, and invited Frederick V to come and be their new, Protestant king. Fred accepted (without getting his father-in-law James I’s approval first), moved to Prague, and reigned for roughly a year before being roundly defeated by Imperial forces. The Imperials and the Spanish kicked Fred out of both Bohemia and both Palatinates, and his subsequent attempts to regain these territories were a major part of the early years of the Thirty Years’ War. Essentially, if Frederick had been the prince of Bohemia in 1612, it might have saved central Europe three decades of bloody conflict and a great deal of political and demographic change. Also, although this is rather less significant, I might be writing a thesis entitled ‘The 1620s and 1630s: When everyone was super nice to one another, and nothing got devastated at all’.

Lots of English writers refer to Frederick as a ‘prince’ around the time of the marriage but that’s because a. plenty of English folk might not have been familiar with the concept of an Elector – he’s a subject of the Emperor, but he gets to help elect each new Emperor? What’s that all about? – and b. Fred was about as powerful as James could get in terms of Protestants, but he wasn’t a sovereign ruler and so might not have seemed that impressive a catch. Calling him a ‘prince’ is just propaganda, basically.

So it might seem to be a small error, but it really isn’t. This isn’t obscure Kirsty’s-boring-PhD stuff. All this information is in TONS of books, seriously, I should know, I have to read them. And the most cursory search of the ONDB or even Wikipedia will turn up the basics. The Thirty Years’ War might not be taught much in English (or American, apparently) schools and universities but that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant.

Getting annoyed at historical mistakes on the TV is going to become an ever-larger part of my life, isn’t it.

Happy totally-not-your-birthday, Shakespeare

I wasn’t going to do a picture for ol’ Shakspur’s birthday, but then I was having a conversation with @paulshinndraws on facebook and I started annoyingly going on about this (sorry Paul). So I drew it. I can’t say I did it with care and attention, exactly, and I might have forgotten that ‘HAPPY’ doesn’t have an ‘R’ in it. Also I was too lazy to go downstairs to the scanner. It’s been a long day.

More Shakespeare-themed stuff here for your viewing pleasure.

Undergrads! Know Your Shakespeare Criticism!


So… I scrawled this after a huge pile of marking, I feel it accurately reflects how I feel about criticism in general, to be honest, not just when it’s used by undergrads. Although I should add that there was loads of critic-related cleverness from my students, even about Eliot (I know!). Students are ace.

I would also like to expand my prohibition of Bloom to include all people called Harold. By which I mean, Harold Jenkins.

Then I posted it on Twitter and lots of nice people retweeted and commented! Which was top. And unexpected. And today I even made it into my own mild authorship controversy, when it got posted unattributed on someone else’s blog. [Edit: it appears to have entered tumblr, sans attribution, at some point, and reached said blog through there, so it wasn’t said bloggers’ fault. Apologies happened, no harm done whatsoever!] But then the lovely @RuthAhnert and @wynkenhimself let everyone know – thank you! And here it is on my blog, Googleable and everything, as advised by @wynkenhimself.

And here are some other marking-related scrawls, because why not.





Childhood comics #2: Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night is upon us! And in honour of that, I present to you perhaps the strangest childhood creation I have yet unearthed. I had a vague memory of making this, but suspected I’d imagined it until I found it in my mum’s house a few months ago. It’s… well, it’s a decorated coat hanger. For reasons that escape me, aged (I believe) about eight, I decided to decorate a coat hanger. It also marks the point at which I first became aware of the writer that I’m now lucky enough to teach. And it’s all thanks to the BBC! Thanks, BBC.

In the early 90’s the BBC produced a series of animated versions of Shakespeare’s plays, entitled Shakespeare: The Animated Tales. Wikipedia informs me that they were written by the children’s author Leon Garfield, and that Stanley Wells was the academic consultant. They were beautifully written, and animated in Moscow using a range of frankly gorgeous techniques (serving rather nicely as an introduction to different styles of animation as well as to the plays). The ones I remember being shown in primary school are the utterly terrifying Macbeth and the stunning stop-motion Twelfth Night, the latter of which grabbed hold of my imagination and never let go of it.

Twelfth Night can be viewed here and I highly recommend it. My dear friend Wikipedia has also informed me that it has a rather astonishing cast, with Fiona Shaw as Viola, Roger Allam as Orsino, Stephen Tompkinson as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Hugh Grant as Sebastian and – my favourite bit of casting – legendary Private Eye satirist Willie Rushton as Sir Toby Belch. Seriously, can you imagine seeing a production with this cast? It’s the stuff theatre geek dreams are made of.

As for my, er, creation – as far as I can remember I drew this on a family holiday, somewhere cold and wet (autumn half term, perhaps?) where I had nothing else to do and so conceived the idea of decorating household objects. I’m not sure where I got the coat hanger from (I suppose it’s better than if I’d decided to use a chair or something) and I remember vague bemusement from my parents. I’ll say one thing: I spelled Shakespeare right, though. That must have taken some doing.

Following this, my trajectory was fairly straightforward. I pestered my mother into taking me to any Shakespeare productions I could ferret out among the (mostly amateur) theatre scene of our corner of south west England (and saw some brilliant productions, I should add), especially of Twelfth Night. I read Shakespeare, and much else besides, thus acquiring a taste for literature and a reputation for nose-in-a-book nerdiness that have proved equally difficult to shift (no matter how many seventeenth century pamphlets I inflict on myself).

My theatre trips with my  mother culminated in a trip to London during my A-levels in 2002, in which we saw two productions at the Globe in two days (no shrinking violets, us) – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the cracking all-male production of Twelfth Night. I got to watch Mark Rylance float across the stage a few metres from my nose, his Olivia all manners and feminine wiles and desperation, hilarious, moving, and as much of a game-changer for me as the animated Twelfth Night had been a decade ago. I went to university to study English, of course. Despite vague efforts to get on in the real world, I’m studying still, at a different university this time, working on a time a bit later in the seventeenth century but fortunate enough to teach Shakespeare to first year undergraduates. Twelfth Night is not, sadly, on this year’s syllabus. But the 2002 Globe production is being revived this year – and I’m telling every undergraduate I encounter to book tickets. You can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be there, another decade on, renewing my acquaintance with a play that has shaped my life more than any other work of literature.

The front

The back

And the different bits, parsed…

The shipwreck

Sad Orsino

Olivia and Maria chat, Viola with the ring, Malvolio already has the letter for some reason

Sir Toby Belch, Maria, Feste, Sir Andrew Aguecheek

Antonio gives Sebastian his purse

Malvolio gets tricked in the garden

The lovers dance

Antonio doesn't get arrested

Dancers and musicians