Tag Archives: Shakespeare

Don’t Read This Blog by Calvin Davis

 Stop! Don’t read this blog!

Wait! Didn’t you see the second sentence? It plainly instructed, “Don’t read this blog.” And, here you are perusing sentence number six.  So, you’ve failed that part of the quiz.

How about this? Part two: Do not think of the words “lemon juice.” Did you pucker a little? What did your saliva glands do? Ah, you thought of them, didn’t you? You failed the little quiz.

It’s amazing how words can manipulate your thinking. It was impossible for you  to heed my order not to read farther or not to think of the taste of lemon juice and its effects on your mouth. Because those words were embedded in the instructions and already in your brain, doing their thing. For as soon as I told you not to read this, your innate curiosity took over. Well, why not? Does the blog contain something someone does not want me to see? Information government censored? The power of a few words and my order gain strength like the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden. Because it was taboo, you must see it. Correct? Like Chaucer wrote in the Canterbury Tales, “We weep and clamour for that which we cannot have.” We’ve been alike for centuries, all over the world.

What does all of this have to do with writing novels or plays, etc. Everything. Novelists write about people, and the nature of people doesn’t seem to change. Shakespeare’s plays were written around four-hundred years ago. They are as up to date now as they were in the 1600’s. Why? Because people are still spiteful, magnanimous, egotistical, humble, loyal, back-stabbing, loving, hateful, jealous, and vain as they were when The Bard lived.

With all of the above in mind, maybe the title of your next novel should be Revealed At Last: the Novel the Government Did Not Want You to Read. And when your novel tops the New York Times Best Sellers List, show modesty and humility with such a remark–“Oh, I’m so shocked I topped the list.” Don’t worry, your secret will be safe. I won’t tell anyone that you are a smiling liar. As Shakespeare wrote, “False smile must hide what false heart doth know.”

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Words that Invade My Mind

And fold their tent like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.

algerian nomads

Now where the hell does that come from? I know it’s from some famous poem and I could probably Google that line and find out all about it: the poem, the author, and all that kind of stuff, but in my life it came from my father. He is responsible for all the silly lines that come in to my somewhat aged mind.

When I was a kid my Dad read to us three boys every night before he “tucked us in.” It usually started with a poem. Then he would read us a story. He loved Rudyard Kipling and he read us Captains Courageous, Kim, The Jungle Book and all kinds of adventure stories, a few pages an evening. Continue reading

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Reconstructing Richard

richardIII-650x473stained

I’ve been thinking about Richard III for a long time. I was an only child who lived in a house well supplied with plenty of books, so  I read a lot.  When I read Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, I learned an important lesson that everyone interested in studying the past learns sooner or later: History is written by the victors, and therefore, the thumbnail version, which we get in school, rarely resembles the truth. I became an ardent Ricardian. Henry Tudor, the man who defeated Richard and founded the famous dynasty, was a sharp politician. It may have been 1486, but he employed talented spin doctors, men like Bishop John Morton who would be right at home in a modern political smear campaign.  Tudor propaganda strategy came to fruition many years later in Shakespeare’s engaging, rip-roaring historical melodrama. For centuries this stage creation has been the “Richard III” most people know.

In the ‘90’s, I had a Ricardian flashback, familiar to OCD types & writers.  I joined a now defunct ‘net group called “Later Medieval Britain” and began talking about the king and the Yorkist era  with interested people who lived all over the world—from Australia, to Britain, to the US. Most knew a great deal more about the period and the newly available ancient sources than I did.  I began to research again. At the same time I began to reconsider the knight- in-shining-armor Richard I’d constructed. After all, as a child I was more of a fan than an historian.

I’d become involved, while writing Mozart’s Wife and My Mozart, in an attempt to enter the mindset of my subjects by immersing myself in contemporary writing. For the later Middle Ages, I discovered newly available sources, listed in Roan Rose’s bibliography. The members of LMB, many members of The Richard III Society, were always willing to share and give me a push in the right direction. For me, anyway, there was a lot of new information to consider.

It’s a long, long way from 1780 to 1480.  The medieval POV I tried to enter when I wrote Roan Rose is not much like ours. There was a rigidly hierarchical social structure and a world view which wouldn’t have been unfamiliar five centuries years earlier.  The class into which a person was born was destiny, although this was not as impermeable in England as it was in the rest of Europe. Medieval people were hard-nosed and their lives were short. As well as the strictures of class, gender was another unrelenting form of destiny. Most women were married and “breeding” by the time they reached their teens.

Even for those living at the top, those with good food and physical comforts, life could be tough. Adulthood began early. For instance, by the time Richard was fourteen, he was making life-altering decisions. He chose loyalty to his brother the King over loyalty to his mentor Warwick, in whose grand household he’d received his knightly training. The bait Warwick dangled was not inconsiderable, either, for this was his lovely cousin Anne, who was one of the richest heiresses in England. Richard’s brother George, contrastingly, took Warwick’s offer and married Anne’s older sister, Isabel. When Warwick – not nicknamed “Kingmaker” for nothing – unseated Richard’s brother, King Edward, and replaced him with the rival Lancastrian claimant, George supported his father-in-law. Richard fled with the King into the lowlands where their sister Margaret, who had married Duke Charles of Burgundy, could protect them. During this time of exile, he and his siblings got busy setting a conspiracy afoot to entice their wayward brother George to return to their side.

Before he was nineteen, Richard led troops in two decisive battles, Barnet and Tewkesbury, which would restore his brother Edward to the throne. He displayed bravery and coolness beyond his years. In the aftermath of Tewkesbury, he and the family’s staunch Yorkist ally, John, Duke of Norfolk, were the judges who delivered death sentences upon captured Lancastrian nobles, lured from sanctuary with false promises of safe passage.  Sixteen noblemen—many of them personally familiar and most of them cousins–were beheaded that day, with the two Dukes as witnesses. After this blood bath, I’ve read, they all went in to dinner. This was a world in which nobles, peasants and commons alike went to see whippings, hangings and disemboweling for entertainment, a world in which life expectancy was a mere 30 years.

I don’t know if I was able to fully enter the mindset necessary for axing my relatives, but I do want to make clear that historical romance characters who can pass for “civilized,” cannot be anything like a real 15th Century specimen.  I’m not saying that we today are so much better, it’s just that we have more constraints, a tad more democracy and a great deal more comfort provided by the twin wonders of science and technology. The characters in Roan Rose are probably still tame when compared to the medieval equivalent, but I did try to avoid the restraints under which today’s well-socialized citizens typically act.

The Richard I’ve written is a contradictory character, though full of emotion and sensitivity. His much-handled and personally annotated prayer book* demonstrates that he “had religion.”  He conscientiously undertook good works to balance the inevitable ledger of sin.  He founded chanteries to pray for the living and the dead, as was expected of a prince, and he gave generously to Queen’s College and to the building of King’s College at Cambridge. He was a thoughtful and competent administrator in a time which was famously short of them. We know he was a brave soldier, and that he was a warrior who’d delivered death with his own hand. Whether he took the English throne for good reasons or bad, whether or not he personally gave the order to put his young nephews to death, we will probably never know.   I made an attempt in this, my first medieval novel, to create men and women whose experiences, emotions and choices might give the reader a taste of what it meant to be alive in those times.

*SUTTON, Anne F. & VISSER-FUCHS, Livia,  The Hours of  Richard III, 1990

http://www.julietwaldron.com

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What’s on Your Top Ten List? by Calvin Davis

  There are some novels you read and their words go in one eye and out the other, never traveling to the cortex of the brain, or coming anywhere near it. Conversely, there are other works of fiction that take residence in the mind and habitat there until the day you die. What explains this oddity?  A couple of days ago I considered the question and made a list of novels that have been my mental companions from the day I read them. I think some are unforgettable because they deal with the stuff of life: love, death, ambition, hate, envy, the quest for fulfillment, in a word, ingredients found in the human recipe.

A memorable novel lets us know that while all humans are different, we, at the same time, are alike. Someone once asked a guest on a talk show what a black mother wants for her child. The answer given was, the same thing a Chinese mother wants for her. The same thing a Jewish mother or a Japanese mom wants for hers. That is, briefly stated, that the child stays out of trouble, gets the best education possible, and that he leads a happy and prosperous life. Universally, mothers are pretty much alike. Do something bad to any mother’s child and you’ll discover what I mean.

Shakespeare wrote plays about four hundred years ago. His works are still current because in those four centuries, the nature of men has not changed. The world still has ambitious people, envious people, evil people and altruistic ones. Like Shakespeare’s play, an unforgettable novel holds a mirror up to mankind , allowing we humans to look at ourselves and see ourselves as we are: warts and all, and some portraits of us are not pretty. Some are, thank God.

Anyway, here’s my list of The Top Ten:

l. Look Homeward, Angel, Thomas Wolfe

2. Native Son, Richard Wright

3. The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner

4. The Way of All Flesh, Samuel Butler

5. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

6. All the King’s Men, Robert Warren

7. Go Tell It on the Mountain, James Baldwin

8. Madam Bovary, Gustave Flaubert

9. Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

10. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Oops. I must amend the title of my post to read “My Top Ten Plus One.” I nearly forgot the best of them all–my novel, The Phantom Lady Of Paris (the Devil made me say that). How could I forget the phantom lady? I hope my readers don’t.

Your top ten list will no doubt be different from mine, but chances are both lists will have one thing in common: all the chosen novels will deal with the human condition and the stuff we humans are made of. I’d love hearing what your top five or ten consist of. Will you share?

Calvin Davis

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