Tag: Shakespeare

Day 992: The John Wilkes Booth World Tour

Header

When John Wilkes Booth was crouching in Richard H. Garrett’s tobacco barn, listening to Lieutenant Colonel Everton Conger’s orders to surrender, he decided to go out with a bang. He refused the surrender, then once the barn was lit on fire he took a bullet to the neck, delivered by Sergeant Boston Corbett. He was dead by the break of dawn, less than two weeks after he had prematurely terminated the presidency of Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theatre.

Or was he?

Way out in the sprawling suburbs of historical perception there exists the notion that the man whose life was snuffed to a nub in that barn was actually a man named James William Boyd, a Confederate soldier who looked enough like Booth that his body passed through ten pairs of identifying eyes (not counting the pair that aimed the gun that took his life), as well as an official autopsy. The composers of this theory also posit that the government knew about the mix-up and let it happen. Because where is the fun in a murder without a deep and sinister government conspiracy?

As for the “real” John Wilkes Booth… well, on the off-chance that this is all true, we can say with a relative certainty that Booth was, in fact, this guy:

Body-1

One day in 1873, some eight years after the furor over the Lincoln assassination had been pressed between the leaves of history, Memphis lawyer Finis L. Bates met and befriended a liquor and tobacco merchant named John St. Helen. It’s good to get to know the man who sells you booze and smokes, and Bates was particularly taken by John’s ability to spout Shakespeare from memory. The two became good friends outside the seller-consumer relationship.

Five years later, John St. Helen was on what he believed to be his deathbed, profoundly ill. He confided in Finis Bates that he was in fact John Wilkes Booth. He asked Finis to advise his brother, Edwin Booth, of his demise. Then he recovered. Read more…

Day 973: Richard III’s Weird Goodbye

University Of Leicester Makes Announcement Following Discovery Of Human Remains Which Are Possibly King Richard III

A depressingly small amount of great historical tales end up in a parking lot. In the case of Richard III, King of England and the final monarch of the Plantagenet dynasty, that’s exactly where the conclusion was written. A public parking lot – probably the kind of place where young lovers searched for a way across home plate, where despondent laid-off businessmen wept in their Saabs before going home to their families, and where illicit exchanges of cash for drugs no doubt peppered the veil of darkness.

It’s an unlikely closing chapter for a king who spent his final day in a gruesome battle for control of the throne in what would be the blood-splattered climax of the War of the Roses. But deceased winners get sent to the unknown in a flourish of pageantry; the dead on the other side get swept beneath the planetary carpet and forgotten about. And the guy who was in charge of the losing side? It’s fair game for that poor schlub.

The fate of Richard III endured the typical kaleidoscope of historical record, branching out in luminous tales of colorful desecration and mesmerizing hyperbole. But the truth? The real truth? Grab a shovel, move that Miata out of the way and let’s do some digging.

RichardIII-1

Back in the days before leaders conscripted the poor to fight their battles, Richard III wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. The War of the Roses had been raging for four decades, with the House of Lancaster yearning to snag the crown away from the House of York. Richard was new to the throne, having acted as Lord Protector for his 12-year-old nephew, Edward V until 1483 when it was decided that Edward was just not up to kinging. There was skepticism about Richard: why did Edward and his younger brother disappear suddenly? Why did Richard’s wife die under mysterious circumstances? Was Richard involved? Read more…

Day 970: How One Woman’s Bad Advice Helped To Crumble An Empire

Header

A modicum of historical investigation, along with a smidge of fact-manipulation in order to build a semi-credible opening sentence has revealed a morsel of data heretofore unknown to me: the Roman Empire – the most mighty and triumphant political juggernaut of the early A.D.’s – was tipped over to a partial crumble, all because some guy listened to his mother.

That may seem like an exaggeration. A slight inflation of documented truth or the set-up for a bit of shtick. But history will back me up on this. By 476, the Roman Empire in the west had been sneezed into debris. It kept up appearances out east for another millennium, but the west had shuffled on to the Middle Ages, where the nightlife was more vibrant, despite the clothes being far less stylish.

History recalls the events of 235 AD as the start of the Crisis of the Third Century. Rome became a land with no leader, and with no one able to pick up a phone and coordinate their collective shit, the Europe-spanning Empire fell into troubled confusion. And the wheels were all set into motion by one guy’s mother, who passed on what could be viewed as some of the crappiest historic advice ever given.

AlexanderSeverus-1

The story begins with Mark Antony, that kook from all those wacky Shakespeare movies. When he was smited by Octavian in 31 BC, the table was set for what’s known as the Pax Romana – a 200 year period of unprecedented peace. The Roman Empire inflated to the Atlantic, deep into the Middle East, and south into Africa, all with relatively little military flexing. Then along came Emperor Alexander Severus. Read more…

Day 859: The Deliciously Dandy Fashion Zing Of The Macaroni

Header

As soon as I am catapulted to the pinnacle of my fame (which should be any day now I’m sure), I fear that the omnipresent gaggle of “star analysts”, “celeb-watchers” and “yammering space-fillers” will be particularly cruel when they analyze my sense of style. I am intentionally one of the most tedious dressers I know, opting for a rotating selection of blue jeans, grey socks and non-descript, logo-less T-shirts. I dress for comfort and convenience, with a rickety line in the sand that keeps me clear of anything stained or torn. Usually.

I can appreciate nice-looking fashion, to a point. I simply have no desire to strain the limits of my bank account to impress others, nor am I a fit for the Goodwill-ultra-value hipster wear. Years of sampling bacon and beer (for research, of course) has led to a modest expansion of my mid-section, so when I dress in an antiquated cardigan and form-fitting pant-wear I look less stylish and more like I should be selling used office furniture from the back of a van.

Perhaps I should expand my horizons and seek out a new look. My wife – who always looks better than me, though I blame nature for that one – has expressed a handsome disdain for my monotonous frockery, and she applauds fiercely when I deign to sport something with a subtle whiff of snazz when we go somewhere nice. It might be time for a drastic leap into the world of the macaroni.

Macaroni-1

Before there were metrosexuals, before flamboyance became a cocktail for the masses, there was the macaroni. These were young men, hungry to wrap their tendrils around the extremities of weirdness with no shame about flaunting it all to the public. Years ago (and I relish the opportunity to dip back into when this project was in the double-digits) I wrote of the Grand Tour, a rite of passage among northern European men in the 18th century. These men would venture into the cradle of art and culture – through Spain, Italy, Greece, and faraway locales that most Englishmen would never see. This is where it all began. Read more…

Day 850: When Society Slaps Back At The Intelligentsia

Header

The dumbing-down mentality within our popular culture is so pervasive, even those at the bottom of the intellectual food chain are aware it’s happening. Lest you worry that this will turn into a kvetch-laden rant about the Grand Media Conspiracy, let me assure you that we are doing this to ourselves. We are collectively opting to pour more of our time into formulaic singing competitions like The Voice and American Idol than into listening to Neil deGrasse Tyson explain the mysteries of the universe on Cosmos.

And that’s fine – I’m not here to place myself on a pedestal of intellectual lucidity and preach to the unwashed masses who while away their hours watching the lowbrow hijinks on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Hell, I’m one of those people; that show is deviously hilarious. And while I don’t believe it’s an obligation to devote one’s recreational boob-tubery solely to educational pursuits and high art, I think overall we can do a little better.

To be honest, I’m more concerned about dumbing-down as it applies to the greater threat of anti-intellectualism – a form of outright discrimination against those who over-emphasize their think-muscles. It’s frustrating to consider that Avril Lavigne’s insipid Kitty song is going to earn her more money than Sharon Jones will make off her brilliant new album, but when anti-intellectualism is allowed to become policy, we are in serious trouble.

Anti-Intellectualism-1

So why the hate for intellectuals? Is it jealousy? Hypocrisy? A deep-seeded loathing for free-form jazz and prog-rock? The most sensible answer I could find was a disdain for the abject disconnect between the intellectual’s calculated ideal and the world of realistic application. To put it bluntly, unless the intellectual has gotten their hands dirty at some point, they don’t really know the whole story. It’s one thing to design an elaborate factory, tweaked to the last dusty micron to produce at maximum efficiency for an unheralded profit, but quite another to actually toil in that factory, and to experience how soul-sucking and physically exhausting that “brilliant design” can be. Read more…

Day 703: Come Children, Let’s Gather ‘Round And Hate

Header

Sometimes I really hate humans.

What started out as a jocular journey through the goofiness of North Korean barbershop propaganda turned remarkably dark and sinister, and suddenly I was watching a dime-store Mickey Mouse knock-off get beaten to death by an Israeli interrogator. You know, for the kids.

Propaganda can cut through the truth like a lightsaber through a Hostess Ding-Dong. It’s a universal comfort to believe that such a thing as objective and impartial reality exists, and that we can access it via the people in charge. Alas, for many leaders of faith and flag the truth is but a 1.6mm flathead screwdriver in the tool-belt of public dissemination. Obfuscation, indoctrination and manipulation are in there too, and sometimes those tools see a lot more action.

I like to think of myself as a tolerant, compassionate, and when the light glistens just the right way on the beer froth clinging to my beard, a ruggedly handsome man. I pledge my allegiance to no specific religion, yet I wish them all the best with their vows and beliefs, so long as they don’t infringe upon my world. But fuck these guys. This is just evil.

Farfur

Meet Farfur the Mouse. If your first thought is, “Hey, that looks a bit like Mickey; I wonder if Disney is pissed,” well you aren’t alone. Disney was pissed, but not just because someone crapped all over their trademarked character. No, Farfur is something decidedly more heinous than a copyright violation. Read more…

Day 454: Topping The Market, Part II

Header

The beauty of what some call ‘useless trivia’ is in its ephemeral nature. The facts and statistics under this heading are fleeting and transitory, often surpassed or rendered obsolete before they’ve made their way through the populace. Yet the good ones will merit a raised eyebrow, a muttered “huh”, or – at best – a thousand words of prose from a guy with a deadline. In that sense, such “useless” trivia belies its name. Yesterday’s mention of the Marina Bay Sands resort in Singapore topping the list of most expensive buildings held my attention for a period of time greater than a shoe-tie and less than a pint of beer – moderate, yes. But useless? Hardly.

With this feeble sense of purpose I return once again to this exercise in curiosity-poking. What other chart-toppers represent the most expensive in their field? So far the ‘why’ remains mostly elusive (though the massive rooftop infinity pool on the Marina Bay Sands is a pretty solid ‘why’), but I’m not one to speculate on such matters.

I just report the facts; figuring ‘em out ain’t my gig.

CodexLeicester

The highest-priced books read like a logical list of what the highest-priced books should be: Shakespeare’s First Folio, an original Gutenberg Bible, an original exemplar of the Magna Carta… all rare tomes, all worthy of the prestige of costing as much as it would take to feed a starving African nation for a month. But none are worth more than this baby. Read more…

Day 357: Feeding On Danger And Destruction… Could It Be… MURDER? – The History Of Pulp Magazines

Header

For a writer, there is no shame in working for cheap. This comes from the perspective of a writer who spews out a bunch of words every day and receives no payment (except that one time, with the free beer. Thanks, Big Rock Brewery!). Not every printed word that bleeds onto a page needs to be Shakespeare or Hemingway. Some people just want to read fluff sometimes. And whether your brand of preferred fluff involves sparkly vampires, vampire-inspired S&M smut, or simply a thousand words extoling bacon, someone will be there to provide.

Before the Internet, cheap literary thrills were still easy to come by. It was simply a matter of heading down to the drug store and picking up the latest copy of your favorite pulp magazine.

MagazineRack

In 1882, former telegraph operator Frank Munsey decided he wanted to launch his own magazine. He scraped together all his savings and recruited a publishing house to put out Argosy Magazine on December 2. The first issue was only eight pages, and it included the first installments of a couple of serialized stories by Horatio Alger, Jr. and Edward S. Ellis – both authors people back then would have heard of. Printing technology had allowed for mass production on cheap wood pulp paper, and by the end of the 19th century, the infrastructure for mass distribution across the country was firmly in place. For its time, it was like inventing the e-book. Read more…

Day 212: When White People Suck – The Blackface Story

How thrilled I was to learn that I’d be penning my daily tithe to the Goddess of Obligation on a band I’d never heard of. A band from the 1840’s, a decade not known for producing chart-busting, spear-to-your-ear, rockin’ smash hit songs. In fact, Wikipedia only lists three songs from the 1840’s: “Clar de Track”, “Jamie Raeburn”, and “Rose Of Allendale.” This was all fresh, exciting, unexplored territory for me. Bring on the Ethiopian Serenaders.

Oh.

They weren’t so much a band as a blackface minstrel troupe. What was the appeal of blackface? Why was it entertaining for white men to splatter makeup on their faces and make fun of another race? Was this considered funny?

Okay, there are exceptions.

My first instinct is to believe that this was simply the olden-days equivalent of the same racist jokes I get sent to my Inbox every day by that guy I work with who mistakenly believes that I enjoy racist jokes, even though he’s never heard me tell one. It turns out the days that spawned the origin of blackface are more olden than I’d thought.

Blackface is thought to stretch back to the 15th century, when West African captives were put on display in Portugal. Theatrical depictions of black people are spattered through history, most notably Shakepeare’s titular star of Othello. While I’m certain the actors back in 1604 were white guys in the Elizabethan equivalent of blackface, Othello was not an embodiment of racist stereotypes. He was just a black guy.

Fast-forward to America, where they know how to do racism up right. Lewis Hallam Jr. played “Mungo”, a drunken black man in a British play called The Padlock in 1769. I don’t know if Mungo was a comical drunk guy or a comical drunk black guy, but this appears to be one of the first absurdly racist depictions involving blackface in theatre. Read more…

Day 125: Nine Shakespearean Sonnets About Immortality In Fiction

In honor of reaching the 1/8th benchmark of what I’ve come to call “My Bat-Shit Crazy Project”, I felt I should contemplate a larger issue – something beyond stacking chairs and arctic wastelands. Yes, even something beyond bacon. Luckily, Ms. Wiki bestowed upon me the gift of Immortality. Well, the gift of the article about immortality in fiction.

And so I present a summary of immortality in fiction (or at least a some-of-it summary), in the form of nine Shakespearean sonnets. Because why not. Also, I’m a sucker for iambic pentameter.

While Lovecraft wrote of creatures so surreal,

Cthulhu beasts and monsters cold and mean,

Immortal “Deep Ones” faced a shitty deal

That only let them smile within their teens.

 

They aged right up to twenty with no prob,

With humans they could laugh and love and breed.

The trade-off, though, will make you want to sob,

And yes, this deal is passed on through their seed.

 

At twenty these poor schmucks would then transform;

They’d lose their morals and their human looks.

They’d move away from light and joy and warm,

Into the sea. (H.P. wrote morbid books.)

 

The moral here: it just ain’t worth the price;

Immortal in an anti-paradise.

 

While living through all time has its appeal,

You might run out of things to think and do.

Of course this isn’t possible or real,

Except in Star Trek for that smarmy Q.

 

His peeps, evolved from humans, had it hard,

That is, once all of everything’s explored.

He took it out on poor Jean-Luc Picard,

For all the universe has left him bored.

 

The Q had nothing left to do or say;

I find it hard to grasp this cold ennui.

Perhaps they could have passed their endless days

By drinking, getting laid and playing Wii.

 

But that’s an episode we’ll never find;

More fun to watch him play with Jean-Luc’s mind. Read more…