Happy Birthday Queen Bess!

 

queen bess 2

If you read my blog regularly you already know about my big obsession with Queen Elizabeth I.  Born on this day, September 7, 1533, she was one of England’s greatest monarchs, successfully ruling for forty five years.

Bess, however, started out as an unlikely candidate for the throne. She was the daughter of King Henry VIII and Queen Anne Boleyn. With a shaky upbringing that included her dad Henry beheading her mother Anne when Elizabeth was just three years old, the girl went in and out of favor with the King.  Her title changed often. The precocious child  was aware of this, often questioning her caretakers:

“For why yesterday I was the Princess Elizabeth and today only Lady?”

red head

When Henry died, Bess was third in line for the crown. Her brother Edward became king at the tender age of nine and ruled until his untimely death just six years later. Her older sister Mary then reigned for five years. Mary, a devout Catholic, was often at odds with Elizabeth, a staunch Protestant. When Mary died in 1558, Bess  finally took the throne.

The new queen was twenty five years old, highly intelligent, tall, red haired, lovely and possessing much of her father’s strong will.  Her status (bastard or not a bastard?)  was still considered questionable. Nonetheless, Bess became a much beloved monarch.

Fun facts:

Elizabeth served time in the Tower of London, arrested for treason after she was wrongly accused of plotting to overthrow her sister Mary. It was, ironically, Phillip of Spain, Mary’s husband, who pled for Elizabeth’s release.  His intentions were not entirely noble, as he knew his own wife was sickly and he planned to gain favor with Bess and wed her after Mary’s inevitable death. Needless to say, Bess refused him.

Her nicknames were Gloriana, Good Queen Bess and The Virgin Queen.

The Virgin Queen was also an astrological Virgo! She had many typical characteristics of the sign — pragmatism, good money management, discretion and concern for others.

Although most historians agree that Bess actually was a virgin, she had a long romantic involvement with her courtier and horse master Robert Dudley. This caused rumors and gossip. However, although there was great anticipation  for her to be wed, Bess never married and produced no heirs. (At least not any legitimate heirs that we know about.)

The whiteness of her skin, as it appears in many portraits, was achieved through a makeup combination of eggshells and lead. (Yes lead! Its effects were apparently unknown at the time.)

Painting of Queen Elizabeth I of England Elizabeth 1_original.j

She spoke Latin, French, German and Spanish.

She loved sweets. One of her favorite foods was sugar coated violets. Her dental health suffered because of this and Bess eventually had a mouth full of rotten teeth.

queen bess 4

Regarding her so-called marriage plans, Bess was a master at bait and switch. She would often ‘consider’ marriage proposals, but only to gain political favor with a particular country. Once peace was established, she would send suitors on their merry way.

Bess often claimed she was ‘married to England’.  She proved this to be true in her political actions. She once even tried to arrange a marriage between her cousin Mary Queen of Scots and her own love interest Robert Dudley — because she wanted Dudley to serve as a spy and keep track of the Scottish queen’s activities.

dudley and scots

This suggestion caused the insulted Dudley to leave court in a huff.  He then married Lettice Knollys,  Bess’ lady in waiting,  and did not speak to Bess for years.

What exactly was Queen Elizabeth’s aversion to marriage? Consider the circumstances.  Her own father beheaded not only her mother, but also her cousin (Catherine Howard, Henry’s fifth wife) and several other kinsmen. Her relationship with Dudley was wrought with scandal and threats to her power. Sleazy Phillip of Spain tried to worm his way into her affections for political gain.  My guess, she only ever equated marriage with danger. She saw it as an institution that threatened her realm and her life.

Bess was a lover of plays and supported Shakespearean drama.  She herself was a musician, accomplished at the lute and virginals.

play on

She, along with her secretary Sir Francis Walsingham, created the most notorious spy operation of Renaissance England.  Walsingham undermined several plots to overthrow Elizabeth, including a Catholic scheme involving Mary Queen of Scots.  Bess’ network of spies, which included Christopher Marlowe, often were turn coats — former Catholics who switched sides but remained savvy to Catholic networks and thus reported plans to Walsingham.

Bess was such a good spymaster,  she even wore dresses to advertise the fact! Note this famous portrait:

queen bess 2

Upon closer examination, we see that the detail of the fabric is decorated with tiny ears and eyes! This was to send the symbolic message: “I see and hear you” and more importantly “Don’t betray me.”

queen bess 1

She never quite gave up her obsession for Robert Dudley. After her death, a letter was found among her most private belongings, hand written by Robert, with a note from Bess labeling it his last letter to her.  She is said to have called out his name on her deathbed.

Elizabeth is still considered one of England’s best monarchs. Her great accomplishments include defeating the Spanish Armada, restoring prosperity to the realm and keeping relative peace in the country despite great religious divides. She died in 1603 of natural causes.

Elizabeth I has been portrayed by some of the world’s finest actresses, including Flora Robson, Bette Davis, Vanessa Redgrave, Glenda Jackson, Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, and Anne-Mare Duff. This fun montage gives a sampling, hope you like it!

Happy Birthday Bess!

 

 

 

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Quiz: Who is your Shakespearean Soulmate?

 

romeo-and-juliet pd 2

If you were living in a Shakespearean play who would be your true love? Are you hot for Hamlet, mad for Macbeth, pining for Prospero or crazy for Caesar?

Take this fun quiz and find out!

Your Shakespearean Soulmate

 

272b54a90f1418a7823f64441600a9a2

I am apparently enamored with Puck.  No big surprise! Everyone knows I live in   A Midsummer Night’s Dream  and am no stranger to fairies.

You got: Puck

Puck is one mischievous creature and is bound to take you to new heights during your sexy time with him. He’s definitely capable of making you extra thirsty just by whispering in your ear. He’s the only one who will make you laugh all the way to the bedroom.

Puck
Let me know who you get!

Shakespeare’s Juliet: A True Leo!

 

Juliet 4

Juliet Capulet, from Shakespeare’s famous tragedy ‘Romeo and Juliet’, is one of the few (or perhaps the only?) characters in the Shakespeare canon whose exact age and birthday we know without a doubt.

How do we know?  Shakespeare tells us!

In Act I of the play – before all the romance, sword fights and slayings occur – Juliet’s mother (Lady Capulet) and her Nurse discuss plans for Juliet’s marriage.

Lady Capulet seems a bit clueless about her daughter’s age.  She asks the Nurse:

“Thou knowest my daughter is of a pretty age… She’s not fourteen?”

The Nurse replies:

“I can tell her age unto an hour.  I’ll lay fourteen of my teeth she’s not fourteen! How long till Lammas tide?”

Juliet’s mom replies:  “A fortnight and odd days.”

The Nurse then says: “Even or odd, of all the days of the year, come Lammas Eve at night she shall be fourteen.”

Juliet and nurse

It is around two weeks until Lammas, and the Nurse remembers, to the exact hour, Juliet’s birth the night before.

(We will, for the moment, abandon our horror at the substandard  parenting.  Juliet and her mom do NOT have a close relationship. The Nurse has been Juliet’s pseudo-parent and confidante.  We will also forget our horror at the idea of the adults planning a marriage for a thirteen year old…)

Lammas (also called Lughanasadh) is a traditional Harvest Festival celebrated on August 1st.  Because the Nurse says ‘Lammas Eve at night’ we know Juliet was born on the night of July 31st.

This makes Juliet a Leo!

astrology leo

Not surprising. After all, Leo the Lion is ruled by the sun. They are headstrong and passionate, natural born leaders, and by far the most loving and generous sign of the zodiac.

If you have ever known a true Leo, you know they are loyal, big-hearted, and will stop at nothing to pursue Love.  Juliet lives up to the Leo characteristics.

First, she falls deeply in love with Romeo. At first sight.

Well, you can’t blame her for that.

romeo juliet public domain

Secondly, when Juliet discovers Romeo is from the enemy camp, she comes up with the heartfelt but illogical scheme that they ought to simply change their names  — and then (la la la) their love would be acceptable!

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other word would smell as sweet…  

Romeo, deny thy father and refuse thy name

And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.”

Youth and naivety.  But hey, someone had to be optimistic.

Then, even though she has only known him for a few hours, Juliet says she is willing to lay it all on the line for Romeo:

“And all my fortunes at thy foot I’ll lay

And follow thee my lord throughout the world.”

Juliet

Later,  Juliet marries Romeo in secret.  Even though she has only known him for one day.

When she learns Romeo has been exiled, Juliet is still determined to lose her virginity and have a night of passion with her husband. She bids the Nurse to arrange it:
“But I a maid, die maiden widowed?

Come, come, come, Nurse, I’ll to my wedding bed

And death if not Romeo take my maidenhead!”

romeo juliet pd 3

After that she goes against her father’s wishes when she refuses to marry Count Paris. Here,  Juliet the Leo proves herself headstrong and innovative. A girl of Juliet’s status going against Dad’s orders was definitely taboo.  Of course, Mr. Capulet has no idea what his daughter has actually been up to…

juliet and dad

Later, Juliet risks it all for love once again when she agrees to take Friar Laurence’s really bad, but well meaning advice of swallowing a potion to fake her own death.  Juliet’s actions are the classic heart-over- head moves of a young and passionate Leo.

Shakespeare knew astrology.

shakespeare astrology

And then of course, the shifty and fateful stars cross again. Romeo, thinking Juliet is ACTUALLY dead, drinks poison at her graveside.  Upon awakening to find a dead Romeo, Juliet stabs herself.  She knows life without Romeo is simply not worth living.

Ah well.

But you gotta give the girl credit for trying!

Juliet knew love. She knew love of the highest order, and more importantly she knew a universal law: Love, in its infinite supply, is the one thing that never runs out.  This was perhaps Shakespeare’s hidden meaning.

Although it is often dismissed as a play about ‘those crazy star-crossed teenagers’ who were ‘dumb enough to commit suicide’ — I believe Shakespeare had a bigger message in mind. The world in which they lived refused to allow their love, and yet after their deaths, the Caps and Montagues resolve all conflicts. Love grows and goes on, even in death. Romeo and Juliet are buried together. Love never dies, love is infinite, and there is enough for everyone.

Consider Juliet’s words to Romeo in the famous Balcony Scene:

“And yet I wish for the thing I have.

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,

My love as deep; the more I give to thee

The more I have, for both are infinite.”

 

Pretty deep for a thirteen year old, eh? But then again, she was a Leo.

Juliet 1

** If you would like to know what REALLY happened to Romeo and Juliet (hint: it was not nearly so tragic)  please read my story Juliet at Lammas Eve.

 

 

 

 

Punk Rock Shakespeare!

 

audeince 2

Are you watching TNT’s new series ‘Will’, about the life of young William Shakespeare as a newcomer in the London theater scene, circa 1588?

And if not, WHY NOT???

Okay, okay.  I know Shakespearean scholars are rolling their eyes, saying how DARE this series take such liberties?  They have changed Elizabethan London into a gritty  punk rock world of mohawks and warpaint!  They have used historically inaccurate costumes! They have made up a background story of Will as a persecuted Catholic.  They have given him a fictional lover named Alice Burbage and set him in a (horror of horrors)  rap showdown with fellow playwright Robert Greene! And they expect any educated sincere student of Shakespeare to watch this trash?

The answer is YES!!

For far too long, Shakespeare has been buried in a dusty old cellar of books marked ‘highbrow’, ‘difficult’ and ‘boring’.  People do not realize he was once a 24 year old trail blazer, full of talent and ambition, thrown into a vicious, provocative and cosmopolitan city.  He had a wife and three children to support and was determined to make his mark.

I am here to defend this series and tell you why — if you are interested in the Bard and his ilk — you must watch at once!  Or at leas watch this trailer.

 

First of all, there is very little we  know for sure about young Will Shakespeare. He married Anne Hathaway at age 18, had three children, somehow ended up in London and became the most famous playwright in the world.

Documentation tells us that his twins, Hamnett and Judith, were baptized on Feb. 2, 1585. In 1592 there was a derogatory review written by playwright Robert Greene which referred to Shakespeare as an ‘upstart crow’ and a ‘Shake-scene’.

upstart-crow

Other than that, no one really has any idea what young Master Shakespeare was doing between the ‘lost years’ of 1585 to 1592.

Most likely he was in London, perfecting his craft, making contacts and worming his way into the theater.  Anyone who has read the plays knows  he was a man of passion. He could not possibly have written all he did without some actual life experience.

There are  some other things, though, that we DO know about the young Bard  —  which give clues to possible truths portrayed in the new series

1)  Being Catholic?

Shakespeare very well may have been a closet Catholic.  His mother’s family, the Ardens, were devout Catholics.  Years later, Catholic artifacts such as rosaries and Extreme Unction kits (which had been forbidden) were found in Shakespeare’s childhood home.

rosary pd

Being a closet Catholic was dangerous and life threatening in Protestant England.

When Queen Bess came to the throne in 1558, Catholicism was outlawed, but people still practiced in secret.  Bess would probably have been lenient, but eventually, as more Catholic plots threatened the Queen’s life, laws against Catholicism got stricter. Practicing Catholicism could get you drawn and quartered.

This meant basically that they would cut you in quarters and pull out your intestines before hanging you as a traitor.

Quartering

Yeah. I’d keep it a secret too.

 

2)  Elizabethan Theater = Punk Rock? You bet!

The entertainment scene of the 16th century was not  respectable in the least. Theaters were bawdy places full of raucous nut jobs who engaged in drinking, whoring and pick-pocketing.  All along the south bank of the Thames River, arm in arm with the theaters were houses of prostitution and dens for bear baiting.   Some theaters even doubled as bear pits on their off days!

Bear baiting was like dog fighting — on steroids. A chained bear would be teased and tormented  by dogs, then let loose to claw them to pieces.  Which shows just how dangerous/ crazy this environment was.

Playwrights were often arrested for writing seditious material.  It was a constant envelope-push to see how much politically incorrect  and offensive stuff they could get away with.

British Design at V&A - God Save The Queen Poster by Jamie Reid

Plays provided cheap, rowdy entertainment. Any peasant could come in off the street, pay a half-penny entrance fee and stand in front of the stage. These were known as ‘groundlings’  —  unwashed, unkempt, swilling ale, and not beyond throwing stuff at the stage if the entertainment was not good enough.  Sound familiar?

audience Will

Besides that, the costumes used in the series are creative, stunning and tailored.   Queen Bess meets Vivienne Westwood.  It may not be historically accurate but…

Would you really want to watch guys dressed like this?

tudor style

No, I wouldn’t either.

 

3)  The Many Loves of Will Shakespeare?

Shakespeare’s plays deal with love in all its forms — forbidden, absurd, sublime, fulfilled and unrequited. He arguably knew the minds of women better than any other male writer of his time and beyond.  Much like the 90’s movie ‘Shakespeare in Love’, the TNT series attempts to show how young Will may have gotten his inspiration.

Her name is Alice. She is the daughter of theater owner James Burbage  and sister to actor Richard.  In real life, James Burbage had no known daughters, but Alice’s character is an ambitious, intelligent woman stifled by 16th century rules. She defies her father and often cross-dresses for her own safety — providing the inspiration Will would have needed for his female characters.  (Think Portia, Viola, Desdemona and Juliet.)

And what of Christopher Marlowe?  The notorious playwright/ spy who dominated the Elizabethan theater scene  until his untimely death at age 29 is played by the amazing Jamie Campbell Bower.  Marlowe, openly gay and staggeringly handsome, may prove an additional temptation for Will.

Who was the ‘Fair Youth’ of Shakespeare’s love sonnets? (Hint: Not a woman!)

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4) Eerie Resemblance?

No one really knows what young Will actually looked like.  This portrait, dated from the late 16th century, unearthed with other actor’s portraits and coinciding exactly to his age, is often thought to be Shakespeare.

shakespeare-grafton-portrait

Compare to the actor cast as Will:  Laurie Davidson

will 2

Weird  resemblance, right? Perhaps a ghost is present!

By now I should have convinced you to take a look a this series. You can watch the first episode free here: Will Sneak Peak.

Let me know what you think!

 

 

 

Shakespeare’s Capers

 

shakes dance

The Bard knew capers. He used a lot of court jesters and clowns in his plays, so capering should naturally be a part of his stories. It is a colorful word, conjuring up images of frolic and flirtation.  But capering is not all fun and games!

Take Richard III.

richard 3 pd

When the War of the Roses ends, Richard should be happy.  His house, Team York, has won.  Not only is his brother Edward declared the undisputed King, but now the York men have a lot of free time on their hands and they could spend it wooing the ladies.

“Grim-visaged war hath smooth’d his wrinkled front; 
And now… 
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber 
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.”

Yet Richard is apparently still in the winter of his discontent.  There will be no capering in the ladies chambers for him, as he feels he is not handsome enough to engage in sex play:

“But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks, 
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass; 
I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty 
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph; 
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion, 
Cheated of feature; Deformed…
 
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace, 
Have no delight to pass away the time, 
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun 
And descant on mine own deformity:” 

Ouch! Poor Richard. He had nothing better to do during peace time than watch his own shadow and lament his deformity.  (Later he began to plot against his family and lock his nephews in the Tower…)

But Shakespeare may have been unfair.  Phillippa Gregory gave Richard better looks and a better disposition in her treatment of the story, called ‘The White Queen’. This book was  made into a series on Starz.

Richard III was played by this guy.

Richard III

Nuff said. But back to capers.

Consider Fenton from the Merry Wives of Windsor. Fenton is an eligible bachelor who hopes to marry Windsor’s number one It-girl Anne Page. The Innkeeper tries to recommend him to Anne’s father:

“What say you to young Master Fenton? He capers, he 
dances, he has eyes of youth! He writes verses, he 
speaks holiday, he smells April and May.”

Who would not want Fenton? He capers, he dances, he even smells good! Anne’s father, however, is suspicious.  The Page family is rich, and Fenton (who is also a penniless playboy) may be a gold digger. Mr. Page answers:

“Not by my consent, I promise you. The gentleman is
of no having.  He kept company with the wild prince 
and Poins!  No, he shall not knit a knot in his fortunes 
with the finger of my substance! The wealth I have waits on 
my consent, and my consent goes not that way.”

Mere capering will not a good marriage make! Do they get together in the end? Read the play and find out!

And finally, what may be the smartest words of all about capers.

Touchstone, the jester in As You Like It philosophizes about love:

“I remember, when I was in love, I broke my 
sword upon a stone, and bid him take that for coming a-night to 
Jane Smile; and I remember the kissing of her batler, and the 
cow’s dugs that her pretty chapt hands had milk’d; and I remember 
the wooing of peascod instead of her; from whom I took two cods, 
and giving her them again, said with weeping tears ‘Wear these 
for my sake.”

He is so devoted to Jane Smile that he kisses the stick she carries, and also the cow’s udders she milks. He practices his flirtation speech on a pea pod. That’s dedication.

But then again, he IS the Clown.

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Shakespeare’s clowns are usually the wisest characters.  In fact, Shakespeare invented the term ‘wise fool’.

Touchstone goes on to say:

“We that are true lovers run into strange capers
but as all is mortal in nature, so is all nature in love mortal
in folly.”

We are all fools in love. But we can be forgiven, for we are only human. And humans (even Shakespeare!)  lose their common sense when it comes to affairs of the heart.

 

Shakespeare_in_Love

 

 

 

 

Midsummer Night’s Dream

 

midsummer-nights-dream

“Now, until the break of day,
Through this house each fairy stray.
To the best bride-bed will we,
Which by us shall blessed be”

— William Shakespeare

To my thinking, it would not be midsummer without a nocturnal visit from Puck, Titania, Oberon, Peas-Blossom, Cobweb and the whole fairy gang.  These are, of course, Shakespeare’s notorious sprites who haunt and bewitch four young lovers that find themselves lost in the forest on midsummer night.

To be fair, I should mention it is the humans who create the problems in the first place, with jealously, rivalry, impositions and demands.

midsummer lovers

Helena is in love with Demetrius.  Demetrius is in love with Hermia.  Hermia cannot STAND Demetrius, but loves Lysander.  Hermia’s father forbids her to marry Lysander and insists she marry Demetrius.  Poor Helena is left with no one.  That is, until Puck the trickster uses a magic flower potion to mix up everyone’s affections, resulting in extreme chaos.

“Captain of our fairy band,
Helena is here at hand;
And the youth, mistook by me,
Pleading for a lover’s fee.
Shall we their fond pageant see?
Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

In the meantime, fairy King Oberon is arguing with his wife Titania, and decides to trick her with the same magic potion, thus causing her to fall in love with Bottom.  Bottom is a human who has, for midsummer night, been changed into a donkey.  Titania does not seem to mind.

“Out of this wood do not desire to go:
Thou shalt remain here, whether thou wilt or no.
And I do love thee: therefore, go with me;
I’ll give thee fairies to attend on thee.”

midsummer donkey

Shakespeare reveals the simple, painful truth: Love is unfair. It is also confusing, nonsensical, often forced upon us and taken from us.  Not to mention absurd, improbable and given to bestiality.

Consider yourself warned. If you wander into the woods tonight be very careful… Puck is waiting 🙂

midsummer shadow

 

If you are looking for some midsummer entertainment, I hope you’ll like this magical rendition of  Shakespeare’s play, called ‘The Dream’.  It was first presented in 2014 by the American Ballet Theatre. Music is by Felix Mendelssohn, choreography by Frederick Ashton.  Running time is about one hour.

Happy Midsummer!

 

“Cupid is a knavish lad,
Thus to make poor females mad.

Trip away; make no stay
Meet me all by break of day.”

midsummer shakespeare