Peer Review XI

This is indeed true, Audrey.

It wasn’t just in primitive tribes either.  In mediaeval villages, the “witch” was often just a herbalist woman who provided natural remedies to the villagers.  Some modern medicines are still made from these, e.g. aspirin from willow bark.

Magic is indeed anything we don’t understand.  If Renaissance people could only see the way we keep in touch by mass telecommunications today; they would be making the sign against the evil eye, and freaking out about WITCHCRAFT!

Also, in Greek mythology there were 9 muses, all the daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne.  They were Calliope, Clio, Euterpe, Erato, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia and Urania – all representing a different art.


While people in the English Renaissance wore different clothes and had no access to digital technology, their artistic expressions and the experiences these embody still have an impact on human beings living in the 21st Century.


The clothes they wore in the Renaissance were certainly different to today.  We would chortle about men in tights.  Perhaps the ruffs they wore as collars were not as uncomfortable as they look, it took a lot of work to make them.  One of the portraits of Shakespeare shows him in a more comfortable shirt collar, as does the portrait of a young John Donne.

For the women, it was worse, with their corseted wasp waists.  The fashion in skirts was farthingales, a wide hoop which was wheel-shaped.  This may have made it hard to pass through some doors, but lifted their skirts off the ground, which must have made walking much easier.  Before that skirts often had trains, like a bridal gown, which must have been delightful in unpaved streets.

Today we would slip into something more comfortable, and perhaps log onto our computers or smartphones.  That some of these writers were able to write what they did, without access to the reams of knowledge we have access to today in the Information Age, makes their work all the more remarkable.

We should start with William Shakespeare; whose artistic expressions have spoken to generations.  Whatever the person’s background, or their experiences, there is something in his writings that has an impact on every human being, something for everyone.  My favourite quote will always be Rosalind saying: ‘Because that I am more than common tall’ (Shakespeare 283).  A diminutive person will find something different, just as a black man I know prefers Othello.

Shakespeare’s aphorisms are as many as grains of sand at the beach, and there is always something for everyone.  This is still true in the 21st Century, and is unlikely to ever change.

For these reasons, my blogs this semester have been dominated with Shakespeare and his works.  He dominates the Renaissance writers, and will dominate and overwrite any modern 21st Century writer who quotes him excessively.  As Ben Jonson wrote of his friend: ‘He was not of an age, but for all time’ (Jonson).

LINK:  The Epitaphs


One of the writers I warmed to was Sir Thomas More, later canonised.  While my blogs may be full of places where I have rebutted his History of Richard III, I did this in the interests of accuracy, as I see it.  Like Polydere Vergil, his writing here could be called Tudor propaganda, alternative facts, and even the big lie.  I understand that More wrote this way to keep his head on his shoulders…at least for as long as he did.

LINK:  2 Princes


All the same, I always had respect for More because he educated his daughters equally to his son, considered a radical idea at the time.  This increased exponentially when I read Utopia.  He really did understand how social conditions were in the England of his day, and seems to have a real concern for experiences of the poor, including being hanged for stealing.

Not everybody will agree with the way his ideal society is organised, cynical types could call parts of it dystopian.  However he did have a vision for a better world, like other thinkers such as Plato and even Karl Marx, and More’s Utopian ideas still do have an impact in the 21st Century.


Christopher Marlowe was a very different man, he was something of the Renaissance version of a rock star: he lived fast, died young and left behind some pretty good literature.  His Dr Faustus is a classic morality play, popular in medieval times, a story of God and the Devil, although Mephistolphilis is much more visible than the good angel.  You can wonder if he used the line ‘Despair and die’, before Shakespeare did?

After all this, it is believed that Marlowe was an atheist.  That would mean that he didn’t believe in the Devil either.  So perhaps he wrote the whole thing as a metaphor, the Renaissance version of Highway to Hell.

Whatever the case, the age-old question of good v evil continues into the 21st Century.  So the artistic expressions of this are still relevant today, and tomorrow.


John Donne was different again, as he was a very religious man, as was St Thomas.  His holy sonnets have been recited in quite a few churches, over the centuries.

For all this, some of this other poems have decidedly adult themes.

Peer Review X

Well, hello ssssailor.

Someone had to do it!  I was too caught up with the cross-dressing in the play, then the “gay” implications of this, in the interactions between Orsino and Viola or “Cesario”. Then the question of how hard it would be to pass for a bloke? (I’m researching the lives of some real women who did.)

So much so, that I missed the real thing.  Of course Antonio was in love with Sebastian, he’s the genuine homosexual in this play.  He saved his life, stuck his neck out in a place where there was a warrant out for him, and finally passionately defended Cesario, believing that she was her brother.  He did it all for love.

I have had no cause to write about LGBT issues this semester.  In Renaissance times it was all under the surface, in the closet (which meant someone’s bedchamber), but it was still there.  Christopher Marlowe had the classic pretty boy face, and I plan to read his play Edward II.  That’s the story of the gay king (or queen!), who was deposed in a rebellion by his jealous wife, Queen Isabella.

Also there was King James I, who may have done his duty with his wife Anne of Denmark, but preferred his male favourites.  Wits of the time used to say: Rex fuit Elizabeth, nunc est regina Jacobus (quoted in Norton).

Works Cited

“King James I”.  English Bible History.  2013.  Accessed 17 May 2017.

Cavendish, Richard. Edward II marries Isabella of France.  History Today.   2008. Accessed 17 May 2017.

Norton, Rictor.  Queen James and His Courtiers.  Gay History and Literature.  2000.  Accessed 17 May 2017.

The Sonnet

Well, I finally decided to do it!  The thing that I have been dreaming about since we began studying Shakepeare – back in my schooldays.  That’s write a sonnet.

Sonnets did not die with the 17th Century, although they went out of style in the Restoration.  The Romanticist poets wrote them: such as Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley and Elizabeth Barret Browning.  American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote them, his countrywoman Emma Lazarus’ poem ‘The New Colossus’, a famous tribute to the Statue of Liberty, was one of her sonnets.

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


Another sonnet, from the 20th Century, was Wilfred Owen’s ‘Anthem For Doomed Youth’.

In the 21st Century, the internet is full of instructions on how to write a sonnet.  Therefore it should be easy to do, but it wasn’t.


So you are here again, my darling Hope

My companion of the darkest night

I know not the way that I would cope

If not for you, my shining light

You shine like rays of golden sun

Piercing through a sky of lead

That the dark clouds will soon be done

Is something you have always said

You are never silent, always there

Through good times and through bad

In all, you drive away despair

So how could I not be glad?

Now those happy times are here

Just as you told me, Hope, my dear.


Lazarus, Emma.  The New Colossus.  Sonnet Central.  2017.  Accessed 17 May 2017.

Miller, Nelson.  Basic Sonnet Forms.  Sonnet Central.  25 August 2012.  Accessed 17 May 2017.

Timpane, John.  HOW TO WRITE A SONNET.  The Poetry Center.  2017.  Accessed 17 May 2017.

Victor, William.  How to Write a Sonnet.  Creative Writing Now.  2017.    Accessed 17 May 2017.

Peer Review VIII

This is good, Dave.  I always like to know the history behind various literary works, and the lives of the people involved.  This time, I can read all about Petrarch, without spending hours in the library behind a book, or more likely screen.

Sonnet comes from the Italian word sonetto, ie a little poem, and like the English word song.  There is no reason they should end in the 17th Century, no reason we can’t write them today.

Good on you for researching this.

Twelfth Night Traditions

What is the meaning of 12th Night as an event in the calendar around Christmas? How does a knowledge of this event help the reader/listener gain some understanding of what the play might be about as a whole?

Twelfth Night, also known as Epiphany Eve, is the last night of the Christmas season.  It is usually held on 5 January, with the 6th then observed as Epiphany, which commemorates the Wise Men’s discovery of the baby Jesus.

‘Epiphany is a Christian festival commemorating the adoration of the infant, Jesus, by the Three Wise Men who followed the guiding star from the East to Bethlehem. Shepherds had already seen the infant, as it is written in book of Matthew in the Bible, but “The Gifts of the Magi” represents the manifestation of Christ’s birth to the Gentiles and to the entire world’ {Folsom 2000}.

Today, only the more religious among us would celebrate Epiphany, or Twelfth Night.  The rest are too partied out from Christmas Day itself, then New Year’s Eve.  It is as if the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas have become one Big Day, after that people become more interested in cricket, sails and sales.

However there is still more to it than the song 12 Days of Christmas, a memory game that becomes trickier the more Christmas cheer people imbibe.  Like the tradition of leaving your Christmas decoration up until 12th Night, it is considered unlucky to leave them until Epiphany {Barrow 2013}.  One British tradition that the Yule log should be kept burning for all of the twelve days {Barrow 2013}, has understandably not been continued in the Sunburnt Country.

In Shakespeare’s day, Twelfth Night was still considered to be a serious festival.  In medieval and Tudor times, it was considered more important than Christmas Day (Derry 2016).

One tradition was to circulate a cake with a gold or silver bean baked inside.  The man who found this in his slice was christened King of the Bean, and he was in charge during the festivities {Free Dictionary}.  He was also sometimes known as the Lord of Misrule.  ‘This notion — that a commoner could rule, however briefly — was part of the Twelfth Night tradition of turning things upside-down’ (Branley 2016).

Another tradition is wassailing, where people wish each other good health and sing songs together (Derry 2016). Another tradition, going back to the 15th Century was for all to drink punch from a communal bowl, with the greeting Wassail!  This means “be well” (Barrow 2013), but has become just another word for drunkeness.

Perhaps the most significant tradition of Twelfth Night was the mummers’ plays.  These go back at least 1000 years, one of the oldest features of the traditional English Christmas {Barrow 2013}.  These involved heavily disguised and masked characters performing various plays, usually the hero was St George {Barrow 2013}.

Masques were introduced to the celebrations under King Henry VIII, imported from the Italian tradition {Free Dictionary}, involving a more high class version of the acting and entertainment.

Shakespeare may have intended to write the play to be performed on Twelfth Night, for these entertainments.  The first time the play is known to have been performed was on Candlemas, 2 February 1602 (Smith 2001 2).

Samuel  Pepys would cynically write that it was ‘a silly play, and not related at all to the name or day’ (quoted in Shakespeare 2010 376).

However, now that we know a little of the Twelfth Night traditions, we can see just how untrue that is, it is a lot easier to understand what the play is about.  This play is a traditional masque where things are not as they seem: the girl dressed as a boy, the steward Malvolio who dreams of his “better” {in those days the practical jokes would be seen as a fitting payback for this}, the twin brother who is mistaken for her and proves to both a better lover and a fighter, the grieving Countess Olivia, who ends up after years of courtship, with the shipwreck survivor, and finally Duke Orsino, whose romance with his “pageboy” means he remains straight as an arrow.

The message is that things are not as they seem.  We may imagine they will all soon, probably in the morning, or at the end of the play, receive an epiphany – and not in the religious sense of the word.  All will be revealed in the end.

To make this play relevant on the other 364 days of the year, when it may be performed, and to confirm this idea that there is a masquerade on, Shakespeare gave his play the subtitle: What You Will.  This confirms what the play is about as a whole, to those not familiar with the traditions of Twelfth Night.


“Twelfth Night” (2003-2017) Encyclopedia 2.  The Free Dictionary.  Retrieved from:

Barrow, Mandy (2013) Twelfth Night Traditions.  Christmas in Britain.  Retrieved from:

Branley, Edward (2016) NOLA History: Reveling on Twelfth Night.  GoNOLA, New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation.  Retrieved from:

Derry, Johanna (2016) Let’s bring back the glorious food traditions of Twelfth Night (largely, lots of cake).  Telegraph Media Group Limited.  Retrieved from:

Folson, Hervey (2000) Twelfth Night Tradition.  Mississippi Magazine.  Retrieved from:|A67501712&v=2.1&u=acuni&it=r&p=ITOF&sw=w&authCount=1

MacClain, Alexia (2013) TWELFTH NIGHT TRADITIONS: A CAKE, A BEAN, AND A KING.  Smithsonian Libraries.  Retrieved from:

Shakespeare, William (2010) The Complete Works. HarperCollins Publishers: London.

Smith, Bruce R. (2001). Twelfth Night: Texts and Contexts. Bedford/St Martin’s: Boston.