All posts by Phil W

Finding New Shakespearean Stuff

In winter of 1794, a young man whose father apparently cared more for this worldly treasures than his family presented his elder with a sealed document he said he found in a trunk. It was a mortgage with Shakespeare’s name on it.

That document became the first of many fraudulent discoveries William-Henry Ireland revealed to London society, to the excitement of his father and many notable scholars. He even produced a long lost play, Vortigern and Rowena, which was performed in a large theater, though many viewers and performers remained skeptical of its authenticity.

Perhaps all of this was for his father. “Frequently,” William-Henry wrote, “my father would declare, that to possess a single vestige of the poet’s hand-writing would be esteemed a gem beyond all price.”

But his estimation of his son was not so high. Doug Stewart writes,

Samuel Ireland, a self-important and socially ambitious writer, engraver and collector, went so far as to hint that William-Henry was not his son. The boy’s mother did not acknowledge her maternity; as Samuel’s mistress, she raised William-Henry and his two sisters by posing as a live-in housekeeper named Mrs. Freeman. Samuel had found the boy an undemanding job as an apprentice to a lawyer friend whose office was a few blocks from the Irelands’ home on Norfolk Street in the Strand, at the edge of London’s theater district. At the lawyer’s chambers, William-Henry passed his days largely unsupervised, surrounded by centuries-old legal documents, which he would occasionally sift through, when asked.

 

Should Shakespeare’s Language Be Updated?

Mark O’Connor suggests Shakespeare fans (and the more casually interested) don’t understand as much as they may think of the great bard’s language. He thinks a modern translation would help.

Here, for instance is Thersites in “Troilus and Cressida” berating another character: “Let thy blood be thy direction till thy death! then if she that lays thee out says thou art a fair corse, I’ll be sworn and sworn upon’t she never shrouded any but lazars.”

A modern English version might run: “May the itch in your blood be your guide through life! Then if the old woman who lays you out thinks you make a pretty corpse, I’ll be sure she’s only done lepers.”

O’Connor isn’t advocating a wholesale rewrite of these classics, but a measured translation that attempts to capture all the spirit of the text as well as its meaning. Will you think so?

“I think our fellows are asleep.” (via Prufrock News)

Whose Book Is Funniest in UK?

The short list for this year’s Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction has been released. The winner of this UK literary award  will be announced next month, just prior to the Hay Festival in Wales.  The winner “will receive a jeroboam of Bollinger Special Cuvée, a case of Bollinger La Grande Année and the complete set of the Everyman Wodehouse collection. They will also be presented with a locally-bred Gloucestershire Old Spot pig, which will be named after the winning novel.”

Last year’s prize went to two authors, Hannah Rothschild for The Improbability of Love and Paul Murray for The Mark and the Void. In 2015, Alexander McCall Smith won the prize for Fatty O’Leary’s Dinner Party. (See this article for a photo of the prize pig.)

“It was impossible to separate these two books, because they made us laugh so much. And between them they produce a surfeit of wild satire and piercing humour about the subject that can always make us laugh and cry. Money,” judge and broadcaster James Naughtie told The Guardian.

HuffPost Retracts Controversial Post Due to Lack of Author’s Existence

Huffington Post South Africa was fine with an April 13 article arguing white men should be denied the right to vote, but when they could not contact the author and subsequently found no evidence of her existence, they pulled the article and an editorial defending it.

The blogger wrote that her argument “may seem unfair and unjust,” but “allowing white males to continue to call the shots politically and economically, following their actions over the past 500 years, is the greater injustice.”

HuffPo South Africa’s editor in chief, Verashni Pillay, supported this idea. “Those who have held undue power granted to them by patriarchy must lose it for us to be truly equal. This seems blindingly obvious to us.”

But when the supposed author of the piece went unverified, the whole argument fell apart. I’d like to say this is another example of how liberalism undermines itself, calling for the benefits of the virtues it works against, but that bit of sense seems absent here. This is simply nonsense.

Luther’s “Utterly Improbable” Career Shown in New Biography

Lyndal Roper has a new scholarly biography on Martin Luther’s “utterly improbable” life.

Roper took ten years to write this book, which the NY Times calls, ” a fresh and deeply illuminating study of the man who somewhat reluctantly divided a continent.”

Roper is especially good on Luther’s unusual upbringing as the son of a mining family. It was a hard life, full of risk; they lived well, but always one bad business decision away from disaster. Young Martin knew that the price of his education was an investment in the family’s future, and how much his decision to abandon his legal studies in favor of a church career would disrupt his father’s plans.

But reviewer Melanie Gilbert suggests Roper crops out the full picture. “When read for its smaller insights – his prolific letter writing, for instance – this book offers a rewarding look at a specific time and place in history. But in a story where the Gutenberg printing press isn’t even mentioned, and the English Reformation gets only a one-page mention, the larger importance of Luther’s life is lost in translation.” (via Prufrock News)

What Did Judas Actually Do?

Judas throws the money back at the chief priests.

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd. (Luke 22:3-6 ESV)

Judas gave his name to the world as the greatest traitor to ever live. And for what? For pointing Jesus out when he was relatively isolated. Jesus even points this out when the gang came to get him at night, “Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me” (Matt. 26:55 ESV). The temple rulers feared the crowds, so they didn’t try to seize him in the middle of the day, but they didn’t have anyone follow him either. Without Judas, they appear to have been stymied.

But that doesn’t change the fact that what Judas did was almost nothing. He said, “I’ll show you who Jesus is. This is him right here.” If anyone had walked into the garden that night, even a Roman soldier, and asked if the Master was present, which of the disciples would have asked, “Who wants to know?” Any of them probably would have pointed him out himself.

Great evil is often committed with the most boring actions. Apathy is the frontrunner. Laziness, sloppy work, deliberate ignorance, truthful gossip, all have their place in the hallway of boring evil.

Even Judas was horrified by the results of his decision. I can’t imagine what he thought would happen or even his motive, except that asks this of the chief priests when he first goes to them: “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” (Matt. 26:15 ESV).

Your favorite Bible teacher John Calvin writes:

It is particularly worthy of notice, that the cause and source of so great blindness in Judas was avarice, which makes it evident that it is justly denominated by Paul the root of all evils, (1 Timothy 6:10.) To inquire here whether or not Satan entered into Judas bodily is an idle speculation. We ought rather to consider how fearfully monstrous it is, that men formed after the image of God, and appointed to be temples for the Holy Spirit, should not only be turned into filthy stables or sinks, but should become the wretched abodes of Satan.

Is Publishing Too Liberal?

Publishers Weekly asks, “Is Book Publishing Too Liberal?” They talk to several anonymous industry people about it–anonymous people. Doesn’t that strongly allege the answer to their answer is yes?

“Politics is a dangerous thing to be candid about,” said one agent, who has worked with conservative authors. “It’s now acceptable to ban speech on college campuses; this is the world we live in.”

Marji Ross of Regnery Publishing says many conservative authors are dismissed by mainstream publishers or treated contemptuously. An unnamed literary agent said you can tell the industry is too liberal by the mere fact that you have a few “conservative” imprints and no “liberal” imprints. Liberal ideas are treated as normal and published through the majority channels. (via Trevin Wax)

MIT Presents Communism for Kids


This is not a joke.

From the book page: “Once upon a time, people yearned to be free of the misery of capitalism. How could their dreams come true? This little book proposes a different kind of communism, one that is true to its ideals and free from authoritarianism.”

Historian Philip Jenkins has looked into it and found it isn’t tongue-in-cheek. It’s deeply ignorant. Does it point to Stalin or Mao Zedong as examples of pure communism at work? Of course not. Labor camps? We’ll do it right next time.

Should it not be said that a solid scholarly consensus now accepts that this record of violence and bloodshed was a logical and inevitable consequence of the communist model itself, rather than a tragic betrayal or deformation? Evil Joseph Stalin did not distort the achievements and goals of Noble Vladimir Lenin: rather, he fulfilled them precisely. Pursuing the “for kids” framework, should we not see some equally cheery volumes such as A Day at the Gulag, and even (for middle schoolers) Natasha Is Shot as a Class Enemy? How about Springtime for Stalin?

(via Prufrock News)

The Fist of Iron and Clay

Marvel’s latest Netflix series Iron Fist has its moments. There’s a fight with a hatchet-wielding gang that’s reminiscent of the hallway battle in Daredevil’s first season only a step less exciting. I don’t know if that’s because it reminded me of the earlier scene or the hatchet fight was less dramatic. But it may be that this fight would have been better in a better context. As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats.

I don’t want to write a negative review of Iron Fist. I want to love it, but somewhere in the middle I began wondering if the story could be told differently, and by the end I thought it was relying on clichés. How many master warriors or chosen heroes say they need to complete their training? Just about all of them nowadays. Did a gunslinger ever say, “I need to get back to the Broken Hand Ranch to complete my training”? This is the story of a man who has been given the mantle of The Iron Fist, living weapon, protector of a holy city against an eternal enemy.

Before I finished the series, my wife and I watched Jackie Chan’s 1994 action-comedy The Legend of Drunken Master. It’s hilarious overall and increasingly intense. The finale was amazing, somewhat comical, and exhausting. When Chan’s character confronts the strongest henchmen, a tall man who relies on kicking, you wonder if Chan can really win. I know Iron Fist is a completely different show with different skill sets, but it didn’t have fighting anyway close to this.

In many Kung Fu movies, someone confronts the hero with his gang, and they begin fighting two on one, then four on one, then eight or sixteen. A formula like that would have been perfect for a gauntlet run Danny undertakes in the series’ first half. He does start against two, but then he moves to a one-on-one of a very different nature and then another one-on-one with a type of weapons master. That last one is pretty good, but could we not bring in eight or more guys in the middle of that fight to increase the intensity?

Another common scene in Kung Fu movies is when the master happens into a gang of thugs who won’t let him go without a fight. He takes them down without breaking a sweat. Danny sweats through every fight. Maybe the writers considered similar ideas and left them in rehearsal. Perhaps they considered them cliché.

Continue reading The Fist of Iron and Clay

Lit By the Numbers

Do you want more math in your literature? Do you enjoy statistics (or is it damn statistics (or should it be damn yankees and their statistics?)?)?*

Well, Ben Blatt has you covered.

The first literary mystery to be solved by numbers was a 150-year-old whodunit finally put to rest in 1963. Two statistics professors learned of the long-running debate over a dozen contested essays from The Federalist Papers, and they saw that they might succeed where historians had failed. Both Alexander Hamilton and James Madison claimed to have written the same 12 essays, but who was right?

The answer lay in how each writer used hundreds of small words like but and what, which altogether formed a kind of literary fingerprint. The statisticians painstakingly cut up each essay and counted the words by hand—a process during which “a deep breath created a storm of confetti and a permanent enemy.” And by comparing hundreds of word frequencies, they came up with a clear answer after so many years of speculation: the contested essays were distinctly the work of James Madison.

Blatt crunches the numbers on many works to see if writers follow their own rules and other trivia he learn. For instance, does Elmore Leonard follow his rule on sparse use of exclamation points? No. No, he doesn’t.

Dracula Revised and Updated for Iceland 1900

Dracula was published in 1897 by Archibald Constable and Company of Westminster, UK. It was released in the US in 1899 and ran as a serial in the Charlotte Daily Observer for the latter half of that year. In January 1900, Iceland’s newspaper Fjallkonan began its serialization of the novel, translated by the paper’s editor Valdimar Ásmundsson. He gave it the title Makt Myrkranna (Powers of Darkness), and according to The Times Literary Supplement, it was eighty-five years later before anyone noticed the significant changes Ásmundsson made to Bram Stoker’s work.

Powers of Darkness: The lost version of “Dracula” has roughly the same bone structure as Stoker’s original, but is split in­to two parts, the first being the journal of Jonathan Harker (his name is changed to Thomas Harker), recounting his stay in the castle in the Carpathians. In the latter part, however, there is no epistolary element, and the story is taken up by an omniscient narrator. Part One reads like a long first draft, in which the author maps out his characters and surroundings – it is, in fact, almost twice as long as the original.

(via Prufrock News)

New Podcast Is Both Curious, Repulsive

S-Town is the to-rave podcast of the month. It comes from the people who make This American Life and the podcast that spawned 100 imitations, Serial. I heard about Serial at some point in the middle of the run, I think. Maybe it was at the end of its first season. I heard many good things from many people, but I never listened to it. Podcasting, developed in 2000, just hasn’t been my thing, because portable tech hasn’t really been my thing. Whenever I heard a podcast, it was through my PC, kind of like the cans-and-string method. Only in the last few weeks have I begun to use a loaner iPad for something it’s actually good at.

So I was ready when I caught word of the new S-Town, which released all seven episodes on March 28. That initial word described a true crime podcast, but S-Town is a different story. (spoilers)

It begins with the wildly colorful, possibly genius John B. McLemore reaching out to Brian Reed about a murder that happened in his home town, Woodstock, Alabama, about which he needed a barrel of venom to describe. Everyone, including himself at times, was a loser, a failure, an idiot, and many more vulgar labels. His old school was Auschwitz. The police were corrupt. The county had one of the highest rates of child abuse and molestation anywhere. At least a couple people asked John why he didn’t move away since he hated the place so much.

John B. can work himself into a fit by thinking of how no one is outraged over countless liberal talking points, and this murder is a prime example. Everyone knows who did it. The man himself has bragged about it. Why doesn’t anyone give a rat’s rear-end?

The story shifts from that question to focus on John B., which isn’t a selling point. He’s a babbling brook of liberal outrage and profanity. He can’t tell Brian about the many flowers and butterflies on his property without worrying that they’re dying off. By episode two, I was already telling him to shut up. Two of the people who may have cared about him the most pushed him away because they couldn’t bear up under the weight of his poisonous worldview. Continue reading New Podcast Is Both Curious, Repulsive

Why Not Ask the Black Church?

“The Benedict Option fails to ask how black believers have survived racial, economic, and social marginalization with their faith intact.” Jemar Tisby offers an important perspective to Rod Dreher’s new book, a book he has mulled over for at least ten years. When considering options for the persecuted church in America, it seems natural to look to those portions of the church that have lived through persecution, but as Tisby writes, this is a continuing blind spot for many white people.

The reality for many white believers is that Christians of color may provide inspiring stories of resistance and are certainly nice to have on display in the congregation, but they are not a true source of wisdom for the white church. To some white Christians, the faith traditions of racial minorities may offer great aesthetics like preaching or musical style, but they don’t have the legitimacy to lead the way into the future. The constant refusal to learn from the black church can only be termed ecclesiastical arrogance.

The Real Reason the Benedict Option Leaves Out the Black Church

Dreher did start a conversation about the black church four years ago, asking why it hadn’t influenced communities more. That doesn’t answer Tisby’s critique, but it does offer a bit of context.

We Loved Your Story; Write Another Just Like It

Danny Rubin, who gave us the wonderful movie Groundhog Day, thought he’d found his place in Hollywood after that film’s success. Everyone wanted to talk to him, and they all wanted him to do the same thing he’d done before. S. I. Rosenbaum interviewed him for Vulture.

He kept writing scripts for his own ideas, and he kept selling them, pretty steadily, over the years — to Universal, to Amblin, to Castle Rock, to Miramax. But none of them were produced, and even when one of them spent some time being developed, Rubin would often be booted off the project. He wrote a movie about a woman; they asked if it could be about a man. He wrote a silent film; they asked if it could have dialogue. “People weren’t responding to my stuff by making movies out of it,” he says. “They were optioning it, but then there were the same arguments over and over: They were trying to make a movie I said I was expressly not interested in making.”

The man behind Groundhog Day has proven Hollywood is stuck in a loop of its own making. (via Prufrock News)

Dostoevsky’s Characters Speak for Themselves

What makes Dostoevsky’s characters so real? They aren’t just mouthpieces for the author’s voice.  Peter Leithart describes it.

Dostoevsky’s polyphonic world is full of free subjects, not objects. We don’t know what they might say or do next, and we suspect that the author doesn’t know either. They speak in their own voices, and Dostoevsky doesn’t drown them out. His voice is only one among many.

But Dostoevsky is also concerned with the suppression and source of true human freedom. “True freedom is love, the capacity to sacrifice one’s Ego for the good of others.” And the only way to sacrifice one’s Ego is to surrender to Christ. (via Prufrock News)