Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Seeking Shakespeare

A Brief Biographical Sketch

His plays survive to bear witness to the genius of England's greatest poet and playwright but official documents concerning the life of William Shakespeare are very few indeed in spite of exhaustive searches for them over the last several hundred years. There are some entries in church registers or other church records, some court documents of litigation actions, some details of property purchases, a reference to unpaid taxes, some mentions of payments from the royal treasury to him and his fellow actors, and his final will and testament, that is about all that has been found.

We know that William Shakespeare was born in 1564 and grew up in the heart of the English countryside in the town of Stratford-Upon-Avon in the county of Warwickshire in central England. His father, John, was engaged in the trade of glove-making and also held public office in several capacities, eventually rising to be the High Bailiff of Stratford in1568, a position similar today to being the mayor of a small country town. His mother, Mary Arden, was the youngest daughter of Richard Arden, the Ardens were a prominent and respected family of long standing in the county. The Stratford town's records seem to indicate that John Shakespeare may have suffered financial setbacks by the time William was about fourteen years old, however, he seems to have remained a respected member of the community until his death in 1601, by which time, in 1596, he had been granted a coat of arms, a symbol of honor and standing as a member of the English gentry, permitting the addition of the word "Gentleman" to the male Shakespeare name.

Existing records of Stratford's Holy Trinity Church, translated from the Latin language then in use, show that William, son of John Shakespeare was baptized on April 26th, 1564. While there is no record of his actual date of birth, it is assumed that in keeping with the custom of the times, his birthday was probably a few days before the baptism giving the date of April 23rd, a date that coincides nicely with that of England's patron saint, St. George's Day. It is also the date of Shakespeare's death fifty-two years later in 1616.

There is no evidence of William Shakespeare's schooling but it is assumed he attended the local grammar school but did not go to university.

Not until eighteen years after the baptism entries is there another official reference to William Shakespeare when, on 27th November 1582, after the posting of a significant monetary bond of indemnity, the Bishop of Worcester court office granted a certificate permitting the marriage between William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway of Shottery, a small village near Stratford. The Hathaway and Shakespeare families were acquainted through earlier dealings with one another. Anne was the eldest of the eight children of the twice-married Richard Hathaway, a farmer who had died the year before.

William and Anne were married in 1582, William was eighteen years old, Anne was twenty-six, if the age at death inscribed on her tombstone is correct. Anne was pregnant by about two months when the certificate was granted enabling the waiving of the usual three weeks of the announcing of banns in church that is normally required to permit a marriage.

While her pregnant condition may have prompted a quick marriage, there may instead have been a different reason, it has been speculated by one scholar that the wedding needed to be as soon as possible because William would have to leave soon thereafter to take up employment, perhaps as a tutor, to an important family in a nearby county to the north. There is no evidence but it is assumed that the newlyweds took up residence with William's parents.

In the matter of Anne's age, because her tombstone bears the inscription that she was 67 when she died in 1623, it is generally accepted that she was eight years older than William. However, the figures 1 and 7 are easily confused, and it is possible that she might have been 61 at death, just two years older than her husband.

Anne gave birth to Susannah on May 26,1583 and in 1585 twins were born to the young couple, baptized Judith and Hamnet. Tragically, Hamnet died at age eleven in1596 possibly of the plague, a common cause of death in those years. It is has been suggested that a verse from Shakespeare's play King John, may be an expression of grief related to Hamnet's untimely death. It is believed the play was finished about that date with its first performance around in 1596 or 1597. The play could also have been modified to incorporate the verse at a later date, such modifications being a normal occurrence.

Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form...

My life, my joy, my food, my all the world!

I have heard you say
That we shall see and know our friends in heaven:
If that be true, I shall see my boy again.

A touching description of an event that every parent dreads, the death of a child before one's own. This is a perfect example of Shakespeare's ability to understand and express the personal feelings of every human being in every situation of life.

After the birth of the twins nothing is heard of William Shakespeare until 1592 when he was achieving success and notice from his contemporaries in the theatre in London. The intervening years have come to be known as the Lost Years, prompting much speculation and argument on how William was occupied during that time.

Actors and playhouses were held in low regard by city and town officials, the members of the acting companies were often regarded as vagabonds and were persecuted with attempts often made to close down the playhouses. It was claimed that the playhouses attracted the worst elements of society to their neighborhoods, criminals, prostitutes, together with drunkenness, and gambling. That was probably true, the theatres were usually located beyond the reach of the authorities in such areas as the disreputable South Bank, known as the Stews, the wrong side of the river in sixteenth and seventeenth century London. Today the area offers a popular tourist site for conducted walks, the London Walks advertising pamphlet tells us that:

"Modern drama was born here. In short, say hello to the Bankside district, home to Shakespeare's Globe (old and new) and the other Elizabethan theatres and the stews and bear-baiting dens and St. Saviour's (where Shakespeare buried his brother Edmund) and an ancient, swaybacked coaching inn in whose courtyard Shakespeare's plays are still performed. And a bonus: it's also cobbled, echoing Clink Street threading between brick cliffs of warehouses where bars of sunlight probe the shadows, the London of Dickens' troubled childhood, the London that haunted him to his dying day. Bottom line: the past is high impact here. High impact like nowhere else in London. In short, this is a thrilling walk!"

There was merit in the claims of the local authorities, and in 1572 parliament passed an "Act for Punishment of Vagabonds" a law requiring companies of actors to obtain a noble patron who would vouch for their good conduct as they toured the countryside, This helped to make the acting profession more respectable and enabled acting groups to find support and protection of the Queen and members of the nobility who lent their names and sponsored various companies of players, among them The Lord Chamberlain's Men, Shakespeare's company, and later under royal patronage as The King's Men. In both companies Shakespeare was an actor, producer, playwright, and shareholder.

Shakespeare continued in his professional work in the theatre until retiring about 1610 to Stratford. It is assumed he enjoyed a peaceful and productive life there living with his wife in the town in which his children and grand children lived, perhaps with occasional visits back to London, sometimes on business with son-in-law Dr. John Hall, Susannah's husband. William Shakespeare died of an unknown cause in 1616 at the age of 52, leaving the bulk of his considerable fortune to his daughter Susannah. He was buried in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford, apparently with little fanfare, although at least one literary figure of the day eagerly commented on a visit to the churchyard to pay respects to the poet held in such high esteem, even if perhaps the local population were not as well aware of or did not appreciate his talents and achievements. Anne, his wife was buried in the churchyard nearby in 1623. Other family members were also buried in that churchyard and it is interesting to note that the inscription on the tombstone of daughter Susannah, who died in 1649, likens her to her father, reading:

Witty above her sex, but that's not all,
Wise to salvation was good Mistress Hall;
Something of Shakespeare was in that, but this
Wholly of him with whom she's now in bliss.

There were so many achievements and events of great interest and fascination in Shakespeare's productive life that it is not possible to cover them in a brief biographical sketch as is this piece. So much to delve into, to speculate on, regardless of the lack of official records and documents. There is a huge amount of relevant background material, opinion, and other matters about the life and times, the contemporaries and friends, and the work of this greatest of poets living in the England of Elizabeth the First. But we will try to touch briefly on some other biographical aspects before we leave this entry.

"Sweet Swan of Avon", "He was not of an age but for all time"
Thus was Shakespeare referred to, almost four hundred years ago, by Ben Jonson, a younger contemporary and a leading poet and playwright, a friend, a critic, and a rival. Jonson was writing that at the time of the publication of The First Folio, the collection of Shakespeare's plays gathered together for the first time in 1623 by his friends and fellow actors, John Heminge and Henry Condell, seven years after the great playwright's death.

And Shakespeare was an actor too
In one of the earliest presentations of Jonson's play, "Everyman in his Humour",
Shakespeare appeared as a player, being listed first in the cast of actors performing that play. And as an actor, Shakespeare's name is listed in the cast of many of his own plays. But those references appeared in publications of plays that, like the Jonson play, were printed and issued after his death. Prior to that time, it was the custom to not list the performers. And plays were not usually circulated in print since copyright laws for protection of ownership and use did not exist at the time and it was the acting companies to which Shakespeare's belonged that became the actual owners of his works and they had a vested interest in keeping the manuscripts and copies to themselves, rather than allow them to become available to competing companies to stage these profitable plays.

Shakespeare gained early notice in his own career as writer, actor, and man of the theatre, when referred to by another well known playwright of the time, Robert Greene, who, with intent to disparage Shakespeare, referred to him as being an "absolute jack of all trades, a general factotum able to bombast out blank verse with the best of them."

Those remarks were made in a posthumously published pamphlet "Greene's Groatsworth of Wit bought with a million of Repentance", written as Greene lay dying, in which he bitterly warned other writers of his acquaintance, thought perhaps to include Marlowe and Nashe, to be wary of this "upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, with his Tyger's heart wrapt in a player's hide," a references paraphrasing lines from Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 1. The comments by Greene were quickly denounced, the poet and playwright Thomas Nash termed the tract in which they appeared " a scald, trivial, lying pamphlet."

Henry Chettle, a printer and later a playwright, who had prepared Greene's offensive essay for printing, took much criticism himself for doing so and shortly after withdrew the remarks, admitting being at fault in their publication and stated that he had "seen and could witness Shakespeare to be of civil demeanour, and one who had facetious grace in writing", and that many others had "reported on his upright dealings and honesty". It appears that Shakespeare's friends stepped in to defend his reputation.

It seems that he was well regarded and there were few, if any, other criticisms ever voiced. As Jonson was to say with the publishing of the First Folio, "I loved him this side of idolatry, he was of brave notions and gentle expressions". And there is a poem by Jonson in the First Folio: "To the memory of my beloved, The Author Mr. William Shakespeare and what he hath left us".

Shakespeare's body of work, includes thirty-seven known plays, first published in their entirety in the First Folio of 1623, two epic poems dedicated to the Earl of Southampton, several other poems and 154 Sonnets. And within the plays, there are poems and songs. This was accomplished over a working life of about 20 years. There are also 12 to 14 plays, known as the Shakespeare Apocrypha, that some scholars believe can be attributed to him. Not every thing he wrote was great but much of it was, he certainly wrote to meet the needs of his acting company, of which he was a shareholder, fitting the dialogue and action to the talents of his companion players and to the properties of the stage on which they performed.

As has been said, many details of his life are a mystery, but that is not unusual for those working in the theatre in those years, it is the same for other important playwrights of his generation, for Marlowe, Jonson, Ford, Greene, Beaumont, Fletcher, Dekker, Webster, and others, little is known of any of them, in fact, as it turns out we probably know much more about Shakespeare than any of the others.

His life has generated immense speculation and myth, every detail and assumption has been examined and argued over. A life and work analyzed, discussed, and debated by scholars of almost every discipline, in almost every country and language. And this has continued for several hundred years. There is also is a substantial body of conspiracy addicts and cryptography fanatics who support theories that someone other than Shakespeare was the author of the poetry and plays.

Thousands of books about Shakespeare, his plays, poetry, and the sonnets, have been published in English and other languages. Adaptations of his plays are in production worldwide by theatre groups, by television, and in motion pictures. His works provide insights into the human condition, he belongs to the literature and culture of the world. As Ben Jonson said, "not for an age but for all time".

There is so much more to be discussed, including the portraits, the properties, about Anne Hathaway, about Shakespeare's will and the second best bed bequeathed to his wife, about his six ill-scrawled signatures and whether they are they really his, about Hand D and whether it is Shakespeare's composition and handwriting, about the character roles and situations in the plays and sonnets and whether they relate directly to Shakespeare or anyone in his circle, about Sir William Davenant who may have claimed to be Shakespeare's illegitimate son, about the anti-Stratfordians. And still so much more.

And for the sonnets that are the source of the greatest mysteries in English literature, a special series of questions to contemplate: the identity of the young man to whom many of them are addressed, whether they depict a homosexual relationship or are they merely couched in the flowery and affectionate terms said to be common among males in the Elizabethan age, who was the Dark Lady, to whom did the Sonnet publisher Thomas Thorpe refer in his dedication to Mr. W.H. and were the sonnets published without Shakespeare's permission and oversight as their somewhat poor editing suggests, and they quickly disappeared from circulation and was that by intent to suppress them? And whose interest or reputation would be protected if that were the case? Again, still so much to explore, but now we must bring this essay to a close, with Puck's help, who might add:

So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

Now retired, Jim Robinson, the author of this article, has written elsewhere, articles on: Terrestrial Volcanoes, Impact Craters, The Sun, The Cause of Dinosaur Extinctions, The Genius of Gutenberg, The Stock Market, etc., etc.

Jim Robinson, who is a diabetic, has recently launched a blog, dealing with diabetic meal planning and related topics.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010




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Monday, June 28, 2010

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Sunday, June 27, 2010




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Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Tribute to the Kokoda Spirit in a Vietnam Veteran

Forty days before he woke from a landmine that blew his right leg into the Niu Dat minefield, blasted his right arm off, shattered his left arm, ripped his stomach to shreds, and peppered his body with shrapnel, Sapper John 'Jethro' Thompson mumbled to me: 'I'm not getting out of the army mate - they're gunna have to build a special dozer I can drive'. 'No worries Jethro', I said 'they'll do that!'

He was a handsome 21 year old regular soldier who had already seen active service in Borneo during confrontation. I was a 21 year old raw nasho. We were on exercise in North Queensland in late '66 when the call came for volunteers to go to Vietnam. Within 24 hours we were on our way to the jungle warfare school at Canungra and a month later we touched down in Saigon on the 4th January 1967 - a day before my first wedding anniversary!

Jethro was assigned to the minefield at Nui Dat. I was operating bulldozers constructing our logistic base at Vung Tau. The helipad near the US Army field hospital was one of our early tasks.

It was just four months after the crucial battle of Long Tan and Australian commanders were driving our sappers to lay a protective minefield around the Task Force base. It was hot, sweaty, dangerous work.

Nobody knows what happened that day. Jethro was arming land-mines when they were hit. An explosion lifted him in the air and threw him onto his back. His mates in the squad were blasted but Jethro took the full brunt of the deadly mix of explosive powder and jagged shrapnel.

As I raced to the helipad the bloodied bodies had just arrived and were carried by desperate medics into the field hospital. Surgical teams went into immediate action and six hours later Jethro, his body swathed in bloody bandages, was wheeled into the ward. Stumps stuck out where his arms used to be. Another stump where his leg used to be. Huge clamps held his stomach together. Shrapnel fragments peppered his face.

Within a couple of days two sappers in the squad died of their wounds. Jethro defied the odds - his subconscious mind was already planning what he was going to do when he got better - not if. He has no conscious memory of his first 40 days in that ward full of young limbless soldiers. I recall many conversations with him - all of them positive.

During my vigil at his bedside I received news that one of my five brothers had been killed in a car accident at home. It took two weeks to find out which one. A far cry from the 'embedded' communications we have in army units today.

Six months later Jethro was a patient at Heidelberg Repat Hospital - I was a student at the Officer Cadet School, Portsea. It was a dramatic upgrade for both of us. During a weekend visit he looked down at his healing stumps and mused, 'this is all I've got left mate - I've got to make the best use of it'.

He did just that.

Fitted with a new arm complete with a shining chrome hook, and a mechanical leg, he settled into a new job with the Public Service. Soon after he met Judy, an attractive Vietnam war widow with two children, Justine and Dominic. After a brief courtship they married and soon Danielle, Diedre and Judith joined the family roll. He boasted that he didn't lose everything in that fateful land-mine blast.

The bliss of family life was soon shattered when Judy was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She was just 31. How could life be so cruel to one so beautiful? He nursed her until the day she died.

Now a single dad with 5 children he learned that changing nappies was not easy for a bloke with only a reconstructed thumb and finger. He joked that the babies got more pinpricks than the shrapnel pellets he got from the land-mine explosion! Simple chores were major challenges but Jethro was a sapper - and sappers are trained to find ways around obstacles. The role of the Royal Australian Engineers is to enhance the mobility of our troops and impede the mobility of the enemy. It often requires a high degree of 'sappernuity'.

Hanging nappies on the Hills Hoist was just one of the daily challenges he faced. How we take things for granted!

Jethro was not alone in his struggle. His army mates and Legacy kept a watchful eye on the family and were ever ready to help. But as time went by he noticed some of them starting to fall apart.

A stunning woman caught his eye at a Legacy function. He learned her name was Perle and she was an army widow with two young boys, Ian and Anthony. They chatted and it was soon game over for Jethro. They married soon after.

The plight of Vietnam Veterans was recognised amongst peers but ignored by government and the RSL at the time. An association of Vietnam Veterans was established and Jethro left his job to become a full time advocate for his mates. He joined Legacy to help other service widows and their children. It was the least he could for them.

During our bicentennial year in 1988 he received the 'RSL Achiever of the Year Award' for his selfless service to veterans.

In 2006 he was made a member of the Order of Australia.

It has been a remarkable journey for the skinny 11 year old immigrant who arrived in Australia on 26 January 1956. Flags were not an issue in those days. Australia had fought off the Japanese just eleven years before. We knew who and what we were.

But forty years on Jethro's war injuries are creeping up on him. His left shoulder needed major surgery because of the years supporting his large frame on crutches. His left arm, the only one he has, is now useless. Excruciating lower back pain keeps him immobile for days on end. Last year open heart surgery was required to replace a faulty mitral valve.

A later keyhole operation resulted in an infection that attacked his new valve. A blood clot broke off and lodged in his spleen. Repat surgeons decided there was no option but to replace the valve with a mechanical device - immediately!

As the sun rose on the 50th anniversary of Jethro's arrival in his adopted country an emergency team scrubbed up for a marathon operation at Greenslopes Repatriation Hospital. Jethro had just one request. He wanted to see an Australian flag on the end of his bed when he woke up.

I was lucky to get a late flight to Brisbane on the eve of Australia Day. I met Perle who had little sleep from the night before. We expected a three hour operation. Four hours went by - we pretended not to notice the time. Five hours. It was getting harder to maintain the pretence. Perle picked up the phone in the intensive care waiting room. He was OK. The valve had ulcerated and it took them an additional couple of hours to work through the complications.

The call ended but Perle held the phone for a few seconds as the relief washed through her. We were told he would take a few hours to come round. Perle had time for a quiet rest at home.

I waited because I was the first bloke Jethro saw when he came out of the operating theatre in Vung Tau 40 years ago. I thought it might be a good omen to be around when he woke up this time as we all feared the worst.

I will never forget the moment. He reached out with his stump and I grabbed it - his eyes expressed an urgency I had never seen before. We stayed gripped together for the next hour while he dozed in and out of consciousness. As he came to he began to grin and squeeze my hand between his stump and his side.

He was in good care. A charming, attractive nurse maintained an attentive vigil at the end of his bed. A young doctor hovered around. High tech instruments monitored every bodily function - a far cry from the pressurized ward in that army field hospital 40 years ago!

This time he opened his eyes a little further and his face lit up - he sighted the Australian flag on the end of his bed!

Australia Day has different meanings for different people. For Jethro's family -his wife Perle, their seven children and 12 grandchildren, and to all the mates who know of his plight, it is the celebration of the survival of a young immigrant digger who has given his all for his adopted country.

Jethro's spirit is an inspiration to us all. His laconic wit has never left him. Before Christmas he wanted to go to a show in the city. His mate, Peter Ferguson, called him to say the prices were outrageous - it would cost an arm and a leg. 'I'll send Perle then', Jethro said, 'I can't afford to go'.

On arrival back in Sydney I received a note from a former US Army nurse, Annie Philiben:

'I was the nurse on duty when he arrived on the post op ward. I never forgot that fighter. One of the things you probably didn't know was that after 7 or so surgeries to clean his amputations (shorten the limbs) he was doing real well. Then he became extremely ill and for days we had no idea what the problem was. Finally they took him to surgery and found he had an infected gall bladder. The surgeons just wanted to drain the gall bladder but a false move caused the gall bladder to rupture and all that infected goo went over his belly.

This is really a bad thing to happen. We were very worried about him. He had such high fevers and was so out of it. One day a nurse noted that my uniform was full of holes. It was from the silver nitrate solution we used on burns, it used to splash back on us and made holes in our uniforms. She said "Annie what happened to your uniform." I told her about the silver nitrate and said "one of these days the whole uniform is just going to fall off." John lifted his head and said "I sure hope I'm there that day." He was better. It was hard not to cry'.

It still is Annie!

Charlie Lynn has led treks across the Kokoda Trail since 1991. He is an advocate for the proclamation of the Kokoa Trail as a National Memoria Park in order to provide a sustainable trekking industry for the Koiari and Orokaiva people who live along it. Charlie a former army major and Vietnam veteran is currently a Member of the NSW Parliament. He is a director of Adventure Kokoda which organises treks specialising in the wartime history of the Kokoda campaign.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sir Tom Stoppard, the Early Plays - Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Sir Tom Stoppard, the early plays.

6. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is probably Sir Tom Stoppard's best-known and most frequently-studied play, and is one of the most original and inventive plays of British post-war theatre. Beneath the verbal and visual wit lies a concern with serious philosophical issues to do with the opposition between determinism and free will, and reality and illusion, and it is part of Stoppard's genius that he manipulates the medium of the theatre itself to mirror the intellectual themes.

The play is structured around the idea that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's predicament of being minor characters from Hamlet, trapped within the plot of Shakespeare's play, is equated with Man trapped in a deterministic universe. Thus the play functions throughout on two levels, and occasionally on three when the play draws attention to itself as a play, in relation to us, the audience.

Stoppard has used Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exactly as Shakespeare created them - that is, as undeveloped flat characters, with minimal and ineffectual roles, largely ignorant of the events into which they have been drawn, and whose deaths pass almost unnoticed - and transposed them into a twentieth century idiom by equating them with anti-heroes of the Theatre of the Absurd. In fact the play owes a clear debt to Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett, with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern resembling Vladimir and Estragon, waiting, without knowing what they are waiting for, in an incomprehensible, perhaps meaningless universe, in which death is the only certainty. The appearance of The Players also mirrors, structurally, the appearance of Pozzo and Lucky in Waiting for Godot.

The theme of fate versus free-will is introduced in the opening scene: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are tossing coins, and the coins have come up heads ninety two times in a row. The act of tossing a coin is an act of free-will, and the result apparently depends on chance, but in the long run it seems that the attempt to influence the future by an individual act of free-will is futile, because the outcome has been predetermined. Thus we have an image in which free-will and determinism co-exist, with free will operating in the short term, and determinism in the long term. This duality is demonstrated again later when, in a scene which is reported but not actually shown in Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are on a boat bound for England.

'Guil: Where we went wrong was getting on a boat. We can move, of course, change direction, rattle about, but our movement is contained within a larger one that carries us along, as inexorably as the wind and current.' (Act 3.)

Free will and determinism are both present in their world, but whichever way they look at it, they cannot escape their imminent deaths.

The inevitability of death is also the pivot around which Stoppard builds his exploration of the reality versus illusion dichotomy. Rosencrantz tries to comprehend death as a reality but is unable to battle through the illusions thrown up by the mind in the face of the unknown.

'Ros: It's silly to be depressed by it. I mean one thinks of it like being alive in a box, one keeps forgetting to take into account the fact that one is dead.' (Act 2)

When a troupe of actors, The Players - specialists in illusion - arrive, the whole relationship between illusion and reality is thrown into doubt.

'Guil: You die so many times: how can you expect them to believe in your death?

Player: On the contrary, it's the only kind they do believe. They're conditioned to it. I had an actor once who was condemned to hang for stealing a sheep . . . I got permission to have him hanged in the middle of a play . . . and you wouldn't believe it, he just wasn't convincing It was impossible to suspend one's disbelief.' (Act 2)

The suggestion is that we cannot believe in reality even when we see it, and are all-too-eager to believe in illusions. The Player proves his point later when Guildenstern stabs him and he falls to the ground and 'dies'. Guildenstern is taken in by the Player's act, thinking he has killed him, until the Player revives and says

'For a moment you thought I'd - cheated.' (Act 2)

'Cheated' by substituting reality for the illusion, implying that we can never be absolutely sure whether something we perceive is reality or an illusion, a theme which occurs repeatedly in Stoppard's work and is exemplified by After Magritte (1970), the thesis of which might be paraphrased as: what we 'know' depends upon how we choose to interpret what we think we see.

As well as these philosophical themes, Stoppard is exploring a moral theme in the play; the moral and spiritual desolation of a civilisation without God. The loss of meaning to life in the absence of God is suggested in this speech by the Player:

'You don't understand the humiliation of it - to be tricked out of the single assumption which makes our existence viable - that somebody is watching . . . We pledged out identities, secure in the conventions of our trade; that someone would be watching. And then, gradually, no one was.' (Act 2)

The view that modern man is adrift in a meaningless universe without God is in keeping with the Absurdist view of man with which Stoppard is working, but Stoppard goes further and says something about the moral decline which follows the adoption of a philosophical position which denies the existence of God. The Players are supposed to be taking culture to the king's court, but they are 'a comic pornographer and a rabble of prostitutes' (Act 1), and their plays are obscene performances in which, for a price, the audience can participate. That this particular situation can be extended to modern society as a whole is suggested by the frequent repetition of the phrase 'the times being what they are', and reinforced by Guildenstern's comment 'The very air stinks' (Act 1); a joking reference to Hamlet's line: 'Something is rotten in the state of Denmark'. (Hamlet 1.iv.90)

Read the full version of this essay at:

Ian Mackean runs the site, which features a substantial collection of English Literature Resources and Essays, and where his sites on Books Made Into Movies, and Short Story Writing can also be found. He is the editor of The Essentials of Literature in English post-1914, published by Hodder Arnold. When not writing about literature or short story writing he is a keen amateur photographer, and has made a site of his photography at

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Drama Masks - Understanding the Art of Drama

Drama, like poetry and fiction, is an art of words. In drama, the words are mainly dialogue: people talking are the basic dramatic action. The talk may be interrupted by wordless activity sword-fighting, love scenes, silence but such activity will derive its significance from its script or context of dialogue.

If not, we are dealing with pantomime and not with drama. In general theory, however, the line between drama and the related arts is not so easy to draw. Film is even less literary than theater, and yet film scripts have been published to be read. At what point of verbal artistry do they cease being scenario and production notes and become drama? Conversely, to what extent is the concept of drama covered by Pirandello's "three boards and a passion" as a formula for theater?

Such questions are posed by the double aspect of dramatic language. As written words, drama is literature; as spoken words in a spectacle, it is theater. Dialogue can be performed directly, intact, but stage directions, however skillfully written, do not survive the transfer from script to stage.

Their referents in performance speech manner, movement, costume, drama masks set, etc. - are creations of the theater rather than of literature. The fact that successful playwrights make more money in the box office than in the bookstores is evidence that for most people the theatrical medium of drama masks and film acting takes precedence over the literary one and that they find reading a play a pallid substitute for seeing it.

As stage spectacle a play is intensely there a three-dimensional and audible progress of coherent, absorbing, physical action. 'While words are consecutive and reading is an act in the time dimension, seeing a play is an experience of both time and space.

At any one moment the spectator may be simultaneously aware of weather or time of day or of rich or shabby furniture, or of one character speaking, another listening, and someone crawling noiselessly toward the speaker with a knife between his teeth. The spatial concreteness and immediacy of staged drama enlist the attention of a larger set of the spectator's sensory responses, and do so more intensely, than the purely imaginative evocations of printed play ever can.

Still, the popular assumption that the theatrical medium of drama is primary may be challenged. Performance is no more the play than the concert is the symphony. Most plays, like symphonies have been written to be performed, but the artistic construct exists complete in the written words, just as the melody, harmony, rhythm, tempo, and orchestration of the symphony "are" in the printed score. The only difference between a printed play and a printed musical composition in this respect is that for most of us it is easier to "see" and "hear" a play in the imagination than it is to "hear" the music in the read score.

Colin Scott is a drama and literature fan. For more great tips on drama masks and Greek drama masks visit any one of the links in this Author Bio.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010




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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Knowing the Rich Japanese Culture

The Japanese culture has developed over the years. From the ancient and classical Japan, to the birth of the samurais, and now a modern Japanese culture came to exist. Of course, many neighboring countries influenced it and it has played a great role in shaping the modern Japanese culture. It has been a combination of various cultures and although it has experienced isolation from the world during the Tokugawa reign, it has still that distinct Japanese culture. It does not only depict the creativity and the independence of the Japanese people, it also reflects the strength of the Japanese by heart. Japanese culture is indeed rich in the field of arts, music, literature, and many more. From its classical roots, Japan is known for their traditional art forms and their artistic nature. It has brought the world the wide range of manga and comics. Japanese culture consists of the many anime artists that made Japanese animation known throughout the world. Video games, music, and entertainment shows from Japan has lead great contribution to the cyber industry.

During the ancient period, Japanese culture consisted of traditional music, geisha, samurai and many more. The geishas were trained from childhood and there were geisha houses that shelter them. This was part of the tradition that formed the Japanese culture. Another unique thing is the language they use. The Japanese language plays a vital role in the Japanese culture. It is widely spoken in Japan and many Westerners learn it. Japanese is written in three ways. The hiragana, the katakana and the kanji are the three scripts. The kanji was imported from China while the katakana contains Chinese characters.

Calligraphy is also part of the Japanese culture, which is the way of writing characters in a very artistic way. Sumi-e or ink painting is the art of painting an object or scene. Another form of Japanese art that is a part of the Japanese culture is the Ikebana. It is the art of flower arrangement and is still widely used in Japan as well as in other countries. When it comes to theater arts, the Japanese culture is very remarkable. They have traditional theaters, which are unique in the Japanese culture. There are basically four types of theaters in Japan, particularly the noh, kyogen, kabuki and the bunraku. Performers used masks to depict the characters. Most of the time, they express emotions through their actions and dialogue. Part of the Japanese culture is the bunraku which dates back during the Heian period. It is actually a puppet theater, which highlight historical plays.

When it comes to clothing, the kimono is the traditional garment for the Japanese people. They come in a variety of colors and designs. The yukata have lighter colors and usually worn during the summer time. Most men prefer to wear the kimonos that have dark colors. You can look for kimonos in shops at Nagoya, Mei, and Tokyo. But nowadays, the kimonos are used by Japanese on special occasions. Indeed the Japanese culture is rich in variety and has its distinct characteristics that make it one of the best cultures in the world. is a Website of Nagoya Avenues magazine, Central Japan information portal for Nagoya, Aichi, Gifu, Mie areas.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Alice Walker Breaks Out As One of the Leading Female Voices in African American Literature

An African American writer and activist Alice Walker began publishing her fiction and poetry during the latter years of the Black Arts movement in the 1960's. Born in 1944 in Eatonton, Georgia, to sharecropper parents,  she knew racism and poverty only too well and with works expressing the need for the tackling of such issues she has become one of the best-known and most highly respected writers from the U.S. along with such writers as Toni Morrison and Gloria Naylor , commonly associated with the post-1970s surge in African American women's literature.  

Her activism started after being educated at Spelman College and Sarah Lawrence College, where Walker, in a commencement speech spoke out against the silence of that institution's curriculum to African-American culture and history. Active in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in the South, she used her own and others' experiences as material for her searing examination of politics and black-white relations in her novel Meridian (1976).

Beginning with her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, Walker has focused on such issues as sexual and racial realities within black communities as well as the unavoidable connections between family and society. For exposing the former, she has been criticized by some African-American male critics and theorists; for exploring the latter, she has been awarded numerous prizes while winning the hearts and minds of countless black and white readers.

Walker's heroes, often women in the African-American community struggling to emerge from a history of oppression and abuse,  find strength in binding with other women and turnng to the African past in the search for alternatives to this rapacious technological civilization. 

Her most famous work, coming out in 1982, The Color Purple written in epistolary form, chronicles the life of a poor and abused southern black American woman  growing up between 1909 and 1947 in a town in Georgia who after her long suffering of abuse at the hands of several men eventually triumphs over oppression and attains self-realization through affirming female relationships.  

Infused with incest, lesbian love, and sibling devotion,Color Purple also introduces blues music as a unifying thread in the lives of many of the characters. In it, she brought together many of the characters and themes of her previous works thus creating "an American novel of permanent importance."

Narrated through the voice of Celie, The Color Purple is structured through a series of letters written by a southern black woman (Celie), reflecting a history of oppression and abuse suffered at the hands of the men. Celie writes about the misery of childhood incest, physical abuse, and loneliness in her "letters to God." After being repeatedly raped by her stepfather, Celie is forced to marry a widowed farmer with three children. Yet her deepest hopes are realized with the help of a loving community of women, including her husband's mistress, Shug Avery, and Celie's sister, Nettie. Celie gradually learns to see herself as a desirable woman, a healthy and valuable part of the universe.

The novel charts Celie's resistance to the oppression surrounding her, and the liberation of her existence through positive and supportive relations with other women.  Perhaps even more than Walker's other works, [The Color Purple] especially affirms that the most abused of the abused can transform herself.

Set in rural Georgia during segregation, The Color Purple brings components of nineteenth-century slave autobiography and sentimental fiction together with a confessional narrative of sexual awakening.

The book was resoundingly praised for its masterful recreation of black folk speech, in which, Walker converts Celie's "subliterate dialect into a medium of remarkable expressiveness, color, and poignancy," which he found impossible to imagine Celie apart from; for "through it, not only a memorable and infinitely touching character but a whole submerged world is vividly called into being."  The Color Purple (1982) has been praised for Walker's forthright depiction of taboo subjects and her clear rendering of folk idiom and dialect. It has generated the most public attention as a book and as a major motion picture. The novel won both the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award, and was made into a popular motion picture which received several Academy Award nominations.  

The awards and its being adapted into a film by Steven Spielberg brought the book together with Walker herself to the attention of mainstream America thus becoming known to an even wider audience. The musical stage adaptation of the book premiered at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta in 2004 and opened on Broadway in 2005.

But this brought her not only fame but controversy as well. She was widely criticized for negative portrayals of men, though many critics admitted that the movie presented more simplistic negative pictures than the book's more nuanced portrayals. For men come in  mostly for a raw deal with Walker's harshest critics condemning her portrayal of black men in the novel as "male-bashing."  A recurrent feature in her fiction are black males representing a generation of men who 'had failed women and themselves.' It, however, established her as a dominant voice in the quest for a new black identity.

The Color Purple became a point of demarcation in Walker's work, being both the completion of the cycle of novels she announced in the early 70's and the beginning of new emphases for her as a writer. For fourteen years earlier Walker had declared herself an African American woman writer who was committed to exploring the lives of black women completing the cycle demonstrating: "the survival and liberation of black women through the strength and wisdom of others."  

She described the three types of women characters she felt were missing from much of the literature of the United States.

Firstly, there were those who were exploited both physically and emotionally. Their lives were narrow and confining and they were driven sometimes to madness. These were typified in Margaret and Mem Copeland in her first novel.

Secondly there were those who were victims not so much of physical violence as of psychic violence, thus becoming women alienated from their own culture.

The third type represented most effectively by Celie and Shug in The Color Purple are those African American women who despite the oppression they suffer achieve some wholeness and create spaces for other oppressed communities.

Refusing to ignore the tangle of personal and political themes, Walker has produced half a dozen novels, two collections of short stories, numerous volumes of poetry, and books of essays. Though she has attained fame and recognition in many countries, she has not lost her sense of rootedness in the South or her sense of indebtedness to her mother for showing her what the life of an artist entailed.     

Writing of this central experience in her famous essay, "In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens," she talks about watching her mother at the end of a day of back-breaking physical labor on someone else's farm return home only to walk the long distance to their well to get water for her garden planted each year at their doorstep.   Walker observed her design that garden, putting tall plants at the back and planting so as to have something in bloom from early spring until the end of summer.   Though Walker did not recognize what she was seeing at the time, the adult Walker now sees her mother as an artist full of dedication, a keen sense of design and balance, and a tough conviction that life without beauty is unbearable.

Recognized as one of the leading voices among black American women writers, Alice Walker has produced an acclaimed and varied body of work, including poetry, novels, short stories, essays, and criticism. Her writings portray the struggle of black people throughout history, and are praised for their insightful and riveting portraits of black life, in particular the experiences of black women in a sexist and racist society.  

Walker has described herself as a "womanist" - referring to a black feminist - which she defines in the introduction to her book of essays, In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose, as one who "appreciates and prefers women's culture, women's emotional flexibility ... women's strength" and is "committed to [the] survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female."  

A theme throughout Walker's work is the preservation of black culture, with her female characters forging important links to maintain continuity in both personal relationships and communities

Walker is concerned with "heritage," which to her "is not so much the grand sweep of history or artifacts created as it is the relations of people to each other, young to old, parent to child, man to woman."  

 Further Readings:Alice Walker Directory

  • Allan, Tuzyline. Womanist and Feminist Aesthetics: A Comparative Review. Athens: Ohio UP, 1995.

  • Butler-Evans, Elliott. Race, Gender, and Desire: Narrative Strategies in the Fiction of Toni Cade Bombara, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1989.

  • Russell, Sandi. Render Me My Song: African-American Women Writers from Slavery to the Present. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992.

  • I Love Myself When I Am Laughing...& Then Again When I Am Looking Mean & Impressive: A Zora Neale Hurston Reader. Zora Neale Hurston; Alice Walker, editor. Trade Paperback, 1979.

  • In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose: Alice Walker, Trade Paperback, 1984 (originally 1983)

    Alice Walker & Zora Neale Hurston: The Common Bond: Lillie P. Howard, Contributions in Afro-American & African Series #163 (1993)

    Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult: A Meditation on Life, Spirit, Art & the Making of the Film, The Color Purple, Ten Years Later: Alice Walker, 1997 (originally 1996).

  • Alice Walker Banned: The Banned Works: Alice Walker, edited and with commentary by Patricia Holt, Hardcover, 1996.

  • Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer's Activism: Essays, Speeches, Statements and Letters. Alice Walker, Hardcover, 1997. Also Paperback.

  • Alice Walker: An Annotated Bibliography: Erma D. Banks and Keith Byerman, Hardcover, 1989.

  • Alice Walker: Harold Bloom, editor. Library Binding, January 1990. Critical essays on The Color Purple and other works by Alice Walker.

  • Erma Davis Banks and Keith Byerman, Alice Walker: An Annotated Bibliography, 1968-1986 (New York: Garland, 1989).

  • Harold Bloom, ed., Alice Walker's "The Color Purple," Modern Critical Interpretations series (New York: Chelsea House, 2000).

  • Ikenna Dieke, ed., Critical Essays on Alice Walker (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999).

  • Henry Louis Gates and K. A. Appiah, eds., Alice Walker: Critical Perspectives Past and Present (New York: Amistad Press, 1993).

  • Maria Lauret, Alice Walker, Modern Novelists series (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000).

  • Evelyn C. White, Alice Walker: A Life (New York: Norton, 2004).

  • Donna Haisty Winchell, Alice Walker (New York: Twayne, 1992).

  • The Color Purple, writ. Alice Walker and Menno Meyjes, dir. Steven Spielberg (Burbank, Calif.: Warner Bros., 1985). Qiana Whitted, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

Related Links

Alice Walker--Anniina Jokinen

Selected Bibliography - Paul P. Reuben


  • Living by the Word: Selected Writings 1973-1987 (1988)
  • In Search of Our Mother's Gardens (1983)
  • Anything we love can be saved : a writer's activism (1997)
Visual and sound material
  • A place of rage. Interviews: T Minh-Ha Trinh; June Jordan; Angela Yvonne Davis; Alice Walker; Pratibha Parmar. (1991), videocassette (52 min.) New York, NY : Women Make Movies
  • My life as my self (1996) sound cassette (ca. 90 min.)Boulder, CO : Sound True Audio
  • Voices of power, Bell Hooks; Alice Walker; Martha L Wharton; Valerie Lee (2000, 1999) : Videorecording (29 min.)Princeton, NJ : Films for the Humanities & Sciences,
  • Giving birth, finding form, Alice Walker; Isabel Allende; Jean Shinoda Bolen, (1993) sound cassette, Boulder, CO : Sounds True Recordings
  • Pema Chödrön & Alice Walker in conversation. (1998) videocassette (51 min.)Boulder, CO : Sounds True,
  • Gardening the soul, with Michael Toms. (2000) 2 sound cassettes. Carlsbad, Calif. : Hay House Audio
  • Alice Walker: Possessing the secret of joy. (2000, 1992) videocassette (51 min.).Princeton, N.J. : Films for the Humanities & Sciences,

Born and schooled in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Arthur Smith hasbeen teaching English for over thirty years. He is now a Senior Lecturer of English at Fourah Bay College where he has been lecturing for the past nine years.

Mr Smith's writings have been in various media. He participated in a seminar on contemporary American Literature in the U.S. in 2006. He has attended various conferences some of which he has presented papers. His writings could be read at his personal webste:

Sunday, June 20, 2010

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Luau History and Culture

A luau is a Hawaiian feast. You may have been to a luau party here on the mainland, or visited a luau on your recent vacation to Hawaii. This meal and party often features traditional Hawaiian food, including poi and salmon, and is often known for the kalua pig, which has been roasted in earth for at least a day prior to the festivities. Luaus are also known for the entertainment, including Hawaiian music and hula dancing.

Today, luaus are often synonymous with parties for those from Hawaii, so you may see graduation luaus, birthday luaus, or even wedding luaus. However, the concept of a luau is actually quite old, and originally it meant a very specific type of celebration.

The name 'Luau' dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. Before that, this type of party was called a paina or ahaaina. The name 'luau' originated from a type of food traditionally served at a luau celebration: young taro (a type of tuber plant) tops, baked with coconut milk and served with octopus or chicken.

Luau parties originated because in centuries ago, men and women ate separately, and commoners and women were forbidden by ancient Hawaiian customs from eating certain foods, considered delicacies. In 1819, however, King Kamehameha II abolished this practice. In a symbolic feast, the King ate with women. The luau was born out of this feast. These original luaus were quite large affairs, often with hundreds of guests. In fact, some luaus thrown by the King had visitors eating in shifts because there were hundreds invited to these gatherings.

Traditional luau feasts are eaten on the floor, while sitting on special mats. Foods included sweet potatoes, dried fish, and other dried foods laid directly on leaves. Another traditional luau food in these early decades was poi. Poi is a staple of the Hawaiian diet to this day, and it is made from taro root that has been pounded into a thick paste. All of these items were eaten with the fingers; no utensils were used.

Today, 'luau' parties are often simply Hawaiian themed. They may lack the traditional taro tops or kalua pig, and range drastically in their adherence to luau traditions. In fact, most are not considered luaus by purists or many who were raised on the islands, although they can be a fun way to bring a little island spirit to your summer parties.

Today, there are many commercial luaus put on just for tourists. In Hawaii, these are held weekly at the most popular hotels. Often they are held outdoors on the hotel grounds. These outdoor parties often sell crafts, souvenirs, and photos to tourists. Like luau parties you may stage in your backyard, these vary greatly in their style and adherence to the luau tradition, because they are geared towards the tourist market. They often include Hawaiian or Polynesian dancing; during many luaus, hula dancers may teach visitors how to dance a simple hula dance. Such luaus can be found all over the islands, and are often seen in brochures or other tourist-aimed publications.

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Friday, June 18, 2010

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Biography of Ulysses S Grant

Ulysses S. Grant, he of the exalted name but humble background, whose earlier life provided no indication of the greatness that he would achieve. His were meek origins, the son of a leather tanner in Pleasant Point, Ohio; he was a withdrawn boy, short and skinny but with an unnatural ability with horses. His father lobbied their local US Congressman for an appointment to West Point, which was duly obtained, Grant attending in 1839. His time at West Point was an undistinguished one, he spurned academia, being only really content when he was mucking around with horses, he graduated anonymously in the middle of the class, failing to land the cavalry duty which he wanted. Rather he was assigned as a regimental quartermaster and sent to fight in the Mexican - American War (1846-1848) under Generals Taylor and Scott. Although supposed to be in the rearguard, monitoring and administering inventory, Grant in fact saw action and marked himself out as a brave and daring young officer. Equally important to his later career, he was a keen and avid observer of the theatre of war, watching how the generals conducted affairs and directed operations. Also of note, he despised what the war stood for, thinking it unjust and morally questionable, yet he went over and beyond the call of duty. Later he would state, that even if a man disagrees absolutely with the reason and purpose of war, it is better that he partake; that it is better to advocate war, pestilence and famine than to act as an obstructionist to a war already begun.

At the conclusion of the Mexican war, he moved though a number of unremarkable posts, gaining promotion to captain and then in 1854, he resigned his commission and retired to the family farm of his wife, whose father was a Southern plantation owner. He had married Julia Dent in 1848, they would have four children together, three boys and a girl. He failed as a farmer, turning his hand to an array of business activities, including bill collecting, real estate and selling firewood on the streets of St. Louis, all of which failed to take-off. In 1860, almost forty, he was forced to ask his father for a job and found himself clerking in a leather store in Galena, Illinois with his brother as his boss. The outbreak of the Civil War was to completely change his fortunes, being the town's only graduate of West Point, he was elected to preside over a citizen's meeting to discuss raising troops. Something inside of him was awakened, he decided to re-enter the Army, he hoped to receive a new commission but he had to settle for command of the Illinois volunteers. He hit the ground running, winning a small battle at Belmont, Missouri and then capturing two major Confederate fortresses - Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. The latter made him a national figure overnight, the captures of the forts were the first Northern successes since the beginning of the war. He had earned his spurs and his trademark style was born - dogged, fearless, clearheaded and lucid. There were detractors however, many noting that he had not yet faced the best of Southern generals who were operating in the Western Theater of the war, most importantly he had not yet come against General Robert Lee's boys.

Indeed, his first taste of the Western Theater was bittersweet, at the Battle of Shiloh he was taken by surprise and initially driven back, he kept his head however and won on the second day, though the battle was the scene of horrific losses. Initial reaction was very critical of Grant, many reports stating that he had been drunk and that it had in fact been his second-in-command, General Buell who had rallied the troops. Many lobbied the White House for Grant's removal but Lincoln refusesd famously stating - 'I can't spare this man, he fights'. However, Grant was placed down the pecking order, as Halleck took over control of Grant's armies, demoting him to second-in-command. When Halleck was promoted to General-in-Chief of all Union armies, Grant regained control. Many believe in hindsight, that Buell was the thinking behind the Union victory at the Battle of Shiloh, either way, Grant had learned a lesson on being prepared, that would serve him well for the duration of the war. In the winter of 1862-1863, Grant in an effort to take Vicksburg, Mississippi, took his army through the marshlands of the region, for which he was debased in the media, many commentators labelling him a drunkard and his adviser Sheridan, a lunatic. However, his strategy is nowadays perceived as masterful; he marched his troops down the west bank of the Mississippi, crossed the river, moved inland and defying all conventional military principle, cut loose from his supply lines. Operating behind enemy lines, he kept on the move and so did not give Confederate forces a chance to concentrate their forces against him, he captured the city of Jackson, Mississippi and so severed the railway line to Vicksburg. He subsequently defeated the Southerners at Champion Hill forcing them inside Vicksburg, which he laid siege to, taking the city six weeks later. It was a momentous victory, splitting the Confederacy in half, it and the Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg the previous day are widely viewed as the turning point of the war.

Lincoln promoted Grant to command all the Union armies between the Appalachians and the Mississippi. His first brief was to remove the Union forces from Chattanooga, Tennessee where they were surrounded on three sides by Braxton Bragg's Confederates. He succeeded, though massive credit as to be given to George Thomas' veterans who heroically and miraculously managed to take Missionary Ridge against all expectations, routing the Confederates and effectively opening up the way for the invasion of Atlanta, Georgia and the heart of the Confederacy. It confirmed Lincoln's belief that Grant was his man, in March 1864 he appointed him as Lieutenant-General, in command of the entire Union Army. Grant devised a strategy that would strike at the heart of the Confederacy from multiple directions. Grant, Meade and Butler would move against Lee at Richmond, Virginia; Sigel would attack the Shenandoah Valley; Sherman would take Atlanta; Crook and Averell were to manoeuvre in West Virginia and Banks was to move against Mobile, Alabama. In co-ordinating such a master strategy, Grant was breaking new ground, developing the first concepts of total war. It also set the two great generals, Grant and Lee, against one another, they were to first meet in May 1864 in what became known as the Battle of the Wilderness. It was to mark the beginning of six weeks of continuous and fierce fighting, with Grant continuously trying to outflank Lee and each time Lee managing to thwart him. For a hundred miles they proceeded as thus before the two exhausted armies set in for a siege at Petersburg. Grant was in the ascendancy, the line stretched for over fifty miles with Lee having only thirty-five thousand men (many old men and young boys) compared to Grant's one hundred and twenty-five thousand men. In addition, Sherman took Atlanta and began his historic march to Savannah. Lee's forces were stretched, no longer able to hold his lines, he went into retreat, Richmond fell to the Yankees. Lee's army moved west with the Union forces hot on their heels, after nine days in retreat, Lee surrendered his army on 9 April 1865 at Appomattox Courthouse. Grant did not put the boot in, he offered generous terms, realising the importance of maintaining Southern pride, that the two would need one another in the re-building of the nation.

Following the war, Congress appointed Grant, General of the United States Army and in 1868 he won the Presidential election, remarkably it was his first elected office. However, his political career was to be far from as glittering as his military one. He appointed many cronies to elevated posts and therefore was left with a cabinet who were inept and unqualified. His administration was riddled with corruption but it was kept largely from the public eye and Grant was successfully re-elected for a second term. However, multiple scandals began to unfold and come to light during his second term, compounding negative criticism of an already weak Presidency. In 1877, he embarked on an epic world tour for two years, on his return he sought the Republican nomination for a third term as President but he failed to secure it. Tragically, he subsequently was swindled of his finances and found himself almost destitute and horrifically at the same time he discovered that he was suffering from throat cancer. However, the steel was still there he set about writing his Memoirs which was completed days before his death, it went onto be a best-seller, thus setting up his family, in addition, it is hailed as a literary masterpiece.

Russell Shortt is a travel consultant with Exploring Ireland, the leading specialists in customised, private escorted tours, escorted coach tours and independent self drive tours of Ireland. Article source Russell Shortt, -

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

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Monday, June 14, 2010

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Victorian Circus

It is known that there were hundreds of circuses operating in mid Victorian times around 1850-1860. Circuses were a part of culture and a unique part of western culture and what is known as Victorian culture and Victorian culture had important influences on Modern Culture. The skills whether that of the performers or the specific engineering and design work done in preparing the circus were important. It is known that there were aquatic circuses where the circus ring was flooded with water. It is known too that in Roman times, amphitheatres were flooded with water so that mock sea battles could be staged. This article aims to describe the unique feel and culture of the time. It aims to elaborate on what is meant by the lewd and sometimes grotesque nature of circuses. Were circuses close to theatre and burlesque in some degree?

You can imagine the whole commercialism and excitement of Victorian circuses. The skills and daring involved was exciting and you can feel a strange freedom and beauty in this world. There was a certain American gentleman Richard Sands who ran a circus. He was an acrobat as well as what was known as a 'ceiling walker'. It is difficult to imagine ceiling walkers now. Firstly, the modern person might question whether such an ability is possible i.e. to walk on ceilings. Surely this can only be done through computers and some kind of illusionary effect. But Victorian circuses in this respect were not about illusion. They were about real skill and they aimed to evoke real excitement, a real circus effect. Richard Sands who it is known visited England from America in 1842 also brought a large stud of horses and equestrians. His circus was certainly well organised and its performers whether acrobats or equestrians were highly skilled. This was the 1840s, the early Victorian period. It is too difficult and presumptuous to mention circuses as part of a whole cultural development. The nineteenth century continued on the great Industrial Revolution and it is obvious that new inventions and developments were used in circuses to develop new skills as well as new ways of captivating and entertaining an audience yearning for such enthralling circus acts.

Richard Sands was apparently able to walk on ceilings because of rubber suction pads attached to his feat. The Sands Circus returned to England in the 1850s and he did this act during this time. Unfortunately he was killed when performing this act in America because of loose plaster in the ceiling. Still what I am trying to evoke is a degree of danger in the circus but it wasn't danger in the sense of recklessness. The audience wanted to see danger performed in a structured setting and this setting was the circus. The colour, the animals, the acrobats added to a new type of performance. This wasn't just theatrical performances or performances akin to plays in theatre houses. It was a raw theatricality that only circuses can evoke. It was real human performance involving acts deliberately aimed at captivating the audience.

One of the central elements of Victorian Circus was Astley's Amphitheatre. It is important to mention Philip Astley, a cavalry officer turned circus-manager who brought the circus to a new level. And it is Philip Astley who the famous Astley's Amphitheatre is named after. Astley's is considered the first real circus but it began before Queen Victoria came to the throne. You may wonder why the term 'amphitheatre' was used. Note that the setting for the circus is not a theatre but an amphitheatre. Look back at famous amphitheatres in history! Think of amphitheatres like the open-air amphitheatres of the Roman era,. Maybe the word 'amphitheatre' was used because it denoted excitement, true 'circus' excitement ; This was how a circus was meant to be. It seems too that Mr Astley's theatre was mentioned in the Old Curiosity Shop by Dickens. If you look online at Victorian prints, you can find prints of Astley's Circus and perhaps you can deduce from this that Astley's Circus was an important part of the Victorian World in England at least.

It is known that Philip Astley, who is considered the founder of modern circuses, opened a riding school in 1768. His main aim, it seems, was to develop a school for trick riders or horse riders who would perform daring feats on horseback. Astley developed an arena for the performing horse-men. He saw that the arena or performing area should be a particular shape with the audience around. Because of its circular shape, he called the area a circus. Still it is not confirmed that he called the arena a circus. He certainly saw that the performing area needed to be of a certain shape I.e. circular so that horse-riders could perform in an optimum way and so that the audience too could see everything. This is the important thing about a circus! The circus is 'close' to the audience. The audience are meant to see everything. The performers perform for the audience. They perform around the audience.. They perform above the audience. The audience is meant to see. Victorian theatre had this basic aim, for the audience to be close to the performers. And Victorian architects developed music halls and theatres on this premise. However circuses came before the large-scale construction of Victorian theatres. It is best not to emphasise the circus shape because the shape is really perhaps a common-sense shape for a raw theatrical performance such as the circus. And you shouldn't of course over-analyse what is common-sense!

The amphitheatre was situated on Westminster Bridge Road in Lambeth, London. As a piece of architecture, Astley's Amhitheatre was certainly stunning and had rich effects . It was built in 1796 and thus before the Victorian Age. Still Astley's Amphitheatre was burned down many times and refurbished too and you can argue that the theatre opened in 1770 when the first theatre was built. However it was destroyed by fire in the early 1790s. It was known variously as the Royal Saloon and the Royal Grove and the building only became known as Astley's Amphitheatre in 1795. Astley refurbished the building and made the building a centre for his new circus acts and that is why the date 1795 is used. It was thus built with obvious Georgian and Regency influences. However it is still an important theatre to mention. In the Victorian age itself, the place was an important centre for circus acts. The building had many names over time. It changed its name to Davis's Royal Amphitheatre in 1823 and then the Royal Amphitheatre (Astley's) in 1825. Then it had further name changes before returning to the name Astley's Theatre in 1863. It was finally known as Sanger's Grand National Amphitheatre in 1883 before the building was demolished as unsafe. Note how the name Astley's was associated with it throughout its history and you can feel thus its rich association with circus.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

How to Get an Acting Agent

One of the questions I get asked frequently relates to something that most actors face in their interviews with agents and casting directors.

Here's how a typical letter reads; I met with an agent yesterday and the first thing she said was "Tell me about yourself." So I told her what my credits were, where I went to school, people I knew in the business and so on. She didn't really listen. She said she'd let me know. I already know. She's not interested. What did I do wrong?"

Q: What do I say when they say, 'Tell me about yourself?'

Me: Whatever you do, do not recite your resume, where you went to school, and so on. Always keep in mind the kind of work you want to do ... story telling.

In the case of an agent, you are interviewing a prospective salesperson for your business. It's your job to convince a thoroughly professional salesperson (an agent) that representing your product (you) is going to produce a lot of income.

The agent's income depends on finding, representing and selling the best storytellers he can find. An agent learns quickly how to spot the 'comers' and ignore the 'wannabes.'

The deciding factor is simple: "Is this actor a good story teller?"

An observable reality is that an agent can't tell if you are a good storyteller unless she sees you telling a story. That opening gambit, "tell me about yourself" is an agent's way of saying, 'tell me a story.' If you don't comply with this request, agents become like five year olds; 'tell me a story, tell me a story, tell me a story.'

These repetitive requests come in the guise of, "I see you went to Carnegie Tech." "So, you're from Connecticut." "Oh, you worked with Burt Reynolds."

When you hear this kind of thing it's just the agent trying to get the 'test drive' started. They want you to tell them a story.

Okay, now that you know what's really going on, it's time to discover what your response should be the next time you hear those words, "Tell me about yourself."

What you should do is ... TELL A STORY.

Go through your real life experiences and start creating narratives about yourself. If you have to bend the truth a bit to keep the interest up, then so be it. Fiction is our business. (Don't make up credits or relationships.)

For instance, let us suppose that you have only one credit in a community theater production of "Sally Of The Sawdust" and you only had two lines as Cannonball Bill. The beginning of your story might be something along these lines:

"Well, I made my first entrance on to a stage in an unusual way - I was shot from a cannon." (This is what we in the fiction business call a "grabber.")

Now spin out a story where there's a little suspense, a little joke, a little pay-off of some kind;

"One night we had an understudy who was supposed to say one line after I got shot onto the stage. He was supposed to say. 'Hark I hear the cannon roar!' He was pretty nervous because he'd never been on stage before. Anyway, when I got shot out of the cannon with a large bang, the understudy was startled and he said, 'What the hell was that?'"

Don't forget the drama! This is a scene you are painting for the agent. Play it.

Tell a story. A beginning. (The grabber) A middle. (An interesting thing happened) And then the end.

Tell a story that keeps the agent interested in the outcome and you'll go a long ways toward convincing the agent that you are a 'comer.'

By the way, when I say "create a narrative," I'm not talking about lying - I'm talking about taking the stories in your own experiences and making them memorable. Dramatic! Hilarious! Exciting! Suspenseful!

Now practice telling your stories in such a way that the agent can't wait to hear the next line. Believe me, once you "hook" an agent with a well-told story, you will get what you came for ... representation. In other words, sell the salesman.

The same advice goes for casting directors. They are the personnel department of the company you hope to work for. The same idea applies.

Tell a story.

1. Get several good stories in your repertoire.
2. Practice telling them.

This is basic, bottom-line preparation. If you don't have stories to tell, you are going to suffer through a lot of needless rejection.

So the next time you hear, "Tell me about yourself." you know all you have to do is be prepared to tell a story. Make it a good story, practice telling it, listen for the cue line and go. Your positive results will soar.

One more thing ... you can observe how other actors and performers "tell stories, by tuning in to the celebrity interview shows. Some are good at it and some are not so good. (I'm sure you'll see the difference.) But they're all trying ... to 'tell me a story.'

Bob Fraser is an actor, writer, director and producer on the classic TV series Full House, Benson, The Love Boat - and others. Subscribe to Bob's free e-zine for performers, Show Biz How-To, by going here:

Friday, June 11, 2010

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New 2 in 1 Ski Skate Polar Fleece Neck Head Wrap Hat * Gray * One Size Fits All! Review

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New 2 in 1 Ski Skate Polar Fleece Neck Head Wrap Hat * Gray * One Size Fits All! Overview


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Update Post: Jun 11, 2010 19:00:06

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Masks Make for the Best Costume, Masquerade, or Mardi Gras Party

Masks made from pale pastel plumage with shiny sequins are standard fare at Mardi gras, Carnival and masquerade parties. There's an allure and style to them possessed by no other costume element.

Much is made of our desire to pretend and the imagination's ability to do so. Few activities give us the opportunity as readily as does the costume party. Frills and flourishes that have no other place are found in abundance at parades of show costume-clad dancers wearing yards of sequined fishnet and feathered elegance.

None of it would have the same mystery without the elegance of the mask. These beautiful adornments have a history of their own that heralds back to court functions in pre-Revolutionary France. There's the hint of a palace in every feathery sequined one of them.

Party masks in plentiful supply are just a few keystrokes away. Feathers and frills that enhance the night's need for mystery and intrigue are available; so are sequined masks that hide Halloween ballerinas from crowds of ghouls and goblins from school.

Any costumed occasion can call for the appropriately feathered and sequined mask. Delicate colors can be matched to most costumes. Chiffon and silks of formal costume balls are the perfect place for feather masks.

The court jester may need to tell his best jokes to the feather masks in his court and juggle with his best skill. Refreshments will need to be more amazing than usual and the dances will need to be courtlier than ever before. Everything will take on a fancier appearance when masks with feathers and sequins appear at a party.

Laughter is an automatic response to the sight of masks made with the look of antique feathers and sequins in a costume's design. It is nearly impossible not to smile at this soft finery.

Mrs. Party... Gail Leino is the internet's leading authority on selecting the best possible party supplies (, using proper etiquette and manners while also teaching organizational skills and fun facts. The Party Supplies Hut has a huge selection of free party games, coloring pages, word find, word scramble, printable baby and bridal shower activities. Mardi Gras party ( ideas, parade schedule, party planning tips, menus, beads, masks, recipes, free games, printable activities to help complete your celebration.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Great Price Angel for

Angel Deluxe Theatre Headwear Costume Accessory Review

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Beautiful, gorgeous plastic mask with character specific glitter detailing and matching glamour style wig. A perfect dressy combo for your next elegant costume party affair.

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Update Post: Jun 09, 2010 16:30:07

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Greek God - Apollo

Greece is possibly one of the world's richest countries when it comes to history and culture. A lot of our present existence be it the language or customs, have somehow or the other evolved from Greek civilization. In fact even the fashion industry has its roots in the ancient Greek costume. Greece was famous for not only its culture but also its mythology and of course the Greek Gods! Large figures of Apollo, Zeus and all of the Gods of Mt. Olympus draped in their impressive ancient Greek costumes still stand tall at Delphi and all over Greece. It is believed that there was a 40-foot statue of Zeus at Olympia!

Ancient Greece had many religious figures. Each of these was associated with a distinct part of the earth's resources. They were guardians of these parts. For instance, there was a god associated with wars and also for daily work such as cleansing and even manufacturing.
The most authoritative and prominent not to mention well-known deity was Apollo - the Greek god of the sun. He was the son of the king of gods - Zeus (ruler of Mt. Olympus and God of sky and thunder) and mythical figure Leto, his twin sister was Artemis, deity of hunting and later the deity of the moon. Zeus is depicted in various sculptures as bearded, properly draped in the ancient Greek costume of a cloak - like a Roman Toga and bearing a thunderbolt.

Apollo on the other hand is portrayed in most of the sculptures and in scriptures in his ancient Greek costume of the cloak concealing his divine nakedness. Apollo controlled many of the aspects of Greek life such as including medicine, healing, music, poetry, archery and even plague. Both Delos and Delphi were devoted to worshiping him. He was also the god of migrants with the divine powers of keeping a watch over them and was the guardian of herds and flocks. Apollo's many different aspects were worshiped alternately in different areas of Greece.

Apollo was a patron of Delphi. This made him an oracle and he was thus able to speak to mortals and tell them the future. His position diving prophecy at Delphi made Apollo one of the most important deity figures of Olympus. There are various scripts describing the oracle and pictures depicting the followers at the oracle in their flowing ancient Greek costumes. The sects that followed were quite diverse, which was odd because he had two areas that were devoted to him - Delos and Delphi. Often, shrines of each cult would be found in the same city! Today, supporters of revivalist Hellenic polytheism still revere Apollo. The most common symbols associated with Apollo were the lyre and the bow, along with occasional depictions of a plectrum and the "sacrificial tripod", representing his powers of prophecy.

Another very important attribute to Apollo were The Pythean Games that were held at Delphi every four years. The crowns given to the winners were made out of laurel bay plant. This was a symbol sacred to Apollo since he was born under a palm in Delos. These games were the forerunner to our present day Olympics! It would seem strange to see those games with the participants sporting the ancient Greek costumes rather than the sports wear we see today.

Christopher Schwebius is an entrepreneur who seeks out sharply defined, specifically focused topics to research. Upon finishing his research he provides relevant, un-biased information to his readers based on his discoveries and/or personal experiences. One of his latest ongoing projects can be viewed at

Monday, June 7, 2010

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Embroidered White Cap - theatre masks Review

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  • Pre-curved PE visor with eight rows of stitching
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Update Post: Jun 07, 2010 14:10:07

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Theatre Masks

Theatre Masks were used in ancient Roman and Greek dramas to portray characters. Each theatre mask had its own shape and color to refer to the character and the emotion. Masks of comedy and tragedy are well known and are a sign of theatre even today - one is smiling or laughing, and one is frowning or howling in misery. It is a symbol of the balance of emotions that theatre aims to strike. It is an age old tradition. However, in modern times body language, facial expressions and tone of voice have become more important factors for expressing emotions.

It is believed that well-made masks look different on different actors. A good quality theatre mask dictates to the actor. Theatre masks are made out of neoprene, an industrial latex compound. The mask made from it looks like a leather mask and is similar to leather in weight. A neoprene mask is reasonably priced as well as hard-wearing.

Nowadays, show business people pay unusual consideration to character theme kits with full-color instructions. These include latex masks, appliances, adhesives, and crème; make-up, fangs, blood, gore and more. The professional make-up artist prepares a face mask of motion-picture quality, which provides excellent realism and is built for comfort as well. These artists prepare ape-man masks, bullet-hit masks, compound-fracture-of-bones masks, demon masks, devil masks, glass attack masks, horned masks, injured noses, mummy masks, open wound, skull masks, spike masks, and vampire, werewolf, witch and zombie masks. These give the illusion of reality, and are of high quality.

Masks provides detailed information on African Masks, Feather Masks, Gorilla Masks, Halloween Masks and more. Masks is affiliated with Yoga Mats.