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Less concerned with who’s first up against the wall than with how to decorate it

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Jack Graham

Jack Graham wrote about Doctor Who and Marxism, often at the same time. These days he co-hosts the I Don't Speak German podcast with Daniel Harper.Support Jack on Patreon.

17 Comments

  1. Peeeeeeet
    May 19, 2016 @ 12:22 pm

    in which the stress is usually on the ‘iamb’, which is the second of each group of two syllables

    Uh, not quite. The iamb is the unstressed and stressed syllables together, not just the stressed one.

    Reply

    • Jack Graham
      May 19, 2016 @ 12:44 pm

      Yes, you’re right. Badly expressed on my part.

      Reply

  2. Spoilers Below
    May 19, 2016 @ 1:56 pm

    Interesting point about Cleopatra VII Philopator:

    She was the direct descendant of the Macedonian general Ptolomy, and, as far as “race” is concerned, was about as African as Marc Antony (the Ptolemaic dynasty was famously incestuous). However she was born in Africa, and therefore should be considered African. But odds are she was as white as any Macedonian.

    Shakespeare giving her dark skin is a brilliant bit of race bent casting from 600 years in the past, and give us a lovely little puzzle: do we go with the text, or do we try for historical accuracy? Does it matter, if the actress or actor is performing the role credibly?

    Reply

    • Jack Graham
      May 19, 2016 @ 3:00 pm

      Her mother was a native Egyptian, wasn’t she? Or have I been misinformed? (Quite possible, of course.)

      Besides, I didn’t say she was ‘black’, I said she was African, and a person of colour in Shakespeare’s play.

      Reply

      • John
        May 23, 2016 @ 2:48 am

        Her mother and father were full siblings. Their parents were Ptolemy IX and a slave of unknown origin, who could have been Egyptian or sub-Saharan African or Greek or just about anything else.

        Reply

    • Jack Graham
      May 19, 2016 @ 3:04 pm

      Okay, I’ve looked this up and there’s some (seemingly unresolvable) debate. In any case, most modern productions of the play have erred on the side of Cleopatra being white, putting the historical plausibility of that entirely to one side without a qualm, so I think my point stands – but thanks for the interesting qualification!

      Reply

      • Spoilers Below
        May 19, 2016 @ 6:50 pm

        Absolutely! Happy to contribute

        If anything, I think the ambiguity strengthens your point, rather than weakens it.

        (Fuck the UKIP)

        Reply

      • SometimesErroneous
        May 20, 2016 @ 12:32 am

        She was probably more Mediterranean than black or native Egyptian (Whatever that meant at the time, at the moment I think the skintones can vary greatly within Egypt), especially with the real and potential inbreeding, but another fascinating caveat is how she deliberately positioned herself with the natives culturally and politically, against her brother and the courtiers that favored him over her politically. Also, to the Romans she’d’ve been fairly foregin, which is also how she’s depicted all over our Western Media. [1]

        Also, there’s all the fascinating meanings of being an African: a Roman term I’m not sure Cleopatra would have readily identified herself as, above being Egyptian and Hellenic/Macedonian, and as a term, it refers to a massively diverse group of peoples, of various different extractions and cultures, a majority perhaps being “black” but more importantly to them in their contexts as being whatever ethnicity or nationality they are.

        [1] I’m dimly recalling. I could be very wrong.

        Reply

  3. The Flan in the High Castle
    May 19, 2016 @ 8:50 pm

    While the cultural trends responsible for his rise to fame may well be similar, Michael Fassbender certainly isn’t an Englishman – he’s half-Irish, half-German, and considering that he’s played Bobby Sands he’d probably take issue with the conflation.

    That aside, great piece.

    Reply

    • Jack Graham
      May 20, 2016 @ 7:49 am

      When I rewrite this for the book version I’ll make it clearer that I’m not actually saying any of the guys I name are ‘Englishmen’ in any straightforward sense, but rather that their authoritative, bland, whiteness – accompanied by a precise, recieved English accent – is what is currently dominant when global pop culture conceives of an ‘Englishman’ is. It doesn’t matter if they’re German-Irish and playing an American-Albanian in the movie. Indeed, the very confusion on this point would make an interesting angle from which to further attack the ukippian idea of plausible racial/national ‘accuracy’.

      Reply

      • John
        May 23, 2016 @ 2:49 am

        Jack Graham (to Michael Fassbender): Well, let me tell you something, my kraut-mick friend, I’m gonna make so much trouble for you, you won’t know what hit you!

        Reply

  4. SpaceSquid
    May 20, 2016 @ 6:50 am

    Now that is how you stick a landing.

    Reply

  5. Lee
    May 20, 2016 @ 12:43 pm

    Minor point really, but I’m pretty sure Russell Brand wasn’t in ‘Shakespeare Live!’. Tim Minchin was, and I guess he’s kind of similar looking, but then he has red hair and is Australian.

    Reply

    • Jack Graham
      May 20, 2016 @ 6:45 pm

      God, this article is Factual Error City.

      Reply

  6. Mike
    May 20, 2016 @ 12:57 pm

    I don’t know if you’ve caught up on ‘Hollow Crown’ yet but it’s interesting to note that I believe it is only Richard that delivers monologues straight to camera – the rest are played as characters talking to themselves or as voice-over. All methods work for their respective characters I feel.

    Reply

    • Jack Graham
      May 20, 2016 @ 6:46 pm

      Now that’s interesting!

      Reply

  7. Doug M.
    May 22, 2016 @ 7:27 am

    “who was vastly unpopular for most of her reign, contrary to the Gloriana myth”

    Well, no. Elizabeth’s popularity is a complex topic, sure. In fact, measuring the popularity of any early modern European monarch is a bit of a mug’s game. Nonetheless, saying she was “vastly unpopular” for “most of her reign” is just plain wrong.

    Her popularity did decline considerably in the final decade of her reign. The Armada victory was glorious enough, but after that the war with Spain didn’t go well; it turned into an endless, brutal slog of attrition and lost battles, with national heroes like Drake and Hawkins going down to humiliation and death. Meanwhile the Irish front was a black hole for men and money — England was winning its war of conquest there, but it was a slow and horrible grind, sucking up countless thousands of English soldiers. And both wars were of course ridiculously expensive, so Liz had to raise taxes and hand out hated Royal monopolies to wealth courtiers. (She’d walk that back after the Golden Speech, but that came only after Parliament was on the brink of mutiny.)

    It didn’t help matters that the weather turned bad; there were half a dozen bad harvests in the 1590s, including a couple of no-kidding famine years. And then Liz herself got increasingly cranky and morose as she got older; she could still dazzle and overawe when she wanted to, but mostly she just stopped caring.

    ALL THAT SAID, Elizabeth’s relative unpopularity in the 1590s should neither (1) be exaggerated, nor (2) be projected back into the earlier years of her reign, when AFAWCT she actually was pretty popular and well-loved by the standards of then and there. Liz’s government was — by the low standards of then-and-there — reasonably competent, fair, and clean. She ran the country competently, kept the nobility in check, defended successfully against both internal rebellion and external invasion, and managed to split the difference on the religious question. That last was particularly critical; no other contemporary western European country managed this without massive violence, either horrific repression or bloody civil war. Elizabeth’s subjects could look across the channel to France (three civil wars in a generation) or the Netherlands (bloody repression under Alva, followed by eighty years of war) to get some idea of what they were missing.

    So Liz was generally pretty popular for most of her reign. Note that over the course of her reign she went on almost forty “progresses” around the country, usually in the Midlands but sometimes as far out as Lancashire or Wales. During these, she regularly traveled without bodyguards and frequently mixed with large groups commoners — if not peasants, at least the local bourgeois. This was in stark contrast to both her predecessor Mary and her successor James.

    If you want an example of a contemporary monarch who was actually “vastly unpopular” for most of his reign, you can look right across the channel at Henry III of France. Henry was pretty universally reviled, and his death, at the hands of an assassin, caused outbreaks of wild celebration across the country.

    Doug M.

    Reply

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