Fifty Shades of Shakespeare – Shakespeare the Player (Geddit?)

Shakespeare walks into a pub and the barman says to him: “Get out mate, you’re bard.” *Cue groans* As fairly common as that joke is, it does provide me with a handy link into a lesser known and (apparently) true story told about Shakespeare by one of his friends which certainly has the feel of a pub anecdote:  Richard Burbage, Shakespeare’s leading man, was just on the verge of charming his way into a woman’s bed during a run of Richard III and things had progressed to the point that she had arranged for him to visit her after the show one night under the name of Richard III. (Oo-er). Shakespeare overheard this and, essentially, got in there before him. * When word was brought to the lady’s bedroom that Richard III was at the door, Shakespeare sent the reply: “William the Conqueror was before Richard III.”


Now it’s either testament to Burbage’s capacity to forgive, or Shakespeare’s to be a charming bugger that the two remained lifelong friends. Now it’s important that you remember that this is the man we’re dealing with, – a rakish, witty, and occasionally downright dodgy, charmer. The man who wrote Twelfth Night, Henry IV Part 1 and 2, Othello and all those bleeding sonnets, only one or two of which ever gets a quote in edgeways. As a writer, he covered the entire spectrum of love and sexuality from arty poser-ish-ness, unwitting lesbian attraction, and doomed teenage romance to bawdiness, extreme sexual jealousy and a downright attempt to blackmail someone into bed. So get the stale, mummified image out of your head, take a hammer to the faded icon on the wall with enormous scared eyes, quivering lips and the frilly neck-gear – the asexual figure which was promoted for so long by academics. Shakespeare, that is the writings of, is downright sexy. “Sexy,” as well as all the kinky implications, I also use in an excruciatingly literal sense – as in it’s full of the stuff. It’s obsessed. And even the historical plays have their moments. When it’s not the plays themselves, contemporary interpretations will often add it in  to highlight aspects of gender, power and (quelle surprise) sexuality.

When you really read or watch Shakespeare, you’d be surprised out how charged most of it is. I was when I re-visited it simply at the variation on a theme. Over the course of the next God knows how long, I am going to look at every Shakespeare play and most of the poems and look at them in terms of sexuality, sexual politics, lust, language, rhetoric and whatever else pops into my head at the time. Now some ground rules:

  1. I will not be looking at every single goddamned sonnet. Entire rainforests have been written about them and I very sincerely doubt if there’s much more for me to add. And there are loads of them, I don’t know if you’ve noticed?
  2. Oxfordians, Baconians and Queen Elizabeth I-ians, no I will not be addressing all that. For my purposes, Shakespeare was Shakespeare. Maybe another day. But not now.
  3. This will not be an uninterrupted stream of posts. Otherwise I will get very, very, very bored. I will still be reviewing other books and maybe some more adaptations.

Okay that’s all for now, folks – Fifty Shades of Shakespeare will reurn in… Romeo and Juliet, or “Suicide isn’t Romantic, Kids.”

*Shakespeare never gave himself major roles in his own plays, if any, and by the sounds of this story he used the free time while his friends were performing wisely…


Horrible Histories

Some fun stuff to while the hours away…

Horrible Histories was originally (and remains) an extremely popular series of children’s history books by Terry Deary, that refuses to leave out the gory, stupid, dark or funny bits and explains everything simply with  a dry sense of humour, without patronising its audience. A few years back CBBC, (the children’s section of the BBC) started airing a sketch show based on the books which is, quite frankly, one of the best things airing on TV at the moment.

One of the many things the show does marvellously well is songs. The four King Georges as a boyband? Works for me! For anyone curious to know the basics about the Georgian era.

NB: As fans of Lucy Worsley will know, George III was George II’s grandson NOT son. To be fair to Mat Baynton, (the actor playing George II), he did amend this gesture in future performances; I chose this video because it’s the one in which it’s easiest to hear the actual lyrics.

Over and out. P.S. I promise another review post is coming soon, it’s half-written!

The original review of Lucy Worsley’s Courtiers can be found here:

Remedia Amoris – Elizabeth Thomas

This made me chuckle,

Love, and Gout invade the idle Brain,

Bus’ness prevents the Passion, and the Pain:

Ceres, and Bacchus, envious of our Ease, 

Blow up the Flame, and heighten the Disease.

Withdraw the Fewel, and the Fire goes out;

 Hard Beds, and Fasting, cure both Love and Gout. 

  Elizabeth Thomas (1675-1731), taken from No Bliss Like This compiled by Jill Hollis.

The Ballad of Pamela (A Must for Any English Students)

For anyone who’s ever had murderous intentions towards the heroine of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela. I did try to write a review about it once, before I realised that it’s near impossible to guarantee that you’re reading the same edition as your readers – what with the umpteen revisions that Richardson himself made, some his daughter made apparently according to his instructions after his death, and some bowlderized Victorian edition still flying about. You are entirely at the mercy of the editor of your edition.

Music by Tyler Green


The Dracula Innocence Project

To my mind, reading the novel Dracula is a bit like reading the Bible. It’s not necessarily the the best-written of all books, but there’s a helluva lot of fun to be found in the interpretation.

For instance, The Dracula Innocence Project ( takes the question “was Dracula framed?” and does some very interesting things around it. They work upon the premise that the story is fact and not fiction and ask academics etc to respond in light of Drac’s frame-up.

I suppose it’s one way of talking about the unreliable narrator. 😛