Elizabethan London

Elizabethan London
Tyburn was an infamous execution spot west of London, used since medieval times. The Tyburn "tree" - a unique, multi-person gallows - erected in 1571 became a popular public spectacle, drawing crowds of thousands.Tyburn Tree blog is less blood-thirsty but hopefully topical, interesting and informative, if slightly bent to my personal topics of interest - books, writing, history, technology, with a smattering of politics and dash of pop culture, science and the downright strange. So "take a ride to Tyburn" and see what happens...

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Frozen

Now hitting 63+ hours with no power. It's a cold, dark and difficult xmas for sure, and we are trading in our planned turkey dinner for pizza as the power outage continues.

On the other hand the iced over foliage looks nice....when its not falling on your power lines or your car.
 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Places to go...

IO9 offered up a selection of these fabulous interstellar travel posters recently. Or at least it did until the article and the link mysteriously vanished, otherwise I would point you right at them.

So instead I point you to the artist Tyler Nordgren's site which contains said glorious illustrative pieces....Which is probably the best step.

Enjoy!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

First Thoughts...

My first thoughts on seeing Hershel meet his untimely demise on The Walking Dead....


Friday, November 22, 2013

We few, we happy few...

Not sure if this is cool...or just extremely weird.  I present to you, the Lego Battle of Agincourt, alas, sans HenryV's stirring speech.

 
If you want to hear the speech anyway, here's a link to Henry V:
 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Immersive Worlds

I tend to play video games like a tourist.

I like to poke about in corners, gawp at scenery, landscapes & vistas and explore to the point of neglecting the gameplay.  For some reason, the space unknown tends to pull me along relentlessly.

I recently tried out my son's copy of GTA V recently, and ended up stealing a jetski and spending most of the next hour cruising the coast before abandoning it to clamber up the mountains.

Game engines, the technology that supports the development of an immersive world environment, have evolved into truely astonishing tools.

Crytek's CryEngine, used to create futuristic shooter games, was recently repurposed by the British Library and GameCity for an Off The Map competitive project.  The winner was Pudding Lane Productions from De Monfort University who created a astonishing representation of 17th century London from before the London Fire of 1666, based on maps and British Library data.  Check out the video showcased below:

As someone with a interest in history, the ability to roam an immersive historical environment makes certain games is incredibly attractive.  Games like the Assassin's Creed series allow you to roam an 3-D representation of 15th century Florence, Venice and Rome.



Other games let you wander a fictionalized version of New York or Los Angeles, or meander through the late 19th century Mexican frontier.  The freedom to explore and the lure of immersive gameplay are what stands out, making these games and game environment a striking contrast to many games that funnel you through a experience "on rails", with no options to strike out, explore or engage the gamescape on your own terms.

Games like Red Dead Redemption, Assassin's Creed and Skyrim provide you with a vast world, and a myriad set of directions, quests and options for the player to make of what they will.  You can follow the character's journey in Red Dead Redemption, or just enjoy the thrill of topping out over a desert rise at sunset and watching a thunderstorm chasing away in the distance.



The next time you see your kid playing a video game, stop and take a look beyond the mayhem, at the world they are careening about it. 

You might be surprised at what you find.



Sunday, November 10, 2013

History in blocks



For lego and history aficionados everywhere....

Great moments in British history....
IN LEGO.


Monday, September 16, 2013

First Look: Thieves Castle


 
Thieves Castle:   Chapter the First

The man’s feet slid in the muck as crossed the open space of the laneway, the darkness yawning moist and thick around him.  He leaned against the corner post panting, his breath harsh in the silence of the street.  An unsheathed dagger glinted in one hand.  The man glanced around, eyes straining at the darkness. 

Ivy Lane stank.  The smell was a mix of urine, dung and the foul rancid stench of offal drifting down from the butcher’s yards north of Newgate Street.

Then man pushed himself away from the corner and turned hastily down the lane.  The night was heavy and the darkness near complete, lit only by a handful of window candles and the dim yellow light of a small lamp hung outside one dark doorway.  Although the lane was cobbled, the stones were greasy with the accrual of filth and the endless tread of daytime commerce.  The man paused, hearing the faint echo of feet behind him, the sound uncertain.

He cursed to himself and began to move down Ivy Lane with as much speed as the darkness and the uncertain footing allowed.  He held the dagger at length in front of him, as though to hold the night at a distance.   The sounds seemed closer.

He glanced around.  The laneway was narrow, a typical London thoroughfare, overhung with jetties that exiled the sky into a narrow strip and made the already oppressive darkness of the night into a stygian gloom.  A flare of torchlight sent a set of shadows racing away as someone passed the corner he had vacated.  The light sent the man scurrying away, no longer mindful of the slippery footing.  He caught a faint gleam of a bare blade in the glowing light of the torch.

“Find ‘em lads, winnow him out.” The faint voice sounded amused.

The man cursed again and ran down the street, one hand outstretched, bumping along the irregular walls of the laneway.  Another flicker of light in the distance ahead of him, coming from Paternoster Row and the distant bulk of St. Pauls.

“Coads.” The man muttered and pressed himself into the wall, shaking.  The men were getting closer.

“Stay still.”  The voice was soft but firm.  A dim yellow light emerged from the doorway to his right, carried by a young woman.  Her hair was short and dark.  She stepped out and hung the lantern on a sign bracket above the narrow doorway.  She pointed at the darkened alcove to the left of the door, almost hidden by the thick cornerbeam of the house.  “Go there.”

The man wiped his face and nodded, sliding into the welcome darkness of the alcove like a lover’s embrace.  He listened as the sound of footsteps grew more distinct.  He could see the red flicker of the torch against the wall as they drew near, the shadows dancing back and forth with drunken abandon.  He shrank back, feeling the rough timber frame digging into his spine.    He listened.

“Bit late for punk[1] trade, isn’t it.”

“Codso, you lot out looking for sheep?” the girl said in a tired voice. “what’s this rag and tag?”

“You seen a man? A blood?”

She laughed.  “Likes of them in Ivy at this time of night?  Not tonight.  Any of your ruffler’s in coin?”

“Piss off cunt, we’re busy.”

“Fuck you, you buggering cockless bastards, go find yourselves some rent-boy’s arse.”  The torchlight flickered and began to move away.  The man hidden in the alcove let out a long sustained breath of relief as the footsteps faded away.  The girl continued to berate the party’s retreating backs until they disappeared.

“You can come out.”

The man emerged cautiously, his eyes flinching as he scanned the length of the street.

“That lot’s gone.”  The girl said.  She canted her head at the man and surveyed him up and down with a practiced eye.  “What’d they want you for?”

“No idea love.  They came at us when we left the tavern.”  The man shuddered at the recollection.  He had stood mute and stunned as he watched his two friends beaten into the mud and only when the steel had gleamed red did his drink-befuddled reflexes send him careening away as fast as his legs could carry him.  He felt his throat choking with bile.

“Here” The dark-haired girl handed him a wineskin.  He tilted it back and gulped a mouthful of thin, acrid wine.  As he wiped his mouth, he looked at the girl again in the lantern light.  Her hair was short and dark, barely past her ears.  She wore a long dress with the bodice bare and loose, the swell of her breasts clearly evident.  The stays on the dress were untied, allowing the top to flare open, giving the man a tantalizing glimpse of a lean length of untrammeled flesh.  The girl tilted her torso back and the tip of one nipple slid out from underneath the thin fabric.

“Why don’t you stay with me for a time, until your hunters wear themselves out?”  The man felt one hand brush along the front of his breeches, pressing against the hardening length of his member.  His breath caught.  His eyes closed as her grip tightened.

“That may be the wisest choice…” the man breathed.  Her hand slid around his waist and she slowly turned him, her dark eyes locked on his, her mouth open like a wet promise.  He slid his hand down between her thighs and the thin material left little to the imagination.  Maybe it was due to the terror of being hunted through the nighttime paths of London but the girl‘s touch made his pulse hammer and his desire quicken.  She smiled, a brazen smile of anticipation and lust.

It felt like a thump and a sharp tightness against his right side.  He stopped in puzzlement.  The girl continued to look at him and gave a slight half-smile as hot pain coursed through him.

“I.., what..?”  The girl continued to smile.  He felt her brace herself for an instant and then push her right hand against the handle of the long poniard that protruded from his side.  He staggered, one hand grasping at the girl.  He felt his numbing fingers trail over the hardening nipple of her breast but his lust was overtaken by overwhelming weakness that made the dark alley swim.  A sick feeling of horror flooded through him and he reached for her.  She laughed and easily deflected his hand, tugging on the handle of the dagger, steering him lurchingly away from her.  “You…”  his words were incomplete, lost in a red wave of searing pain that seemed to swallow his thoughts.

“Over here, come with me.” She crooned in an encouraging voice, one guiding hand on his back and one on the dagger handle, as though driving some farm animal to market.  He took a staggered step and then the girl grasped the dagger handle tightly and twisted it with harsh strength.  The man felt a tugging sensation and his insides turned to liquid, as though he drunk a skinful of hot spiced wine in one swallow.  He could feel the cold length of the steel perforating his flesh, ripping into his bowels and belly.  His breath roared in his ears and his eyes filled with tears.  The lantern wavered and blurred.

He was on the ground, mouth tasting of blood, fingers grasping at the thin layer of muck that coated the cobbles.  The torchlight flared again and he stared upwards at the girl’s intent face.  She wore a pleased expression like she had made some fresh discovery.

“Want me to finish him?”  One of his hunters stood beside the girl, holding the torch and looking down at him with a bemused expression.

“No, I want to watch him go.  You would spoil my fun Bent.”  She smiled.  Bent’s eyes flickered at the girl with a measured look and then back at the dying man stretched across the muddy stones of Ivy Lane.

Bent nodded in careful acquiescence.   “Can’t have that.”  Bent reached down and ripped the blade free and the man felt a calescent, diffuse sensation spreading through his body, as though he had pissed himself.  His blood was dark as night in the glow of the torch.  He watched it puddle across the greasy cobbles.  “Leave this on him when he’s done.”  He handed her a small object.  She nodded absently and lowered herself over the supine man’s groin, settling herself upon him, eyes fixed on his face, knees on the wet cobbles, unmindful of either dung or bloody rivulets, her expression almost rapt in the flickering torchlight, watching his eyes as the man cried in pain and fear and bled to death in the dank confines of Ivy Lane.

 

---

I hope you've enjoyed the first chapter of Thieves Castle, which continues the saga of Christopher 'Kit" Tyburn.  Excerpts from Book 1, The Jesuit Letter, can be found here.  
 
The Tyburn Chronicles are a planned series of books set during the Elizabethan Era between 1575 and 1589.  
 
Currently I am still engaged in agent hunting, but if nothing new has turned up in my quest by early 2014, you should be able to grab The Jesuit Letter & Thieves Castle as independently published e-books in 2014. 
 
Stay tuned for future news and I hope you found the excerpt intriguing and enjoyable!

[1] prostitution

 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Canons to the left of me...

It disturbs me.

There seems to be a continued... and baffling, misconception on the Internet and often in journalistic media, on the usage of the words CANNON and CANON.

According to the Oxford Dictionary:

CANNON:
Noun:
1.       a large, heavy piece of artillery, typically mounted on wheels, formerly used in warfare
2.       Billiards & Snooker, chiefly British a stroke in which the cue ball strikes two balls successively.
3.       Engineering a heavy cylinder or hollow drum that is able to rotate independently on a shaft.

Verb
1.       collide with something forcefully or at an angle: the couple behind almost cannoned into us;  his shot cannoned off the crossbar
2.       Billiards & Snooker make a cannon shot.
Origin: late Middle English: from French canon, from Italian cannone 'large tube', from canna 'cane, reed'

CANON:
Noun:
1.       a general law, rule, principle, or criterion by which something is judged:  the appointment violated the canons of fair play and equal opportunity
2.        a Church decree or law: a set of ecclesiastical canons [mass noun]:  legislation which enables the Church of England General Synod to provide by canon for women to be ordained
3.       a collection or list of sacred books accepted as genuine:  the biblical canon
a.        the works of a particular author or artist that are recognized as genuine:  the Shakespeare canon
b.       the list of works considered to be permanently established as being of the highest quality:  Hopkins was firmly established in the canon of English poetry
4.       (also canon of the Mass) (in the Roman Catholic Church) the part of the Mass containing the words of consecration.
5.       Music a piece in which the same melody is begun in different parts successively, so that the imitations overlap: the very simple rhythmic structure of this double canon [mass noun]: two quartets sing in close canon throughout
Origin: Old English: from Latin, from Greek kan┼Źn 'rule', reinforced in Middle English by Old French canon

Can we agree that one shoots things at you, and one is a rule/principle/criterion?  Is it really that hard? 
Oh dear God, I forgot it is also a camera brand....

Monday, August 19, 2013

Dancing through Dialogue

Dialogue is always a challenge to write.

Dialogue itself is supposedly formed from the two words "dia" and "logos" meaning "to speak across" or to converse.

The best dialogues have a number of characteristics that make them stand out - a distinctive voice reflecting character; a purpose or direction for the conversation; a conversation burned down to the core essentials and shorn of many of the qualifiers, honorifics and interruptions that make up normal speech; and a cadence or rhythm that provides a beat and drama to the speech.

Usually you want your dialogue to reflect the story of the moment, not just the content of what is being said.

Here's some examples stolen from both literature, television and film that leverages some of the above elements effectively:

From The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Man with the Twisted Lip

"I suppose, Watson," said he, "that you imagine that I have added opium-smoking to cocaine injections, and all the other little weaknesses on which you have favoured me with your medical views."
 
"I was certainly surprised to find you there."
"But not more so than I to find you."
"I came to find a friend."
"And I to find an enemy."
 
From Generation Kill (HBO mini-series):

TROMBLEY:  Hey, Person. Didn't your mom put your picture up on the Wal-Mart wall of heroes?

PERSON: Yep. My grandma did when I went to Afghanistan. I'm on the Nevada, Missouri Wal-Mart wall of heroes. Even got my dress blues on.

COLBERT: If my mother ever distributed my likeness without written authorization, I would disown her.

PERSON: Technically speaking, Brad, but didn't your biological parents disown you when they put you up for adoption?

COLBERT: Point, Ray. I was one of those unfortunates adopted by upper-middle-class professionals and nurtured in an environment of learning, art, and a socio-religious culture steeped in more than two thousand years of Talmudic tradition. Not everyone is lucky enough to have been raised in a Whiskey Tango trailer park by a bowlegged female whose sole qualification for motherhood is a womb that happened to catch a sperm of a passing truck driver.

Colbert gets out of the Humvee with some humrats.
 
 PERSON: At least my mom took me to NASCAR.
 

From Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino's classic film:

Yolanda: This place? A coffee shop?
Ringo: What's wrong with that? Nobody ever robs restaurants. Why not? Bars, liquor stores, gas stations; you get your head blown off sticking up one of them. Restaurants, on the other hand, you catch with their pants down. They're not expecting to get robbed. Not as expectant, anyway.
Yolanda: I bet you could cut down on the hero factor in a place like this.
Ringo: Correct. Just like banks, these places are insured. Manager? He don't give a fuck. He's just trying to get you out the door before you start plugging the diners. Waitresses? Fucking forget it. No way are they taking a bullet for the register. Busboy, some wetback getting paid a dollar fifty an hour, really give a fuck you're stealing from the owner? Customers are sitting there with food in their mouths; they don't know what's going on. One minute they're having a Denver omelette; the next minute, someone's sticking a gun in their face.
From Lawrence of Arabia:

Bentley: It's very simple, sir. I'm looking for a hero...certain influential men back home believe that the time has come for America to lend her weight to the patriotic struggle against Germany, uh, and Turkey. Now I've been sent to find material which will show our people that this war is, uh...

Feisal: Enjoyable?

Bentley: Oh, hardly that, sir. But to show them its more adventurous aspects.

Feisal: And you are looking for a figure who will draw your country towards war.

Bentley: All right. Yes.

Feisal: Lawrence is your man.


Got any favorite dialogue from books or film you want to share?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Dark and Somewhat Stormy...well, maybe more blustery than stormy.

For those of you with a cruel enjoyment of painful prose, the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is akin to Christmas...well, maybe Christmas without the decorative tree, the gifts, the warm sense of family, the joy....Okay maybe more like a a few days after Christmas, when all that good will has dissipated and the credit card bills start to arrive.

In any case, it is time again to bath in the exquisitely crafted precision prose that is Bulwer-Lytton 2013.  For those few out there who have no idea what I am referring to, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton penned what to many is the worst opening lines in literature:

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

To help immortalize this brilliant writing in the annals of  history, the annual Bulwer-lytton Contest was born, open to anyone who dares set pen to paper...

Here are some excerpts from 2013:

"She strutted into my office wearing a dress that clung to her like Saran Wrap to a sloppily butchered pork knuckle, bone and sinew jutting and lurching asymmetrically beneath its folds, the tightness exaggerating the granularity of the suet and causing what little palatable meat there was to sweat, its transparency the thief of imagination." Chris Wieloch, Brookfield, WI


“Don’t know no tunnels hereabout,” said the old-timer, “unless you mean the abandoned subway line that runs from Hanging Hill, under that weird ruined church, beneath the Indian burial ground, past the dilapidated Usher mansion, and out to the old abandoned asylum for the criminally insane where they had all those murders.”Lawrence Person, Austin, TX

General Lee arranged for the dreaded surrender, yet capitalized on his opponents’ weaknesses to the very end, striking a tiny parting blow for the Army of Northern Virginia (chuckling to himself) as he remembered from Academy days how many Union commanders had struggled with spelling even common words, and so ran his finger along the map and settled on Appomattox.Randal Pilz, Milton, FL
Tex sauntered into the saloon, tipped his hat towards Miss Kitty seated at the bar, and drawled, “I’ve been excogitatin’, and we don’t take kindly to no loquacious sesquipedalians ‘round these parts, lessin’ they be indigenous” – and with that, subsequently shot dead the visiting chatty professor of English standing next to her.Rick Cheeseman, Waconia, MN

Read the rest at the Bulwer-Lytton site.  Enjoy!

 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

I Write Like...



I write like
Neil Gaiman
I Write Like. Analyze your writing!
Posted the first chapter of my new-still-in-development novel and, according to I Write Like...well, see above.

Not sure how much stock you want to put in a gadget on the Internet ....but it made me smile.



I write like
James Joyce
I Write Like. Analyze your writing!

Chapter two and three had me shifting gears...



I write like
Anne Rice
I Write Like. Analyze your writing!

and chapter four just got strange...

At that point I thought it was safer just to stop.

Monday, June 17, 2013

It's the little touches....

And another season of Game of Thrones comes to a brilliant and bloody denouement...

One of the things that George R.R. Martin and the writing crew at HBO do extremely well are short, deliberative scenes that illuminate and deepen specific characters, their relationships and their choices so very, very deftly.  This season has a number of scenes that have been superbly illustrative of this fact and I'm not referring to the jarring horror of the Red Wedding.  Here are a few of the scenes that make Game of Throne one of the very best shows to grace our screens in a very long time...starting with my personal favorite moment from Season 3.


Tyrion takes a seat



Dinner with Bolton

Jamie & Brianne and the Kingslayer's bathtime

Accounting with Oleanna

Meeting new people....

and killing them...

and lastly, more of the Tyrion and Bronn banter.



Not sure if I can wait another nine months for the next fix...

Friday, May 31, 2013

King in the Car Park


Wired has a neat gallery of photos (and links) regarding updates on the recent discovery of the skeletal remains of Richard III under a car park in Leicester.

If you, like me, you have an unhealthy obsession with both archaeology and the Tudor eras, you will be excited....

Check it out here.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Coming Home....


Cmdr. Chris Hadfield is on his way back down from a five month stint as Commander of the ISS.  He has probably done more for the education, popularization and visibility of the space program than anyone in recent memory (including Mohawk guy from JPL).  Before leaving, he recorded (with David Bowie;s permission) a new cover version of "Space Oddity".   If you do nothing else today, give it a listen and take a second to marvel at all aspects of this - recorded from orbit!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

"...bitter as salt and stone...."

All that you held most dear you will put by
and leave behind you: and this is the arrow
the longbow of your exile first lets fly.

You will come to know how bitter as salt and stone
is the bread of others, how hard the way that goes
up and down stairs that never are your own.
Paradiso -Dante


Damn.  That dude can write.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Historical Fiction: Delving into the Age


"Kit Tyburn leaned on the bench, his back pressing against the canted timbered wall, surveying the four pasteboard cards in his hands critically.  A worn cyclopean knave of hearts gazed back, accompanied by two clubs, four hearts and a wistful diamond queen."  - Excerpt, The Jesuit Letter



Historical fiction is a genre that often carries the illusion of ease in its genetic code.  To the uninitiated, it is simpler to pull from the pages of history - you don't need to invent, you don't need to create, you just need to pillage the past.   It's all there for the taking.

The reality is that historical fiction requires hard research, a critical eye and the ability to parse from history the day-to-day norms and conditions that govern your characters and your settings.  History buffs are often well-versed, very particular and on occasion, will obsessively guard their "eras", noting any permutation or deviation with judicious care.  Obvious errors pull the reader out of the period and the setting, detracting from the story-line and the overall credibility of the tale.  Research, context and, more importantly, being able to reflect and mirror the feel for the era in the story, are critical elements in making historical fiction work.

That is not to say that you cannot bend history to suit story.  Indeed, it often becomes a necessity.  Good historical fiction winds its way through reality with deft prose and respect for the era and its fundamentals but in fiction, the need to cut, edit and interpret history to serve your plot comes up more often than you think.  Both geography and time need to bend to the will of the author if the story demands it but in a way that ideally respects the reader, the era and the circumstances.  You can move a hill, shift a date, add a character to a critical time and place, but you need to avoid anachronisms and blatant or egregious retro-fitting of history if you want to keep the interest of your readers, and your own credibility...

Writers of historical fiction often need to embed their story in as much reality as it can bear, but not too much.  Most readers don't really want a story that reflects a well-loved character dying of dysentery or an infection from a tooth abscess.  You don't need to know about the toiletry habits of the typical Roman, or how infrequently people in the Middle Ages bathed - unless it is specific and particular to advancing the plot.  When writing historical fiction, the copious research and meticulous attention needs to be levied with the need for story, advancing your plot, and a strong,  vivid and evocative tale to tell, not the reality of medieval sanitary conditions

Writers need to be careful that research doesn't overwhelm storyline.  It is very easy to suffer from excessive inclusion - the need to make certain that your depth of research is reflected on the page - driving the reader to distraction with miscellaneous detail and context that is unneeded and fails to drive the plot.  It is very easy to get distracted by the need to explain and the temptation, when a terrific piece of research needs to be incorporated into a scene, to make the scene about the research rather than the character or the story.  When an everyday event takes you days or weeks to research and plan, the urge to have that fictional moment encompass more to justify all the hard work that went into it, can be an easy and common trap for the writer.  The excerpt above opened a brief scene of card-play that took up a total of two and half pages, mostly dialogue, intended to advance the characters and their situation.  It also involved a significant amount of detailed research into playing cards, their use in Elizabethan England, the types of playing cards available and detailed rules for several different card games, research that included about thirty hands of primero at the kitchen table to get the gambling and betting elements correct.  The original version was almost double in length and covered several hands worth of play, until I re-read it and decided that the vast majority of non-primero playing readers would find it tedious.  Cut-down in its prime, the research lives but much reduced.  Similarly a scene with a dog-fight was cut entirely, even though the intriguing and fascinating world of badger-baiting did beckon seductively.

Historical fiction is best when the author is painting in the corners, dropping in the innocuous and oft un-noted details that help make the era and the landscape come alive in ways that the reader barely overtly notices, but builds and supports the overall world and setting.  It is found in the canted timber walls and the worn pasteboards, the sour warm ale and the mud-caked cobbles, the taste of spiced wine and the rancid stench of a urine-soaked alley.  The research must lead the writer, helping him enter into that world, where they can critically pick the elements and moments to entrap in prose, pulling the reader into their time-warp, into a world and an engrossing story.

It's all about painting in those corners.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Curtail’d of this fair proportion - Richard III

I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deform’d, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;…
                                       - Act I, Scene I, Richard III, W. Shakespeare

The University of Leicester has formally identified the remains it recovered recently under a car park at Grey Friars, Leicester as Richard III, King of England, 1483-1485, the last of the Plantagenets.

The BBC has ample coverage (and a terrific gallery of images from which the above was sourced).  From an archaeologist's perspective, the research that uncovered Richard III has demonstrated how history, archaeology, genetics and science can cross-pollinate spectacularly to unearth a 528-year old mystery.

Richard III is probably one of history's most controversial and notorious monarchs, fueled by a vivid and villainous portrayal by William Shakespeare among others, who had a vested interest in buttressing and justifying the subsequent Tudor rule from Henry VII to Elizabeth I.  Whether Richard III was guilty of the crimes that history has tarred him with (namely the disappearance and probable deaths of his brother's two young children so he could secure the throne by almost literally stepping over their corpses) will probably never be completely known, but the Richard III as a character, as a metaphor for unchecked ambition and ruthless endeavor is everlasting.

Someone commented "So what?  What does it matter to us today?" on one news article, a bit of sophistry that infuriates me.  As the old adage goes, those who forget their past are condemned to repeat it but beyond that aphorism lies a deeper understanding:  having an appreciation and comprehension of the past allows you to connect with and understand the forces that drive the present, the long ribbon of connectivity and effect that provides context and knowledge.  History is that shared experience a society carries that helps facilitate its very foundation.  Having a clear understanding of the drivers and fundamentals of your own society necessitates a grasp of history, of knowing the whys and whats of the past, in order to determine your future.

The recovered skeletal remains bear the marks of ten wounds, eight to the head alone, a testament to the fury and chaotic violence of the medieval battlefield.  Richard III will be laid to rest again in Leicester Cathedral, a somewhat more dignified fate then he suffered in death, having been hauled off Bosworth Field, paraded around and dumped into a grave at Greyfriars Church, supposedly without ceremony and in an unmarked grave.  Without a doubt, Leicester will build a museum and experience a nice tourism upheaval in the wake of the discovery, at long last "made glorious summer by this sun of York."




Thursday, January 17, 2013

To Simpson or Not to Simpson...

 A few years back, when The Simpson's Movie first came out, someone (I assume some movie marketing company) put up a "Simpsonizer" online. 

Briefly, the Simpsonizer allowed you to upload a personal photo and "Simpsonize" it, granting the recipient a cartoon rendition of their photo transmuted into the permanent state of jaundice that is the typical Simpson's character.

After working my way through a panoply of relatives and work-associates photos, I decided to immortalize The Bard as a Simpson's character using the famous Chandos portrait

Simpsonized Shakepeare


It didn't come out too bad.

Unfortunately the Simpsonizer has vanished from the Internet, so I am unable to Simpsonize the cast of Game of Thrones...