I’m loving writing these Aunt Mable stories right now- So more of them, yes? If you didn’t read the previous stories, here is what has happened so far: Nobody in the castle of Cythry has seen or heard from Mable for seventy years but the day after the Second World War breaks out she comes shuffling out of the fog, intent on staying for the duration. The seven brothers who live in the castle (Edward, Seamus, Arthur, Fletcher, Erasmus (or whatever other name he happens to be calling himself,) Ti & Earnest) find themselves in a nightmare- Mable is horrible. No sooner does she arrive than she takes over and makes their lives a misery- Beating them, throwing their toys out of the window and inflicting other hideous cruelties. In trying to rid themselves of her, the boys have found themselves alone. Their father is away doing his bit for the war and won’t believe them, their mother is dead and the lady who is supposed to keep an eye on them (Mrs Violent) refuses to help. When the last story ended Edward had been dispatched back to boarding school and everything looked hopeless…
When it comes to Shakespeare’s history plays the one that people always mention is Richard III and often how wrong it is, how badly it is written. They’ll say that Richard wasn’t the deformed hunchback that Shakespeare makes him out to be. Fair enough, in all likelihood he wasn’t a murdering psychopath. However, analysis of his bones has revealed that Richard did have Scoliosis (a deformation of the spine) so Shakespeare wasn’t entirely wrong, he was merely exaggerating on a grand scale. In Henry VI (part 2) he has Richard, who is just some stripling at this point, give a super long soliloquy (the longest in all of the complete works) that boils down to ‘look at me I’m a monster… Nobody loves me so I’m going to kill everyone!’ Definitely exaggerated. Essentially, Richard comes on stage, cackles like a maniac and proves to the audience that he’s the big bad of the main cycle- The eight plays that start with Richard II and run right through to Richard III.
People tend to fixate on Richard III and leave out the rest of the cycle. They don’t mention what Shakespeare got right and got wrong about the other characters, the other kings, about the other events and battles depicted. They don’t mention it because they don’t know and they don’t know because nobody ever mentions it. Also, primarily because of Richard III, historians will tend to dismiss the history plays in their entirety, not recognizing them as anything credible. I would disagree. I think that the history plays are indeed credible, but more in a historiographical sense than an historical one. They show us not only how the past was viewed and used in Shakespeare’s day but also the way in which it was presented to the general public, how people learned about their history.
The English are perhaps the least patriotic people on the planet. They don’t celebrate their national day, St George’s day. The most it ever gets is a half hearted news report from the deserted platform of Coventry railway station. Nobody knows the words to the national anthem apart from ‘God save our gracious Queen’ and ‘Rebellious Scots to crush,’and anybody who thinks that the reason we’re sailing towards the unknowns of Brexit land is deluded if they think it’s because of some sense of patriotism. It isn’t. A few yobs will get their patriotisms out when it comes to football and the world cup but that is about as patriotic as the English ever get. When it comes to history it is a different story. The English love history, on the whole. They love their own history. There is a strong interest in history, a strong interest in the past and where we come from. Despite this there is one thing that does not exist- Neither an English nor a British National History Museum. The reason why is nothing to do with patriotism or the lack of it, though you might expect it to be the case. It’s a little more complicated than that. Continue reading “A National History Museum”