Tag Archives: Elizabethan period

Shakespeare, William: My thoughts

There have been a couple of books that I’ve read lately that reminded me of my experiences with William Shakespeare. These books are: Philippa Ballantines Chasing the Bard and Deborah Harkness’ Shadow of Night.

I feel kind of pretentious in writing about William Shakespeare’s. I will not pretend that I have read all his work, but I have read some. The ones I have read have been fun, annoying, boring and adventurous.

The good ol’ days. Isn’t that what we get told all of the time. “Back when … things were soooooo much better”. Seriously???? I never understood that. What was the Elizabethan period like?

Bloody awful, in my opinion. If you have cleaning OCD, you would have hated living back then. The sanitation systems were non-existent. People threw night pots out their windows and poor person walking beneath. Death rates were high. Life expectancy was low. Women were chattel (pretty much like a lot of places today).

Like today, being wealthy was a whole lot healthier than being poor. Around this time people in William’s England were finally beginning to find their way out of darkness. Due to expansionism and changes in laws, people were somewhat able to change their financial status. Being thrown into jail for what you said was a little less likely. That made it possible for the English renaissance to flower, which is why I get to write about dear old William.

While in High School (Olympus High, SLC, UT) I took a class called “English Litterature”. In it I became acquainted with not only William but a great deal of other great authors from England. But because of his prolificity, William did take up a great deal of time in our classes. We memorised monologues, watched movies and read through plays.

I think maybe my first meeting with Shakespeare came some years earlier. I believe I must have been in 7th grade here in Norway. One day my class visited the local theater and watched a dress-rehearsal of Romeo and Juliet. I seem to remember a spark being lit then, a spark that flared a bit more in high School.

What was there about Shakespeare that could possibly appeal to a 12 year old. Words. The sound of the combination of words. Later, when I had to memorise monologues from Hamlet, the combination of words made it easier for me. Shakespeare combines his words in a way that drove me as a reader onward.

Shakespeare is one of those writers that makes me want to read his texts out loud. The formation of the words in my mouth has a texture that is very appealing. When my ears hear those words they grab on to them and I have what I call a brain orgasm.

You see, being on the autism spectrum is often advantageous (if it isn’t too prevalent). While mine is mild, it is there. I imagine others on the autism spectrum feel the same way about their obsessions. To me it is all about the combination of words.

Shakespeare’s poems and sonnets are more difficult for me to access. Any poem or sonnet for that matter. I suck at analysing and only get the surface stuff. But for me the surface stuff of Shakespeare gives a pretty intense feeling.

As you see below there are sites upon sites about William Shakespeare. Whether or not a person by the name of William Shakespeare wrote all that he has been credited with is irrelevant to me. The most important thing about the works of William Shakespeare is that they have withstood the test of time and can be a guide in our everyday lives if we delve into them. They are full of action, comedy, love, soap, fantasy and tragedy.


Harkness, Deborah: Shadow of Night (All Souls) (2012)

NPG 5994; Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke by Nicholas Hilliard
Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke by Nicholas Hilliard
watercolour on vellum, circa 1590: NPG 5994
Only for non-commercial use

A Discovery of Witches was one of the many books that my librarian, Ragnhild, recommended to me. I loved it and was highly motivated to read Shadow of Night. Now I have, and am left with a feeling of a book well-written. Deborah Harkness manages the difficult art that putting music to text is. Shadow of Night was one of those books that leaves my husband and children frustrated. I had trouble putting it down and being there for them. Sometimes I wonder if there ought to be a Books Anonymous.

One of my favorite things about Shadow of Night was the knowledge that Deborah showed in her telling of the tale of Diana and Matthew in 1590 Europe (especially England). There was a sense of reverence in the treatment of the milieu. Another excellent thing was my learning a new word. I don’t often have to use a dictionary while reading, but this time I got to. I love that. Her word was so perfect in its context as well (termagant). Thank you for that gift.

Being a 21st century Western woman in Elizabethan England was not easy for Diana. The world for women was so different back then. Being property cannot have made life pleasant for most. Diana left the modern world to seek help in mastering her magic and peace from persecution. What she ended up with was a world where humans were hunting witches.

While Matthew belonged to the richer part of society, Harkness also showed us the poorer side of these times. This was a time of changes in England. Farmers were losing their livelihood, people were moving to the cities seeking employment and poverty was rising. In fact, we are looking at the perfect recipe for a time where scapegoats were looked for. By now, wise women were equated with witch/devil/plagues/curses. Being different was dangerous and no-one was as different as a vampire and a witch together.

Looking for traces of Ashmole 782 turns out to be an extremely difficult task, hindered in part by Diana’s own challenges. Fortunately for Matthew and Diana they have Matthew’s friends (George Chapman, Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Harriot, Sir Walter Raleigh and Lord Northumberland – Henry Percy) from the School of Night to help them.

Diana becomes acquainted with Mary Sidney (Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke). Together they work on Sidney’s alchemical projects.

Along with their own challenges in finding peace and education, Matthew’s role as spy for Queen Elizabeth and son of Phillipe de Claremont will bring them face to face with their own demons.

Harkness, Deborah: A Discovery of Witches (All Souls) (2011)

The Duke Humfrey’s Library in the BodleianWhen you go to Deborah E Harkness’ website, you will find information not only on her All Souls trilogy, but also on Ashmole 782, alchemy and a reading guide. Deborah teaches history of science and medicine specializing in the period from 1400-1700. As such, Deborah is Diana  Bishop – our female protagonist.

Diana is not only in Academia, she is also a witch with a few issues. In fact, she is an anti-magic witch and tries to use her magic as little as possible. After discovering a disturbing volume in the Bodleian library, Ashmole 782, her magic seems to be having a will of its own. Ashmole 782 zapped Diana somehow and she banishes the book back to the stacks.

Other creatures like herself (witches) and vampires and daemons have a difficult time believing that she has gotten rid of the book and a time of stalking and persecution begins.

Like Deborah, Professor Matthew de Claremont (our male protagonist) also has an interest in history. In his case it is the history of genetics (among other things) that he researches. Because of the zap, Matthew takes an interest in Diana. Matthew finds himself drawn to Diana, and she to him.

I really, really like the fact that A Discovery of Witches stays at Oxford and the Bodleian through a major part of the book. It is highly interesting to read about the feeling of reverence that Deborah has for the library and the important role it plays in society. Words are music and the music of A Discovery of Witches is the kind that enters your soul and leaves you replete.

Diana and Matthew are fun and frustrating characters. In many ways A Discovery of Witches follows the pattern that a great many action and romance books do. The main protagonists are on opposite sides to begin with and through hardship they are brought together and become friends/lovers.

I’ve read complaints about all of the things that I liked about the book – lots of data, frustrating characters, library. Kind of funny really, how different our tastes in books are and how we are drawn to such different facets of them. I would say that this is a non-typical yet typical supernatural story about adventure and identity.