Macbeth is William Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy, written between 1603 and 1607. The play contains many of the Bard’s most famous and usually ill-quoted lines, such as “Bubble, bubble” instead of ‘Double, double, toil and trouble’; “and good men’s lives expire before the feathers in their cap”; “is this a dagger I see before me?”; “at least I’ll die with harness on my back!” and so on. (more…)
There is more to the intense rivalry between Yorkshire and Lancashire than mere cricket, though one has to admit that these two large northern English counties seem to have produced more first-class cricketers than others.
Lancastrians are descendants or supporters of John (of Gaunt) Duke of Lancaster, second son of Edward III, younger brother of Edward the Black Prince. The reason why Gaunt did not become King when the Black Prince died young is that the throne had by then been usurped by Hereford, becoming Henry IV. The usurper did away with Richard II, grandson of Edward III, but Gaunt was crafty enough to survive, and important enough to get himself into Shakespeare’s plays in a big way. The ‘This sceptr’d isle!’ soliloquoy is spoken by a dying John of Gaunt. (more…)
Not even the Monty Python team could have invented the present situation in the democracy with a monarchy, Parliament, and civilized population called Spain. The Marx Brothers might have shaken the head and said, “No-one would believe such a script, so fergettaboudit!” (more…)
This is more usually a first or Christian name, and sometimes encourages unfair laughter: “Come on Percy, show ‘em wot you got!” As a surname or family name it should inspire respect, possibly awe because the Percy family have figured in British history almost since the damp mists of Time.
The Percys were marcher lords (q.v.) in the far north-east of England. A William de Percy was given vast lands by William the Conquerer in return for helping him conquer England. He fought beside Duke William the Norman bastard at the Battle of Hastings (1066). (more…)
There are second-unit directors whose speciality is the car chase. These are usually urban, but the countryside has also seen some hair-raising examples. I have chosen two of my favourites – so popular with me that I even inflict them on my friends.
The first occurs rather a long way in to a first-class thriller with Steve McQueen driving his own special supercharged Ford Mustang. The bad men are in a Dodge Challenger. Each car has a very special exhaust note, and the director Peter Yates uses these exhilarating sounds as the accompanying sound loop to Lalo Schifrin’s music. Of the two automobiles Steve’s Mustang is the more obvious racer, but the Challenger has a bigger engine, and a very good bespectacled driver inside. When the car chase becomes obviously crucial, there is a good shot of the passenger in the Challenger fastening his safety belt. Mr McQueen uses no safety belt that we can see, just a very concentrated expression. (more…)
Thanks to a BBC-made TV series stretching from the early Sixties to the late Seventies, a phenomenon from the Second War has become memorable. The series was written about a force of elderly men and teenage boys raised in Britain as a home defence organisation, in case of invasion by Nazi hordes. (more…)
An archer was a soldier, usually professional, armed with a bow and a quiver full of arrows. It would be difficult to estimate how long this lethal weapon has been in use, but woodcuts exist of Scythian archers employed by the Romans. The bow was not long, because the Scythians fought on horseback, but the arrow seems to have been at least two and a half feet long from goosefeather guide to the iron arrowhead. (more…)
Men who renounced a worldly life in order to enter a monastery were many in medieval times. They are few and far between now, but the three most celebrated orders these religiously inclined young men joined, or attempted to join were the Benedictines, the Dominicans and the Franciscans. Each of these ‘sects’ was founded by a man who was not necessarily a saint in his youth, but whose foundations have lasted under those names for centuries. (more…)
Where dictators or democratically elected governments rule, they need organisations dedicated to the gathering and evaluation of information, mainly concerning the intentions of other states that may not have their best wishes at heart. These are the intelligence services, and they have been in active operation for much longer than many students think.
Some historians insist that it was Queen Elizabeth I, with her faithful Walsingham and his ring of spies, who was the first absolute ruler to insist on full intelligence gathering. This is patently untrue. (more…)
Since cinema started small children with the talent (and courage) to act in front of a camera team have been popular with cinemagoers. In the Twenties Mary Pickford charmed everyone by staying childlike as long as she could, and sometimes after. And before you could say “Action!” she had grown up and part-owned her own production company (United Artists). (more…)