Tag Archives: William Shakespeare

Coriolanus with Ralph Fiennes

coriolanusRalph Fiennes (aka Voldemort) directed this version of the Shakespeare play Coriolanus. It’s a modern day retelling of a story about the early days of Rome. He retains the Shakespearean dialogue, which is always a must in my opinion.  Instead of fighting with swords and horses, there are guns and bombs in this one. But the play easily converts to a modern ‘Place Calling itself Rome’.

Coriolanus takes place in the days of the Roman senate, and that idea is easily transported to a modern-day Rome, that looks more like an old communist city than a world capital. The peasants are starving while the rich withhold grain to maximize their profits. Rome is under attack from the Volsci. Caius Martius (Fiennes) is a military hero, spurred to constantly prove his worth in battle by his mother, who considers military heroics to be the only honorable quality. The leader of the Volsci, Aufidius, is played by Gerard Butler.

120119_MOV_coriolanus.jpg.CROP.article568-largeThe two absolutely loathe each other. As Coriolanus says, ‘there is the man of my soul’s hate’.  They meet in battle, but neither has been able to finish the other. But you know they will try each time they meet.

But what gets in the way of all this is politics. Caius Martius is offered a place as a Senator, because of his noble sacrifices and injuries in war. In order to obtain this position (which his friends and his mother want him to have), Martius must debase himself by asking for the people’s’ approval. He must pander to them, showing off his war wounds and recounting his brave deeds in battle. His disposition is such that he can’t even stay in a room when others discuss his heroics. He also actively and completely disdains the plebeian masses.  So it doesn’t go well at all. It’s a tragedy play, after all.

I think Ralph Fiennes did an excellent job taking a play set in the B.C.E. and converting it to a realistic and comprehensible modern world. There’s something really brutal about the stark setting (it was shot in Serbia), the utilitarian violence, and the colors used, all of which gives you some insight into both of these military men. They exist, they thrive, in this harsh world, and they falter when confronted with a more nuanced and colorful and compromising world. Martius, brought up to believe only in the valor of military service and sacrifice, cannot comprehend the value of anyone who has not served and who does not perform to his best. He warns his fellow soldiers, before proceeding into battle, that if they try to retreat, he will ‘leave the foe/ And make my wars on you’.  So…go ahead and don’t sign me up for that regiment.

Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain, and Gerard Butler all put in great performances. They cajole, soothe, spur, spurn, and force Caius Martius to do things their way.  It is this combined influence that leads him inexorably toward his tragic end.  But, it’s all about Ralph Fiennes. He is the focal point, almost to a fault. I remember more of the other characters in the play, and they don’t shine as brightly in this version. But it’s definitely worth watching. And worth remembering and considering, whenever the government trots out a war vet for a photo-op.

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The other British Holidays

In December, I did a post on British Christmas traditions and Boxing Day.  Since this week was St. George’s Day, I thought I might explain some of the other popular (and less popular) holidays celebrated in the UK.   In addition to holidays we also celebrate in the US, like Halloween and Easter, there are a number of uniquely British holidays that we would be hard pressed to understand on this side of the pond. Cause what the fuck is Guy Fawkes Day, right?

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Guy Fawkes Day is also called Bonfire Night, and falls on November 5th each year.  The holiday commemorates the ‘Gunpowder Plot’ you may (but probably won’t) remember from history class. Guy Fawkes tried to blow up Parliament in 1605.  He and his co-criminals wanted to kill King James I and install a Catholic king. The holiday started with people celebrating James’ survival by lighting bonfires. It has evolved in the past 400 years, but often featured the burning of effigies. Effigies of Guy Fawkes were obviously the most popular,

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but people also burned effigies of the pope and the devil, making it a pretty anti-Catholic holiday in the 17th and 18th centuries. Children would usually make the Guy effigies and then collect money from neighbors (I’m unclear on why they deserved money, but for an enterprising child I’m sure it was a good deal). The holiday declined in popularity in the late 19th century, and in the 20th became more of Firework Night. One assumes that throughout the centuries, it has also been a holiday that involved heavy drinking.  But it’s mostly a holiday in decline, having lost all meaning with respect to government or religion.  One exception is Lewes, which has the (arguably) largest Bonfire Night celebration in Great Britain.

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Saint George's DaySaint George is the patron saint of England, so this is a holiday really only celebrated in England. It falls on April 23rd each year.  His flag, the white background and the red cross is the flag of England as well. (If you’re confused right now, I’ll help you by telling you that the Union Jack is the flag of the UK). The myth says that St. George (presumably known just as George when he was alive) was a Roman soldier in the 3rd century. As a Christian, he protested the Roman empire’s persecution of his faith, earning him some enemies in Rome and he was beheaded in 303 AD. Some time before his beheading, he slayed a dragon that was terrorizing a village in modern-day Libya. Since he never visited England, I’m a little unsure why he is the patron saint of that country, but he is also the patron saint of a lot of other countries and regions, as well as scouting, soldiers, archers, etc. etc.  Those patron saints are busy people. St. George, because he was a famous soldier, became a figure of admiration for European knights during the age of chivalry, and I think that’s how St. George was adopted as the patron saint of a country he’d never visited.

St. George’s day isn’t really ‘celebrated’ in England.  People might have a rose in their button-hole. Businesses might fly the flag of St. George. One website suggested excellent ways to celebrate might include ‘eating fish and chips’ and ‘going on a pub crawl’.  As far as I can tell, that’s how England celebrates days that end in y. People don’t even have the day off work, unfortunately. There are events for children, reenacting the story of St. George and the dragon, but not much more.  There has been a movement in recent years to make it a national holiday, and to bring it back as a big part of English culture, but I’m not certain they’ll come to much.

If you are going to choose a holiday to celebrate on April 23rd, I would celebrate Shakespeare’s Birthday. Shakespeare was actually English, for one thing, and he was far more significant than St. George to the English identity and legacy.

May Day UKNext week, May will begin, and with it, May Day!
I remember being somewhat aware of this holiday growing up in the US, but I’ve never actually seen a maypole.  In the UK, they do dance around the maypole, covering it with ribbons.  They also engage in something called Morris Dancing, which seems to involve black-face.  I’ll pass on that. People dress up like weirdos, play the accordion, and dance around with black faces.

Morris DancerThe racially insensitive face paint doesn’t seem to be absolutely necessary, but looking like an idiot is clearly integral to the celebration. We have something similar here in Philadelphia, called the Mummer’s parade.

May Day, like Halloween, has its roots in Pagan traditions, and unofficially celebrates the beginning of good weather.  I like it. I think the spirit of it is similar to our Memorial Day, the unofficial beginning of what we think of as summer. It is a national bank holiday in the UK, so no work! Yay! I would venture to guess that most people don’t engage in the celebrations the holiday was made for, but do take the long weekend to spend time outdoors and enjoy the spring.  I was in London for one of the nicest spring seasons they’ve had in a long time, so my experience is not perhaps representative, but I can say that warm days in London are worth more than any weather in any other place on earth.  If you don’t believe me, go sit in Hyde Park or along the Victoria Embankment on a sunny day.

The UK has a number of other ‘bank holidays’, meaning businesses are closed and few people work, that don’t have any inherent traditions attached to them.  The Spring bank holiday is the last week of May, the late Summer bank holiday is in August, and sometimes there are others for special occasions (the royal wedding in 2011, the jubilee in 2012).  These are pretty similar to our Memorial and Labor day holidays.  I think I like secular holidays best.  No haughty traditions, no need to see relatives if you don’t care to.  Just a day off work to do with as you like.

Remembrance Day is one of the more somber holiday on the UK calendar. Remembrance DayCommemorated on November 11th each year (but often celebrated on the Sunday nearest that date), it marks the armistice that ended World War I.  In reality, after so many other wars since 1918, the day becomes a catch-all for honoring service men and women who died during all the wars and skirmishes since that date.  People wear poppies in their lapels and wreaths are laid at the many war memorials throughout the UK.  One thing I noticed in my travels is that every small village has a monument listing the men they lost at war.  It’s sort of lovely and humbling to see them all, and think of how those deaths would have impacted the people they left behind–especially in small villages that must have been even smaller 100 years ago.

A more light-hearted ‘holiday’ is Red Nose Day.  I like this one.  Comic Relief is a charity that organizes Red Nose Day. There are lots of entertainers and local events to get donations, in addition to a national telethon. Whenever we have charity events in the US, we get celebrities to sing patriotic songs about suffering and overcoming adversity.  In the UK, they get them to make us laugh, and they do it every year.  I like that. J.K. Rowling’s two Hogwarts ‘textbooks’ (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and Quidditch Through the Ages) were both written for Red Nose Day.

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So, thank you Comic Relief. If you’re wondering, it’s called Red Nose Day because they sell red noses for you to wear at shops for donations to the charity.

This year’s Red Nose Day brought David Brent into the spotlight again for the first time in 10 years.  Apparently, he’s a music agent now representing a young rapper.

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You may notice that there’s no national holiday for England or for the UK, the way we celebrate July 4th. St. George’s day is the closest they have.  N. Ireland celebrates St. Patrick’s day, and Wales celebrates St. David’s day as almost national holidays. A time to celebrate their unique identity within the UK. Similarly, Scotland has St. Andrew’s day. England, though, does not have a firm origin story around which to rally at a specific time.  And if you think about it, it is impossible to say when England began to be England and ceased to be Briton.  The Romans invaded in the 1st century AD (CE), but the area was already occupied by native Britons.  Those people were gradually pushed further and further west, and are most closely related to the modern Welsh.  After the Romans left, there were the waves and waves of Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian invasions.  England is named after the Anglo-Saxons, so did it become England at that point? You could argue that when England became a unified country is a date to be celebrated.  ‘Edgar the Peaceful’ united the country in the 10th century…and then it was promptly and thoroughly invaded, first by Danish vikings, then by William the Conqueror in 1066 AD.  Much of modern British tradition stems from William’s rule (coronation at Westminster abbey, for example) rather than from Edgar’s influence.  So the whole thing is a big ole confusing mess.  I suppose they could just pick a day, but that doesn’t quite have the same significance as our 4th of July, or other national holidays more closely related to a great story of overcoming oppression. Then again, our traditions dictate we mark this great date by having my idiot neighbors set off amateur fireworks in the parking lot across the street and everyone eating dead animals while sitting on picnic tables.  Not to mention, the Declaration of Independence was actually signed in the fall of 1776; John Hancock didn’t sign until November.
So, all holidays are utterly removed from the significance of the original day, and we should all feel free to celebrate whatever we like whenever we like. On that note, I’d better get ready to celebrate International Tuba Day next week!

Anonymous–Shakespeare and Conspiracy Theories

Reluctant as I was to watch this movie, I have done it.  And because I have, I can firmly tell you that you don’t have to.

Let me start by saying that I love Shakespeare. I have read all of his Sonnets and poems, and I think I’m up to about 20 of the 37 plays. I have taken 3 college Shakespeare courses, and done a two-week program at the Globe in London that taught everything from acting and makeup to set design and costumes.  I enjoy Shakespeare. I am not a Shakespeare scholar, but I am an educated English major who has read a lot of his work.  As such, I find the ‘Oxfordian theory’ completely and utterly ridiculous, as well as being infuriatingly pompous and pretentious.  But I’ll get to that later.  I’m going to discuss two aspects of my dislike for this film: the film itself, and the conspiracy theory that makes up its premise.

First, the film.  The basic plot revolves around the life of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.  (In the film) he was a gifted writer and actor whose passions were squashed by his Puritanical guardian/advisor to Queen Elizabeth, William Cecil.  Puritans certainly hated the theatre, closing most of them down during the reign of Cromwell, but this was a good 40 years before the English Civil War and I’m not certain they held that much sway in England at the time.  But I digress! Young Edward can’t write publicly, but he does so privately.  The film shows him first performing what appears to be a version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream when he is only a tween, and then later reveals him to have stacks and stacks of completed plays in his manor house.  As an adult, when he sees the influence that theatres are beginning to have on the English public, he convinces Ben Jonson to help him get his plays performed under a pseudonym.  Ben Jonson, being one of the protagonists of the movie, and a good man, refuses to attach his own name to the play that he did not write.  Will Shakespeare, an actor who can read but not write (in this fetid nonsensical ridiculous film) scoops up the acclaim when he sees that the play is a hit.

The rest of the film is two stories, one of Shakespeare and Ben Jonson dealing with the glory and success the plays receive.  The larger and more difficult to follow plotline involves Edward and the Queen.  It is revealed that Edward de Vere had an affair with Queen Elizabeth and fathered a secret son, the Earl of Southampton, who gets mixed up in a rebellion with the Earl of Essex (also a secret son of Elizabeth who seems to have been quite up for it, considering she was known as the virgin queen), and they are both sentenced to death.  Confused yet? Because it gets even more ludicrous.  Edward finds out that not only does he have a son with Elizabeth, but he himself is a son of Elizabeth.  Yep, he had a child with his own mother.  Originally, William Cecil wanted him to become king (there’s a ludicrous side-plot about the ascension of James I upon Elizabeth’s death), but that’s gone out the window now.  In the end, Edward begs Elizabeth to spare their son (never telling her that the kid is also her grandson and that she is really gross). She agrees to spare him, but as punishment, Edward’s name will never be attached to any of his plays.

As if this isn’t bad enough, it all takes place through continuously shifting timelines and flashes forward and back! Edward de Vere is played by 3 different actors, Queen Elizabeth by 2 different actresses.  If you can manage to keep track of what’s going on and who’s who, you’re a better viewer than me.  But even if you do, the movie just isn’t that good.  The acting is competent, the costumes and the recreation of Tudor London is great to see, but that’s the most praise I can heap on this film.

I feel I’m being a bit unfair.  It’s not the worst film ever–Michael Bay didn’t make it, after all.  My hatred of it is mostly due to my hatred of the theory behind it. But even if I subscribed to the theory, the film does a terrible job supporting it! So allow me a small paragraph to dispute some of the inaccuracies and nonsense that the film employs to make this theory more believable.

First of all, the idea of a young de Vere performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream some 40 years before it was first showed on stage is akin to (as the NYT puts it) Jay Z putting out The Blueprint in 1961.  Or (to use a reference I feel I understand better) the Beatles releasing Sgt. Pepper’s in the 1920s.  The genre did not exist yet, is the material point.  But beyond that stupidity.  The timeline of plays being released does not even remotely match the accounts we have from diarists of the time or from the playhouses themselves.  Henry V is the first play that is attributed to Shakespeare, in this film.  According to most chronologies, Henry V wasn’t performed until 1598ish, whereas over 15 other plays are believed to have been performed earlier than that (as early as 1590). There doesn’t seem to be a lot of thought put into which plays they chose to include in the film in terms of chronology, these plays are just chosen to advance the plot.  They use Henry V, Romeo and Juliet, and Richard III. All of these were performed before 1599, but they are used in this film to incite a rebellion which actually took place in 1601.

At one point, in order to gain an audience with Elizabeth, Edward de Vere publishes the poem Venus and Adonis to get her attention.  The poem, based on the Greek myth, features the god Venus essentially attempting to rape a young and disinterested boy who only wants to go hunting.  Later, he dies after being impaled by a tusk.  I suppose you could make some allegory of Elizabeth the Queen embodying Venus the goddess, and young Edward making a good Adonis.  But…in the film this is seen as a love poem intended to make Elizabeth remember the love she shared with Edward de Vere.  The poem is pretty graphically sexual for the time period, something of the 50 Shades of Gray of that era, but let’s rewind.  Remember 2 seconds ago when I said the plot was that she wants Adonis but he couldn’t care less?  He tells her to go away, despite her throwing herself at him, and then he goes off hunting and dies.  If the Queen is Venus, how is this meant to woo her?  It doesn’t even make sense.

Also, even if I believed this theory, the film portrays Edward de Vere as a writer and a nobleman.  When he goes to the theatre to see his own plays performed, he is more or less uninterested and detached. He is pleased to see the influence his plays can have, but has no attachment to the actor’s performances or the reception his work gets.

One more note about the film before I get to why the whole Oxfordian theory makes my blood boil.  The film depicts a righteous but incompetent Ben Jonson and a Christopher Marlowe who is conniving and a backstabber. I could perhaps forgive that, but their depiction of Will Shakespeare is so pathetic and moronic that I cannot believe it.  It is as if they think we will only believe their theory if we also see a Shakespeare who is a glory-hound, money-hound, cannot even write his own name, borderline-illiterate moron.  The film portrays him with less sympathy and less depth than the puritans or the palace guards.  And they propose that he murdered Christopher Marlowe.  It’s the equivalent of those swiftboat captain ads in the John Kerry campaign.  You can’t believe it’s happening, and even more so you cannot possibly believe other people accept it as true.

Okay, so the movie sucks.  What about the theory? Why do I hate it so much?

The big point of the Oxfordian theory, their bread and butter, is that Shakespeare was uneducated and not a nobleman.  How could a common man from a small town, whose father made gloves, write so well? How could he know Greek and Latin myths without going to Cambridge or Oxford? How could he know about the politics at court without living in that environment his whole life?

Let’s just take a moment and think about what that means.  They are basically saying that only a person of noble blood could write these plays, because…because they’re better than commoners. That’s their main argument. The presumptuousness makes me crazy.  I know I sound pedantic and ridiculous, but I don’t care! In fact, it makes my point for me! I am someone who was born in the Midwest, to parents who didn’t graduate from college (they later went back and got their B.S.s).  I was educated at public school.  When I was 19 I had to leave my (state) university and try to get my life together, because I was a mess.  Anyone might have looked at me at that point, or in the ensuing years, and seen someone completely average or possibly less successful or intelligent than average. I had no experience of high society, of elite education, of culture or financial success. I had never been out of the country or even to NYC.

But those things did not define who I am or my potential or my passion.  I read constantly, I taught myself about history, about literature. I went back to an Ivy League university and got my degree, with honors. I spent 6 months living in Europe and saw 10 countries. I continue to learn and to grow. I write, I read, I embrace all the knowledge I can get my hands on.  And I’m just an average person with a lot of curiosity! Shakespeare was a bona fide, once a century sort of genius.  When has genius ever needed anything other than itself to succeed? Leonardo Da Vinci was the bastard son of a wealthy man and a peasant girl, born in a small town in Tuscany. He received only an informal education. Michael Faraday was a bookseller with no formal education, but he read a lot, and he ended up making incredible scientific discoveries (mostly related to electricity) and making much of our modern life possible. I think the bottom line is that if you are one of those people, a genius, someone destined to forever change the world and how we understand it, the only thing that can stop you is death.  The idea that Shakespeare couldn’t have learned Greek or Latin on his own, or couldn’t have learned of court politics from his patrons and friends in the upper classes, is ridiculous.  Not to mention that the incredible understanding of humanity, of personalities and emotions, that Shakespeare displays is not something that could ever be learned.

That’s my main problem with the theory, the utterly insulting idea that anyone from humble means could not have achieved so much or written so well.  But there are other problems.  Like, for example, Edward de Vere died in 1604 but Shakespeare continued to debut new material much later.  Unless he’s Tupac Shakur, I don’t see how that works.

And what about the performances?  If you’ve ever taken a Shakespeare class (or 10th grade language arts) you’ve gotten the speech about how these were never meant to be read, they were meant to be performed.  And if you’ve ever gone to the Globe or seen a real Shakespeare company (I highly recommend it), you will undoubtedly ‘get’ things that you didn’t understand before (mostly bawdy puns, but still).  We are meant to believe that:

1-de Vere was such a genius at writing plays that he could simply hand them over and not have any part in the production of them. He would just have faith that all the actors would portray his parts as he envisioned them.

2-None of the actors ever had any questions about how things should sound or look.

3-If they did have questions, no one was confused by why Will Shakespeare couldn’t answer them.

And, one last hiccup.  Shakespeare collaborated on many of his later works, most usually with John Fletcher.  Fletcher (or his other collaborators) never noticed that Will didn’t do any of the writing?  Oh yeah, and they are believed to have written these plays together in the 1610s, despite Edward de Vere having been dead for nearly a decade.  Even if I believed the nonsense about a bunch of plays being left behind in Ben Jonson’s possession, that doesn’t really track with the collaboration with other playwriters.  And anyone who reads a lot of Shakespeare can clearly see the writing style differences in his solo plays and his collaborations.

I read one article about this theory that said it was given as much credit in the literary world as the theory that we didn’t actually land on the moon.  I think that’s giving it too much credit! It is absolutely insulting and stupid.  And so is this film!

Johnson’s Life of London by Boris Johnson

I tuned into the Today show a few days ago, which is not something I normally do.  Insomnia lately has meant that I am either up at 5 am or don’t sleep all night.  So, in the morning there’s little else on.  Anyway, I happened to catch a few minutes of Matt Lauer interviewing Boris Johnson, newly re-elected Mayor of London and the first conservative I’ve liked since Alex P. Keaton.  In addition to talking about the Diamond Jubilee and the upcoming Olympics, he was plugging his new book, so I went out and bought it the next day.

I’m not sure I knew much about the Mayor when I was living in London, but I have seen him on TV a number of times since.  Most notably, I saw him on Top Gear and he was hilarious. Recommended viewing! I can’t get the video to embed, so here is a link:

boris johnson on top gear

I think he’s probably a favorite with the Top Gear trio because a-his background is in journalism, including automotive journalism,  b- he’s quite funny and can definitely hold his own in a conversation, and c- he’s got ridiculous hair.

Or maybe Clarkson, et al. are not particularly interested in his hair, but I like that he doesn’t look like everyone else.  He also rides a bike to work every day, has a lovely self-deprecating sense of humor, and it’s obvious how much he cares about London. He doesn’t have a (or I have never seen him display it) cynicism about London that a lot of people from the UK fall victim to.

So, when I heard him talking about this book, which is basically a list of his picks for the most influential people in the history of the greatest city in the world, I knew I would enjoy it.

He has picked 18 individuals who have had the biggest influence on the future of London.  Some of them are quite obscure.  I took a whole class on pre-Norman Conquest England, read all of Bede’s works, but I don’t even remember Boudica.  Some are more well known, like the obvious Winston Churchill.  Some are surprising picks–Keith Richards over Mick Jagger?  What’s interesting and worthwhile about the book is not who he has chosen, or even why, but how he has described their connection to the city and its place on the world’s stage.

He also includes four or five little snippets about important inventions and features in London history, such as the King James Bible, the flush toilet, the bicycle, and the tube.

Johnson also has a distinct point of view when it comes to describing the city–he is the one responsible for running it.  As such, he places particular attention and importance on people and things that have improved the city infrastructure.  The tube, the railways, the docks, the bridges.  He starts with a discussion of London Bridge, and it is clear through numerous examples that a lot of what has allowed the city to grow and improve, or wane and falter, has been down to these tangible features.  Much of the post-WWII decline could be set down to the destruction of docks and homes during the Blitz. The improvement in living conditions, population growth, and life expectancy that came at the end of the Victorian era can be attributed largely to the sewer systems built during the late 19th century, allowing for clean and hygienic living in a crowded area.  Of course these things seem obvious once they’re stated, but I’ve taken multiple English/British history courses and never had anyone point out how directly and completely these physical features affect the city.

The other main point Johnson makes is one that most people know, but it is very true: London is a city with two cities and tons of villages.  The main tensions and changes throughout the centuries have occurred because of the relationship between Westminster and ‘the City’.  One is the home of politics, the other the home of banking and commerce.  Such was true 1000 years ago, and is still true today.  Perhaps more so today.  Much of the changes that came to define London were due to merchants putting pressure on the crown and Parliament, and that tension meant that no one got too much of an upper hand.  Unlike places like France, where the wealth and power was dominated by only the elite, in London there grew a (comparatively) reasonably large merchant class.  As the aristocracy is often lacking funds to continue their lavish lifestyle, they often come to rely on the bankers and financiers for the money to finance their lives and their wars.  This meant a give and take of power that you wouldn’t find in lots of other countries on the continent.  This tension actually led to increased government stability, and the city grew as a result.

I think the growth of the city is how Johnson chiefly measures the success of the changes he is discussing.  He explains that many of the chief geniuses of the history of London were spurred on by competition.  Shakespeare was competing with tons of other playwrights, like Marlowe and Ben Jonson.  Keith Richards was competing with Mick Jagger inside the group, and they were all competing with the Beatles.  Turner was competing with other painters like John Constable.  The competition of brilliant men (and women) with others is what leads to an explosion of talent and genius.  And that competition is only possible, or for most of history it has only been possible, with geographic proximity.

I really enjoyed this book.  I don’t read tons of non-fiction, but this was interesting and written in a very easy and readable manner.  I really enjoy Johnson’s writing, and his history as a journalist is obvious. He writes well, he is funny, he is not taking any of it too seriously, which allows you to take him a lot more seriously.

A note of warning though.  I consider myself to have a pretty damn good vocabulary, more so since I have been studying for the GRE and memorizing flashcards full of vocabulary.  This man, however, put me to shame.  I had to look up, on average 3-4 words per chapter.  I mean, I may pat myself on the back for knowing the words denouement, apogee, and bellicose without the help of Webster, but I was flummoxed by coelenterate, impecunious, and contumacious.  Have a dictionary or web-searching device handy.