Monday, November 30, 2015


Thomas Sackville (1536-1608)

The Induction (with the Complaint of Henry, Duke of Buckingham) was written around 1563. Its author was 27. He had married at 19 and been elected to parliament three times in the previous five years. In 1561, then aged 25,  he had co-authored Gorboduc with Thomas Norton.* In the same year his first son was born.

His career under his cousin Elizabeth fluctuated, but mainly it ascended. In 1586 he was selected to convey the news of her death-sentence to Mary Queen of Scots. In 1591 he became chancellor of the University of Oxford. He ended as Lord High Treasurer, succeeding Burleigh in 1599.  This was a post for life. In 1604 he became first Earl of Dorset.

Knole, one of the UK's largest houses, became Sackville's in 1566 (it is still part-owned by the Sackville-Wests).

So the general theme of the uncertain fortunes of the great was a relevant "mirror" for himself, at least in prospect. Did he ever become, I wonder, the figure of Old Age, praying "he might a while yet linger forth his life"  "And knows full well life doth but length his pain" ?


The Induction (Complaint of the Duke of Buckingham)

The PoemHunter online text continues for three stanzas beyond the one in Auden and Pearson; thus introducing us to the figure of the Duke of Buckingham, up to when he finally pulls himself together enough to speak.

(Nothing is more remarkable in older literature than the difficulty people find in speaking. The difficulty is associated with high emotion. This becomes a major leitmotiv in The Mysteries of Udolpho, but it had existed way back.)

The Induction is a sombre procession, mainly at glacial pace, of images of the vanity of human existence. Such a poem is best read at the end of November, and though its complaint is entirely generalized it's perhaps not likely to appeal strongly to a modern reader until they have real sorrows of their own.

The verse is rhyme royal, the diction mid-century (on the neo-medieval side of drab). That means there are lots of tears, griesly ghostes, shrieks and other alliterative epithets. Most of this blustering diction we see through the distorting glass of such parodies as Pyramus and Thisbe or Ancient Pistol, so it takes some effort of re-orientation to take it seriously, but seriously is the only rewarding way to read it.

Also neo-medieval is the splendid constellation-poetry near the start and the general sense of a dream-vision with allegorical figures, though this is combined with a guided visit to hell (the living visitor weighting Charon's boat) that I suppose comes by some other route from Virgil, but often makes me think of Dante.



According to Barbara Wooding, Norton's part of the play is the more interesting dramatically. Sackville's completion (Acts IV and V, according to the original headnote) is more like a poetical lament.

The Argument of the Tragedy.

Gorboduc, king of Britain, divided his Realm in his lifetime to his Sons, Ferrex and Porrex. The Sons fell to division and dissention. The younger killed the elder. The Mother that more dearly loved the elder, for revenge killed the younger. The people moved with the Cruelty of the fact, rose in Rebellion and slew both father and mother. The Nobility assembled and most terribly destroyed the Rebels. And afterwards for want of Issue of the Prince whereby the Succession of the Crown became uncertain. They fell to Civil war in which both they and many of their Issues were slain, and the Land for a long time almost desolate and miserably wasted.

The play could be seen as a precursor of e.g. Titus Andronicus. But where Gorboduc is patently political in its fear of dissension, its concern for succession and for maintaining national unity, what such message comes from Titus?

So, at the start of the play, Gorboduc comes up with a plan to abdicate in his old age and divide the kingdom between his two sons. (Sounds a bit familiar?)

In this opening, as in Act 1 of Titus Andronicus, the fascination is of watching people make suicidally bad decisions; the rest of each play unfolding the destruction that ensues.

As Wooding points out, the play's fear of dissension, its concern for clear succession and national unity, were highly topical in 1561, when England over the previous 15 years had suffered a rapid succession of monarchs (and their consorts) with disastrously opposed agendas. I'm not aware, though, that even then the specific issues of abdication or division ever came up. (The more obvious fear was that Elizabeth would marry and thus place national policy in the hands of some other lethal scourge like Philip.)

My suggestion is that playwrights, like other authors, found ways of discussing political affairs by choosing images that were close, but not too close, to the issues in people's minds. After all, that really wouldn't be safe. But this fear of censorship had a good side-effect, in broadening the way that the dramatic image could be seen to connect with the world.

The upshot is that forty years later  Lear tells the same parable again, and it seems just as applicable to the insecurities of the reign of James, just because it doesn't exactly match anything in the contemporary scene.

Pace the useless counsellors Arostus and Philander, both abdication and division are thoroughly bad ideas but the latter is much the worse.

The dumbshow that starts Act II brings with it another reminder, this time of The Mousetrap. Something about poisons and dumb-shows that goes well together. Meanwhile after the legal debate of I.2, we move into morality mode with scenes of temptation.


Friday, November 27, 2015


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

family history

Another "post" that is really an ongoing repository. My Mum is Swedish and this is about her family history.

The Gustafssons

Karl Gustafsson m. Amanda

The family were based in Sundsvall.

They had five children:

Ida (died in childhood)
and a boy, who also died in childhood.

Sigrid was my grandmother (Mormor). I remember her and my great-aunts Moster* Anna and Moster Greta very well.

(*These Swedish aunt and uncle names "Moster" "Faster" and "Farbror" all express their relationship from the point of view of my mum, not myself. I don't really know if, as a great-nephew I should really be using a different form such as "mors moster" or "gammalmoster".)

Surviving nugget of family history:  Karl and two of his daughters Greta and Ida all shared the same birthday: August 24.

The Gullikssons

Faster Svea   (prompted by the news that Johan and Petra  at the cottage have just had a baby that they've named Svea. In Sweden as in England, there's currently a revival of names once considered very old-fashioned.)
  Faster Svea was Farbror Henning's first wife. (His second wife was Faster Selma.  I remember her, though not very well. When I was a child we sometimes used to borrow her apartment in Stockholm.)

Svea gave birth to a little girl who died after just three days.

(My mum was born to Klas and Sigrid three years later, and she was treated with perhaps painful protectiveness, because she was the only Gulliksson child; Klas and Sigrid were not young parents, and all Klas' brothers and sisters were either single or childless.)

For Svea the whole thing was so traumatic that she swore never to go into hospital again. She died, a few years later, of a burst appendix.

Moving to Fridhemsgatan

Fridhemsgatan 11 is the place of my earliest memories, when I was visiting my Morfar and Mormor (Klas and Sigrid) at Christmas time. This must have been 1962.

They moved there when my mum was about two.

She stood in the street and told the passers-by: "I used to live at Albertsgatan 4 and now I live at Fridhemsgatan 11."

(They had only moved a few hundred meters.)

The house in fact belonged to Farbror Henning, the most prosperous member of the family. Henning and Svea had lived there until Svea's death. Fru Wahlström, Svea's mother, still lived upstairs. Klas and Sigrid shared the house with her when they moved in.

Henning was a "gudtemplare" i.e. a Good Templar.  And my unmarried aunt Faster Lydia was a strict Baptist. (This is why my Mum and Dad's wedding, in 1957, was toasted in sparkling pear juice.)  


Swindon's lost arboretum

This post is a repository for notes about the mysterious group of exotic and interesting trees that grow in a bit of neglected parkland behind Cheney Manor (the whole area is open to the public and there are some widely-used paths that go through it).


I've now (April 2016) discovered the old sign, which tells us that this is the Moredon Tree Collection.

Things have changed a lot since this information board was erected. The path as shown is no longer one of the main paths.

The number 1 is now pinned not to an Oriental Hawthorn (which seems to have disappeared) but to a Japanese Crab next to the information board (which is at the start of the path illustrated).

Likewise, the number 2 appears to be pinned to a different tree in a different place than shown on the map: not a Walnut but a tall wild cherry, I think.

Moosewood (Acer pensylvanicum) beside rocketing Dalecarlica Birch (Betula Pendula 'Dalecarlica')

Trees 3 and 4, the Moosewood and the 'Dalecarlica' Birch are both still there. The Moosewood is healthy and impressive (leaf image at foot of post). The 'Dalecarlica' birch is dead straight and very tall and slender; the interesting foliage is too high up to see!

Leaves of Moosewood (Acer pensylvanicum) in August

Cut-leaved Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa 'Heterophylla')

Tree 8, the Cut-leaved Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa 'Heterophylla') is still clinging on. It's not very big and is being hard-pressed by the trees around it.

Leaves of  Cut-leaved Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa 'Heterophylla') overhead

Crown of Cut-leaved Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa 'Heterophylla'), with one solitary fruit

Arizona Ash (Fraxinus velutina) 

Tree 9, the Arizona Ash (Fraxinus velutina) is doing very well. An arresting sight. The leaves (see image at foot of post) are grey-downy and small compared to our native ash.

Tree 10, Common Oak (Quercus robur). Present and correct.

Tree 11, the Amur Maple (Acer ginnala), is doing well (leaf image at foot of post).

Tree 12 (Yew), still present.

 Tree 13 (Yoshino Cherry), still present. (Click to see separate post about this tree.)

Tree 14 (Golden-leaved Lime), still present.

Tree 15 (Gingko or Maidenhair Tree), still present and well-formed.

Tree 26. Weeping Ash. Still present.

The number 27 is affixed to some sort of hornbeam. I can't tell from my photo of the noticeboard whether that's right or not.

But besides these, there are an even larger number of interesting and exotic trees that are not mentioned on the noticeboard at all. Some must have been in existence even back then, others may have been later plantings.

Hornbeam, var. quercifolia.  A strange-looking thing, but more attractive than it sounds. The inner leaves mostly look like normal hornbeam leaves. The distal leaves are mostly much smaller, and are lobed like oak leaves. But there are some sprays of normal leaves, too.

A young, healthy-looking snake-bark maple, not sure what kind.

A spindly Winter Cherry, presumably var 'Autumnalis'. Noticed it in fading blossom yesterday (November 24).

A glossy Tibetan Cherry, growing next to the winter cherry.

A number of interesting birches, including one with dramatically peeling red-brown bark and extremely small leaves.

I haven't yet identified the handsome tree beside the footpath. It's a small elegant tree with smooth bark and leaves a little like dogwood but smaller. The leaves are still green in autumn, and noticeably transparent so showing vein-patterns against the light. Could possibly be Alder Buckthorn, Frangula alnus.

Wild Service-tree. A couple of quite tall trees, lurking within the  gloomy fringe of woodland (sycamores, alders etc) that borders the road from Cheney Manor Ind. Est. Noticeable from the road when they're in blossom (in June I think). At other times you should be able to pick out the unmistakable shape of the leaves.

As you walk away from the Moredon Tree Collection in the direction of the fishing lake (Plaums Pit), you'll pass these two, right next to each other, on your left:

Cappadocian Maple (leaf images at foot of post). The simplistic leaf-shape is always intriguing. In October the Cappadocian Maple becomes a golden-yellow dome while the Silver Maple beside it is still green.

Silver Maple (leaf images at foot of post). Deservedly popular species and widely grown.

They've been hacked about and neither of them is in any way a specimen tree, but the foliage grows low down and is easy to examine.

On the other side of the path, and in several other places, there's quite a lot of Grey Alder (Alnus incana).

Incidentally, Cheney Manor Industrial Estate itself has a few interesting things for the tree-enthusiast to look at. E.g. the row of almond-trees, producing quite a lot of fruit,  that grow outside a derelict office with smashed windows.

Leaves of Moosewood (Acer pensylvanicum) and Amur Maple (Acer ginnala)

Leaves (Upperside) of Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) and Cappadocian Maple (Acer cappadocicum)

Leaves (Underside) of Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) and Cappadocian Maple (Acer cappadocicum)

Leaf of Arizona Ash (Fraxinus velutina

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Cut-leaved Crab-apple (Malus transitoria)

A line of mystery trees growing beside the Avon, just E. of the bridge in Chippenham town centre. I took a few snaps (this was on 7th October), then tried to match them to something on the internet by using vague search terms like "tree golden fruit red stalks", couldn't find anything and gave up.

But today I was reading the latest post on Non Morris' exceptional blog The Dahlia Papers, and everything fell into place. These photos are of Malus transitoria, a species crab-apple native to NW China, commonly called the Cut-leaved Crab-apple.

Small golden fruit with a brown eye, on long red stalks.  All rather un-apple-like.

Also un-apple-like were the variously lobed leaves, as shown in this out-of-focus shot.  Only the distal (older?) leaves were lobed; they are larger than the inner leaves.

The shoot is burgundy-coloured, as you can just about see in the photo below.

Non Morris, a garden designer,  said this was her favourite variety of crab-apple. Anyway it's fired me up to learn more about Malus, a genus that, according to some recent DNA analyses, ought possibly to be considered a mere branch of Sorbus.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

William Shakespeare and George Peele: Titus Andronicus (1592-93)

Marcus discovers Lavinia
[Image source: From the 2003 production by the Hudson Shakespeare Company (New Jersey), directed by John Trigonis; Marcus was played by Clark Williams and Lavinia by April Dawn Brown.]

My post-title conceals, of course, centuries of scholarly uncertainty and disagreement. But the detailed arguments for this co-authorship, first advanced in 1919 and fully laid out in Brian Vickers' Shakespeare: Co-Author (2004) are now well-established. It's time to move forward from that.

Peele wrote the early part of the play: the whole of Act I, and the first two scenes of Act II. He also wrote Act IV, Scene I.  The story is perhaps something they cooked up together; it has no basis in Roman history and I don't think it existed before the play (The nearly-contemporaneous prose version and ballad, I believe, are tributes to the play's success.)

The process might have gone something like this. First of all the two authors collaborated on putting together an "author plot": a detailed scene-by-scene description of the action. They could have presented this to their company in advance and got approval to write it up; perhaps to a rather tight deadline. The play was written in sequence, the authors passing the manuscript between each other like a baton, depending on which of them had time to spend on it. Peele got started first. He wrote an inspiriting Act and a half, then passed the manuscript over to Shakespeare, who proceeded up to the end of III.1 or III.2 *. Then Shakespeare passed the manuscript back to Peele, who was only able to add one more scene (IV. 1+), then Shakespeare finished it off.

The above is just an idle fancy, but it does explain a few things. First, it explains why in this case the scenes by each author clump together in long sequences. Secondly, it explains the remarkably consistent development of the action and characters. (Not of course that the characterization is particularly subtle.) But it probably didn't happen like that. Playscripts were valuable, not least to their authors, so Peele wouldn't have handed over his only copy of Act I to Shakespeare. Elizabethan collaboration sometimes meant that one playwright was sub-contracted to the other (who acted as collator), but I don't think that happened in this case.

[* Surely III.2 was a performance cut, restored in the folio. (And not, as most seem to think, Shakespeare's afterthought.)]

[+ It's not really a doubt, only an observation: IV.1 may have only one feminine ending but it's a superb scene. The fear of the child Lucius; the natural development from seeing the book to the idea about the sand;  lines like "Forced in the ruthless, vast and gloomy woods", "Heaven guide thy pen to print thy sorrows plain",  "more scars of sorrow in his heart"... Peele never wrote better, that's for sure.]

[In Clerkenwell in 1569, a certain Isabel Peele married a certain Matthew Shakespeare. According to Dr Duncan Salkeld, Isabel Peele was probably George Peele's sister. Could Matthew have been a cousin of William's? We can only speculate. If Shakespeare and Peele were related by marriage, could this have been a factor in how Shakespeare got involved with the nascent London stage in the first place?]


Once the Peele scenes have been separated off, it's easy to see that the Shakespeare scenes are not of his very earliest vintage.  (Earlier commentators, appalled by the content, were inclined to bury Titus in the 1580s as a youthful indiscretion.) The patent connections are with Ovid (rather than Seneca) and with the narrative poems of 1592, especially The Rape of Lucrece. [I once had the bad idea of titling a blog-post "Shakespeare: the Rape period", intending to link Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Rape of Lucrece and Titus, the only works of his, as I then supposed, in which rape (threatened or actual) plays a really significant part. I had forgotten about the return of the theme in Cymbeline and The Tempest. And I should have thought too about Measure for Measure: Angelo's attempt to coerce sex with Isabella should also be called rape, shouldn't it?]

Titus was a huge success. According to Q1 (1594, the first Shakespeare play to be printed), it had already been performed by three different theatre companies. Jonson named it (in the 1614 preface to Bartholomew Fair) as exemplifying the smash hits of the early London stage, along with Kyd's Spanish Tragedy.

Peele has been co-opted too many times as a putative co-author, but there are impressive connections between "his" scenes in Titus and his other plays a  nd poems. He was a hard-living member of the "university wits" generation of the 1580s, along with Greene, Marlowe and Nashe. These were students who threw up more respectable employment for the excitements of writing in English for the embryonic commercial theatre (as well as pageants, poems, emblems, and anything else that came to hand). Peele dissipated his wife's fortune, lived from hand to mouth, and died "of the pox" in 1596.


If we no longer feel a Victorian revulsion at the very existence of this shocker, it's still apt to strike us (as someone happily remarked) as Shakespeare's "WTF!?" play.

Perhaps it shouldn't: a list of the six most distressing scenes in Eliz/Jacobean drama would certainly include Shakespeare's blinding of Gloucester as well as Marlowe's spitting of Edward II. Mere blood, stabbings and severed heads isn't enough to qualify for this list: it's when we have feelings around what's happening that the drama really upsets us  (arguably, Othello is the most distressing play of all).  That's one aspect. The other is cruel stagecraft. It's not because we're fond of Edward II that his murder is so horrible.  And that's where the mutilated Lavinia easily tops the list: because we know what's been coming to her, but not exactly, and now we have to see it. (We know about the gang-rape, and Aaron tells us that Lavinia will lose her tongue. Tamora advises her boys to kill Lavinia after their fun, but Chiron, with sinister vagueness, only says that they'll "make that sure". There is no definite forewarning of the most visually shocking part of the horror, the lopped limbs.)

As Shakespeare readers, what we miss in Titus is the sound of a warmly feeling voice like this:

If you will take a homely man's advice,
Be not found here; hence, with your little ones.
To fright you thus, methinks, I am too savage;
To do worse to you were fell cruelty,
Which is too nigh your person. Heaven preserve you!

That's a messenger in Macbeth IV.2, just before the killing of MacDuff's son (another scene that might otherwise have made my list). Titus Andronicus  mainly, though not entirely, lacks that kind of normative commentary, that Shakespearean wisdom and humanity. (The important non-executive character of Marcus supplies it to some extent.) Titus himself resembles a Tamburlaine more than an Antony: he's only not horrifying because his enemies are even worse. As for his heir Lucius, we have to overlook not only his demand for hewn limbs in I.1 (as, perhaps, sanctioned by tradition), but his plan to hang the baby before the father's eyes "that he may see it sprawl" in V.1 (as, at any rate, not actually carried out). Even Lavinia, while she still has her tongue, is no angel. Just before the tables turn on her, what's on her lips is enthusiastically vicious condemnation, not the pathos of something pretty and innocent.



Titus is likely to affect us in very different ways as it goes along. For me the most valuable part of the play is the great arc of suffering, centred on the Andronici family circle, that begins in II.5 with Marcus's discovery of Lavinia ("trimmed", in Aaron's horrific understatement); continues with the charnel-house of III.1***; then subsides to an almost Lear-like stasis in III.2.  There's something incredibly moving about the domestic scope of these scenes: it's moving that somehow a domestic existence continues despite these grotesque mutilations and loppings of the tree of the Andronici, despite a metaphysical extremity of suffering.

[***As Victorian editors noted, III.1 begins in a street of Rome. But what such scene-locations fail to indicate is the fluidity of Shakespeare's scene settings. By the time Aaron arrives with the delusive hand-bargain, and Marcus and Lucius go off to hunt for an axe, we definitely seem to be in the domestic space of Andronicus' house.]

If III.2 seems not to advance the story in an obvious way, it nevertheless involves some quite subtle developments. There's a meal laid out, and Titus makes clear that, as far as he's concerned, the Andronici need to eat solely in order to live long enough to carry out their revenge. I think he particularly applies this logic to Lavinia. He sees her strangely, perhaps as an uncanny half-dead creature already; as if her bloody outward metamorphosis went with an inner vampirization.  He has, apparently, no issues with her remaining on-stage to see his own hand being amputated. And later in the play, he deliberately fetches her to assist with cutting the throats of Chiron and Demetrius (and to catch blood in a bowl).

Revenge once achieved, he kills her. That honour-killing is foreshadowed here, in III.2. At one point Titus' rhetoric of despair leads him to suggest (somewhat impractically) that Lavinia pierce her own heart by directing a knife with her teeth. The affectionate Marcus is dismayed by the suggestion, however rhetorical, that his niece should do any violence to herself. But that's exactly what Lucrece, exemplar of correct behaviour for noblewomen when raped, had done. And Titus, upholder of the most atavistic of Roman codes of honour (and already a proven slayer of offspring, when necessary), doubtless already has death in mind as the only fitting destiny for Lavinia. To be fair, he probably has no plans to outlive her.



It's easy to forget, but there's a clown in Titus Andronicus. He doesn't survive very long: the world of Titus isn't good for clowns (or nurses either).  But comedy of various sorts is a continuing undercurrent in the play and something that all producers have to make up their minds about.

E.g., in II.4, the dull Martius and Quintus. (Are we supposed to think that Aaron drugged them?). Martius tumbles down into the cellarage. Then, while trying to rescue him, Quintus gets pulled in too. Hard for a modern audience not to think of Laurel and Hardy here. (Not entirely clear how this was staged, but it's most natural to assume that Bassianus' body is dragged offstage at the end of II.3, and the hole of II.4 is the cellarage, so the audience only imagine the body there. Hence most of II.4 discusses the case of Martius and Quintus without them being visible. We don't care much about them as individuals, during this scene we are thinking much more about what's happening to Lavinia, but the theme of "things we don't see" and "things we do see" is profoundly present to an apprehensive audience.

Or III.1, the family competition to volunteer to have their hands cut off. That definitely raised some laughs at Lucy Bailey's Globe production.

What about when Titus the tableau-arranger, having given himself and Marcus each a head to carry, has the happy idea of Lavinia carrying his amputated hand between her teeth?  (I'm making it sound funny, but I think it should be possible to make it intensely tragic at the same time.)

Here, the head-on collision between tragedy and comedy has the potential to work really well. And in a different way that's also true of Peele's II.1,  in which Demetrius and Chiron are so easily diverted from high-flown professions of love towards Lavinia, into embracing the idea of gang-raping and "trimming" her.  

It's a well-established fact that while a single villain is disturbing and a mob of villains is frightening, yet a pair of villains tends to be funny. Hence the paired rogues who are still a staple of adventure films for children.

I don't find Demetrius and Chiron at all funny, especially not when they're making the roughest of hur-hur jokes to the mutilated Lavinia at the start of II.5, but there's no doubt that in a horrific way they recognizably shadow (or foreshadow)  the stereotypical shape of a pair of comedy-villains. This is actually less true in the earlier part of the play. Here, though they're like as two peas, though they're adolescent, bloody, lustful and cruel, yet they're not obviously dim-witted. But from IV.2 onwards, that's increasingly all they are. They're reduced to functional dialogue, trailing along behind Aaron and Tamora. Chiron's final words, the confused (and suicidal) admission that "we are the empress' sons!" sums up this later aspect of them perfectly. [In Cymbeline, Cloten is recognizably a reprise of Demetrius and Chiron.]


Stupidity and conundrums

Detractors of Titus have sometimes excused their real loathing of the bloody content by pointing out how stupid the play is, after all. Under this head I cover a miscellaneous grab-bag of things in Titus that might strike one as stupid. Whether you'd want to argue that stupidity is actually a principal theme of Titus, I'm not sure. But I definitely think that would be arguable. What I totally don't believe is that Shakespeare intended to "send up"the revenge genre, or blow it sky-high. At least not in a sense that would prevent him from also taking his play and its possibilities very seriously, most of the time anyway. [An interesting parallel might be The Comedy of Errors; there Shakespeare produces a super-Plautine play; funnier, better-plotted, more complex, everything. And with Richard III (if not indeed its predecessors), Shakespeare had already taken the chronicle history to a whole new level. You could argue that Titus is not so much the send-up of a genre as its apotheosis; more violent, more inventive, more shocking, the Ovidian-Gothic play to end all Ovidian-Gothic plays.  The young Shakespeare was conscious of incredible powers.]

1. "That you create your emperor's eldest son, / Lord Saturnine" (I.1)

Much if not all of the destruction that follows depends on Titus' poor and unexpected choice.

Everything we've seen has shown that Saturnine is an eminently dislikeable and arrogant man. He's blatantly rude to Titus just before this, and he's scarcely less than rude afterwards, either. It's clear he dislikes Titus, and eventually he kills him. It's not entirely clear how aware he is of the crimes committed by Tamora and her party, or to what an extent he's merely stupid.  His condemnation of Titus' two sons must be one of the least evidential judgments ever.

But at this stage it's Titus' own stupidity that is the issue. Having made what is clearly the worst choice of three, presumably because it seems to him the most honourable choice, he will later back up his new loyalty by killing his own son. It's unhesitating, arbitrary, and totally unreflective.


My lord, to step out of these dreary dumps .... (I.1)

On a lighter note.... Thus Marcus changes the subject, following the burial of the son that Titus has just killed. Blame it on Peele's mid-century oafishness?


Is she not then beholden to the man
That brought her for this high good turn so far? (I.1)

Obviously this prepares us for Titus being taken in, at least twice, by Tamora's skilful posing as a mediator. But is Titus really capable of believing that Tamora, whose eldest son he has had slaughtered, ought to be jolly grateful to him for leading her captive to Rome, since she's ended up as Empress? Blame it on Peele's opportunistic willingness to sacrifice credibility in order to squeeze out a few drops of short-term dramatic irony?

4.  In III.1, Lavinia is on-stage when Aaron arrives with his offer about the hand, and is still on-stage after he departs. Aaron apparently takes no notice of her, though her shockingly handless state cannot have been made public yet, so for him to desist from any comment is extremely suspicious.


Perchance she weeps because they killed her husband;
Perchance because she knows them innocent. (Marcus, in III.1)

If only there were a way to find out which!

It's striking that none of her relatives seem to believe that they can communicate with Lavinia using simple yes-or-no questions, though there appears no reason why she couldn't nod or shake her head in reply.

They do of course seek to understand her, but not by conversing with her.

Mark, Marcus, mark! I understand her signs... (Titus in III.1)

Instead they try to interpret her from her behaviour: weeping, turning away her face, kneeling, and so on. Somewhat like trying to interpret an infant, or a hound.

Thou shalt not sigh, nor hold thy stumps to heaven,
Nor wink, nor nod, nor kneel, nor make a sign,
But I of these will wrest an alphabet
And still by practice learn to know thy meaning...(Titus in III.2)

Well, there's the word "nod", but Titus seems to be talking about a behavioural clue rather than a gestural sign. He never asks her any question that might prompt a nod. Nor does anyone else. Titus, Marcus and Lucius all tend to apostrophize Lavinia, rather than talk to her. They ask rhetorical questions to her face, but expect no reply.

How to explain this? In a modern production it's a no-brainer; you'd play Lavinia as so patently traumatized that no-one could expect to get anything out of her until, in IV.1, she shows herself anxious to communicate.

But did the age of Shakespeare have any conception of trauma? I think if Shakespeare had intended some such naturalistic depiction of trauma, he would have shown the others asking her urgent questions and failing to draw a response. But asking urgent questions is just what they don't do.

They don't all see Lavinia the same way. The affectionate Marcus is powerfully aware of Lavinia as being, though agonizingly,  the same person she always was, "my niece". Lavinia, we understand, has resided in Rome with Marcus while Titus and his sons have been campaigning; uncle and niece have a close friendship.

Titus is less obviously affectionate; "my daughter"  doesn't come to his lips, though later "sweet wench" and "sweet girl" does. He treats her more as a comrade in arms, as someone drastically changed, perhaps the vampiric creature of blood that I mentioned earlier. We may warm more to Marcus's response, but you could also argue that his nostalgia for a lost normality fails to recognize, as Titus does, the apocalyptic change in Lavinia's life. And when Lavinia comes before Titus, he and Marcus reverse roles: Marcus (as it were anticipating Titus' feelings) says: "This was thy daughter." and Titus (frozen, and as it were defensively) replies: "Why Marcus, so she is."

NB. In Marcus' great speech when he discovers Lavinia in II.5, he comes very close to understanding what's happened to her, partly on the basis of Lavinia at one point turning her head away for shame. But later he seems to forget about these insights.  (Shakespeare has got a bit ahead of the plot here; the Philomel connection is not supposed to be revealed until Lavinia's page-turning in IV.1.)


Titus. Sirs, strive no more; such withered herbs as these
Are meet for plucking up, and therefore mine. (III.1)

Who is the elder brother? This line tends to enforce the impression that Titus is the elder, which makes sense as he is indisputably the head of the family. Titus calls Marcus (with some irony) a "young huntsman"; Marcus describes his brother as "old Andronicus"; Tamora calls Titus "this good old man", and Titus calls himself "aged". This is all consistent. And yet, my impression persists that Titus is actively in the prime of life but that Marcus is an old man, and not only because, towards the end of the play, he talks of "my frosty signs and chaps of age". He fusses and clucks, and advises his brother as if he, Marcus, is an elder whose own life-decisions are in the past.


Titus (aside). I know them all, though they suppose me mad,
                      And will o'er-reach them in their own devices;  (V.2)

Surely one of the most unnecessary asides ever. Only Tamora and her dimwits believe that Titus is harmlessly mad; Titus, like Hamlet, can hardly be bothered to conceal his vindictive meaning. Tamora has been cunning in the earlier part of the play, but, like her sons, she now seems to be sleepwalking to her fate.

She also ignores a basic rule of Kyd's revenge convention (The Spanish Tragedy and his lost Hamlet**): revengers are always more or less mad. The revenger goes mad with grief and suffering from the appalling wrongs they've sustained. The revenger can pretend to be more mad than they really are in order to throw others off the scent. But an element of genuine madness is essential, because this supplies the audience with a ready pardon for revenges that usually go beyond normal punitiveness. Titus baking up Tamora's sons in a pie, for instance.    

[**accepting the persuasive suggestion of Harold Brooks.]

If Tamora, Chiron and Demetrius are very feeble compared to their malign presence earlier in the play, that's partly down to the author. No doubt about it, the quality of the play takes a nose-dive after IV.1. Shakespeare simply doesn't seem very interested in Andronicus working out his revenge. All his interest had exhausted itself in the desolate suffering of the central scenes.


Currently, Titus Andronicus  has the best Wikipedia entry of any Shakespeare play. Thanks to whoever you are!

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Monday, November 02, 2015

my questions answered

Last Saturday I went with Laura on a day visit to N Kent, so for the second time recently I got to experience the M25. Usually that would be a prelude to talking about congestion but not this time. So I had the head-space to concern myself with a lesser evil. There's a long light-coloured section in the SW quadrant of the M25 where the road surface is particularly unpleasant to drive on. The tyre noise is much louder than normal and the van shakes as it passes over regular joints. I'd always vaguely wondered why this was.

Turns out that this section of the M25 has a concrete surface (as opposed to a tarmac surface).  The definitive discussion on the topic is here:

Very informative it is too. Here's a post that mentions my stretch of the M25 specifically, though it begins by talking about a notorious stretch on the A27 that I also remember very well.

Duncan wrote:
Johnathan will correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the A27 between Chichester and Havant concrete originally? I seem to remember the residents of the bypassed towns and villages (Bosham, Emsworth, Fishbourne, Southbourne, etc) moaning like fun over the road noise. Also, I think the Ilminster bypass was concrete, though not the NDLR, even though they were both built at more or less the same time.

The A27 Chichester to Havant was the worst for sideline noise ever in the country. It must be due to the small detail of the fines in the concrete, in that you get different noise performance from different sections. I remember being in the villages half a mile to the south and it sounded like a continuous jetplane noise. However, it wasn't so bad when in cars driving along it.

In contrast the M25 in Surrey from Reigate round to Cobham, which was originally concrete D3M, and widened out to concrete D4M, is a real thumper and whiner to drive along nowadays (if you don't know the stretch you can think you have a puncture), but not so bad in the country alongside.

For a long time the MoT/DfT always went out for two quotes from main contractors for new motorway construction, for asphalt or for concrete top surface, and invariably chose the cheapest on each section. Because the price of the bulk materials is quite dependent on haulage costs from where the relevant local depots for each type of material might originate from, this can give the differential pricing which favours one or the other in different places.

What surprises me is that much of the US Interstate network is concrete surface, yet they seem to have cracked this form of construction and do not get anything like the noise nuisance we do in the UK, either in-vehicle or sideline. I don't know how they do it (although I have asked them more than once).

The other motoring-related question that preoccupied me was: Why do you need to ask for a VAT receipt?  (You would be right if you imagined the slightly exasperated tone of someone who had recently forgotten to ask for a VAT receipt while on a business trip.) 

Informatively discussed below. No exciting revelation of dark conspiracies, though. Dishing out separate VAT receipts would cause litter, because most people don't need them. But few businesses (supermarkets aside) have tills that are able to combine the card receipt and VAT receipt onto a single bit of paper. 

Some contributors pointed out that there were rather more pressing things to moan about than having to ask for a VAT receipt. I promptly disowned my former moaning on this subject. I felt it had been sublimated into a laudable thirst for knowledge. 

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