Sharpe’s Tiger (Sharpe #1) ★★★✬☆

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Title: Sharpe’s Tiger
Series: Sharpe #1
Authors: Bernard Cornwell
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 287
Words: 121.5K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia.org

Richard Sharpe is a private in the 33rd Regiment of Foot in the British army. The British invade Mysore and advance on the Tippoo Sultan’s capital city of Seringapatam. Sharpe is contemplating desertion with his paramour, half-caste army widow Mary Bickerstaff, due to his sadistic company sergeant, Obadiah Hakeswill. Hakeswill lusts after Mary, so he provokes Sharpe into hitting him before witnesses, company commander Captain Morris and Ensign Hicks. Sharpe is court-martialled; Lieutenant William Lawford, who is supposed to act as his defender, is absent and Sharpe is given the virtual death sentence of 2,000 lashes. However, the regiment’s commander, Colonel Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington), halts the punishment at just over 200 lashes. Lawford has been offered an extremely dangerous mission and has requested Sharpe. Sharpe agrees to go along if he is made a sergeant if they are successful.

Lawford and Sharpe pose as deserters to try to rescue Colonel Hector McCandless, Lawford’s uncle and chief of the British East India Company’s intelligence service. Sharpe’s flogging inadvertently makes their cover story more plausible. Sharpe quickly takes charge and brings Mary along, to protect her from Hakeswill and because she speaks several of the native languages. They are soon captured by scouts from the Tippoo’s army and taken to Seringapatam where they meet Colonel Gudin, a French military adviser to the Tippoo. During their interrogation, the Tippoo enters and orders them to load muskets. He then orders Sharpe to shoot a British prisoner, Colonel McCandless; he does, having noticed that the “gunpowder” he has been given is fake. The musket does not fire. After covertly telling McCandless that he is a spy, he is told by McCandless that the British must not attack the seemingly weakest portion of the city walls. (It is later revealed that the Tippoo has had mines buried there to blow up the British when they enter the trap.)

Lawford and Sharpe join Gudin’s troops, whilst Mary is sent to work as a servant in the household of one of the Tippoo’s generals, Appah Rao, a Hindu who, unknown to the Muslim Tippoo, is considering switching sides. As they search for their contact, a merchant who can pass along the vital warning to the besieging British forces. Gudin tests the pair further, giving them rifled fowling guns (Sharpe’s first exposure to a rifled weapon instead of a smoothbore musket). Sharpe’s shot is slightly high, but Lawford, to his mortification, ends up hitting a British scout.

As a further test, Sharpe helps defend a Mysore encampment which is attacked by the British. During the attack, Sharpe encounters Hakeswill and tries to kill him, but is stopped by Gudin, who wants prisoners. Back in Seringapatam, Hakeswill spots Lawford in the crowd, but does not betray him (yet). Sharpe is rewarded for his actions by the Tippoo and is allowed to visit Mary. He finds that she is attracted to one of Appah Rao’s men, Kunwar Singh, news which Sharpe takes in good grace. Meanwhile, the Tippoo orders the prisoners executed by his personal bodyguard, the fearsome Jettis, but spares Hakeswill when the sergeant betrays Lawford and Sharpe. The two are captured and Sharpe is tortured until Lawford reveals their mission. Gudin then tells them that the spy they sought in the city had been killed weeks before and fed to the Tippoo’s pet tigers. They are then imprisoned with McCandless and Hakeswill. During their imprisonment, Lawford teaches Sharpe to read and write to make him a more effective sergeant.

After days of bombardment, the British finally breach the wall and prepare to attack. With the assault imminent, Appah Rao orders Kunwar Singh to free McCandless, whilst the Tippoo orders Sharpe, Lawford and McCandless executed as a sacrifice to ensure his victory. Mary accompanies Singh and helps Sharpe escape. Sharpe, accompanied by Lawford, then sets the mine off prematurely. As a result, many of the Tippoo’s best soldiers are killed or stunned, and the British enter the breach in the walls. Rao decides to abandon the Tippoo and withdraws his men. Sharpe returns to Hakeswill and throws him to the Tippoo’s tigers, hoping they will eat the sergeant (though they inexplicably ignore him). Sharpe then encounters the Tippoo, who is trying to flee the city, kills him and loots his corpse.

The British capture the city and restore the Hindu rajah to the throne, as a British puppet ruler. Sharpe carefully takes no credit for killing the Tippoo to avoid having to surrender the jewels he looted.

My Thoughts:

I’ve got two gripes with this book then I’ll go into what I did like. One, this is chronologically the first book but not the first published book. I am a fan of reading a series in order of publication because of the layers involved that authors build up over time. Who knows what Cornwell revealed to me in this book that was a mystery in the earlier published books? Of course, now that I started out chronologically, I’ll be sticking to it. So poo to that! Second, Sharpe is an anti-hero asshole, at best. He’s the protagonist but by no means a hero. If he stays that way, we’ll have to see how many books I get through before giving up on this.

What I did like though, far outweighs those two things, at least for now. The writing. Just like any other hobby, once you’ve passed a certain level you begin to recognize when something is inherently correct and done well. That doesn’t mean you’ll always like it but you’re pigheaded to deny the craftsmanship behind it. Cornwell can write well and it shows. Each character is a “real” person in terms of personality and nobody is a cardboard cutout. When a book makes me see the events and not just “shown”, that also shows wordsmith skills.

This is “historical” fiction and while I’ve anecdotally heard that Cornwell is pretty good about keeping things faithful, that little word “fiction” makes that distinction pointless to me. What that practically means is that you won’t be hearing me write things like “Well, because of what I read by Cornwell, the blah, blah, blabbity blah, reasons, reasons, blah blah blah”. Ever. If Cornwell was a historian, he’d be writing dry, boring and dusty tomes (even though Matt might disagree with my assessment of most history books 😀 ), not adventure novels.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Eaters of the Dead ★★✬☆☆

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Title: Eaters of the Dead
Series: ———-
Author: Michael Crichton
Rating: 2.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 167
Words: 54K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

The novel is set in the 10th century. The Caliph of Baghdad, Al-Muqtadir, sends his ambassador, Ahmad ibn Fadlan, on a mission to assist the king of the Volga Bulgars. Ahmad ibn Fadlan never arrives, as he is conscripted by a group of Vikings to take part in a hero’s quest to the north; he is taken along as the thirteenth member of their group to comply with a soothsayer’s requirement for success. In the north, the group battles with the ‘mist-monsters’, or ‘wendol’, a tribe of vicious savages (suggested by the narrator to have been possibly relict Neanderthals) who go to battle wearing bear skins.

Eaters of the Dead is narrated as a scientific commentary on an old manuscript. The narrator describes the story as a composite of extant commentaries and translations of the original story teller’s manuscript. The narration makes several references to a possible change or mistranslation of the original story by later copiers. The story is told by several different voices: the editor/narrator, the translators of the script, and the original author, Ahmad ibn Fadlan, who also relates stories told by others. A sense of authenticity is supported by occasional explanatory footnotes with references to a mixture of factual and fictitious sources.

My Thoughts:

Earlier this year Dave reviewed this book and it caught my interest. I’d watched, and enjoyed the movie that was produced based on this book: The 13th Warrior. I’d seen this book on my libraries shelf ever since I was a tween but the title really turned me off. In all honesty, it still does. Without Dave’s review I never would have mustered up enough interest to dive into this.

Sadly, the book isn’t nearly as interesting as the movie and is filled with pointless and fake footnotes. This purports to be a historical document and as such is one of those “Historical Fiction” books where the author makes up wholesale yards of crap to further his story but will insert real historical bits and bobs as well. This has all the historicity of Shakespeare’s Henry V.

I was bored for most of this. It wasn’t exciting, fast paced or very interesting. While not nearly so boring as the Andromeda Strain (I read that back in 2001 but have not yet gotten the review into it’s own post) there were several times that I looked down at the percentage bar on my kindle to see how much I had left. That really isn’t a good sign.

On the bright side, I will end up watching the 13th Warrior sometime this year because of this and can expound on how the movie is a much better product than the book. Thinking about it, that seems to be the case for MANY of Crichton’s books. Feth, even Congo was a better movie than the book!

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Henry IV, Part II ★★★★☆

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Title: Henry IV, Part II
Author: William Shakespeare
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Play
Pages: 103
Words: 28K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

The play picks up where Henry IV, Part 1 left off. Its focus is on Prince Hal’s journey toward kingship, and his ultimate rejection of Falstaff. However, unlike Part One, Hal’s and Falstaff’s stories are almost entirely separate, as the two characters meet only twice and very briefly. The tone of much of the play is elegiac, focusing on Falstaff’s age and his closeness to death, which parallels that of the increasingly sick king.

Falstaff is still drinking and engaging in petty criminality in the London underworld. He first appears followed by a new character, a young page whom Prince Hal has assigned him as a joke. Falstaff enquires what the doctor has said about the analysis of his urine, and the page cryptically informs him that the urine is healthier than the patient. Falstaff delivers one of his most characteristic lines: “I am not only witty in myself, but the cause that wit is in other men.” Falstaff promises to outfit the page in “vile apparel” (ragged clothing). He then complains of his insolvency, blaming it on “consumption of the purse.” They go off, Falstaff vowing to find a wife “in the stews” (i.e., the local brothels).

The Lord Chief Justice enters, looking for Falstaff. Falstaff at first feigns deafness in order to avoid conversing with him, and when this tactic fails pretends to mistake him for someone else. As the Chief Justice attempts to question Falstaff about a recent robbery, Falstaff insists on turning the subject of the conversation to the nature of the illness afflicting the King. He then adopts the pretense of being a much younger man than the Chief Justice: “You that are old consider not the capacities of us that are young.” Finally, he asks the Chief Justice for one thousand pounds to help outfit a military expedition, but is denied.

He has a relationship with Doll Tearsheet, a prostitute, who gets into a fight with Ancient Pistol, Falstaff’s ensign. After Falstaff ejects Pistol, Doll asks him about the Prince. Falstaff is embarrassed when his derogatory remarks are overheard by Hal, who is present disguised as a musician. Falstaff tries to talk his way out of it, but Hal is unconvinced. When news of a second rebellion arrives, Falstaff joins the army again, and goes to the country to raise forces. There he encounters an old school friend, Justice Shallow, and they reminisce about their youthful follies. Shallow brings forward potential recruits for the loyalist army: Mouldy, Bullcalf, Feeble, Shadow and Wart, a motley collection of rustic yokels. Falstaff and his cronies accept bribes from two of them, Mouldy and Bullcalf, not to be conscripted.

In the other storyline, Hal remains an acquaintance of London lowlife and seems unsuited to kingship. His father, King Henry IV is again disappointed in the young prince because of that, despite reassurances from the court. Another rebellion is launched against Henry IV, but this time it is defeated, not by a battle, but by the duplicitous political machinations of Hal’s brother, Prince John. King Henry then sickens and appears to die. Hal, seeing this, believes he is King and exits with the crown. King Henry, awakening, is devastated, thinking Hal cares only about becoming King. Hal convinces him otherwise and the old king subsequently dies contentedly.

The two story-lines meet in the final scene, in which Falstaff, having learned from Pistol that Hal is now King, travels to London in expectation of great rewards. But Hal rejects him, saying that he has now changed, and can no longer associate with such people. The London lowlifes, expecting a paradise of thieves under Hal’s governance, are instead purged and imprisoned by the authorities.

Epilogue

At the end of the play, an epilogue thanks the audience and promises that the story will continue in a forthcoming play “with Sir John in it, and make you merry with fair Katharine of France; where, for all I know, Falstaff shall die of a sweat”. In fact, Falstaff does not appear on stage in the subsequent play, Henry V, although his death is referred to. The Merry Wives of Windsor does have “Sir John in it”, but cannot be the play referred to, since the passage clearly describes the forthcoming story of Henry V and his wooing of Katherine of France. Falstaff does “die of a sweat” in Henry V, but in London at the beginning of the play. His death is offstage, described by another character and he never appears. His role as a cowardly soldier looking out for himself is taken by Ancient Pistol, his braggart sidekick in Henry IV, Part 2 and Merry Wives.

My Thoughts:

The Adventures of Prince Henry continue! Or shall I say, Prince Harry? Even with Fraggle’s “explanation” in the comments of Part I, it still makes absolutely no sense to me how even a frenchified Henri could morph into Harry. But as she said, humans were bonkers even in Medieval England.

Which would explain a lot of history and this play. So King Henry IV is fighting insurrections and his best friends have turned on him and he’s sick and his heir apparent is a partying hound dog who flouts the law at every chance. Not a very good place to be in. What’s keeping him alive is the prophecy that he would die in Jerusalem. So after this fighting is done he’s planning on taking the lords of the realm to Israel and fight the saracens.

And then his heir turns out to be a pretty good guy. He fights like a demon, is charismatic, gives up his wastrel ways and turns on his evil companions. At the same time, King Henry’s enemies pretty much give up without a fight, like their backbones just melted into soup.

It doesn’t do Henry much good, as he’s sick to death. He and Harry are reconciled and Henry is taken to a room to die. Upon his death bed he sees that he is in the Jerusalem room, thus fulfilling the prophecy. Henry V is crowned king and vows to war on the damned frenchies.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Henry IV, Part I ★★★★☆


This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Henry IV, Part I
Author: William Shakespeare
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Play
Pages: 89
Words: 25K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

Henry Bolingbroke—now King Henry IV—is having an unquiet reign. His personal disquiet at the usurpation of his predecessor Richard II would be solved by a crusade to the Holy Land, but trouble on his borders with Scotland and Wales make leaving unwise. Moreover, he is increasingly at odds with the Percy family, who helped him to his throne, and Edmund Mortimer, the Earl of March, Richard II’s chosen heir.

Adding to King Henry’s troubles is the behaviour of his son and heir, the Prince of Wales. Hal (the future Henry V) has forsaken the Royal Court to waste his time in taverns with low companions. This makes him an object of scorn to the nobles and calls into question his royal worthiness. Hal’s chief friend and foil in living the low life is Sir John Falstaff. Fat, old, drunk, and corrupt as he is, he has a charisma and a zest for life that captivates the Prince.

The play features three groups of characters that interact slightly at first, and then come together in the Battle of Shrewsbury, where the success of the rebellion will be decided. First there is King Henry himself and his immediate council. He is the engine of the play, but usually in the background. Next there is the group of rebels, energetically embodied in Henry Percy (“Hotspur”) and including his father, the Earl of Northumberland and led by his uncle Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester. The Scottish Earl of Douglas, Edmund Mortimer and the Welshman Owen Glendower also join. Finally, at the centre of the play are the young Prince Hal and his companions Falstaff, Poins, Bardolph, and Peto. Streetwise and pound-foolish, these rogues manage to paint over this grim history in the colours of comedy.

As the play opens, the king is angry with Hotspur for refusing him most of the prisoners taken in a recent action against the Scots at Holmedon. Hotspur, for his part, would have the king ransom Edmund Mortimer (his wife’s brother) from Owen Glendower, the Welshman who holds him. Henry refuses, berates Mortimer’s loyalty, and treats the Percys with threats and rudeness. Stung and alarmed by Henry’s dangerous and peremptory way with them, they proceed to make common cause with the Welsh and Scots, intending to depose “this ingrate and cankered Bolingbroke.”[3] By Act II, rebellion is brewing.

Meanwhile, Henry’s son Hal is joking, drinking, and thieving with Falstaff and his associates. He likes Falstaff but makes no pretense at being like him. He enjoys insulting his dissolute friend and makes sport of him by joining in Poins’ plot to disguise themselves and rob and terrify Falstaff and three friends of loot they have stolen in a highway robbery, purely for the fun of hearing Falstaff lie about it later, after which Hal returns the stolen money. Rather early in the play, in fact, Hal informs us that his riotous time will soon come to a close, and he will re-assume his rightful high place in affairs by showing himself worthy to his father and others through some (unspecified) noble exploits. Hal believes that this sudden change of manner will amount to a greater reward and acknowledgment of prince-ship, and in turn earn him respect from the members of the court.

The revolt of Mortimer and the Percys very quickly gives him his chance to do just that. The high and the low come together when the Prince makes up with his father and is given a high command. He vows to fight and kill the rebel Hotspur, and orders Falstaff (who is, after all, a knight) to take charge of a group of foot soldiers and proceed to the battle site at Shrewsbury.

The battle is crucial because if the rebels even achieve a standoff their cause gains greatly, as they have other powers awaiting under Northumberland, Glendower, Mortimer, and the Archbishop of York. Henry needs a decisive victory here. He outnumbers the rebels,[4] but Hotspur, with the wild hope of despair, leads his troops into battle. The day wears on, the issue still in doubt, the king harried by the wild Scot Douglas, when Prince Hal and Hotspur, the two Harrys that cannot share one land, meet. Finally they will fight – for glory, for their lives, and for the kingdom. No longer a tavern brawler but a warrior, the future king prevails, ultimately killing Hotspur in single combat.

On the way to this climax, we are treated to Falstaff, who has “misused the King’s press damnably”,[5] not only by taking money from able-bodied men who wished to evade service but by keeping the wages of the poor souls he brought instead who were killed in battle (“food for powder, food for powder”).[6] Left on his own during Hal’s battle with Hotspur, Falstaff dishonourably counterfeits death to avoid attack by Douglas. After Hal leaves Hotspur’s body on the field, Falstaff revives in a mock miracle. Seeing he is alone, he stabs Hotspur’s corpse in the thigh and claims credit for the kill.[7] Though Hal knows better, he allows Falstaff his disreputable tricks. Soon after being given grace by Hal, Falstaff states that he wants to amend his life and begin “to live cleanly as a nobleman should do”.[8]

The play ends at Shrewsbury, after the battle. The death of Hotspur has taken the heart out of the rebels,[9] and the king’s forces prevail. Henry is pleased with the outcome, not least because it gives him a chance to execute Thomas Percy, the Earl of Worcester, one of his chief enemies (though previously one of his greatest friends). Meanwhile, Hal shows off his kingly mercy in praise of valour; having taken the valiant Douglas prisoner, Hal orders his enemy released without ransom.[10] But the war goes on; now the king’s forces must deal with the Archbishop of York, who has joined with Northumberland, and with the forces of Mortimer and Glendower. This unsettled ending sets the stage for Henry IV, Part 2.

My Thoughts:

This really should have been entitled “Henry V, the Early Years”. While Henry IV is the titular character, he seems to do little besides provide a reason for more kingdom drama. Everyone is going off to war at a moments notice on what seems pretty much like a whim. During all of this, young Prince Harry (by the by, WHY does the name Henry spawn the nickname Harry? It’s not even shorter for goodness sake) is carousing it up and being a blot upon his father’s name. He is unfavorably compared to the other Harry, the one leading the rebellion against the King.

In the final battle Harry shows his royal colors and mans it up perfectly. He seems to have set his rascally youthful ways behind him and to take his responsibilities seriously. Of course, all his old low friends are sure they are going to be sitting pretty once Harry becomes King, so they do what they want. Oh ye evil men, Judgement is coming!

Once again, I am loving these history plays. I was actually looking forward to reading this when Shakespeare rolled around in my reading rotation. What a change from earlier plays where that word “Shakespeare” brought dread and dismal despair to my heart. In fact, I seriously thought about just reading Part II of Henry IV but thankfully calmer and wiser heads prevailed (ie, my rational self instead of my emotional self).

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Richard II ★★★✬☆


This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Richard II
Author: William Shakespeare
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Play
Pages: 99
Words: 27K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

The play spans only the last two years of Richard’s life, from 1398 to 1400. It begins with King Richard sitting majestically on his throne in full state, having been requested to arbitrate a dispute between Thomas Mowbray and Richard’s cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, later Henry IV, who has accused Mowbray of squandering money given to him by Richard for the king’s soldiers and of murdering Bolingbroke’s uncle, the Duke of Gloucester. Bolingbroke’s father, John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, meanwhile, believes it was Richard himself who was responsible for his brother’s murder. After several attempts to calm both men, Richard acquiesces and it is determined that the matter be resolved in the established method of trial by battle between Bolingbroke and Mowbray, despite the objections of Gaunt.

The tournament scene is very formal with a long, ceremonial introduction, but as the combatants are about to fight, Richard interrupts and sentences both to banishment from England. Bolingbroke is originally sentenced to ten years’ banishment, but Richard reduces this to six years upon seeing John of Gaunt’s grieving face, while Mowbray is banished permanently. The king’s decision can be seen as the first mistake in a series leading eventually to his overthrow and death, since it is an error which highlights many of his character flaws, displaying as it does indecisiveness (in terms of whether to allow the duel to go ahead), abruptness (Richard waits until the last possible moment to cancel the duel), and arbitrariness (there is no apparent reason why Bolingbroke should be allowed to return and Mowbray not). In addition, the decision fails to dispel the suspicions surrounding Richard’s involvement in the death of the Duke of Gloucester – in fact, by handling the situation so high-handedly and offering no coherent explanation for his reasoning, Richard only manages to appear more guilty. Mowbray predicts that the king will sooner or later fall at the hands of Bolingbroke.

John of Gaunt dies and Richard II seizes all of his land and money. This angers the nobility, who accuse Richard of wasting England’s money, of taking Gaunt’s money (belonging by rights to his son, Bolingbroke) to fund war in Ireland, of taxing the commoners, and of fining the nobles for crimes committed by their ancestors. They then help Bolingbroke to return secretly to England, with a plan to overthrow Richard II. There remain, however, subjects who continue to be faithful to the king, among them Bushy, Bagot, Green and the Duke of Aumerle (son of the Duke of York), cousin of both Richard and Bolingbroke. When King Richard leaves England to attend to the war in Ireland, Bolingbroke seizes the opportunity to assemble an army and invades the north coast of England. Executing both Bushy and Green, Bolingbroke wins over the Duke of York, whom Richard has left in charge of his government in his absence.

Upon Richard’s return, Bolingbroke not only reclaims his lands but lays claim to the very throne. Crowning himself King Henry IV, he has Richard taken prisoner to the castle of Pomfret. Aumerle and others plan a rebellion against the new king, but York discovers his son’s treachery and reveals it to Henry, who spares Aumerle as a result of the intercession of the Duchess of York while executing the other conspirators. After interpreting King Henry’s “living fear” as a reference to the still-living Richard, an ambitious nobleman (Exton) goes to the prison and murders him. King Henry repudiates the murderer and vows to journey to Jerusalem to cleanse himself of his part in Richard’s death.

My Thoughts:

Another good “history” play. I do wonder how close to actual history they hew or if Shakespeare and these plays were the “bastard histories” of yesteryear like the “historical movies” of today are. But not being a history buff nor ever planning on becoming one, I don’t care enough for it to really matter.

And I don’t have anything to say here. I enjoyed this and that was that. * dusts hands off *

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

King John ★★★★☆


This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: King John
Author: William Shakespeare
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Play
Pages: 265
Words: 76K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

King John receives an ambassador from France who demands with a threat of war that he renounce his throne in favour of his nephew, Arthur, whom the French King Philip believes to be the rightful heir to the throne.

John adjudicates an inheritance dispute between Robert Faulconbridge and his older brother Philip the Bastard, during which it becomes apparent that Philip is the illegitimate son of King Richard I. Queen Eleanor, mother to both Richard and John, recognises the family resemblance and suggests that he renounce his claim to the Faulconbridge land in exchange for a knighthood. John knights Philip the Bastard under the name Richard.

In France, King Philip and his forces besiege the English-ruled town of Angers, threatening attack unless its citizens support Arthur. Philip is supported by Austria, who is believed to have killed King Richard. The English contingent arrives; and then Eleanor trades insults with Constance, Arthur’s mother. Kings Philip and John stake their claims in front of Angers’ citizens, but to no avail: their representative says that they will support the rightful king, whoever that turns out to be.

The French and English armies clash, but no clear victor emerges. Each army dispatches a herald claiming victory, but Angers’ citizens continue to refuse to recognize either claimant because neither army has proven victorious.

The Bastard proposes that England and France unite to punish the rebellious citizens of Angers, at which point the citizens propose an alternative: Philip’s son, Louis the Dauphin, should marry John’s niece Blanche (a scheme that gives John a stronger claim to the throne) while Louis gains territory for France. Though a furious Constance accuses Philip of abandoning Arthur, Louis and Blanche are married.

Cardinal Pandolf arrives from Rome bearing a formal accusation that John has disobeyed the Pope and appointed an archbishop contrary to his desires. John refuses to recant, whereupon he is excommunicated. Pandolf pledges his support for Louis, though Philip is hesitant, having just established family ties with John. Pandolf brings him round by pointing out that his links to the church are older and firmer.

War breaks out; Austria is beheaded by the Bastard in revenge for his father’s death; and both Angers and Arthur are captured by the English. Eleanor is left in charge of English possessions in France, while the Bastard is sent to collect funds from English monasteries. John orders Hubert to kill Arthur. Pandolf suggests to Louis that he now has as strong a claim to the English throne as Arthur (and indeed John), and Louis agrees to invade England.

Hubert finds himself unable to kill Arthur. John’s nobles urge Arthur’s release. John agrees, but is wrong-footed[clarification needed] by Hubert’s announcement that Arthur is dead. The nobles, believing he was murdered, defect to Louis’ side. Equally upsetting, and more heartbreaking to John, is the news of his mother’s death, along with that of Lady Constance. The Bastard reports that the monasteries are unhappy about John’s attempt to seize their gold. Hubert has a furious argument with John, during which he reveals that Arthur is still alive. John, delighted, sends him to report the news to the nobles.

Arthur dies jumping from a castle wall. (It is open to interpretation whether he deliberately kills himself or just makes a risky escape attempt.) The nobles believe he was murdered by John, and refuse to believe Hubert’s entreaties. John attempts to make a deal with Pandolf, swearing allegiance to the Pope in exchange for Pandolf’s negotiating with the French on his behalf. John orders the Bastard, one of his few remaining loyal subjects, to lead the English army against France.

While John’s former noblemen swear allegiance to Louis, Pandolf explains John’s scheme, but Louis refuses to be taken in by it. The Bastard arrives with the English army and threatens Louis, but to no avail. War breaks out with substantial losses on each side, including Louis’ reinforcements, who are drowned during the sea crossing. Many English nobles return to John’s side after a dying French nobleman, Melun, warns them that Louis plans to kill them after his victory.

John is poisoned by a disgruntled monk. His nobles gather around him as he dies. The Bastard plans the final assault on Louis’ forces, until he is told that Pandolf has arrived with a peace treaty. The English nobles swear allegiance to John’s son Prince Henry, and the Bastard reflects that this episode has taught that internal bickering could be as perilous to England’s fortunes as foreign invasion.

My Thoughts:

FINALLY! A Shakespeare play that I fully enjoyed and didn’t feel like pee’ing on after I was done reading it. I don’t know if it was the actual play, the fact that we’ve moved into “recent” history (as opposed to ancient history of Greece, Rome, etc), or what, but I had zero quibbles while reading this.

Lots of drama and people being jerks and lying and backstabbing, but I still understood the context. I guess that was what was missing for a lot of the other plays I read? I couldn’t understand why the characters would do what they did, but here I could completely understand things, even if I thought it was stupid or wrong.

My only hesitation now is that if I liked this so much, perhaps I’m setting the bar too high for the rest of the Histories? Of course, with works like Henry V coming down the pipeline, that shouldn’t be a concern of mine. But I’m a worrier, so I’m going to worry about something that doesn’t matter one whit.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Tempest ★★★☆½


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Title: The Tempest
Author: William Shakespeare
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Play
Pages: 195
Words: 56K

Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

A ship is caught in a powerful storm, there is terror and confusion on board, and the vessel is shipwrecked. But the storm is a magical creation carried out by the spirit Ariel, and caused by the magic of Prospero, who was the Duke of Milan, before his dukedom was usurped and taken from him by his brother Antonio (aided by Alonso, the King of Naples). That was twelve years ago, when he and his young daughter, Miranda, were set adrift on the sea, and eventually stranded on an island. Among those on board the shipwreck are Antonio and Alonso. Also on the ship are Alonso’s brother (Sebastian), son (Ferdinand), and “trusted counsellor”, Gonzalo. Prospero plots to reverse what was done to him twelve years ago, and regain his office. Using magic he separates the shipwreck survivors into groups on the island:

Ferdinand, who is found by Prospero and Miranda. It is part of Prospero’s plan to encourage a romantic relationship between Ferdinand and Miranda; and they do fall in love.

Trinculo, the king’s jester, and Stephano, the king’s drunken butler; who are found by Caliban, a monstrous figure who had been living on the island before Prospero arrived, and whom Prospero adopted, raised and enslaved. These three will raise an unsuccessful coup against Prospero, acting as the play’s ‘comic relief’ by doing so.

Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio, Gonzalo, and two attendant lords (Adrian and Francisco). Antonio and Sebastian conspire to kill Alonso and Gonzalo so Sebastian can become King; at Prospero’s command Ariel thwarts this conspiracy. Later in the play, Ariel, in the guise of a Harpy, confronts the three nobles (Antonio, Alonso and Sebastian), causing them to flee in guilt for their crimes against Prospero and each other.

The ship’s captain and boatswain who, along with the other sailors, are asleep until the final act.

Prospero betroths Miranda to marry Ferdinand, and instructs Ariel to bring some other spirits and produce a masque. The masque will feature classical goddesses, Juno, Ceres, and Iris, and will bless and celebrate the betrothal. The masque will also instruct the young couple on marriage, and on the value of chastity until then.

The masque is suddenly interrupted when Prospero realizes he had forgotten the plot against his life. He orders Ariel to deal with this. Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano are chased off into the swamps by goblins in the shape of hounds. Prospero vows that once he achieves his goals, he will set Ariel free, and abandon his magic, saying:

I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.

Ariel brings on Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian. Prospero forgives all three, and raises the threat to Antonio and Sebastian that he could blackmail them, though he won’t. Prospero’s former title, Duke of Milan, is restored. Ariel fetches the sailors from the ship; then Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano. Caliban, seemingly filled with regret, promises to be good. Stephano and Trinculo are ridiculed and sent away in shame by Prospero. Before the reunited group (all the noble characters plus Miranda and Prospero) leaves the island, Ariel is told to provide good weather to guide the king’s ship back to the royal fleet and then to Naples, where Ferdinand and Miranda will be married. After this, Ariel is set free.

In the epilogue, Prospero requests that the audience set him free—with their applause.

My Thoughts:

I enjoyed this quite a bit. Mostly because I could actually make sense of what was going on and because the people involved didn’t simply do “things” at authorial fiat.

I have to admit, I was kind of dreading this. Back in ’12 I read a novel entitled Prospero Lost which was a sequel to the Tempest and a kind of urban fantasy trilogy. I read the first book and never bothered getting around to the others. Even though I gave it 3 stars at the time and nothing in my review says so, it just left a bad taste in my mouth and I transferred that to the original play.

I am glad I did read this and didn’t skip it due to my inclination from another book. That being said, these are plays, not novels and I have a really hard time talking about these. I am not a english major nor am I a Shakespeare buff. I’m reading all of this because I want to have it under my belt. It is much like eating vegetables at dinner. I don’t dislike vegetables but if I had to choose, I’d eat a slice of pizza any time before I ate the vegetables. You can tell I’m middle aged since I’m pretty much using health as an analogy for how I’m treating Shakespeare. He’s my literary vegetables and I’m shoveling those lima beans down my throat as fast as I can while I tell myself how healthy and good it is for me. All the while I’m eyeing that Stouffers french bread pepperoni pizza.

And I don’t even know why I’m referencing food so much. I’m not hungry, as I just had a Dagwood style turkey and cheese sandwich that was about 2inches thick just a little bit ago. I give up. This review is done.

★★★☆½

The Winter’s Tale ★★☆☆½

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This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: The Winter’s Tale
Author: William Shakespeare
Rating: 2.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Play
Pages: 256
Words: 74K

Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

Following a brief setup scene the play begins with the appearance of two childhood friends: Leontes, King of Sicilia, and Polixenes, the King of Bohemia. Polixenes is visiting the kingdom of Sicilia, and is enjoying catching up with his old friend. However, after nine months, Polixenes yearns to return to his own kingdom to tend to affairs and see his son. Leontes desperately attempts to get Polixenes to stay longer, but is unsuccessful. Leontes then decides to send his wife, Queen Hermione, to try to convince Polixenes. Hermione agrees and with three short speeches is successful. Leontes is puzzled as to how Hermione convinced Polixenes so easily, and so he begins to suspect that his pregnant wife has been having an affair with Polixenes and that the child is Polixenes’. Leontes orders Camillo, a Sicilian Lord, to poison Polixenes. Camillo instead warns Polixenes and they both flee to Bohemia.

Furious at their escape, Leontes now publicly accuses his wife of infidelity, and declares that the child she is bearing must be illegitimate. He throws her in prison, over the protests of his nobles, and sends two of his lords, Cleomenes and Dion, to the Oracle at Delphos for what he is sure will be confirmation of his suspicions. Meanwhile, the queen gives birth to a girl, and her loyal friend Paulina takes the baby to the king, in the hopes that the sight of the child will soften his heart. He grows angrier, however, and orders Paulina’s husband, Lord Antigonus, to take the child and abandon it in a desolate place. Cleomenes and Dion return from Delphos with word from the Oracle and find Hermione publicly and humiliatingly put on trial before the king. She asserts her innocence, and asks for the word of the Oracle to be read before the court. The Oracle states categorically that Hermione and Polixenes are innocent, Camillo is an honest man, and that Leontes will have no heir until his lost daughter is found. Leontes shuns the news, refusing to believe it as the truth. As this news is revealed, word comes that Leontes’ son, Mamillius, has died of a wasting sickness brought on by the accusations against his mother. At this, Hermione falls in a swoon, and is carried away by Paulina, who subsequently reports the queen’s death to her heartbroken and repentant husband. Leontes vows to spend the rest of his days atoning for the loss of his son, his abandoned daughter, and his queen.

Antigonus, meanwhile, abandons the baby on the coast of Bohemia, reporting that Hermione appeared to him in a dream and bade him name the girl Perdita. He leaves a fardel (a bundle) by the baby containing gold and other trinkets which suggest that the baby is of noble blood. A violent storm suddenly appears, wrecking the ship on which Antigonus arrived. He wishes to take pity on the child, but is chased away in one of Shakespeare’s most famous stage directions: “Exit, pursued by a bear.” Perdita is rescued by a shepherd and his son, also known as “Clown”.

“Time” enters and announces the passage of sixteen years. Camillo, now in the service of Polixenes, begs the Bohemian king to allow him to return to Sicilia. Polixenes refuses and reports to Camillo that his son, Prince Florizel, has fallen in love with a lowly shepherd girl: Perdita. He suggests to Camillo that, to take his mind off thoughts of home, they disguise themselves and attend the sheep-shearing feast where Florizel and Perdita will be betrothed. At the feast, hosted by the Old Shepherd who has prospered thanks to the gold in the fardel, the pedlar Autolycus picks the pocket of the Young Shepherd and, in various guises, entertains the guests with bawdy songs and the trinkets he sells. Disguised, Polixenes and Camillo watch as Florizel (under the guise of a shepherd named Doricles) and Perdita are betrothed. Then, tearing off the disguise, Polixenes angrily intervenes, threatening the Old Shepherd and Perdita with torture and death and ordering his son never to see the shepherd’s daughter again. With the aid of Camillo, however, who longs to see his native land again, Florizel and Perdita take ship for Sicilia, using the clothes of Autolycus as a disguise. They are joined in their voyage by the Old Shepherd and his son who are directed there by Autolycus.

In Sicilia, Leontes is still in mourning. Cleomenes and Dion plead with him to end his time of repentance because the kingdom needs an heir. Paulina, however, convinces the king to remain unmarried forever since no woman can match the greatness of his lost Hermione. Florizel and Perdita arrive, and they are greeted effusively by Leontes. Florizel pretends to be on a diplomatic mission from his father, but his cover is blown when Polixenes and Camillo, too, arrive in Sicilia. The meeting and reconciliation of the kings and princes is reported by gentlemen of the Sicilian court: how the Old Shepherd raised Perdita, how Antigonus met his end, how Leontes was overjoyed at being reunited with his daughter, and how he begged Polixenes for forgiveness. The Old Shepherd and Young Shepherd, now made gentlemen by the kings, meet Autolycus, who asks them for their forgiveness for his roguery. Leontes, Polixenes, Camillo, Florizel and Perdita then go to Paulina’s house in the country, where a statue of Hermione has been recently finished. The sight of his wife’s form makes Leontes distraught, but then, to everyone’s amazement, the statue shows signs of vitality; it is Hermione, restored to life. As the play ends, Perdita and Florizel are engaged, and the whole company celebrates the miracle. Despite this happy ending typical of Shakespeare’s comedies and romances, the impression of the unjust death of young prince Mamillius lingers to the end, being an element of unredeemed tragedy, in addition to the years wasted in separation.

My Thoughts:

These Ancient History plays, based on Greek history stuff, bore the stuffing out of me. Plus, the characters act completely nonsensical.

Leontes going into his jealous rage for no reason, then suddenly repenting, it just pissed me off. Of course, he repents after his wife and son die and he has sent his newborn daughter to be killed by exposure. What a bastard.

While I’m always a sucker for a Redemption story, simply changing your mind about some extremely horribly bad behavior is NOT redemption. Gahhhhh, I’m really disliking this Shakespeare fellow at the moment.

★★☆☆½

Cymbeline ★★★☆☆

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This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Cymbeline
Author: William Shakespeare
Rating: 3 of 5 Stars
Genre: Play
Pages: 272
Words: 79K

 

 

Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

Cymbeline, the Roman Empire’s vassal king of Britain, once had two sons, Guiderius and Arvirargus, but they were stolen twenty years earlier as infants by an exiled traitor named Belarius. Cymbeline discovers that his only child left, his daughter Imogen (or Innogen), has secretly married her lover Posthumus Leonatus, a member of Cymbeline’s court. The lovers have exchanged jewellery as tokens: Imogen with a bracelet, and Posthumus with a ring. Cymbeline dismisses the marriage and banishes Posthumus since Imogen — as Cymbeline’s only child — must produce a fully royal-blooded heir to succeed to the British throne. In the meantime, Cymbeline’s Queen is conspiring to have Cloten (her cloddish and arrogant son by an earlier marriage) married to Imogen to secure her bloodline. The Queen is also plotting to murder both Imogen and Cymbeline, procuring what she believes to be deadly poison from the court doctor. The doctor, Cornelius, is suspicious and switches the poison with a harmless sleeping potion. The Queen passes the “poison” along to Pisanio, Posthumus and Imogen’s loving servant — the latter is led to believe it is a medicinal drug. No longer able to be with her banished Posthumus, Imogen secludes herself in her chambers, away from Cloten’s aggressive advances.

Posthumus must now live in Italy, where he meets Iachimo (or Giacomo), who challenges the prideful Posthumus to a bet that he, Iachimo, can seduce Imogen, whom Posthumus has praised for her chastity, and then bring Posthumus proof of Imogen’s adultery. If Iachimo wins, he will get Posthumus’s token ring. If Posthumus wins, not only must Iachimo pay him but also fight Posthumus in a duel with swords. Iachimo heads to Britain where he aggressively attempts to seduce the faithful Imogen, who sends him packing. Iachimo then hides in a chest in Imogen’s bedchamber and, when the princess falls asleep, emerges to steal from her Posthumus’s bracelet. He also takes note of the room, as well as the mole on Imogen’s partly naked body, to be able to present false evidence to Posthumus that he has seduced his bride. Returning to Italy, Iachimo convinces Posthumus that he has successfully seduced Imogen. In his wrath, Posthumus sends two letters to Britain: one to Imogen, telling her to meet him at Milford Haven, on the Welsh coast; the other to the servant Pisanio, ordering him to murder Imogen at the Haven. However, Pisanio refuses to kill Imogen and reveals to her Posthumus’s plot. He has Imogen disguise herself as a boy and continue to Milford Haven to seek employment. He also gives her the Queen’s “poison”, believing it will alleviate her psychological distress. In the guise of a boy, Imogen adopts the name “Fidele”, meaning “faithful”.

Back at Cymbeline’s court, Cymbeline refuses to pay his British tribute to the Roman ambassador Caius Lucius, and Lucius warns Cymbeline of the Roman Emperor’s forthcoming wrath, which will amount to an invasion of Britain by Roman troops. Meanwhile, Cloten learns of the “meeting” between Imogen and Posthumus at Milford Haven. Dressing himself enviously in Posthumus’s clothes, he decides to go to Wales to kill Posthumus, and then rape, abduct, and marry Imogen. Imogen has now been travelling as “Fidele” through the Welsh mountains, her health in decline as she comes to a cave: the home of Belarius, along with his “sons” Polydore and Cadwal, whom he raised into great hunters. These two young men are in fact the British princes Guiderius and Arviragus, who themselves do not realise their own origin. The men discover “Fidele”, and, instantly captivated by a strange affinity for “him”, become fast friends. Outside the cave, Guiderius is met by Cloten, who throws insults, leading to a sword fight during which Guiderius beheads Cloten. Meanwhile, Imogen’s fragile state worsens and she takes the “poison” as a hopeful medicine; when the men re-enter, they find her “dead.” They mourn and, after placing Cloten’s body beside hers, briefly depart to prepare for the double burial. Imogen awakes to find the headless body, and believes it to be Posthumus due to the fact the body is wearing Posthumus’ clothes. Lucius’ Roman soldiers have just arrived in Britain and, as the army moves through Wales, Lucius discovers the devastated “Fidele”, who pretends to be a loyal servant grieving for his killed master; Lucius, moved by this faithfulness, enlists “Fidele” as a pageboy.

The treacherous Queen is now wasting away due to the disappearance of her son Cloten. Meanwhile, despairing of his life, a guilt-ridden Posthumus enlists in the Roman forces as they begin their invasion of Britain. Belarius, Guiderius, Arviragus, and Posthumus all help rescue Cymbeline from the Roman onslaught; the king does not yet recognise these four, yet takes notice of them as they go on to fight bravely and even capture the Roman commanders, Lucius and Iachimo, thus winning the day. Posthumus, allowing himself to be captured, as well as “Fidele”, are imprisoned alongside the true Romans, all of whom await execution. In jail, Posthumus sleeps, while the ghosts of his dead family appear to complain to Jupiter of his grim fate. Jupiter himself then appears in thunder and glory to assure the others that destiny will grant happiness to Posthumus and Britain.

Cornelius arrives in the court to announce that the Queen has died suddenly, and that on her deathbed she unrepentantly confessed to villainous schemes against her husband and his throne. Both troubled and relieved at this news, Cymbeline prepares to execute his new prisoners, but pauses when he sees “Fidele”, whom he finds both beautiful and somehow familiar. “Fidele” has noticed Posthumus’ ring on Iachimo’s finger and abruptly demands to know from where the jewel came. A remorseful Iachimo tells of his bet, and how he could not seduce Imogen, yet tricked Posthumus into thinking he had. Posthumus then comes forward to confirm Iachimo’s story, revealing his identity and acknowledging his wrongfulness in desiring Imogen killed. Ecstatic, Imogen throws herself at Posthumus, who still takes her for a boy and knocks her down. Pisanio then rushes forward to explain that “Fidele” is Imogen in disguise; Imogen still suspects that Pisanio conspired with the Queen to give her the poison. Pisanio sincerely claims innocence, and Cornelius reveals how the poison was a non-fatal potion all along. Insisting that his betrayal years ago was a set-up, Belarius makes his own happy confession, revealing Guiderius and Arviragus as Cymbeline’s own two long-lost sons. With her brothers restored to their place in the line of inheritance, Imogen is now free to marry Posthumus. An elated Cymbeline pardons Belarius and the Roman prisoners, including Lucius and Iachimo. Lucius calls forth his soothsayer to decipher a prophecy of recent events, which ensures happiness for all. Blaming his manipulative Queen for his refusal to pay earlier, Cymbeline now agrees to pay the tribute to the Roman Emperor as a gesture of peace between Britain and Rome, and he invites everyone to a great feast

 

My Thoughts:

This was much longer than the previous play or two and by the end I was getting antsy and ready for it to be over. And honestly, there are times I wonder about just reading the wiki page and calling that a day.

This Shakespeare Experiment isn’t going superbly. While not going off the rails on a crazy train, I don’t look forward to these at all. My zeal is definitely flagging and I feel like I’m doing a lot of slogging.

Next!

★★★☆☆

 

bookstooge (Custom)

 

Sketches by Boz ★★★☆½

sketchesbyboz (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Sketches by Boz
Series: ———-
Author: Charles Dickens
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Classic
Pages: 874
Words: 252K

 

Synopsis:

A series of “sketches” about places, people and situations culled from Dickens’ tenure as a newspaper columnist.

 

My Thoughts:

The full title this book is Sketches by Boz: Illustrative of Everyday Life and Everyday People. So you have a 800+ pages of little short sketches that Dickens used to fill in blank spaces when he was writing at various newspapers.

Dickens gets very preachy about his pet issues in several of the sketches. I’m a teetotaler and even I was reacting against his emotional manipulation about gin shops. I was like “Ok, time to start drinking hard time, that will show him!”

When I read these back in 2007 I read them as part I and II (as that is how they were broken up in the hardcovers I own) and that worked much better. Honestly, these should be treated as a short story collection and perused at leisure. This time around I was better able to appreciate the technical side of Dickens’ writing which is why I’m bumping it up to 3 ½ stars.

That being said, I highly doubt I’ll ever read this again. No stories, no plot, doesn’t really work for me.

★★★☆½

 

bookstooge (Custom)