Goths

A laff from Facebook:

I’ve always found the evolution of the word “Gothic” to be most interesting. It originally meant what the second paragraph in the graphic refers to: an eastern Germanic language spoken by a large group of people who invaded the Western Roman Empire in the fourth century, eventually carving out kingdoms for themselves in Spain and Italy (like the names of most languages, it came to describe the people who spoke it, thus the Gothic people or simply “Goths”). Renaissance humanists resurrected the name to describe the style of ecclesiastical architecture prevalent in the thirteenth century, characterized by pointed arches, flying buttresses, and rose windows. To them, of course, such architecture was just awful, given that the Romans would never have built buildings that looked like that, most importantly because such buildings lacked all sense of proportion. Even though they were quite sophisticated in their way, and quite beyond the capabilities of the actual Goths to build, the humanists denigrated them as “gothic,” a name that has stuck.

The name got a third life in the eighteenth century when it was used as an adjective to describe literature that “combines fiction and horror, death, and at times romance.” Horace Walpole’s novel The Castle of Ortranto (1764), originated the genre, which perhaps derived its name from Walpole’s revival of gothic architecture at Strawberry Hill, a house he had built for himself. From this Romantic, melancholic association, “gothic” then came to designate the subculture it’s identified with today, which:

began in England during the early 1980s, where it developed from the audience of gothic rock, an offshoot of the post-punk genre. The name, goth subculture, derived directly from the music genre. Seminal post-punk and gothic rock artists that helped develop and shape the subculture include Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, Joy Division, and Bauhaus. The goth subculture has survived much longer than others of the same era, and has continued to diversify and spread throughout the world…

Gothic fashion is marked by conspicuously dark, antiquated and homogeneous features. It is stereotyped as eerie, mysterious, complex and exotic. A dark, sometimes morbid fashion and style of dress, typical gothic fashion includes a pale complexion with colored black hair and black period-styled clothing. Both male and female goths can wear dark eyeliner and dark fingernail polish, most especially black. Styles are often borrowed from punk fashion and − more currently − from the Victorian and Elizabethan periods. It also frequently expresses pagan, occult or other religious imagery. Gothic fashion and styling may also feature silver jewelry and piercings.

Goths!

Machiavelli

To call someone “Machiavellian” is generally not a compliment, but Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) did not recommend manipulation, two-facedness, and backstabbing on principle. He just said that the prince not shy away from them if he could gain some advantage with them. One hates to hear such advice, of course, but we live in a fallen world, and some evils are lesser than others. The primary job of any prince is to maintain his status, and thus the integrity of his state. If he fails there – if he allows foreigners to invade, or a revolution to occur, or a civil war to break out – then a lot more people are going to suffer. So if he needs, for instance, to take out a potential troublemaker, he should go ahead and do that, without worrying too much about it.

Successful rulers, of course, have always acted on such principles. It’s just that Machiavelli was the first to have the temerity actually to write them down, and recommend them as appropriate behavior. Prior to this point, the speculum principis was a genre of sorts, purveying the sort of platitudes that one might read in Life’s Little Instruction Book or All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. In the Middle Ages, advice to the ruler was expected to be edifying and uplifting, full of Christian piety and the Golden Rule. So one can see how The Prince might have been really shocking when it first appeared. I would say that Machiavelli represents the other side of Alberti’s dictum that “man is the measure of all things”: man is fallen, and we need to deal with him as he actually is, not as we wish him to be. By all means cultivate your talents, and engage in personal improvement, but don’t act as though everyone else is doing the same thing.

The Onion once published an amusing news item:

Area Applebee’s A Hotbed Of Machiavellian Political Maneuvering

HARTFORD, CT–The site of a complex, ever-shifting web of alliances among servers, line cooks, hostesses, dishwashers, and managers, the Sheridan Avenue Applebee’s is a hotbed of Machiavellian political maneuvering, sources reported Monday.

“A manager here should employ the strength of a lion and the cunning of a fox,” night manager Roy Mergens said. “For example, I have curried the favor of the waitstaff by giving them 15-cent raises, simply by eliminating Jorge, the second dishwasher. This will not make me any friends in the kitchen, but it is far more important to keep the front-of-the-house staff happy.”

Added Mergens: “A successful manager is above morality, for the success of the Applebee’s franchise is the supreme objective.”

The humor here comes from juxtaposing Machiavelli’s grand political principles with the mundane operations of a suburban casual dining restaurant, but I’ve noticed that Machiavelli’s advice really is applicable to other situations than state politics. Indeed, anyone in a position of authority will find some useful advice in The Prince. I would not recommend killing anyone (however discreetly), but what about the pearls of wisdom listed below? I always like to illustrate them with “real world” examples when teaching.

It is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them. And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to have them is useful; to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite.

We all know people like this, people who never miss an opportunity to burnish their image in the eyes of others, but whose actions aren’t always in accord with said image. This is especially true of ostentatious Christians, who believe that they have God on their side, so it doesn’t really matter how they treat other people. For instance, who could have been more saintly than Mother Theresa of Calcutta? Yet Christopher Hitchens pointed out that of the millions of dollars her operation attracted, some from pretty odious sources, much of it simply disappeared, or was not directed to its ostensible purpose. It remains in bad taste to bring this up. Hitchens quotes Mark Twain: “Give a man a reputation as an early riser, and that man can sleep till noon.” So you’ll definitely want to control your image!

A prince should also show his esteem for talent, actively encouraging able subjects… [however, since] a prince cannot practise the virtue of generosity in such a way that he is noted for it, except to his cost, he should if he is prudent not mind being called a miser.

I like to illustrate this one with the behavior of a college president I once knew. He would love to come and praise his faculty to the skies, saying how wonderful they were, how they were essential to the mission of the university, etc. And his faculty would wonder, if that’s the case, then why haven’t we gotten a raise for the past five years? Why doesn’t he put his money where his mouth is? But as much as I hate to say it, his actions may have been right, as far as the health of the institution was concerned. To properly reward the faculty for doing their jobs, say by giving an extra-normal, inflation-beating raise one year, would make them grateful… for about two weeks, after which it would become the new normal, and they would be back to complaining about everything else. (There’s an expression for this phenomenon: homeostasis of complaint.) The faculty would then expect another such raise the following year, and if the president were to get into the habit of granting it, he would still have 1. an indifferent faculty (“in general, men are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous”) and 2. angry students, as he would be forced to raise tuition in order to cover this new expense. So no one would win. Machiavelli specifically warned against excessive compensation for precisely this reason – you’ll have to start robbing people in order to reward others, which leads to an unstable and politically unhealthy situation.

Everyone realizes how praiseworthy it is for a prince to honour his word and to be straightforward rather than crafty in his dealings; nonetheless contemporary experience shows that princes who have achieved great things have been those who have given their word lightly, who have known how to trick people with their cunning, and who, in the end, have overcome those abiding by honest principles.

To which the only possible reply is: yes. Anyone in the rat race will instantly recognize this as great advice.

Another noteworthy consideration: that princes should delegate to others the enactment of unpopular measures and keep in their own hands the distribution of favours.

This was illustrated every year by the same college president mentioned above. Faculty would go to the State of the College address on the first morning of the academic year, and hear how wonderful everything was. In the afternoon, they would go to the Faculty Senate meeting, and hear from the VPAA about all the problems. I’m absolutely sure this was by design.

Of course, you can’t indulge in this sort of thing too much. It is better to be feared than loved, but you don’t want to be hated. Above all things, you need wisdom, prudence, and good judgment. Read The Prince for more, and best of luck in your career!

Renaissance

One thing that I like about Renaissance humanists is that they never slavishly copied ancient Rome. They weren’t LARPers – they never wore togas, or revived gladiatorial combat, or made sacrifices to Jupiter, or discerned the will of the gods from the flight patterns of birds. No, they generally cherry-picked what they most admired (the form of the Latin language, fonts to set it in, and certain architectural details are the three that come most easily to mind). Most importantly, what they revived was a principle, that life was no longer to be a vale of tears, with one’s reward coming in the afterlife, but was meant to be lived – not in a hedonistic way, but a self-actualizing one: God gave us talents, and we honor God when we develop those talents. Since pagans didn’t have much of an afterlife to look forward to, their earthly life was all they had, and they were to use it for self-improvement and the gaining of personal glory. (Whether Romans actually lived by this principle is another question, but certain influential fifteenth-century Florentines certainly believed that they did.)

So in many ways the Renaissance was simply a “naissance,” a birth of something new, as people operated on the principle that they could do anything, because no one said they couldn’t. Mathematical perspective, for instance, was not something that the Romans ever invented, but Renaissance artists. (In other ways, of course, the Renaissance was simply a continuation of the Middle Ages, or so I am compelled to state by virtue of my membership in the medievalists’ guild.)

But speaking of art, I do think it’s a shame that art was such a dominant mode of self-expression in the Renaissance. The paintings and sculptures of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, and everyone else mentioned in Vasari’s Lives of the Artists are usually the first thing that comes to mind when one hears the word “Renaissance.” Don’t get me wrong, I think that Renaissance art is wonderful, but one regrets that science was not equally as fashionable among the humanists. (I read something once that claimed that scientific enquiry took a step backward in the Renaissance, overshadowed as it was by all the art and literature.) It would have made the Renaissance even better, say, if more people had taken up Leonardo’s engineering projects. As it stands contemporaries had to wait until 1590 before they could read Galileo’s De Motu (On Motion), part of what was now no longer the Renaissance, but the Scientific Revolution.

Venice

In my Renaissance and Reformation course this week, we did a quick tour of the major Italian city-states. One of the most distinctive, of course, is Venice, on account of all the canals. You know its Venice when you see a gondolier, sporting a horizontally striped shirt and straw hat, standing at the rear of his boat and propelling it with a rowing oar. Two such images that came immediately to mind:

Detail, Ragu spaghetti sauce label.

This prompted a search on YouTube for Venetian scenes. The Casino Royale reboot (2006), with its famous sinking piazza, was the one most people know:

I had forgotten the chase scene in Moonraker (1979), perhaps the campiest James Bond film: among other contrivances, Roger Moore’s gondola turns into a hovercraft.

This aging Gen-Xer then remembered that Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” video was set in Venice – and had forgotten that it features a lion wandering around (later in the video, a man in a Venetian-style lion mask acts as her seducer).

I was pleased to see this, because the symbol of Venice of course is a lion – specifically, the winged lion of St. Mark. From Wikipedia, here is the flag of the medieval Venetian Republic:

Well played, Madonna! (St. Mark has been the patron saint of Venice ever since the Venetians stole his relics from Alexandria in 828. His symbol was inspired by Ezekiel’s vision of the four winged creatures, which was eventually applied to the authors of the four gospels.)

A winged man, ox, eagle, and lion, symbolic of the evangelists Matthew, Luke, John, and Mark respectively. From Preachingsymbols.com.

Exam Question

At heart, what was the Renaissance? How did it contribute to the Reformation?

The Renaissance was fundamentally a rebirth of classical Latin – or rather, the Latin of the first century BC, particularly as it was composed by Cicero (and perhaps Virgil, Livy, Ovid, and other Augustan writers). To Francesco Petrarca, who lived in the fourteenth century AD, this was the pinnacle of its development and worth returning to. Language changes over time, of course – on the ground, Latin morphed into French, Spanish, and Italian – but even as a formal, learned language it changed, such that the Latin in daily use by the medieval Church was not quite the same as the one employed in the Senate House to expose the conspiracy of Cataline. I’m sure that any fourteenth-century reader would have noticed this difference, and not very cared much, but Petrarch cared a great deal. To him, every linguistic change since Cicero was necessarily a debasement, a corruption. (Cicero did employ certain rhetorical effects that later fell out of use.) The venality of the Church, and its stultifying bureaucracy in which Petrarch worked, seemed to be reflected in the prosaic Latin it used.

Thus, to Petrarch, it was a cultural imperative to revive Ciceronian Latin. This project was slightly risqué – Cicero was a pagan, and the Church did not recommend that Christians read too much pagan writing. As it happens, the Church was right – Petrarch almost single-handedly started a vogue for the revival of Ciceronian Latin – and of necessity a revival of the pagan idea of making something of yourself. No longer did life need to be a vale of tears so that one’s heavenly reward could be all the sweeter; now, people started to claim that God had given them talents, and they glorified God when they developed those talents. This is not necessarily anti-Christian, and indeed the Pope later became one of the greatest Renaissance patrons of all, but it did entail a certain skepticism towards traditional Christianity, and the Church that sponsored it. That Lorenzo Valla, using humanist philology, proved conclusively that the Donation of Constantine was a fabrication, is emblematic of this. Emperor Constantine (d. AD 337) did not actually grant to the pope the rights to the papal states, nor the right to name the western emperor. The pope himself invented the notion in the eighth century.

A similar philological critique was launched by Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, who set himself the task of publishing an authoritative edition of the New Testament in Greek. To this end he collected as many manuscripts as possible which, he discovered, did not necessarily agree with each other. To help determine which was the original reading, he adopted the “principle of maximum embarrassment” – that is, the reading that was most likely to be true was the reading that the Church liked the least. In other words, Erasmus implicitly accused the Church of being a bad steward of the Bible. And just as Italian humanists returned to Cicero for his Latin, and for his ideas about human nature, so also did Erasmus believe that this original text ought to be the main arbiter of Christian practice. Thus did Erasmus write Praise of Folly, a scathing attack on the mechanistic, superstitious, non-Biblical Christianity he saw around him. Instead, he believed that everyone should have access to the Bible, so that they could consume the word of God directly.

These two strands, skepticism towards the claims of the Roman Catholic Church, and the idea that we should go back to the Bible to determine our own Christian practice, came together in the program of Protestant Reformer Martin Luther. Everyone knew that the Church was corrupt, in that it often did not live up to its own ideals, but Luther went further than that, and identified non-Biblical Christian practice (starting with purgatory and indulgences) as part of that corruption. If he wasn’t going to be elected Pope, the next best thing would be to get certain German princes to declare their territories free from the Pope’s writ, and reorganize the church there according to his own understanding of Christian practice. And if Luther could do this, then so could others – with or without the support of the local government authorities.

In this way did the Reformation grow out of the Renaissance.

Renaissance

As a card-carrying member of the medievalists’ guild, I am contractually obliged to defend the Middle Ages whenever possible. Of course, after years of teaching the Western Civ. sequence, I have come to appreciate other historical eras as well – even the Renaissance, which originated the whole idea that we had a “Middle Ages” in the first place. But while praising what humanists did, I still dispute the notion that for them to succeed, others had to fail. You know the narrative: the Roman world, in particular the age right before the advent of the Principate, was pretty good, and if we try really hard, we can be as good as them – we can witness a “rebirth” of their ideals, or at least of their beautiful language. Everything between those two points – a period lasting over a thousand years – was designed a “Middle” Age. Aristotle might have favored the mean as particularly “golden,” and even the expression “middle of the road” suggests safety and inoffensiveness, but this middle was very bad indeed, a long slough of despond between two high points. It does not help that the adjective in English, “medieval” (from the Latin “medium aevum”), contains the word “evil.” It definitely has a negative connotation, as in Marsellus Wallace’s promise that his torturers would “get medieval” on the rapist Zed in Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994), or Aaronow’s line from Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) about how a win-or-you’re-fired sales incentive is “medieval… it’s wrong.”

With that in mind, allow me to comment on this excerpt from Leonardo Bruni’s History of the Florentine People (1442):

The Latin language, in all its perfection and greatness, flourished most vigorously in the time of Cicero, for its first state was not polished or refined or subtle, but, mounting little by little to perfection, it reached its highest summit in the time of Cicero. After his age it began to sink and to descend, as until that time it had risen, and many years had not passed before it experienced a great decline and diminution; and it can be said that letters and the studies of the language went hand in hand with the condition of the Roman Republic, which had also grown in power until the age of Cicero.

After the liberty of the Roman people had been lost through the rule of the emperors, who did not desist from killing and eliminating the men of excellence, the flourishing condition of studies and of letters perished, together with the welfare of the city of Rome. Augustus, who was the least evil of the emperors, had thousands of Roman citizens slain; Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero did not leave anyone alive who had the face of a man. There followed, then, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, who killed off each other within a few months. After them there were no more emperors of Roman blood, since the country had been so ruined by the preceding emperors that no one of any excellence remained… Why am I relating all this? Simply to demonstrate that as the city of Rome was destroyed by the emperors, who were perverse tyrants, so studies and Latin letters experienced a like ruin and decay, to such an extent that finally almost no one could be found who understood Latin literature with any refinement.

That literary and moral development go hand in hand is an interesting theory. I suppose this is true on some level – you do need some measure of prosperity and political stability before you can devote your time to cultivating your prose style. But what about the idea that all great art comes from crisis? Or that famous speech in The Third Man (1949):

Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

Of course, this is visual art, and not literature… and I suppose that Bruni is right on some level: in totalitarian regimes, language is utterly debased, in that everyone must publicly consent to lies on a daily basis. In the Roman context, everyone of any influence had to pretend that Augustus actually restored the republic when he didn’t. But note that Bruni is not complaining about truth-telling, but about “style.” He claims that learned men were killed off by the emperors – and I suppose that many of them were. But what about the first century BC, when Rome was still a republic and still featured Romans merrily killing each other, including the great Cicero, who was assassinated by agents of Marc Anthony? What about the “Augustan age” of literature, including Ovid, Livy, Virgil, and other master stylists, some of them sponsored by Augustus himself? What about the eighty-year period of political stability in the second century AD, the so-called Golden Age of the Roman Empire – was this not long and prosperous enough for someone to cultivate a good style? Do Apuleius and Suetonius not count?

OK, so Bruni is generalizing, and exaggerating. The fall of the Western Empire doubtlessly did have an effect on letters:

Then Italy was invaded successively by the Goths and the Lombards, barbarian and foreign peoples, who almost completely extinguished all knowledge of letters, as appears in the documents drawn up in that time, than which nothing could be found more coarse and crude. From the time when the liberty of the Italian peoples was recovered, by the defeat of the Lombards who had occupied Italy for two hundred and four years, the cities of Tuscany and elsewhere began to revive, and to take up studies, and somewhat to refine the coarse style. So little by little these came to recover vigor, but very feebly, and without any true sense of refinement, paying more attention to writing in vernacular rhymes than to other forms. And so until the time of Dante few knew the cultivated style, and those few understood it rather badly, as we have said in the life of Dante. Francesco Petrarca was the first who had such grace of talent, and who recognized and restored to light the ancient elegance of style which was lost and dead, and although in him it was not perfect, nevertheless by himself he saw and opened the way to this perfection by recovering the works of Cicero, by enjoying them, by understanding them, and by adapting himself as much as he could, and he learned the way to that most elegant and perfect fluency.

The chronology here is a little fuzzy – Charlemagne defeated the Lombards in the eighth century, and Dante died in the early fourteenth, but I suppose that the long-term prosperity of the commercial revolution did invigorate Italian letters. I sure wish that Bruni would provide examples of what he means by “cultivated style” or “elegant and perfect fluency.” Because on one level it seems arbitrary: language changes over time, as the humanists noticed all too well; who is anyone to say what register is “better” than another? As long as language is efficient within its community at conveying meaning, there is no such thing as “good style.” As I like to tell my students, it would be as though we decided that our English was ugly, and that we need to revive the English of Shakespeare. This would be an exercise in pure affectation.

But we have all had the experience of reading beautiful prose, and trying to slog through bad prose, so I’m not prepared to dismiss aesthetic considerations completely. I just don’t believe that morality and “style” go hand in hand, and I especially dislike how the humanists ran down the “Middle” Ages because their style wasn’t as “good” as that of Cicero.

Reformation Sunday

One of the delightful features of the church I currently attend is that it celebrates Reformation Sunday, the Sunday before October 31. That was the day on which Martin Luther, in 1517, nailed the Ninety-Five Theses on the church door at Wittenberg, thereby inaugurating the Protestant Reformation! (Of course, there is no primary source evidence that he actually did this, although he may very well have, given that the church door functioned as the university bulletin board. What really mattered is that they were translated into German and published with the printing press, an example of an academic idea bursting out of the confines of the university and into the wider culture. This happens from time to time.)

The church bulletin yesterday did not feature Martin Luther composing, nailing, or printing his theses. Instead, the illustration was of him at the Diet of Worms of 1521, when he stood up to no one less than Emperor Charles V! (Even if he did this in April – actually, I think that Savior of All should celebrate Diet of Worms day, too. Unfortunately, there is no proof that he ever said “Here I stand; I can not do otherwise.”)

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I like that the artist has rendered the double-headed Imperial eagle on a gold field. Alas, he has also simplified the coat of arms beyond recognition. Here is what Wikipedia has:

1024px-Greater_Coat_of_Arms_of_Charles_I_of_Spain,_Charles_V_as_Holy_Roman_Emperor_(1530-1556).svg

Here is another work of art featuring Luther, discovering justification by faith:

Scan

The original of this painting may be found in the Bob Jones University Museum and Gallery in Greenville, South Carolina, which we visited in the spring of 2014, and which houses the most fantastic collection of late medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque art. Apparently Bob Jones, Jr., son of the founder and university president for many years, had a predilection for Christian-themed art and so began acquiring it when he could. (The painting above is not representative; it is nineteenth century in origin and Protestant in theme. Most of the BJU collection is older than that and quite Catholic, which is somewhat at odds with BJU’s historic principles.) I highly recommend a visit to the Museum and Gallery should you be visiting Greenville.

Ren-Ref Reading

A nice nugget in Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince (cap. XIV, trans. George Bull):

As for intellectual training, the prince must read history, studying the actions of eminent men to see how they conducted themselves during war and to discover the reasons for their victories or their defeats, so that he can avoid the latter and imitate the former. Above all, he must read history so that he can do what eminent men have done before him: taken as their model some historical figure who has been praised and honoured; and always kept his deeds and actions before them.

How Dare He?!

From J.H. Plumb, The Italian Renaissance (1961). Speaking of the Middle Ages, Plumb writes:

The wealth that was wrung from the soil and the tenuous trade of those dark centuries was poured into the splendid barbaric churches, noble if grotesque, that soared to heaven in violation of all the harmonies of ancient art. Or it served a grimmer purpose, and from it grew the towering fortresses, the embattled towers, the walled cities that were a necessity in a society in which the clang of armor was as common as the church bell.

As a card-carrying member of the medievalists’ guild, I must protest! Why is wealth “wrung from” the soil (as opposed to, say, “produced by” it)? How could Chartres Cathedral be built by “tenuous” trade? And why are we judging Gothic churches, marvels of engineering and beautiful in their own right, by any ancient fashions? Furthermore – have you seen the Medici palace, or the Visconti castle? These Renaissance buildings were certainly built with the “grim” purpose of defense in mind, given that in Renaissance Italy the clang of armor was a very common sound indeed.

Sheesh.

Film Review

As we approach the first anniversary of the death of our dear colleague Kevin Crawford, I wanted to share with you his review of the film Anonymous (2012). Knowledge is good!
***

Anonymous dramatizes the absurd idea that Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, wrote the plays of “William Shakespeare” but could not claim to have done so as a nobleman.

This piece of utter nonsense, although beautifully shot and mostly well-acted, gets more than a few things wrong…

Elizabeth I was childless, not the mother of countless male bastards who got to be foster-child earls. She was not de Vere’s mother, and most certainly not his lover and a mother of HIS child (who later gets to be the Earl of Southampton). At least we get the first film to include Queen Elizabeth engaged in oral sex with her son/lover right before he fathers his own son/brother on his own mother/lover…

Christopher Marlowe is shown alive in 1598; he died – by the nagging inconvenience of murder – by 1593.

Apparently, Shakespeare was Marlowe’s murderer; Ben Jonson accuses him of the crime, claming he “slit (Marlowe’s) throat” in Southwark. Hmmmm. Marlowe was murdered by Ingram Frizer in the suburb of Deptford when Mr. Frizer slipped his dagger in Marlowe’s left eye. Ouch. (Marlowe also dies in the film on the same day Essex leaves to meet the rebellion in Ireland – these two events happened six years apart. Oops.)

In 1603, either the Rose or the Globe Theatre burns down; the film doesn’t make it clear, but we know the Globe Theatre burned down in 1613, and the Rose never caught fire.

Richard III is billed as premiering in 1601, but was actually printed four years earlier in 1597 and performed well before its publication. Even worse, RIII is performed in the film as a rabble-rousing prelude to the Essex rebellion, when in fact Richard II – a VERY different play – was performed before the uprising (Shakespeareans are, admittedly, divided on how much the play’s performance was connected to Essex, but the play’s deposition scene was banned on stage and in print for many years).

The poem Venus and Adonis is depicted as a bestseller written and printed especially for Queen E in 1601. It was published in 1593; no known 1601 edition exists.

Ben Jonson is shocked that Romeo and Juliet, written in 1598, is entirely in blank verse. ButGorboduc precedes it as the first drama to use blank verse throughout a play by more than 35 years. By 1598 the form was standard in the English theatre. Oh, and Romeo and Juliet has quite a bit of prose in it, too. Like nearly fifteen percent of the play.

Elizabeth’s funeral takes place on the frozen Thames. The ceremony took place on land and the Thames did not freeze over that year.

Richard III was not the first play performed at the Globe.

Shakespeare was not illiterate. His grammar school education had him reading and translating major works in Latin and a few in Greek. How many modern college graduates read Latin and Greek? How many were doing so after the equivalent of sixth grade? Take lots of time with your answer…

Shakespeare spelled his own name in different ways? Fine. So did Marlowe, and the Earl of Oxford. Indeed, Oxford spelled the work “halfpenny” eleven – ELEVEN – different ways. Was he illiterate? Obviously, which means he couldn’t have written Shakespeare. I guess that means Queen Elizabeth wrote the plays when she wasn’t having sex.

And so on…