Archive for January, 2016


January 30, 2016

I found this article by Jim Cheney to be very interesting regarding the “role” Northeastern Pennsylvania played in the French Revolution. I have included the link to his blog in case you would like to read it and view the photos.

View from the Marie Antionette Overlook


The NCAA is Hypocritical About “Amateurism” for Athletes in College Sports

January 29, 2016

the-national-championship-trophyNot to hype college football, but the ongoing (and growing) clamor for a playoff system for the top eight or sixteen teams raises concerns for the health and emphasis on actual education for the so-called “student athlete”. The NCAA is already trying to come up with a solution that will make even more bazillions for Division I colleges, while exploiting the young men who play the game. For me, it just one more example of the blatant hypocrisy of both the NCAA and the college dons regarding the many regulations they impose on student-athletes in the alleged name of amateurism.

First, a little personal history of why I feel so strongly about this issue.

In the long-gone days when I was in college, I competed in many civic public speaking tournaments, sponsored by such organizations as the Rotary, Toastmasters, Lion’s Club, and even the city judicial oratorical contest. I won a number of cash prizes; nothing major, but up to $100, which was quite a bit in those days. I also competed in inter-collegiate debate and public speaking competitions. Another inter-collegiate competition I participated in, again winning certain prizes, was contract bridge. As a matter of fact, my primary side income during college was working as a professional bridge player at a local club. This involved teaching lessons, playing “rubber” bridge as a form of gambling, and being paid by clients to play with them in tournaments. At the time, my girlfriend played for the school orchestra, which participated in inter-collegiate musical competitions, and she also played for money for small local orchestras and at a few restaurants.

At the same time, I competed in tennis at a Division III university. Naturally, I was totally barred from making any money from tennis, including playing, teaching or even accepting any kind of sponsorship. And this was in Division III, where there are no scholarships, and certainly no people interested in sponsoring you (because you simply aren’t good enough to ever play professionally), but the rules were the rules for all athletes.

This is not meant as a form of bragging (well, not totally!), but rather setting the stage to ask the question: Why should my girlfriend and I be permitted to make money in the exact forms of non-athletic competitions we were involved in as a college students, when students who were on the inter-collegiate sports teams were forbidden to take a cent, in any form or manner, related to their sport, and even other sports?

Frankly, it really doesn’t take a lot of research or contemplation to figure out why. It’s simply that no or very few spectators will pay to watch those events, and there is no outside organization, such as television or radio, willing to pay colleges money in order to broadcast or otherwise make money from those other collegiate activities. In actual fact, there are really very few inter-collegiate sports that the broadcast media want, because they are not supported by commercial messages. Obviously football and basketball are, and certain major events such as the College World Series of baseball, but really not many. Of course, the NCAA, as dictated by the college presidents, insist that the broadcast media pick up many other sports as part of the package because they want to promote those sports (read: want to pretend that they value them just as much as they value the actual revenue producing sports), but how much play does the media give those other sports, and how big of an audience do they actually draw, paying or not?

Naturally, the NCAA can’t be “hypocritical” about total amateurism versus a “student athlete” making money in any of those other sports, which oddly includes golf, which is about as athletic as the contract bridge I used to play. If one sport is banned from the participants making money and still playing at the collegiate level, then they must all be banned. Frankly, I don’t think the NCAA really gives a damn if the athletes in volleyball or tennis or water polo play for money and then play for their college team. However, it would look really bad if they were allowed to when the “major sports” athletes were not allowed, so the NCAA has to make a blanket policy.

But not for other activities, as I’ve pointed out. What, really, is the difference? Money. That’s it. The NCAA makes money off of certain major sports, makes not a dime from any other type of activity that college students do, and so they have to create a way to control the product so that they can maximize their profits.

This goes way back in history to the pretense of “amateurism” in the Olympics, tennis tournaments, and other sporting events. Both the Olympics and tennis were making hundreds of millions from gate receipts and broadcast rights without paying the athletes a dime (well, the tennis tournaments did give players “expense money” under the table, but it wasn’t a lot). Eventually, the professionals boycotted the major tennis tournaments until they forced promoters to give them prize money, and the Olympics “allowed” professionals to join in, but for the same pay as the amateurs: medals.

There have been countless articles concerning the hypocrisy of the NCAA itself, as well as the universities, making billions of dollars through broadcast contracts, gate receipts, souvenir sales, sponsor endorsements, and other income streams, without allowing any athlete to openly accept one penny–even a free lunch from a recruiter–for his or her efforts. There have been countless articles about how much the coaches make, the ADs make, and even the trainers make, while the athletes must sacrifice their bodies, perhaps even their minds, for a few cheers and a pat on the back. This article is not about those things.

This article is meant to ask one question: if college students can participate in inter-collegiate events in any other field of endeavor, and then accept pay to do the exact same thing out in the real world, what gives the NCAA the right to forbid athletes from having the same right as any other student? There is only one difference, and that’s money. The NCAA can mouth pious sermons about the sanctity of amateurism in sports until they are blue in the face, but I only have three words in response: hypocrites, hypocrites, hypocrites.

Part 3: “Romeo and Juliet” as a Warning to Elizabeth.

January 26, 2016

The last part to my essay explaining why Shakespeare may have had a much deeper message for Queen Elizabeth concerning her rule over her Catholic and Protestant subjects than writing a simple play about love and death.

A Couple of Other References from the Play

Although this is somewhat of a non-sequitur for this essay, it is not surprising to me that in his poem “Queen Mab”, Percy Bysshe Shelley channels the wild, chaotic sense of independence of Mercutio in his famous speech to Romeo. I think Shelley picked up on many of the religious questions in Mercutio’s speech and used them as a springboard for his atheistic arguments. Needless to say, I do not think Shakespeare was being any worse than a trifle irreligious, as he was criticizing the (to him) senseless battle between the two Christian sects, and not Christianity itself.

Then, the play essentially ends with these lines from the prince:

“And I for winking at your discords too
Have lost a brace of kinsmen: all are punish’d.”

As a writer, I wonder why the prince also lost a couple of kinsmen. As a moral tale for the reason stated in his prologue, it would seem that Mercutio might better have been related to Romeo, say his brother or first cousin, than the prince, because it would have been more of a family tragedy if all of the deaths had been to members of the family. For that matter, if Paris had to die to heighten the dramatic irony, he could have been a cousin to Juliet, as those marriages were quite common in that society. Such relationships would have heightened the grievous loss to the families as a result of their ridiculous feud. For me, it adds no dramatic tension that the prince lost relatives as a result of a limited feud between two families, no matter how rich and powerful they were in his city.

However, as a political statement, it makes perfect sense to me. Rather than being limited to the proverbial “others”, the ruler of this little fiefdom suffers personal loss from the violent bickering going on under his jurisdiction and control. As I understand this play, this message is a direct appeal to Elizabeth to stop the persecution and bloodshed amongst her subjects and her own “relatives”, whether or not those were actual blood relatives. As the prince says, all are being punished.

Juliet’s Famous Line

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.” (Act II, scene 2)

A wonderful pun, I believe. There are many metaphors he could have used, but I think Shakespeare is referring back to the War of the Roses, the White Rose of York and the Red Rose of Lancaster. When the followers of Mary of Scots rebelled against Elizabeth, they wore a red cross, while the Protestant followers of Elizabeth wore a white cross. Later, the Tudor rose was combined with a red outer rose and a white inner one.

Juliet is, of course, asking why Romeo had to have been born a Montague, as they were at odds with the Capulets. She may as well have been asking why he had been born, say, a Catholic instead of a Protestant, as both were good Christian faiths, and as sweet as any other religion.

A Note on Sonnet 29

There have been many interpretations of this poem. I will also speculate on its meaning, more as a writer than as a scholar.

When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee-and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings,
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Sonnet 29 is a member of the “Fair Youth” sequence, in which the poet supposedly expresses his love towards a young man. This is one of the poems that led some scholars to believe Shakespeare was homosexual, or that someone else wrote the poems. However, I don’t even necessarily believe the poem alludes to anyone other than the author himself. Yes, the ending definitely sounds like a love poem, but why those specific analogies? The use of the pronoun “one” in the line “wishing me like to one more rich in hope” could simply be a use of the generic, especially given the line “desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope”, which would imply that the author is simply regretting his own circumstances and wishing he could have the best traits of certain other people.

There exists an interpretation that Shakespeare was despondent after having recently been severely criticized for his work by fellow playwright Robert Greene, and that would seem to make a lot more sense to me than homosexuality. However, I get a different reading given all of the other evidence I have presented in this essay.

A poet always writes from his/her own background and experiences, and often uses thoughts and observances from their past as metaphors for other things. I do not know enough about William Shakespeare’s early life to clearly evaluate why he is “in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,” nor has fallen into an “outcast state”. Perhaps it is because he had been forced to leave school and seek his fortune without the aid of a father who was fairly wealthy and influential. Or is he actually alluding to John, whom he may have perceived as despairing about having fallen totally out of favor in Elizabethan society because he would not renounce his papist beliefs?

In my mind, the fact that someone’s love is a tonic to the writer is quite secondary in this poem to the despair that is much more completely described. The phrase “then I scorn to change my state with kings” was certainly common enough, especially in a society under a monarchy, to simply be a descriptive metaphor for personal values. However, it may actually have been a direct allusion to the Queen, claiming that the Crown could not heap such disgrace and poverty on Shakespeare as to make him lose all pride and sense of inner worth. In either case, there is a definite sense of “rising above” the adversity caused by having somehow become a societal outcast that would be consistent with resentment at how Elizabeth treated devout Catholics.


In the first place, Romeo and Juliet is not a simple love story, even if read as a piece of literature rather than a political statement. The main topic is actually uncontrolled passions, as the hatred expressed in the play is equally as violent as the love portrayed. The choices that are made by all of the characters — certainly not least by the nurse and the friar — lead to the inevitable deaths of the two young lovers. As in life, not everyone can control the fate of a nation, but each person has control over their own choices to act or not to act, to do good or to do evil. Religious persecution cannot exist without the masses condoning and even participating in the emotional and physical actions of persecution, or, as on the part of many of the Catholics, the attempts to overthrow or assassinate Elizabeth. When seen in the context of the historical and political realities of Elizabethan England, Romeo and Juliet is a true masterpiece of subtle messages.

Jeanne II, Tainted Queen

January 17, 2016

Source: Jeanne II, Tainted Queen

I found this very interesting, and wish to thank Sharon for allowing me to reblog it.

What was equally interesting to me was that the Count Odo of Burgundy mentioned in this article must have been a distant but direct descendant of Count Odo who was both a rival and an ally to Charles Martel in the 8th century. I am currently writing the screenplay, but after that will work on the novel “The Franks”, where Odo is a significant character both in repelling the Muslim invasion of central and northern Europe and in the early formation of the empire Martel’s grandson, Charlemagne, would someday inherit.

Duke Odo’s crest

Odo I.jpg

Part 2: Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”: A Warning to Elizabeth?

January 16, 2016

Part 2 of my article on why Shakespeare may have had a much deeper message in this play than the perils of love.


Prologues in Shakespeare

As a writer, I wonder why Shakespeare wrote a prologue to Romeo and Juliet. This is not an historical drama, where the audience would need to understand the history of the play to better understand the current action. If taken as a love story, it is certainly not so subtle that the message would not come through without a prior explanation. So one asks: Is this just a normal device that Shakespeare uses in his plays?

None of Shakespeare’s comedies has a prologue, an actual introduction. Taming of the Shrew has an “Induction”, which is two short scenes that precede the actual play, but are set in a lord’s house to set up the play; I have never seen them actually performed. Of the histories, Henry IV, Part II also has an induction, which is a short speech that sort of bridges the gap from Part I. Henry V has a prologue, which is primarily to set up the historical aspects of the play, which in and of itself acts as an introduction to Henry VI. The prologue to Henry VI essentially says the play is going to be very sad, and if a person bought a ticket expecting to watch some sort of comedy, they are going to be very disappointed. Frankly, I’m not sure why Shakespeare bothered with such a prologue, although I have not tried to analyze it as I did with the prologue of Romeo and Juliet. Pericles, Prince of Tyre has a prologue that explains the background of the play so that the audience can understand the current action. The play begins where the prologue leaves us; it does not simply repeat the plot and message of the play, as does Romeo and Juliet. Likewise with Troilus and Cressida.

Frankly, I would have thought that Othello, the Moor of Venice might have done with a prologue, as Shakespeare was also sending a strong political message. This has already been discussed by many scholars, and a posting by AIWASS documents this information (his footnotes are noted, but not included):

In 1596, Queen Elizabeth issued an “open letter” to the Lord Mayor of London, announcing that “there are of late divers blackmoores brought into this realme, of which kinde of people there are allready here to manie,” and ordering that they be deported from the country. (1) One week later, she reiterated her “good pleasure to have those kinde of people sent out of the lande” and commissioned the merchant Casper van Senden to “take up” certain “blackamoores here in this realme and to transport them into Spaine and Portugall.” (2) Finally, in 1601, she complained again about the “great numbers of Negars and Blackamoors which (as she is informed) are crept into this realm,” defamed them as “infidels, having no understanding of Christ or his Gospel,” and, one last time, authorized their deportation. (3)

Othello, the Moor of Venice is believed to have been written in approximately 1603, based on the Italian short story “A Moorish Captain” by Cinthio, first published in 1565. In the opening scene, Iago and Roderigo describe Othello by using racist insults, and Iago invariably refers to Othello as “the Moor”, constantly reducing him to a racial stereotype. Their hatred of him is entirely based on racial prejudice. Yet when Othello actually appears, he is sympathetically portrayed as an articulate, intelligent and introspective human being. His downfall comes from the typical human frailties of trusting his friends too much, being too jealous of his beautiful wife, and acting before learning all of the facts. It has nothing to do with the fact that he is a Moor. It seems clear that Shakespeare has decided, once again, to thinly disguise his thoughts about Elizabeth’s opinions and policies behind the curtains of a play.

Romeo and Juliet

Of all the comedies or tragedies, only Romeo and Juliet has a prologue and epilogue (the latter often delivered by the Prince), both of which directly repeat the message of the play. Thanks to the prologue, the ending is definitely anti-climactic. Why does Shakespeare detract from this dramatic conclusion by giving it away in a prologue that serves no other purpose than to tell us both the ending and the message of that ending? He is not that bad of a writer. Is that a slip, or was Shakespeare trying to implicitly convey his message to Elizabeth without offending her as his contemporaries had done?

Act I Prologue

Two households, both alike in dignity,

In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,

Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes

A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;

Whole misadventured piteous overthrows

Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.

The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,

And the continuance of their parents’ rage,

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes

A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;

Whole misadventured piteous overthrows

Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.

The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,

And the continuance of their parents’ rage,

Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove,

Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;

The which if you with patient ears attend,

What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

First, it is interesting that nowhere in the play, especially this prologue, does Shakespeare give the cause of this feud. He leaves it to the imagination of the audience to think of some deed that might have been terrible enough to have caused such intense hatred and on-the-spot bloodshed to occur over a prolonged period of time. This is not particularly significant, but most literature tries to provide some sort of background for the action so that the reader/audience can have a better understanding of the action.

The “ancient grudge that breaks to new mutiny” may well refer to the Wars of the Roses being reprised in the new battle, in this case not only for succession, but for the conflict over religions. I think Shakespeare, although ostensibly a Catholic, showed many times in his plays that he was very tolerant of religion, race, and even the equality of the sexes (I am writing a play that discusses feminism in many of Shakespeare’s plays), and may have really wondered why there had to be a dominance of one over the other (“Two households, both alike in dignity”), especially as they both represented Christianity.

The line, “Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean,” is certainly a clever pun, but I believe it is also a direct reference to the civil wars of the past and present. The people of England, and especially the aristocracy, should be civil towards each other, but instead they are soiling their hands with the blood of their countrymen, neighbors, friends, and even relatives. The play opens with the servants of Lord Capulet discussing the feud, and immediately leads to a physical confrontation. Sampson states that “A dog of the house of Montague moves me,” meaning he gets angry at the Montagues even if he only sees one of their dogs, and he and Gregory prove that by deliberately insulting servants of the Montague household in order to provoke a fight, which is quickly joined by everyone in those clans right up to Lords Montague and Capulet. No one in the city-or country-is exempt from the impacts of the feud.

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes

A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;

Whole misadventured piteous overthrows

Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.

The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,

And the continuance of their parents’ rage,

Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove

While Shakespeare may be referring to Mary and Elizabeth, I think he is more probably including the churches themselves, with those two Queens representing the parent figures of the warring churches within England. The children of England are definitely “star-cross’d”, because they have no control over which household they are born into, nor over the political infighting going on at the top levels. How many deaths will it take until England sees the folly of this conflict, and Elizabeth stops “winking” at the efforts of many of her lords to eradicate the offending Catholics? Elizabeth enjoyed a great general popularity, especially during the early days of her reign, and Shakespeare may have been urging her to put aside this persecution of those she believed were “mutinous” and end the rage. (After all, most of the actual treason was being fomented from outside of England’s borders.) In many ways, civil war is a form of suicide, in that the country is killing itself, and the most innocent victims are usually the young.

Act II, Scene iii

Shakespeare loves long soliloquies, but those usually deal with character exploration and/or the message of the play. The following soliloquy by Friar Lawrence, which is all about the diverse nature of plants, seems to be a non-sequitur. Yes, it introduces a special potion by which Juliet can be put into a “seeming death”, but it would seem to me that Shakespeare could have approached it much differently if that was his sole aim. For example, the friar could have been sitting at a bench stirring up a potion, and the speech could have been much shorter. The focus really should have been on his skills as an apothecary (which he was not, so why not send Juliet to one, as Romeo needed to visit one later for a simple poison?) in that he was able to concoct such a complicated potion, not on the virtues or vices of these various plants.

On the other hand, if we read this passage as a complicated, very clever metaphor rather than actually being about plants, we do indeed find a soliloquy dealing with the true message of the play. Once we get past the time of day, we find these lines:

The earth that’s nature’s mother is her tomb;

What is her burying grave that is her womb,

And from her womb children of divers kind

We sucking on her natural bosom find,

Many for many virtues excellent,

None but for some and yet all different.

The first two lines describe the fact that the earth gives birth to life, and yet all things return to the earth on their death. The Catholic faith also embraces this view, calling itself the “mother church” with all people being her children. The Church of England also retained this view, still calling its religious leaders “father”, “mother”, “brother” and “sister”. In this metaphor the “children” represent plants, yet could easily also mean real children. Those children are extremely diverse, some have excellent virtues, and all are good for something, although all are quite different. Perhaps all churches, all faiths, also have their virtues which they offer their followers.

O, mickle is the powerful grace that lies

In herbs, plants, stones, and their true qualities:

For nought so vile that on the earth doth live

But to the earth some special good doth give

This works well to describe many plants, although we have certainly not found uses for even the majority of plants. However, it is probably true that there are no humans — or not many — so vile that they cannot in some way contribute to the good of mankind. No matter what religion a citizen of England may embrace, I believe Shakespeare was saying that they could still be loyal and useful to England.

Nor aught so good but strain’d from that fair use

Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse:

Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied;

And vice sometimes by action dignified

If plants have the capacity for both good and evil uses, then how can they be judged to “revolt from true birth”? Is Shakespeare implying that there is an inherent good or evil to plants? However, if we look at this as the intent of religion, then we can certainly understand that the good intents, being “strain’d from that fair use”, truly does revolt from its original intent, and more than stumbles “on abuse”. The purpose of religion should be to comfort and unite people, not to incite them to violence against others simply because they do not share the same beliefs. Yet many churches have indeed dignified despicable vices in the excuse that they were attempting to bring the “true religion to all people.

Within the infant rind of this small flower

Poison hath residence and medicine power:

For this, being smelt, with that part cheers each part;

Being tasted, slays all senses with the heart.

Two such opposed kings encamp them still

In man as well as herbs, grace and rude will;

And where the worser is predominant,

Full soon the canker death eats up that plant.

Again, I believe the “flower” is religion, which holds the capacity to be used for great ill or for great good. If one smells it delicately, treating it as a delicious bouquet, it can enrich society. If one ingests it, gorges on it, then it does indeed slay “all senses with the heart”. That is what can lead to such extremes as the Inquisition and conversion by torture, to blanket condemnation of anyone who worships in the least differently, even if they are worshipping the same god and the same savior! In England, religious zealotry had already led to great persecution, and Shakespeare was afraid that, if unchecked, it could become a religious pogrom.

While “Two such opposed kings encamp them still” is typical Shakespearean metaphor, it is interesting to note that the literal allusion is to two opposing monarchs at war. The abstract allusion is to the great opposing forces that war within both these supposed plants and all humans, that of “grace and rude will”, or good and evil. Although all people must choose which will rule them, Elizabeth has the choice of which will eventually take precedence in the country. If she allows hatred and persecution to rule, the country will be shortly devoured by its self-generated cancer.

To come: Part 3, the conclusion

TKJ – A brief history of booze in medieval times.

January 14, 2016

Some fascinating information about the other “spiritual” side of folks during the Medieval period! My thanks to Darius for his permission to reblog this.

Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”: A Warning to Elizabeth?

January 9, 2016

For most readers, “Romeo and Juliet” is a lesson to overly-passionate lovers. But Shakespeare may have had a much deeper message for Queen Elizabeth concerning her rule over her Catholic and Protestant subjects.

Cover  Part one of a three-part article

For writers of real literature there are two inalienable truths. First, a writer wants to get out a certain message, which they hope the predominance of readers will either believe or at least consider. Second, the writer must write about what he or she knows. This usually means borrowing from their own background and personal experiences, although a writer may do a tremendous amount of research to make a story believable.

This essay is an attempt to explore the motivation behind William Shakespeare writing Romeo and Juliet. Yes, he was the resident playwright for The Globe and its players, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (called the King’s Men after the ascension of James I in 1603), so he was charged with producing manuscripts. Believed to be written between 1591 and 1595, Romeo and Juliet was one of Shakespeare’s first plays. Perhaps because he was still young and fiery, it is clear he had certain messages in mind when he took earlier works (the poem “The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet” by Arthur Brooke in 1562, based on one of the stories in Matteo Bandello’s Novelle, (Zakharov and Gaydin, 2008) and later as a story in Palace of Pleasure by William Painter in 1582, all of which were based on the Greek tale of Pyramus and Thisbe) as his basic story and revamped it completely.

The Thesis

When Elizabeth I came to power, England was still suffering from the aftershocks of the War of the Roses. Like her father, Henry VIII, who had been forced to deal with a long and bloody civil war not of his making, Elizabeth found herself inheriting a new civil conflict that Henry had created. This one was also partly due to a question of succession, but was greatly complicated by a “holy war” between the traditional Catholic Church and the upstart Protestant sects. Throughout Elizabeth’s reign, this uncivil infighting was perhaps less bloody, but much more pervasive as to a “witch hunt” type of persecution of Catholics who refused to convert to the new religion of the realm.

According to many scholars, one of those stubborn Catholics was John Shakespeare. A self-made man, John lost virtually all of his position and fortune during the latter period of his life. His son, William, also suffered personally from Elizabeth’s anti-Catholic policies. When he later became a famous and very wealthy member of the entertainment community in London, William was in a position where he could use his intellect and his access to the public to voice many of his social and political thoughts.

However, as Elizabeth could easily decide to imprison or execute anyone who voiced their opposing viewpoints too loudly and too directly (and did exercise that power on many occasions), William was intelligent enough to mask most of his opinions behind the thin curtain of the stage. In his “Response to Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel”, E.A.J. Honigmann points out that “Shakespeare’s two greatest rivals, (Christopher) Marlowe and (Ben) Jonson, both were Catholics with underground contacts, and both experienced interrogation and imprisonment — and in Marlowe’s case probably murder.”

Because of Shakespeare’s background, I believe that Romeo and Juliet was a veiled warning to Elizabeth of the dangers and evils of continuing this policy of allowing persecution of her own citizens to go on in her name merely because of a difference in the way people chose to worship Christ. This was a rather silly feud, and if Elizabeth did not end this civil strife in some way that would show that all of her subjects were truly one nation, then all would be “punish’d”. Needless to say, this is all speculation, but I hope that historical evidence and some clear interpretation of his work may lend it some credence.

A Little History of the Church of England

In his article “Martin Luther in the England of King Henry VIII”, Charleston C. K. Wang tells us that, “From 1515 to 1520, Martin Luther, a German who was a Catholic priest, published three works that attacked the Catholic church, and the pope in particular. He and his followers broke away from the church and started the protestant religions.”

Henry VIII was raised a sincere Catholic and even authored a book strongly criticizing Luther (ibid), but he later found it expedient and profitable to break with the Papacy. The separation of the Church of England from Rome began under Henry in 1529 and was completed in 1536. It was driven initially by both his lust and certain political necessities.

England had gone through the Wars of the Roses between 1455 and 1485, a conflict between rival branches of the royal House of Plantagenet: Lancaster and York, whose heraldic symbols were the “red” and the “white” rose, respectively (Gormley, 2010). As his wife, Catherine of Aragon, bore him only a single living child, Mary, Henry feared that his lack of a male heir might jeopardize his descendants’ claim to the throne. Henry wanted an annulment in order to remarry with a younger woman. However, Pope Clement VII denied his request, so Henry decided to remove England from the authority of Rome. In 1534, the Act of Supremacy made Henry the Supreme Head of the Church of England, which was Protestant. Between 1535 and 1540, under Thomas Cromwell, the policy known as the Dissolution of the Monasteries was put into effect. Many Catholic icons and ceremonies were banned. Monies that had gone to Rome now went to Henry, and huge amounts of church land and property passed into the hands of the crown and the nobility. This vested interest of many lords created a powerful force in support of the dissolutions.

When Henry died he was succeeded by his son Edward VI (by Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour), who had been raised as a Protestant. Edward was only nine years old at his succession (and not quite sixteen at his death), so the Duke of Somerset and the Duke of Northumberland seized power as his “protector and councilors”. Through them, Edward ordered the destruction of images in churches and the closing of the chantries. While the reform of the Church of England was firmly established by many greedy lords, the majority of ordinary citizens remained faithful to Catholicism.

Because Mary lived with her mother after the divorce, she was raised as a very devout Catholic. The children that stayed in Henry’s household, Edward and Elizabeth (the daughter of Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn), were raised as devout Protestants. Religion being an extremely serious business in that era, the battle over which religion would prevail was just as divisive to England as the question of who would rule the country. Obviously, these two questions were intertwined. Simply because Edward was a male, not to mention he was the obvious heir to the throne, the problem undoubtedly would have been resolved with a lot less conflict had he lived.

For better or worse, Edward did not recover from his illness. Upon his death, there was a very brief interval (nine days) when Lady Jane Grey took the throne. Then Mary marched into London with an army and reclaimed her birthright. From 1553 to 1558, Queen Mary forcibly tried to restore Catholicism as the national religion, becoming known as “Bloody Mary” in the process. Upon her death, she was succeeded by her half-sister, Elizabeth, and the fate of England as a Protestant country was sealed.

The Influence of Religion in Shakespeare’s Early Life

In his essay, “John Shakespeare: A Papist or Just Penniless?”, Robert Bearman points out that: “William Shakespeare’s religious beliefs (are based) on the very reasonable supposition that the faith in which Shakespeare was reared would have had a significant, perhaps profound, effect on him.” In fact, Bearman makes a very strong case that John Shakespeare may well have been persecuted by the Crown because Elizabeth was very insistent on all of the nobility and societal leaders (especially the clergy) of England embracing the Protestant faith from early on in her reign.

Although obviously subject to interpretation by various scholars, Bearman demonstrates that the “evidence is plentiful” regarding “John’s religious convictions”, but that recently “there has been a vigorous development of the view that he remained true to the Catholic faith until his death in 1601.”
One of those scholars is Amanda Mabillard, who wrote a treatise entitled “William Shakespeare of Stratford”. In that article, Ms. Mabillard does not ascribe any reason for the rise and then fall of John’s fortunes, although she describes them in some detail. The timing coincides very closely with the “purging” of the Catholic faithful from England during the early years of Elizabeth’s reign. I will add a few editorial comments to some of the information (I have edited this to deal directly with John, not William) which she provides:

“John came to Stratford from Snitterfield before 1532 as an apprentice glover and tanner of leathers. John Shakespeare prospered and began to deal in farm products and wool. It is recorded that he bought a house in 1552, and bought more property in 1556. John Shakespeare owned one house on Greenhill Street and two houses on Henley Street. Sometime between 1556 and 1558 John Shakespeare married Mary Arden, the daughter of the wealthy Robert Arden of Wilmecote and owner of the sixty-acre farm called Asbies. The wedding would have … been a Catholic service, since Queen Mary I was the reigning monarch.”
We assume neither John nor Mary could write … but it did not prevent them from becoming important members of the community. John Shakespeare was elected to a multitude of civic positions, including ale-taster of the borough in 1557, chamberlain of the borough in 1561, alderman in 1565, (a position which came with free education for his children at the Stratford Grammar School), high bailiff, or mayor, in 1568, and chief alderman in 1571. Due to his important civic duties, he rightfully sought the title of gentleman and applied for his coat-of-arms in 1570. However, for unspecified reasons the application was abruptly withdrawn, and within the next few years, for reasons just as mystifying, John Shakespeare would go from wealthy business owner and dedicated civil servant to debtor and absentee council member.

Well, perhaps it’s not all that mystifying. Following her ascension to the throne, the Queen created “The Act of Supremacy”, which gave Elizabeth ultimate control of the Church of England, and “The Act of Uniformity”, which attempted to establish a set form of worship that would meld the two churches. While not eradicating the Catholic Church, these acts were certainly meant to diminish its hold on the English people. The “religious settlement” began to be implemented in the summer of 1559 (Lee, 1916). During the first decade it was enforced, Elizabeth tried to be fairly tolerant of all of her subjects, including the Catholics. In those days, it would have taken several years for its mandates to be enforced in every town, including Stratford.

The Act of Supremacy also included an oath of loyalty to the Queen that the clergy were expected to take. If they did not take it, they would lose their office. A High Commission was established to ensure that the oath was taken, which stipulated that “the Queen’s Highness is the only Supream Governor of this Realm … in all Spiritual or Ecclesiastical Things or Causes, as Temporal; and that no foreign Prince, Person, Prelate State or Potentate, hath or ought to have any Jurisdiction”. The clergymen had to “utterly renounce and forsake all foreign Jurisdictions, Powers, Superiorities and Authorities” (ibid).

This is pretty stringent stuff. Needless to say, it incensed the Pope. There was strong opposition to the Elizabethan settlement from the English Catholics, especially after Pope Pius V excommunicated Elizabeth in 1570. This, along with the Catholics sending many Jesuit priests into England to stir up anti-Elizabeth sentiments, created terrible dissension. Throughout the latter part of her reign, there were many Catholic rebellions and assassination plots. In 1569 the Northern rebellion occurred, and there was an Irish Catholic rebellion in 1579. The Ridolfi Plot (1571), the Throckmorton Plot (1583), and the Babington plot (1586) were attempts to replace Elizabeth with the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots. Many English noblemen urged Elizabeth to crack down much harder on the Catholics, and to a certain extent she did. The authorities relied on spies and informers to identify suspected Catholic rebels, and naturally most of those arrested denied all charges. “Church papists,” who attended services in their parish church and also went to mass when they could, were not easy to identify. Ms. Mabillard continues:

“By 1578 (John) was behind in his taxes and stopped paying the statutory aldermanic subscription for poor relief. In 1579, he had to mortgage Mary Shakespeare’s estate, Asbies, to pay his creditors. In 1580 he was fined 40 pounds for missing a court date and in 1586 the town removed him from the board of aldermen due to lack of attendance. By 1590, John Shakespeare owned only his house on Henley Street and, in 1592, he was fined for not attending church. However, near the very end of John Shakespeare’s life, it seems that his social and economic standing was again beginning to flourish.

ws  “He once again applied to the College of Heralds for a coat-of-arms in 1596, and, due likely to the success of William in London, this time his wish was granted. The coat-of-arms’ … motto was “Non sanz droict” or “not without right”.

The message seems pretty direct and clear.

Under the Act of Uniformity, church attendance on Sundays and holy days was compulsory, with a twelve pence fine to be collected if people did not attend. Did John refuse to attend because he was devoted to the Catholic Church, or because he had really become slothful? Note that his rise back to respectability came as Elizabeth’s health was failing and she was only a few years away from her death. Did the country begin to persecute its Catholic citizens less, or was William’s fame really that powerful? We can only speculate. It is also interesting to speculate on what prompted John to choose the motto “not without right” after having been persecuted for so long for so seemingly little of a cause, and having finally received what he felt was coming to him.

Shakespeare’s Education

I do not include information about William’s education to foster the argument that “Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare”. I think that has been pretty well proven by now, especially in “Shakespeare: A Life”, by Park Honan. Instead, I again cite Ms. Mabillard because the circumstances of his education would give additional motivation to resent the anti-Catholic treatment under Elizabeth’s reign. I have edited out a lot of very interesting information because I want to focus on my own thesis.

“Shakespeare probably began his education at the age of six or seven at the Stratford grammar school. Although we have no record of Shakespeare attending the school, due to the official position held by John Shakespeare it seems likely that he would have decided to educate young William at the school which was under the care of Stratford’s governing body. The Stratford grammar school had been built some two hundred years before Shakespeare was born and, in that time, the lessons taught there were, of course, dictated primarily by the beliefs of the reigning monarch. During the years that Shakespeare attended the school, at least one and possibly three headmasters stepped down because of their devotion to the Catholic religion proscribed by Queen Elizabeth. One of these masters was Simon Hunt (b. 1551), who, in 1578, according to tradition, left Stratford to pursue his more spiritual goal of becoming a Jesuit, and relocated to the seminary at Rheims. Hunt had found his true vocation: when he died in Rome seven years later he had risen to the position of Grand Penitentiary.

“Like all of the great poets and dramatists of the time, Shakespeare learned his basic reading and writing skills from an ABC, or horn-book. Shakespeare would have studied primarily Latin rhetoric, logic, and literature. In The Merry Wives of Windsor, there is a comical scene in which the Welsh headmaster tests his pupil’s knowledge, who is appropriately named William. There is little doubt that Shakespeare was recalling his own experiences during his early school years. One can see that Shakespeare absorbed much that was taught in his grammar school, for he had an impressive familiarity with the stories by Latin authors, as is evident when examining his plays and their sources. Even though scholars, basing their argument on a story told more than a century after the fact, accept that Shakespeare was removed from school around age thirteen because of his father’s financial and social difficulties, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that he had not acquired a firm grasp of both English and Latin and that he had continued his studies elsewhere.”

In regards to that continued education, Hammerschmidt-Hummel speculated that, “The Shakespeares were strict Catholics and continued as such for the rest of their lives. It is unlikely that they did not make use of the only available Catholic [higher] education at Allen’s college at Douai, i.e. Rheims”. There is no evidence I know of to support that theory. However, it is interesting to note that one of William’s early teachers, Simon Hunt, was such a devout Catholic that he later became a very successful Jesuit priest. Whether or not he attended university, William had a very strong education under Catholic dogma. However, the documented evidence about Simon Hunt demonstrates that certain prominent Catholics were indeed persecuted in the town of Stratford-Upon-Avon, and gives great credence to the possibility that John’s sinking fortunes might indeed have been under such circumstances.

I included this second paragraph of Ms. Mabillard’s essay because it showed two significant pieces of information: first, William was an avid student, as proven by the fact that he became a versatile and erudite writer. Second, he was removed from grammar school before finishing because of his father having fallen into disgrace, although he undoubtedly would have preferred to finish. The natural assumption, if all of this is correct, is that he would at least have resented the circumstances that prevented him from gaining his full education, as well as all of the other dramatic impacts in his life that his father’s fall from grace would have caused.

To come: Part Two

A New Release for the New Year!

January 7, 2016


In the mid-1950s, during the days before the NFL became a mega-corporation, franchise fees and player salaries were very low. Rufus Ruggio, sports editor of The New York Chronicle, can’t stand the way Garrik Rockburner, millionaire owner of the local professional football team, runs his operation. Rufus and the other members of the Poker Pack, his regular Saturday night buddies who drink, swap sports stories and play poker badly, decide to start their own team.

After twenty-four years in the sports news business, Rufus knows that professional sports is all about entertainment, and embraces all shady deals, crazy promotions and low-budget tactics to field a franchise. Can the motley group of former players and future wannabes overcome their own ineptitude, not to mention the playing conditions, racial discrimination and lack of public interest during that era to survive, let alone win a few games? THE JERSEY JUPITERS give it their best shot.