Pete Seeger and the power of song

Leave a comment

Pete-Seeger-SongleadingAs I sit here working on different things on my computer the TV is on in the background, and PBS is re-broadcasting its American Masters segment on folk singer Pete Seeger (Pete Seeger: The Power of Song). The last time I saw it Seeger was alive, but he died in late January and this re-broadcast is now part history and part memorial. I can’t help but turn to the broadcast and immerse myself again in the music and the story of Pete’s life. It was a remarkable life spanning nine decades and touching on everything that has happened in our own history for nearly a century. You probably all know the story … artist, poet, singer, political activist … a genuine icon, and a hero. Late in the filmed segment his son (or maybe a grandson) remarks on how the song “Turn, turn, turn” reflects his long active life, where finally everyone has come to realize that his whole life was an act of love for everyone, and that song was the unifying force that allowed everyone to share that love. And yet … all that love and poetry was much more about taking a stand than romancing someone. And take a stand Pete did, over and over. He stood with unions against management, with protesters against war, and even as late as 2011 with Occupy Wall Street against banks. He never had commercial goals and was forever giving of his time and talent to help a cause. By the end of the show I had chills and tears. Where have all the flowers gone indeed?

I found myself thinking that somehow Seeger’s story is also about what I have come to believe about Shakespeare (i.e., Edward de Vere), that the Shakespeare Canon exists as an act of love coupled with the purpose of speaking truth —poetic truth— to power,  a kind of “power of poetry” not unlike protest songs. The idea that the Canon exists because one man was hell bent on making some money is wrong, simple as that.

There are tons of Seeger videos on YouTube, but here are two that are close to my heart: “Where have all the flowers gone?”, well, just because, and 2) “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” because here is our American Bard on center stage (after 17 years in banishment!) singing a war protest song —in  the midst of a war— that immediately got all political hell breaking loose, and undoubtedly hastened the end for the Smothers Brothers who had dared to put him on. Some things never change. I remember clearly watching it live in late February 1968. Two months later I was drafted, and 18 months later that was me in the big muddy, pushing on, none too happy about it, but in the end learning some important lessons about the reality of things.

Peace Pete.

“Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”

“Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” (original broadcast on CBS, February 25, 1968)


Shakespeare Authorship Question – Panel Debate


There will be a panel debate in London this April 30th on the Shakespeare Authorship Question, just one more sign that the question (and the debate surrounding it) will not be going away anytime soon. On a private listserve there was some discussion about this upcoming debate, and a comment expressing wariness over the sentence, “But is this really a significant cultural phenomenon, or just a minor academic squabble?” My reaction to that same sentence is not wariness, but rather that it sounds more like progress. For me, the right question is being posed (“is this a significant cultural phenomenon?”), and the right answer to that question would be, “Yes, it is.” The Shakespeare authorship question is really just a mirror of much broader questions about our own culture, especially significant during these troubled times in which we now live:  just what is the truth about anything (and who decides?), just how many secrets are there behind all those closed doors (and how can we get at them, and should we get at them?), and, finally, just who writes history anyway? These are all things worthy of some serious consideration, by everyone. As many of us engaged in this debate have learned over the years, the truth about who wrote Shakespeare is just a beginning, a gateway into understanding not just what he and his works are all about, but also what history itself is all about. It is not a minor squabble, it’s a big deal.

From the Facebook page:

The Shakespeare Authorship Question – for over 200 years a number of people have openly questioned whether William Shakespeare of Stratford-Upon-Avon wrote the plays and poems that have been attributed to him. But is this really a significant cultural phenomenon, or just a minor academic squabble?

On 30th April 2014 at the Ye Olde Cock Tavern, a panel of experts on the subject will explain to the general public why exactly it does matter who wrote Shakespeare, the details of the question and it’s broader relevance to society at large.

On the panel so far we have William Leahy of Brunel University in London, Ros Barber (author of “The Marlowe Papers” and “Shakespeare: The Evidence”) and Alan H.Nelson (author of “Monstrous Adversary”) along with actor and writer Alain English of the Central London Debating Society.

Follow the link to the Facebook page:


Review: Elizabeth’s Bedfellows, By Anna Whitelock

Leave a comment

    • Sex sells. The publishers must have thought this when offered Elizabeth’s Bedfellows: an Intimate History of the Queen’s Court. Whitelock’s book proposes to look at Elizabeth I’s reign through the bedchamber, her ornate rooms in her palaces, guarded by 30 women.
    • The many men who wanted to get close to Elizabeth had to penetrate this circle to reach her. Whitelock’s book should be full of sexual intrigue, thwarted desire, and jealousies. But the historian never quite throws off her academic inhibitions.
    • Dudley and Elizabeth stalked around each other for decades, jealous of each other’s romantic links, but parted only upon his death, over which she was inconsolable. This affair, even if never consummated, should provide dramatic tension for much of the book. But the pulse never races in the detail-laden prose.
    • The question of who would marry Elizabeth was a serious one. England was still riven by her father Henry VIII’s divorce from the Catholic Church, and with counterclaims for the throne from all corners, what was required from Elizabeth was a clear line of succession.
    • One cannot fault Whitelock for her meticulous research, but there is little mention of the Elizabethan culture of love, played in the miniatures of her lovers, in the sonneteers, and the depictions of the queen in Shakespeare – think Titania in A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Elizabeth’s romantic adventures extended far beyond the bedchamber, into the popular pysche, and the inclusion of that could have lent some passion to an otherwise fairly dry history.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Shakespeare 1 Molière 0: ‘Linguistic treason’ as France prepares to accept English teaching for university sciences

Leave a comment

    • “The French language will finally concede defeat in its 1,000 years old war with English on the floor of the French parliament tomorrow. … The French minister for higher education, Geneviève Fioraso, will, according to her critics, propose the capitulation of the “language of Molière” before the all-conquering “language of Shakespeare”.

      “Ms Fioraso will table a draft law that will allow the teaching of some scientific courses in French universities in the English language.”

      “Ms Fioraso’s proposal has ignited a passionate debate in France, which has long tried to resist the linguistic imperialism of English.”\

      “Ms Fioraso’s supporters – including many senior French academics – say that her bill is an overdue recognition of reality. French is the eighth most spoken language in the world. English is the second most spoken, behind Chinese, but is globally recognised as the language of science.”

      “The centre-left newspaper, Libération, entered the debate on her side yesterday, by publishing its entire front page in English. “Teaching in English. Let’s do it” said the main headline.”

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Shakespeare: commuter, landlord and tax-dodger – Telegraph

Leave a comment

    • “They say you should write what you know, but the greatest writer of all   completely ignored the world on his doorstep. William Shakespeare set plays  in Venice, Rome, Scotland and other locations around the world. Some of his   plays revolve around the British Court, but he set almost nothing in the rough-and-tumble of 16th-century London or sleepy Stratford upon Avon, where   he spent most of his life.”

      “This is all the more puzzling when, as a new exhibition at the London   Metropolitan Archive (LMA) proves, his life was so intimately bound up with   the capital. ”

    • “As always with Shakespeare, the details are tantalisingly sketchy. Over the   centuries, scholars have tried to flesh out a story on the barest of bones. “A lot of what we have is subjective,” says Laurence Ward, the chief   archivist at the LMA, “but that’s part of what makes it so interesting.”
    • “His wife and children lived in Stratford, and it’s appealing to imagine him as a weekly commuter, seeing the family and pottering in the garden at weekends, before returning to the city during the week to work on his plays.”

      “Other details from the time are refreshingly familiar to modern residents.  Carts were banned from waiting outside theatres during performances, because they clogged up the roads. They had to go away and come back when the show was finished. ”

    • “Shakespeare died in 1616, three years after he bought his Blackfriars property. In his will, he left the house to his daughter, but at the time of his death he had a lodger. Pub-goer, evicted tenant, weekly commuter, tax-dodger, good neighbour, and buy-to-let landlord: at the start of the 17th century, Shakespeare had a life in property as rich and varied as any today.”

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Horrible Histories launches first feature film with story of William ‘Bill’ Shakespeare

Leave a comment

    • "The BBC’s Horrible Histories children’s show will make the leap to the big screen when the untold story of William Shakespeare is revealed in the first feature film created by the team behind the award-winning series."

    • "Written by and starring Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond, BILL tells the story of how hopeless lute player Bill Shakespeare leaves his family and home to follow his dream."

    • "The producers promise: “It’s a tale of murderous kings, spies, lost loves, and a plot to blow up Queen Elizabeth. Can one man prove the quill is mightier than the sword?”

    • "Rickard and Willbond said: “BILL is a comedy adventure for all the family. We’re playing with history, just as Shakespeare did, for the entertainment of the audience. And we like to think he’d be OK with it. Apart from the bit where he’s dressed as a tomato.”

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

BBC News – Shakespeare ‘first great writer entrepreneur’

Leave a comment

    • William Shakespeare was the first great “writer entrepreneur” and his financial success gave him artistic independence, an Oxford University researcher claims.
    • It was an unprecedented step for an Elizabethan author to take a stake in the ownership of of a theatre company and it put Shakespeare in a “unique position”, compared with his literary contemporaries, claims Dr van Es, from Oxford’s faculty of language and literature.

      It made Shakespeare much richer, but it also gave him much more freedom over his writing and allowed him to innovate.

    • His financial stake in the theatre also meant that as well as impressing a fashionable aristocratic audience he also had to make sure that the plays had a popular appeal to keep the crowds coming back.

      “He was writing for a mass audience, but also for the court,” says Dr van Es. The outcome he says is the “high-low hybrid” that characterises his plays.

      This new way of looking at the playwright’s career – from treading the boards to the board room – also shows how different Shakespeare was from his contemporaries, says Dr van Es.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

ART & WILL: This is Not Shakespeare

Leave a comment

  • “In fact, there’s no evidence that the Cobbe Portrait is of Shakespeare.  Let us reiterate that: there is NO EVIDENCE AT ALL that Shakespeare is the person portrayed in the Cobbe Portrait.
    So why does the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust insist that we must all believe it was Shakespeare?

    Sadly, the answer (at least in part) is snobbery – that eternal bane of Shakespeare studies.”
  • “The Cobbe Portrait belonged to a personal friend of the Chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.  The portrait had been handed down through the Cobbe family along with a portrait of Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton and patron of William Shakespeare in the 1590s.  That, along with a distinct similarity to the Janssen Portrait, which itself has been touched up over time in order to make it look more “Shakespearean”, led to the supposition that the Cobbe Portrait was also of Shakespeare.”
  • “The important thing, however, is to note that the Cobbe Portrait is being foisted onto the public as an image of Shakespeare because of little more than wishful thinking.  And it is this very wishful thinking, overlayered with rampant snobbery and a political refusal to face facts about Shakespeare’s life and times, which has done so much to spoil Shakespeare scholarship over the years.”

    “Every time the Shakespeare “experts” produce another load of guff about Shakespeare (the Cobbe Portrait being just the latest example), it plays into the hands of the maniacs who want to believe that William Shakespeare did not write the plays of Shakespeare.  By lying to us about who William Shakespeare was (and what he looked like), the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is pouring petrol onto the flames of the crazy Alternative Authorship theories.”

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

6 Myths About William Shakespeare That You Wrongly Believe

Leave a comment

    • “William Shakespeare. The name may make you shudder with the memory of English classes or revel in your favorite of his works. For many he is the greatest English writer of all time, certainly the most well regarded by modern popular culture.”
    • “Due to a combination of becoming a legendary cultural figure and lack of comprehensive paperwork from the 16th century, there are a number of myths and assumptions made about the man and his life that, although commonly held, are not correct.”

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Politics and Poetry – by Stephen Marche – Tablet Magazine

Leave a comment

  • I recently published a book about Shakespeare’s impact on the material world….but Shakespeare’s influence on politics was the hardest part of the book to write. What were Shakespeare’s politics?
  • Shakespeare serves many political masters but none of them faithfully, and ambivalence about the relationship between power and art riddle his plays. After Marc Anthony’s stirring funeral oration in Julius Caesar, the enraged crowd stumbles on Cinna the poet, whom they confuse with one of the conspirators, also named Cinna.
  • The crowd doesn’t just kill Cinna. They rip him apart. Which is remarkable for two reasons. Ripping a poet apart is not only exceedingly violent but also nearly impossible to stage. Not only is the crowd mad in its rampaging violence; it is consciously mad, aware that it is slaughtering an innocent for no good reason.
  • In Julius Caesar, art is a casualty of power, but in Hamlet, it’s the opposite: Art redeems history. The play-within-the-play is how the prince figures out whether to kill his uncle. A work of theater proves the justness of the assassination: “The play’s the thing/ Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.”
  • So, Shakespeare gives us a double vision. Power rips art to pieces. And art reveals the hidden crimes of the powerful.
  • If, as George Orwell claimed, the future is a boot stamping on a human face over and over, Shakespeare has put human faces on display over and over in response. He insists above all on the fascination of his characters, on their indestructible personhood.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Older Entries