Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Anger at Anonymous..

Yesterday saw William Shakespeare's name being removed from sign all around Warwickshire, the county of Startford-upon-Avon. One might think this a work done by vandals, or perhaps even vehement Marlowe fans, but it was in fact an act carried out by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust as a campaign against new film 'Anonymous'. Premiering yesterday, and starring Rafe Spall, Rhys Ifans and Vanessa Redgrave, the film is just the newest medium by which people are seeking to put forward the argument that the man we know as Shakespeare was merely a 'barely literate frontman for the Earl of Oxford'.

Thus, in a backlash against this attempt to 'rewrite English culture and history', the Trust has put in place a campaign by which 9 road signs and 10 pub signs are being taped over, as well as a sheet being placed over a memorial in Stratford-upon-Avon itself. The trust said, 'Today's activity barely scratches the surface, but we hope it will remind people of the enormous legacy we owe to William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon'. The film 'Anonymous' is in cinemas from October 28th.

The Literary King...

On this day...English monarch Alfred the Great died in 899 at the approximate age of 50. The only English royal to be attributed with such an epithet, Alfred is renowned for his miltary achievements, not least the protection of his Anglo-Saxon kingdom from the Vikings. Yet what is perhaps less well known about the youngest son of Æthelwulf of Wessex, is his penchant for learning. Inspired by Charlemange, Alfred created a court school, not only to educate his own children, but also, countering the perception of aristocratic snobbery, to educate those of lesser birth who showed intellectual potential. Indeed, after only a short time, 'they were seen to be devoted and intelligent students of the liberal arts'.

If the younger generation were embarking on a process of learning, it also made sense for Alfred to cement that of the elder, and so he ensured that literacy became a requirement for those holding a position of authority, especially in religious capacities. The king chose to lead this charge on education himself, beginning a Alfredian programme of translation of books into English that he deemed 'most necessary for all men to know'. These works included Gregory the Great's 'Pastoral Care', Boethius's 'Consolation of Philosophy', St. Augustine's 'Soliloquies', and the first fifty psalms of the Psalter.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Will it be a barnstorming performance?...

The king of all literature prizes is upon us once again. With the winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize to be announced later this evening, it seems an appropriate time to remind ourselves of the contenders. The 'odds on favourite' position lies with Julian Barnes, a four time previous nominee, for his work 'The Sense of an Ending'. Yet he faces fierce competition from Carol Birch, Patrick deWitt, Esi Edugyan, Stephen Kelman and AD Miller, the other five authors to make the shortlist. Here, you can watch the nominees reading extracts from their own novels. Make sure you tune in to catch the winner.

UPDATE: Julian Barnes has been announced as the 2011 Man Booker Prize winner

The Class of 1386...

On this day...The University of Heidelburg was officially opened in 1386. The oldest univeristy in Germany, and only the third established in the Holy Roman Empire, Heidelburg has many things to boast of. Not least is its alumni, whose numbers include 30 Nobel Laureates, German Chancellors, and even a Pope. However, for those of a literary persuasion, there are also several notable associations. Perhaps the most decorated is Nobel Laureate Carl Spittler who was rewarded 'in special appreciation of his epic, "Olympian Spring"'.

Yet despite his success amongst critics and academics, Spittler is by no means the best known inhabitant of the medieval walls. Mark Twain, who visited the univeristy as part of his European tour in 1878, detailed his impression in the travelogue 'A Tramp Abroad', humorously depicting a student body of aristocratic dandies. Such was the popularity of the American writer, that a US Army base in the city now bears his name. The university also plays fictional host to W. Somerset Maugham's Philip Carey in his novel 'Of Human Bondage' and, perhaps more famously, appears on screen in the Oscar winning adaptation of Bernard Schlink's 'The Reader'.