JUNE2Today  I was doing some lecture prep on John Evelyn — a writer  with whom I am becoming a bit more familiar (he’s writing near the end of the early modern  period, and certainly outside the scope of Jacobean drama, so is definitely not in my immediate research field). Out of curiousity I started poking around his works on EEBO and discovered just how much he wrote on plants: gardening almanacs, treatises and talks on tree planting and cultivation (including one work on which trees could clean the London air), works on edible plants.

There’s something really charming about almanacs and manual, bestiaries and miscellanies: I think it’s something to do with the combination of the everydayness of the knowledge presented and the variety included in such texts: we get to  learn the everyday habits and opinions of people related to all aspects of fishing, or animals, or gardening and there’s something really fun about that. I loved reading Walton’s The Compleat Angler in comps year, and last year I read through Topsell’s History of Four-Footed Beasts just for fun. I think the next extra-curricular early modern text I’ll read is Evelyn’s Kalendrium Hortense, which in addition to displaying lots of interesting snapshots into the world of early modern gardening, is sort of adorably tiny.

1 June 2016

(Also, I find Evelyn’s advice to look after the bees incredibly poignant, given everything that’s going on, bee-wise, these days.)



I’ve been reading Frances Boothby’s Marcelia (about halfway through right now). The crux of the play is that King Sigismund is  in love with Marcelia but she’s so chaste and loyal that she’ll never leave her lover Lotharicus so her social-climbing cousin Melynet agrees to break the couple up by making it seem like Lotharicus is courting another lady (he gets Lotharicus to court another lady on Melynet’s behalf but has Marcelia overhear the courting out of context).

The whole time I’m reading I can’t stop thinking about how the entire structure of the plot would fall apart if Marcelia and Lotharicus actually talked to each other (like normal humans would do): instead Marcelia follows Melynet’s advice to be angry with Lotharicus and cast him off but not actually tell him why he’s doing so.

I get that this kind of confusion is a common trope of comic confusion and that Melynet is a manipulator and that it’ll all end in happiness and hilarity (probably) but right now it’s annoying me endlessly. Just talk to each other already.

Get it together, Restoration drama.

20 May 2015

This week…

my wonderful adorable perfectest cats ate through two laptop cords (the back-up cord lasted all of two days), which I wasn’t able to replace until late this afternoon. So I ended up with some time in the evenings to read more than usual and started in on Ryan North’s To Be or Not to Be, (‘a chooseable-path adventure by Ryan North, William Shakespeare, and YOU’). It’s the most fun I’ve had reading Hamlet in years. Being a ‘choosable-path adventure’ novel, there’s obviously much more text than in Hamlet itself — we can progress through the main story, of course, or we can deviate from it by choosing North’s alternative storylines and ‘side quests’. I haven’t gotten all the way through all the storylines so far (I haven’t even tried to play as Ophelia yet!), but the alternate story paths provide some hilarious and thought-provoking hypotheticals (like, what if Hamlet just told Ophelia what he was up to instead of acting mad and making misogynist assumptions about her based on Gertrude’s remarriage).

A lot of the endings are charmingly absurd. And there’s a lot of marine biology and dinosaurs so far. And perfect art by people like Kate Beaton, and Vera Brosgol, and Jess Fink, and John Allison, and arghhh, so many of my favourite comics artists.

So I’m off to read that now.

17 December 2014


North, Ryan. To Be or Not to Be. Breadpig, 2013.

My early modern reading…

has been neatly divided between reading Interregnum/Restoration poetry and bios and Elizabethan plays (and criticism about Elizabethan plays). I like both things a lot, but I miss my Jacobean and Caroline drama.

I think I’m probably going to continue reading Margaret Cavendish work for a bit though. I read Blazing World, Poems and Fancies, and The World’s Olio in comps year. But encountering a brief account of Cavendish in a history text afterwards I was a bit confused by discrepancies in the way she was characterised from the way she appears in her writing — as a madwoman. So far it seems that Cavendish is often portrayed as mad because 1) she dressed eccentrically and was shy; 2) she was a lady and wrote about natural philosophy (so not mad at all really).

But she is terrifically complex. She was the first woman to really write ‘professionally’, and she and William Cavendish were quite radical in their defense of her right to do so (183-7). And she’s famously regarded as the first woman to attend a meeting of the Royal Society. But in other ways she and William Cavendish were staunchly conservative: loyal Royalists with troubling classist beliefs. William believed that the civil wars were caused by the lower classes learning to read and think (obviously James and Charles’s excessive spending, controversial wars, and stormy relations with Parliament had nothing to do with the civil unrest, right?) (116-17); meanwhile Margaret wrote an autobiography that completely overwrote her family’s exploitative relationship with their tenants (194).

So Cavendish (or the Cavendishes, because there’s no separating Margaret and William) are both radical and Royalist, and many other things besides. And I’m going to go back and read more of their works once I’ve finished this bio.

26 November 2014

Works Cited

Whitaker, Katie. Mad Madge: The Extraordinary Life of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, the First Woman to Live by Her Pen. New York: Basic Books, 2002.

Post script. I just looked ahead and it seems like the nickname ‘Mad Madge’ was a 150-year belated invention and that now people mostly think she was a bit a bit eccentric, which seems entirely fair, and confirms my sense that that one historian’s portrayal of her is off the mark.

I’ve been reading…

a number of Elizabethan plays lately, owing to various different projects I’m working on this term. I’m not obtuse about Elizabethan/Tudor drama, but it’s earlier than the plays I usually work on, so less familiar (though I have solemnly vowed to read a lot more of the stuff this year.

Stylistically, late-Elizabethan plays are quite different from Jacobean and Caroline — often written entirely in, or frequently slipping into rhyming fourteeners. There’s a different feel when reading aloud. But I’m surprised by how ‘modern’ the two plays I’m reading this week (one by Robert Wilson and another by Henry Porter) feel in terms of setting and anxieties about city life, marriage, etc. I suppose I shouldn’t be so surprised by the similarities to Jacobean drama given that both plays are late late Elizabethan (1590s, a few years before her death). But in my head Elizabethan drama is far less gritty and far more dressed up in court clothes.

12 November 2014

Mad Marge.

So I haven’t had as much time to read early modern texts for research-y purposes of late, but have been reading a few things recreationally. I finished Camoëns Lusiads yesterday. I think I’d be interested in re-reading a verse translation of it, but I’m not sure there’s a good one (it seems to have a history of bad translations, according to the introduction to my text, but the edition is very old). A lot of the content was pretty unpalatable to me, being a earnest celebration of colonialism and overly masculine heroism — but a lot of travel narratives and epic poems of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are like that. I’m not sure whether I’m just fatigued by such themes by now, or if poetry somehow makes them more palatable, or if classical epics that seem more fictional than historical can get away with things that modern historical epics can’t. Or perhaps there’s something about the Lusiads themselves I had a hard time engaging with — like the fact that history and myth jostle uncomfortable with each other.

Anyhow, I’m now reading a biography of Margaret Cavendish and she seems pretty fantastic (well, I’ve read Blazing World and Convent of Pleasure and her scientific poems and would expect nothing less). Everyone in her family seemed to be named Thomas Lucas though and it’s very confusing.


Camoës, Luis vaz de. The Lusiads. Trans. William C. Atkinson. London: Penguin, 1952.

Whitaker, Katie. Mad Marge: The Extraordinary Life of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, the First Woman to Live by Her Pen. New York: Basic Books, 2002.