Archive for June, 2013

River East DC Blogs

River East DC Blogs: A compilation of DC blogs by Ward 7 and Ward 8 Bloggers. Real life, east of the river.

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Michael Wood’s history of the British Reformation

Michael Wood did a wonderful series The Story of Britain – A People’s History. It is done from the point of view of ordinary people, a ground up view of British history.  It begins with Roman Britain and goes up to modern times. I only watched the parts through the 18th Century. Instead of cheesy historical reenactments, he has the descendents of those involved, or at least the current inhabitants of the historic locations, read the words of their forebears. For Wood succeeded in finding the letters and diaries of ordinary Britains going back to Roman times. It is very effective and illuminating. And it brings history to life far more than any reenactment.

So why was I so disappointed with his treatment of the British Reformation? Because he buys into the traditional top down view of the Henrician Reformation, rather than my view, Henry successfully co-opting a popular movement.

Wood does pay tribute to Wycliffe and his poor Lollard priests. And Wood quotes Ball’s most famous sermon “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was than the gentleman?” Wood goes on to observe that Lollardy was never entirely suppressed. But he does not convey how Lollardy flowed into the 16th Century Reformation.

Tyndale saw a Lollard priest burn at the stake as an adolescent. He describes it most movingly and it clearly made an impression upon him. So here is one direct link from Lollards to Tyndale. Later, after Oxford, Tyndale was tutor to a Lollard family of weavers. Lollardy and the cloth trade were closely linked. Lollard strongholds, or should I say remaining Lollard networks, were the early areas of Protestant activism. It would have been nice to have a glimpse of those weavers who befriended Tyndale. It also would have been nice to have a sense of those involved in the smuggling Tyndale’s bible into England. Was London the only port of entry? Or were there others? And how were the bibles reassembled in London? And once they were reassembled, how were the distributed? It would be nice to know all that. I am thinking something a little more scholarly than Tony Robinson doing a Worst Jobs of the Reformation series, although that would be a start.

What Wood does do is give us a view of what it was like to be on the business end of Reformation politics. First Henry, then Edward VI’s hard-line Reformation, complete with the smashing of statues and white washing of paintings, then Bloody Mary, and finally Elizabeth. It cannot have been pleasant to have been whipsawed by all that, and Woods gives us a sense of that.

Wood talks about the Prayer Book rebellion in Cornwall. It seems that the Cornish spoke in Cornish (a Gaelic language) and prayed in Latin, and so had no use for an English prayer-book. And here we see the truly nasty side of Cranmer’s Reformation. If spreading the Word of God was your first concern, you would translate both the bible and the prayer-book into Cornish, Welsh, and Irish. But of course if you were to do such a thing, in addition to spreading the Reformation, you would also be reinforcing and strengthening those cultures. When Luther translated the Bible into German he not only spread the word of God, he strengthened the idea of a German identity. Likewise Tyndale with the English Bible. The last thing an Archbishop of Canterbury would want is strengthened Cornish, Welsh, and Irish identities. When service to the Lord clashed with the needs of cultural chauvinism, service to the Lord was never going to prevail.

What is really needed is a history of the British Reformation going from Wycliffe to the King James Bible. And we need a ground up view, not just of the leaders, but the host of individuals who made it happen.

Why does Nathan Saunders have a job?

Why are DCPS & WTU President Saunders Downplaying the Excessing of 500-600 Teachers?

Under the current Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) Collective Bargaining Agreement, there is a great likelihood that excessing eventually leads to one’s termination as there is no longer a requirement for teachers to be placed by DCPS. With fewer positions available due to school closings, it is reasonable to conclude more teachers will be forced out. What the general pubic doesn’t understand is that Highly Effective and Effective teachers are among the pool of excessed candidates. Add to this list the number of reconstituted schools (Cardozo High School and Patterson Elementary School) and the number of yearly excessed teachers increases.

We are led to believe by WTU’s President Saunders that the majority of teachers will get re-hired without any evidence to support these claims. Erich Martel, a retired DC Public Schools high school teacher ponders- “Why Chancellor Henderson and WTU President Saunders are downplaying the number of teachers getting excess notices this year?”  

Liberalism vs Conservatism

Ian Welsh

Liberalism, in its classic form, is, among other things, the proposition that you get more out of people if you treat them well. Conservatism is the proposition that you get more out of people if you treat them badly.

Education Reform is just a polite phrase for labor war

Pink Slipping DC’s Teachers Does Not Improve Achievement

One by one, Cardozo Senior High School teachers and school staff were called down to the Principal’s office today to receive pink slips. Just a week ago, DC’s Cardozo High School staff were notified that 100% of our staff would be reconstituted and required to reapply for our jobs, with the exception of the school’s principal. Later on in the same week, 90 staff members had to submit to abbreviated 5-7 minute interviews and answering three questions by the school’s principal.

I really don’t know how Mayor Gray, Muriel Bowser, Tommey Wells, or Jack Evans can face Cardozo parents. I really don’t.

Michael Wood’s In Search of Shakespeare

If you have enjoyed all the Elizabeth’s from Glenda Jackson to Cate Blanchett, if your ideas of history comes from Garrett Mattingly and DL Kier, if, in short, you have drunk deeply from the Gloriana Kool Aide, then Michael Wood’s In Search of Shakespeare offer’s a much needed antidote.

It seems that Shakespeare was from a Catholic, family. In the religious cold war of Elizabethen England, this made him and his family suspect. It was why Shakespeare had to leave school and could not go to University. It also gave him an outsider’s view of Elizabethan England that would serve his well as a playwrite, the ability to see a story from both sides of view, to comprehend how complicated the world is.

Shakespeare studied Latin in Grammar school and it seems that he loved Ovid. This obviously shaped his writing. In all of Shakespeare’s plays, love is the highest ideal, romantic love, family love, but always love.

Wood does a great job weaving the story of the events of Elizabethan England, events in Shakespeare’s personal life and themes of his plays together. It seems that Shakespeare’s most famous patron, the Earl of Southampton, had Catholic sympathies. Speaking only for myself, this adds a twist to the Essex rebellion. Now of Essex’s religious views there can be no doubt. Essex was a descendant of Mary Boleyn. You cannot have a more Protestant pedigree. Moreover, Essex’s stepfather, the Earl of Leicester, was a royal favorite of Elizabeth and a general for her in the war in the Spanish Netherlands, very hard line Protestant. However, it is interesting that Southampton, a Catholic sympathizer, was among Essex chief lieutenants. Did Southampton hope for better treatment for Catholics in the event of a successful
rebellion? No way to know.

And as an additional aside, one wonders if any part of Shakespeare’s Richard III was drawn from Shakespeare’s opinion of Robert Cecil, Essex great rival? For like Richard III, Robert Cecil was a hunch back. Pure speculation on my part, based on no facts whatsoever.

In The Duty of Poets, Wood tells the story of Robert Southwell, a cousin of Shakespeare’s who was hung drawn and quartered for no crime save that of writing Catholic poetry. Afterwards friends of Southwell brought Elizabeth a copy of Southwell’s book, On The Duty of Poets, which was dedicated to Shakespeare. It is said that Elizabeth wept. Elizabeth was a great one for weeping for those she had executed. And here I must interject a check on that famous quote, “no desire to make windows into men’s souls.” We impose a Jeffersonian view on that quote, but Elizabeth was no friend of religious toleration. Soon after Elizabeth ascended the throne, Parliament passed the Act of Uniformity. Now I ask you, does the Act of Uniformity sound like the work of anyone interested in religious toleration? The act required everyone to attend services at their parish church of the Church of England. It outlawed the mass and made being a Catholic priest a capital crime. Does that sound like religious toleration to you? When you make attendance at the state church mandatory there is the question of sincerity. Are people going to church because they believe? Or only because there are penalties for not going to church? This is the meaning of that famous phrase. Under her sister Mary, people had been burned merely for being suspected secret Protestants. Elizabeth took the view that on this side of paradise outward religious conformity was sufficient. It was for God to decide someone’s sincerity, not princes.

Wood does not mention Shakespeare’s portrayal of religion in his plays, but Shakespeare does not give a good press to priests. They are mostly bumblers. As for Protestants, the puritan in Twelfth Night is portrayed as a vain fool who gets his comeuppance, and I bet it was a great favorite with the crowd. Having watched Wood’s documentary I wonder if Shakespeare viewed clerics as fools who got people killed for nothing. Love was always the highest ideal in his plays.

Wood goes into the reality of the Elizabethan police state and even into some detail of her hideous rackmaster Richard Topcliffe. It will surprise no one that her rackmaster was a total pervert who really enjoyed administering long sadistic executions. We get a hint of this in Brian Wilde’s portrayal of Topcliffe in Horrible Conspiracies.

Wood repeatedly makes the point that like all police states, Elizabeth was suspecious of artists and writers in particular. Not entirely without reason. Shakespeare’s Richard II was preformed, complete with sensitive deposition scene, the night before the Essex rebellion.

As a Catholic, Shakespeare had to be especially careful. It seems that the theatre was dominated by Catholics, both members of the company and patrons. This may be an additional reason for Puritan eagerness to shut down the theatres, not only the suspecion of any institution that they did not control, but the knowledge that the theatres were dominated by Catholics would only have fueled the Puritan’s view that theatres were places of subversion. I think it is very significant that both of Shakespeare’s daughters married hardline Protestants. One married a the son of Huguenot immigrants, the other a Puritan.

Wood points out that in The Tempest Prospero throws away his magical powers in the interest of his children. For Shakespeare love was always the highest ideal and it seems that he remained on good terms with his daughters and sons in law.

Shakespeare’s son died in his childhood, leaving his father prostrate with grief. The child’s name was Hamnet, which is WAY too close to Hamlet for coincidence. Except, Hamnet died as a child, so could not in any way serve as a model for Hamlet. Yet, it simply cannot be coincidence that Shakespeare chose a name so close to his child’s. Something is going on. Also at the beginning of the play Hamlet is returning from studies in Wittenburg. That has great significance, even if you don’t know that Shakespeare was a Catholic. Of all the towns he could have chosen, there is great significance that Hamlet went to Wittenburg to study. But I can’t say what, the last time I saw Hamlet was at the Folger Theater in 1985. So without seeing the play again I really can’t work out why Shakespeare decided to insert Wittenburg into Hamlet. After all he could have written Two Gentleman from Wittenburg, but he chose Verona instead. So, there is a reason that Wittenburg appears in Hamlet. Upon further reflection it seems significant that in the play within the play the player king is murdered by having poison poured in his ear while he sleeps. I can’t think of any other story where poison is administered through the ear. Maybe Hamlet is part allegory about theological dispute. Everybody dies. Maybe not. I will have to see the play again.

Shakespeare lived into the Stuart era, and his company became the Kings Players. The first play they preformed for King James VI/I was Macbeth, a play about the murder of a Scottish King, before a Scottish King whose father had been murdered. Shakespeare did not lack for nerve.

Wood goes into the Gunpowder Plot and its aftermath. Not until seeing this documentary did I realize the impact of the Gunpowder Plot in marginalizing British Catholics. I somehow thought that they had been marginalized even before the Armada. But I get the feeling not, so the Gunpowder Plot really put the lid on Catholic England.

Wood shows scenes from Bonfire Night with scenes of people walking around carrying torches in the shape of a burning cross. To American eyes this is a most fearful sight, because in America burning crosses have never symbolized holiday fun. I always wondered where Nathan Bedford Forrest got the idea of burning a cross. Now I know.

Wood ends the documentary with Shakespeare’s famous will leaving only his second best bed to his wife. Wood can’t bear the thought that Shakespeare was a rotten husband, and as he rightly points out, it is impossible to know what is happening inside a marriage. Indeed, the most likely explanation is that they grew apart, this happens. But there are troubling clues that point in a different direction. The Taming of the Shrew. It really is an open apology for domestic violence. As I remember the play, the husband does not actually strike his wife, but he does psychologically batter her. And she becomes sweet and happy under the treatment. No man who respected women could have written such a play. And there is another clue, Othello. Now Wood would have us believe that this play was written to prick the conscious of Britain, because Othello is a tragic figure. Mebbe. Mebbe Shakespeare wrote it for such a purpose, or at least partly. But I wonder. White men have such a gift for projecting their own violence on to black people. Wood informs us of an incident in Shakespeare’s life that offers another possible clue. Shakespeare had a mistress who was a Venetian Jew. In his poetry he describes her as dark. He also describes how he was driven mad by his passion for her. I have not read the poems, but judging by Wood’s description of it, it sounds like she awakened all the control freak in Shakespeare. Domestic violence is peculiarly a crime of control. In the grip of such jealously it is not difficult to imagine Shakespeare imagining a story about a tragic figure who was driven to murder by jealously.

And there is yet another clue. Both of Shakespeare’s children married hard line Protestants, one a Huguenot immigrant, the other a Puritan. Now we don’t know what happened, it could be as simple as they met these men by chance and fell in love. It only happens every day. But I can’t resist the temptation to speculate. What happened in the family after Shakespeare left Avon? Ann and the children where living with Shakespeare’s parents. That cannot have been comfortable for Ann. Who was the preacher in the local church? Was he a fiery reformer? One of the Marian exiles who had studied under Calvin in Geneva? (The role of the Marian exiles in setting the stage for the English civil war has never been adequately examined that I know of.) Did Ann find solace in a Protestant church for her loneliness? Did being deserted by her husband cause a crisis in faith? We really have no way to know, this is all sheer speculation. But the fact that both Shakespeare’s daughter’s married hard line Protestants suggests that there were deep divisions within the family.

Why does Kaya Henderson have a job?

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson is in the process of closing 15 District schools. Is Henderson any different than her mentor and predecessor, Michelle Rhee?

Tommy Wells thinks that Henderson is doing a good job. Because ignoring the wishes of DC Parents worked so well for Fenty.


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