Puns, Prophecy, and Pizza

On Puns, Considered in Shakespeare According to Hermetic Principles

“Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man,” a line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, is, in my opinion, the epitome of everything a good pun should be (and yes, there is such a thing as a good pun).  And in the spirit of good analysis and not-so-great humor, I will now explain precisely how this joke works and why.

The context is important here. The speaker, Mercutio, lies dying, having been mortally wounded by Tybalt. Mercutio is precisely the sort of character who takes very little seriously. Here, even as he is about to die, he makes a pun. Whatever he is, he is not “grave” in the sense of being serious. However, he is about to die and thus will find himself in a “grave”, namely the place where one buries dead bodies. That said, the only time he could ever be “grave” (sense 1) is if he is in a grave (sense 2). Thus the full sense of “you shall find me a grave man” is “you’ll take away my sense of humor over my dead body, which it presently will be”, which we may label “grave” (sense 3).

[Read more…]

Live at Queen City Mischief and Magic!

I’ll be speaking today and tomorrow at the Queen City Mischief and Magic Festival (QCMM) in beautiful Staunton, Virginia, nestled in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley.

My four, count ’em, four talks will be:

  • ‘Why We Love Harry Potter’ Saturday morning at 10:30 on the Festival’s main stage,
  • ‘Harry Potter and the Ring Composition’ at 2:00 this afternoon at Mary Baldwin University’s venue,
  • Sunday at 1:00 PM I will be talking at The Wharf about the Christian content of the Hogwarts Saga, and
  • I may be speaking again on the main stage Sunday morning as well. If I do, I think I’ll try out something knew: ‘Everything I Needed to Know about Shakespeare I Learned from Harry Potter.’

And there is a panel discussion at 5:00 today at which Prof Louise Freeman and I will answer questions from all-comers from the main stage.

If you can make it to Staunton this weekend, please be sure to introduce yourself as a HogwartsProfessor reader. There will be thousands of people, I know, but I really look forward at these live events to meeting my virtual friends with whom I spend so much time during the year. I hope to see you there, especially if you’re going to see Antony and Cleopatra as I did last night at the American Shakespeare Center’s magnificent Blackfriar’s Theater.

The Duchess of Malfi (1972)

The Duchess of Malfi, a play by John Webster, makes up much of the backdrop to Robert Galbraith’s The Silkworm and its literary antecedents, namely, Agatha Christie’s Sleeping Murder and P. D. James’ The Skull Beneath the Skin (see my discussion of this influence here). You had a wonderful education indeed if you read this play or saw it performed as a young person in the United States, where, in my experience at least, ‘Early Modern Drama’ means ten generous helpings of Shakespeare at least to any condiment-sized presentations or discussion of Jonson, Kyd, or Webster.

I was delighted to find, consequently, a British production pf Duchess of Malfi in period costume available free online. I reproduce its first four parts below and provide a link to the rest of the show at the end for your easy access. Free online texts if you choose to read before viewing or while watching can be found at Gutenberg.com as plain text, at LarryAvisBrown.com with notes, and at FullBooks.com as poetry per the Arden edition.

For the remaining nine parts of this production, see the full collection on YouTube. Enjoy — and let me know what you think in the comment boxes below!

Agatha Christie and ‘The Pale Horse:’ Rowling Borrowings from the Master

I bought a copy of Agatha Christie’s The Pale Horse because (1) there is no other author with whom J. K. Rowling has more in common in terms of sales, personal life, and writing choices (did you know, for instance, that Christie wrote six books under a pseudonym?), (2) Rowling has expressed her great admiration for Christie as a mystery writer, especially for the Queen of Mystery’s sense of humor, and (3) previous forays into the Christie oeuvre – I’m thinking of Appointment with Death and The Moving Finger, books Rowling says she loves — have yielded some fascinating parallels and likely name-lifts. Dolores Gordon-Smith, noted mystery thriller writer, for example, noted that the young, spirited red head girl in Appointment has the name Ginny-which-is-really-Ginevra.

Those are good reasons for reading any of the almost seventy Christie whodunnits. I chose The Pale Horse specifically because of the flood of white horse notes scattered throughout the fourth Cormoran Strike novel, Lethal White, and all of Rowling’s pointers to its importance in her twitter notes and public comments pre and post publication (for a review of all that, go here, here, and here). White horses are also a theme of Ibsen’s Rosmersholm, the play from which every chapter epitaph is taken and which play’s events and meaning the story in Lethal White parallels in significant ways.

If that weren’t enough, Robin and Cormoran even talk about the pale horse versus the white horse in Lethal White. While referencing the Ibsen play obliquely (the actor playing the Cormoran part may have had it on his mind…), we get the direct link to the last book of canonical Christian scripture, albeit with the usual layman error in its name, on the drive back to London after the group interview at Chiswell House (chapter 44, p 378):

“White horses,” [Cormoran] said. “Isn’t there a play where white horses appear as a death omen?”

“I don’t know said Robin, changing gear. “Death rides a white horse in Revelations (sic), though.”

“A pale horse, Strike corrected her, winding down the window so that he could smoke again.

“Pedant.”

“Says the woman who won’t call a brown horse ‘brown,'” said Strike.

Join me after the jump for the three reasons any serious reader of J. K. Rowling and Robert Galbraith will be delighted by reading Agatha Christie’s The Pale Horse! [Read more…]

Nabokov’s Pale Fire: Summary, Analysis, and Harry Potter Borrowings

Many previous posts have traced some of the influence of Vladimir Nabokov on the works of J.K. Rowling. In an attempt to supplement those posts, I will provide a summary of Nabokov’s Pale Fire, along with a brief interpretation. By tracing the plot elements of the book, I hope to demonstrate some of the common techniques of writing common to Nabokov and Rowling. I will conclude with a brief list of elements, whether of direct plot, symbol, or structure, that I see as borrowed by J.K. Rowling from Pale Fire.

[Read more…]