Tag Archives: English literature

The Pirates of Penzance

Related image

Years ago, I met a group practicing for a play. It was a Gilbert and Sullivan play, but I did not know that at the time. I enjoyed the singing and the lyrics, and one of the friends with me at the time said that I had to see The Pirates of Penzance.

I was more amenable to the idea than I might normally have been. There was something in the practice session that hinted at a great story worth seeing, and so I readily agreed to watch a film of the play.

A film copy of the play was found soon after. Starring Kevin Kline, Rex Smith, Linda Ronstadt, Angela Lansbury, George Rose, and several others, it promised to be a great deal of fun. And that, I soon discovered, was the understatement of the year. As the story started I began to smile. Within five minutes I was choking on giggles. In ten, I was laughing out loud.

For those of you who do not know, Gilbert and Sullivan were two playwrights who wrote comedies in the late nineteenth century. Both were knighted and neither of them could stand the other. They each had aspirations to be the greatest in their respective fields and this meant that neither of them wanted to write comedies, especially if it meant they had to work together all the time. This was in spite of the fact that they were making a veritable killing at this work. The weary duo ended their partnership some time before they died, to the dismay of their fans. Sullivan, who was the younger, died first.

The Pirates of Penzance is one of their best known plays, along with H. M. S. Pinafore and The Mikado. In Penzance we are introduced to a Pirate King (Kevin Kline) and his scurvy crew. The crew is having a celebration for their young apprentice, Frederic (Rex Smith), who turns twenty-two today and thus ends his indentured servitude to them. How did Frederic become indentured to a pirate gang?

It turns out that his nurse, Ruth (Angela Lansbury), misheard Frederic’s father when he gave her a commission. Frederic’s father wanted his son apprenticed to a pilot, but Ruth misheard him and thought he said pirate. So she accidentally indentured eight year old Frederic to the Pirate King’s crew!

Frederic does not hold this misunderstanding against Ruth – it is an easy mistake to make, after all. He has come to know the pirates aboard the ship over the years and likes them all individually. But the fact is that they are pirates, the scourge of the sea, the plague of merchantmen, the locusts of seaports. And so in a general way Frederic hates the pirates he grew up with as the vilest scum of the Earth. And in the abstract he cannot believe that he has been duty-bound to help them ply their terrible trade from the time he was eight years old.

The pirates do not hold this against him, though, since they cannot seem to “make piracy pay.” Frederic knows why this is; because they are orphans, the pirates give orphans a free pass. And word of this nobility on their part has gotten out. The last three ships they tried to take were all manned by orphans, so the pirates spared them.

If you are saying, “Yeah, right,” you would be correct. Frederic points out that everyone knows England does not recruit orphans to crew its merchantmen; they need men with families and titles to command the ships. But because the Pirates of Penzance are known to spare orphans, the crews for these ships pretended to be orphans in order to escape them.

Once the clock strikes noon, Frederic sets out from the pirate ship, taking Ruth with him. Ruth is an older lady by now, but she is the only woman Frederic has seen and known since he was eight. He expects to marry her, a prospect she very much likes, since otherwise she will die an old maid with no one to take care of her.

Related image

But on pulling up to an English beach, Frederic espies a group of girls his own age come to the waterside to have a little fun. Finding Ruth has lied to him about her age and beauty, he casts her off before going to see if one of these young ladies will marry him.

His attempt almost ends in disaster. But one of the girls, Mabel (Linda Ronstadt), appears on the scene before all hope is lost in the young man’s heart. It seems that she lagged behind the other girls and only caught up with them to hear Frederic’s entreaty for a wife. She tells him to “take her heart,” and he is quite happy to do so…

Then the Pirates show up, and the fun kicks into high gear!

There is another version of The Pirates of Penzance which is worth a viewing as well. This one was performed in New York with Patricia Routledge, the lead actress in the British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances, portraying Ruth. If you ever saw her as Hyacinth ‘Bucket’ Bouquet and thought she had a terrible voice, you will be surprised to hear her singing here. She pulled a fast one on those of us who watched Keeping Up Appearances, I can tell you!

Have fun with The Pirates of Penzance, readers!

Related image

Advertisements

Book Review: The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas

Image result for the robe by lloyd c. douglas

A few years ago, I was in a very bad emotional rut. It was horrible, and not much I did lightened the mood very often. Sooner rather than later, I was in the pits again. It was not a nice time.

It was in the middle of this awful time that I read The Robe, by Lloyd C. Douglas. The book was uplifting for me and helped me right my attitude. I skim read the entire novel in an evening; I reread it more thoroughly several times over the following days. It was, I think, something of a lifesaver for me at the time.

The Robe takes place in Ancient Rome, during the waning days of the reign of Emperor Tiberius. Hidden away on the island of Capri, Tiberius has slowly gone insane and paranoid. This is due in no small part to his harpy of a wife, Julia, the ambitious and evil Empress. Tiberius never loved her but was forced to marry her for political reasons. His debauched state on Capri is the result.

Meanwhile, in Rome, his stepson, Gaius, is holding a party with the Tribunes. One of these Tribunes, Marcellus Lucan Gallio, ends up insulting the prince after the other passes out from too much drink. In retribution, Gaius has Marcellus sent to Minoa to take command of the Legion there, in order to punish him for the insult.

Minoa is in Palestine, and it is a mess. Marcellus soon has it all cleaned up and squared away, but not long after this, the Legion is called on to keep order during a Jewish celebration. It’s the Passover – and not just any Passover. It is the Passover where Jesus eats the Last Supper with His disciples.

Marcellus ends up not only present for the trial, but ordered to carry out the crucifixion. Because the spectacle is so unpleasant, Marcellus’ second-in-command gets him stone drunk in order to help him get through it. This is something Marcellus’ faithful Greek servant, Demetrius, is unaware of – although he knows the Tribune would never get drunk on an occasion such as this on his own.

This is bad enough, but it gets worse. That night, at the banquet thrown in the Insula by Pontius Pilate, the soldiers begin mocking the deceased Jesus. In an effort to put down the ruckus, a more sober Marcellus puts on the Robe, which he won in a dice game at the foot of the cross.

Instead of fixing the mess, the decision makes everything worse. Marcellus is left in a sick, depressed state by the act. Only Demetrius’ watchful care ensures he does not kill himself. Trying to help him, Demetrius takes him back to Rome and his family. That, however, does not help matters. No one recognizes Marcellus and he barely talks to his family. So Demetrius changes tactics and takes Marcellus to Athens, watching him carefully to make sure he does not try to drown himself or some such thing.

Image result for the robe by lloyd c. douglas

All the while, Demetrius carries the Robe that Jesus wore to the cross with him, finding there is some inexplicable power in or attached to it. In order to repair the rents in the garment, he locates a Jewish tailor in Athens and keeps him in mind as he tries to cheer up Marcellus. When his efforts do not work, he resorts to bringing out the Robe.

Marcellus’ reaction to the very sight of the Robe is to threaten to sell Demetrius at the earliest opportunity. Because he is holding the Robe, Demetrius does not take offense at Marcellus’ harsh words. Whatever power clings to the Robe has a calming effect on him, which helps him to see that Marcellus does not really mean what he says. He is just so distressed and unhappy that he is lashing out at the bearer of the Robe: Demetrius. With his last attempt a failure, Demetrius puts the Robe back and goes out to find some kind of solace in the city.

Meanwhile, Marcellus decides he must end this ignominious existence. It is putting too much strain on him, his family, and poor Demetrius. He decides to commit suicide.

However, Demetrius took precautions against this idea, stealing both the daggers that Marcellus owned, the first and only items that he ever stole from his master since he was given to him. Marcellus goes to get one of the daggers out of his loyal slave’s pack – and finds the Robe set atop the bag.

Deciding he will “have it out with this Thing!”, Marcellus snatches a handful of the Robe…

And immediately, his mind is healed. He is no longer a sick, wasted, unhappy man. How it happened he cannot tell, but he somehow senses that he has been forgiven.

The Robe is a VERY good story, and I would definitely recommend it for Easter reading. It is good for the mind and the soul, as I can say from experience. The Robe helped me at a low point in my life, and for that reason I have a special respect for the book.

Here’s hoping it can do the same for you, readers, at some point. Though I hope you are not in Marcellus’ situation – or mine – I think that The Robe is one of those books you are better off having, at least as a just-in-case. And besides, it is a good story. If you cannot fill your home library with good stories, then do not bother building a home library!

Image result for the robe by lloyd c. douglas

Book Review: The Reb and the Redcoats by Constance Savery

Image result for The Reb and the Redcoats by Constance Savery

If there is one thing I love more than a good story, it is history. Notice, readers, what that word is made of: his and story. His story – the story of man.

And oh, what a palette history is! Great heroes, megalomaniacal villains, comedy, tragedy – history has it all. Every fictional story draws something from history. Star Wars draws a great deal from the Japanese style of swordsmanship. It is hard not to see how the Nazis inspired the Galactic Empire, or how the gunfighters and gamblers of the Old West inspired Han Solo and Lando Calrissian. Without history, we would never have fiction.

This brings us to the topic for today, one of my favorite novels of all time. I have been meaning to write about it for some time, and at last I shall do what I have wished. The historical novel I present to you today, readers, was written by Constance Savery. The Reb and the Redcoats is set during the American War for Independence. But it comes with a twist – the entire story takes place in England!

Charlotte Darrington and her siblings – Joseph, George, and Kitty – are met one day with an old friend come back from the war in America. An injury has laid him up, and he will not be fighting in any more battles. The man has brought along a box of gifts from the children’s father, as well as letters written by him for their mother, since Mr. Darrington is an officer in the British army fighting for his country against the American rebels.

But Old Harry, the soldier returned home with an injury, has a special present for Charlotte. According to George, she was always his favorite among the Darrington children. He has brought along a child’s doll he discovered when he and the British contingent with him raided an American plantation in Virginia. The doll has a little American flag pinned to her chest with a poem on the back. The poem names the doll and her former owner as Patty, and so Patty is what Charlotte calls the doll.

Later on word comes that the children’s uncle, Laurence Templeton, needs their mother’s help to nurse their ill grandparents at the White Priory. For a while it seems the children will have to be left in the care of the girls’ governess. The boys quickly blame the rebel doll for the trouble. They claim that she is full of black magic and set a trap for her so that she will not be able to cast spells on them in the middle of the night.

Unfortunately, the trap catches the governess – who quits in an absolute fury after having a bucket of water land on her head!

With no one else available to mind the four, Mrs. Darrington must take her children with her to the White Priory. This decision is cemented that night by the appearance of a young prisoner of war looking in the window. Charlotte only catches a glimpse of the man’s countenance before telling her mother to run. With rebel prisoners on the loose in the area, Mrs. Darrington decides emphatically that she will not leave her precious young alone with a few servants to guard them.

All five depart for the White Priory the next day, where they meet their Uncle Laurence. Laurence, an officer in the British army, has been sent home on leave to convalesce after an injury to the leg during the war overseas. The children once got on famously with him, as he was always cheerful and fun-loving. But since his return from America, Uncle Laurence has been grim, stern, and temperamental. None of the children know why; one day he was their friendly uncle, the next he was an old ogre.

Anyway, as they settle in to the White Priory, someone mentions the escaped prisoners in the vicinity of the Darrington home. Laurence happens to know something of the affair. It seems there is a prison near the White Priory full of American POWs. There have been several escape attempts from the place led by a young soldier, one Randal Everard Baltimore.

This young man has helped his fellows to escape the prison camp time and again. The only reason he has not escaped himself is because of one of his friends, Timothy Wingate. A complete klutz, Wingate is always messing up the plan somehow. Oh, he does not do it on purpose – the poor young fellow simply cannot help himself. He trips and breaks his leg, makes a noise when all are supposed to be quiet, and before you can say Jack Robinson, the entire crew is running for their lives and leaving him to face the British alone. Randal is the only one who ever stays behind to take care of him after these blunders, since the two have been friends from boyhood and are accustomed to taking care of each other.

The children learn that because Randal has been such a nuisance to the camp, the commander of said camp has given him to Laurence to guard. Laurence seems to take a fiendish delight in tormenting the young Reb, as the children call him, offering a half crown to whichever one of the little ones can guess his name. When George tries, he insults the young officer so badly that Charlotte and Joseph, the oldest of the Darrington children, try to make amends for the slight their brother has given.

But in trying to do this, they accidentally help the Reb to escape again. He is eventually recaptured, along with Wingate, and locked in the penance cell beneath the White Priory. (The White Priory, in centuries past, was a monastery or an abbey; now it is a manor house.) Though the servants have been ordered to treat him well, Charlotte and Laurence discover that they have not done what they were ordered to do at all. His escape in the midst of winter and his confinement in the cold cell have made the Reb terribly sick…

And now, readers, it is your turn to read the novel! I will say nothing more about this touching, sweet story. Find yourself a copy and read the book in your own time!

Constance Savery wrote something on the order of fifty books and died at the age of one hundred one years old in 1997. I have read only one other book by this magnificent author, but you will have to stay tuned to learn which one that is. I hope someday to read more of her books – she wrote very well.

Until next time!

Image result for The Reb and the Redcoats by Constance Savery

The Chambered Nautilus by Oliver Wendell Holmes

This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
Sails the unshadowed main,—
The venturous bark that flings
On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,
And coral reefs lie bare,
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.
Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
Wrecked is the ship of pearl!
And every chambered cell,
Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
Before thee lies revealed,—
Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!
Year after year beheld the silent toil
That spread his lustrous coil;
Still, as the spiral grew,
He left the past year’s dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
Built up its idle door,
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.
Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
Child of the wandering sea,
Cast from her lap, forlorn!
From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
Than ever Triton blew from wreathèd horn!
While on mine ear it rings,
Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:—
Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!

Concord Hymn by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Image result for concord hymn by ralph waldo emerson

Concord Hymn

Sung at the Completion of the Battle Monument, July 4, 1837
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
   Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
   And fired the shot heard round the world.
The foe long since in silence slept;
   Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
   Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.
On this green bank, by this soft stream,
   We set today a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
   When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
Spirit, that made those heroes dare
   To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
   The shaft we raise to them and thee.

Hymn to the Night by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Image result for hymn to the night by henry wadsworth longfellow

Hymn to the Night

Aspasie, trillistos.
I heard the trailing garments of the Night
      Sweep through her marble halls!
I saw her sable skirts all fringed with light
      From the celestial walls!
I felt her presence, by its spell of might,
      Stoop o’er me from above;
The calm, majestic presence of the Night,
      As of the one I love.
I heard the sounds of sorrow and delight,
      The manifold, soft chimes,
That fill the haunted chambers of the Night,
      Like some old poet’s rhymes.
From the cool cisterns of the midnight air
      My spirit drank repose;
The fountain of perpetual peace flows there, —
      From those deep cisterns flows.
O holy Night! from thee I learn to bear
      What man has borne before!
Thou layest thy finger on the lips of Care,
      And they complain no more.
Peace! Peace! Orestes-like I breathe this prayer!
      Descend with broad-winged flight,
The welcome, the thrice-prayed for, the most fair,
      The best-beloved Night!

My Aunt by Oliver Wendell Holmes

Image result for my aunt by oliver wendell holmes

My Aunt

by Oliver Wendell Holmes

My aunt! my dear unmarried aunt!
Long years have o’er her flown;
Yet still she strains the aching clasp
That binds her virgin zone;
I know it hurts her, – though she looks
As cheerful as she can;
Her waist is ampler than her life,
For life is but a span.

My aunt! my poor deluded aunt!
Her hair is almost gray;
Why will she train that winter curl
In such a spring-like way?
How can she lay her glasses down,
And say she reads as well,
When through a double convex lens
She just makes out to spell?

Her father – grandpapa I forgive
This erring lip its smiles –
Vowed she should make the finest girl
Within a hundred miles;
He sent her to a stylish school;
‘T was in her thirteenth June;
And with her, as the rules required,
“Two towels and a spoon.”

They braced my aunt against a board,
To make her straight and tall;
They laced her up, they starved her down,
To make her light and small;
They pinched her feet, they singed her hair,
They screwed it up with pins; –
Oh never mortal suffered more
In penance for her sins.

So, when my precious aunt was done,
My grandsire brought her back;
(By daylight, lest some rabid youth
Might follow on the track;)
“Ah!” said my grandsire, as he shook
Some powder in his pan,
“What could this lovely creature do
Against a desperate man!”

Alas! nor chariot, nor barouche,
Nor bandit cavalcade,
Tore from the trembling father’s arms
His all-accomplished maid.
For her how happy had it been
And Heaven had spared to me
To see one sad, ungathered rose
On my ancestral tree.