21. The Surprising Origin of Hotspur and Northumberland

Not long after the Parthians’ stunning defeat of Rome at the battle of Carrhae (53 BCE), located in modern-day Turkey, a Parthian General walked into the banquet hall of Orodes II, King of Parthia, with the rotting head of Marcus Crassus in his hands. A theater troupe was performing a tragedy for the king, andContinue reading “21. The Surprising Origin of Hotspur and Northumberland”

20. North’s Marginal Notes and “Richard II”

The Rise of One Requires the Fall of Another, Like Buckets in a Well or Sun Melting Snow On March 29, 1591, Thomas North purchased a used, 1582-edition of his Dial of Princes for 5 shillings, signing the back and dating the purchase—a copy now kept at the Cambridge University Library.[1] Then he began rereadingContinue reading “20. North’s Marginal Notes and “Richard II””

19. Griefs of the Inward Soul, Seeing Things Thru Water, & Dissolving the Bands of Life

North began translating both the colossal Plutarch’s Lives (1579/80) and Nepos’ Lives (1602) many years before he would eventually sell them to printers. In the interim, North often used the stories and ideas he found in these unpublished translations as source-material for his plays. For example, in the mid-1590s, North decided to use Richard IIContinue reading “19. Griefs of the Inward Soul, Seeing Things Thru Water, & Dissolving the Bands of Life”

18. The Boy’s Comical Derision of the Cowardice of Bardolf, Pistol, and Nym

In North’s Dial of Princes, the long-term mistress of Marcus Aurelius, Boemia, writes an angry letter to the famous emperor-philosopher, who has just returned from battle. She is furious with him for refusing to see her, so Boemia begins the letter by launching into a hilarious series of insults, deriding him as a braggart coward,Continue reading “18. The Boy’s Comical Derision of the Cowardice of Bardolf, Pistol, and Nym”

17. Richard III Can Change Colors Like the Chameleon And Imitate Homer’s Greeks

In “The Life of Alcibiades” in Plutarch’s Lives, North writes that the subject of the chapter could frame himself after the fashions and manners of anyone at all—from any country. He could, as North wrote, put on more colors than the chameleon—and even be taken for an Achilles while in Sparta. This chameleon-like ability toContinue reading “17. Richard III Can Change Colors Like the Chameleon And Imitate Homer’s Greeks”

16. Henry IV Worries that Prince Hal Has Vices Like the “Fattest Soil” Has Weeds

In the prior post on English histories, we noted that the gardener’s comparison of commonwealth to gardens in Richard II derives from two passages of two different works of North: Plutarch’s Lives and The Dial of Princes: Notice that in the above exchange, North’s fatness … of the soil refers to its fertility—and, as withContinue reading “16. Henry IV Worries that Prince Hal Has Vices Like the “Fattest Soil” Has Weeds”

15. Nations Are Like Gardens with Noisome Weeds & Wholesome Herbs — & Fruit Trees with Superfluous Branches

Dozens of botanical analogies throughout the Shakespeare canon all have a Northern origin (i.e., come from the works of Thomas North). This includes what is likely the most famous and extended botanical metaphor in the canon: the garden-scene in Richard II (3.4.29-66). In the relevant exchange, a gardener and a servant have a political discussionContinue reading “15. Nations Are Like Gardens with Noisome Weeds & Wholesome Herbs — & Fruit Trees with Superfluous Branches”