Monday, 21 September 2009

Twenty Oh Nine by surprise.

Last night it was. Sunday.

Trying to get smaller son's attention just after eight in the evening - he only had so much time left before bed.

He wasn't paying that much attention. So I, looking at the digital clock:

"Come on, it's Twenty-Oh-Nine. Twenty-Oh-Nine! Twenty-Oh-Nine!!"

At which point older son looked around the door and said: "Quite correct."

It was in fact 20:09 20/09/2009

Now what were the odds of that happening?
I accept that older could have been aware of the possibilities of the date and was waiting for the opportunity to use it. But honestly, I didn't.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Revenges and Reworkings

Of course, the Raleigh essay (see blog on holiday books) is also a major source for Tennyson's Revenge. 'Ship after ship', etc.

It is worth looking at both pieces side by side. Not least to see what Tennyson made of his original material.

Sometimes, this kind of historical comparison can be very enlightening. A long time ago C S Lewis wrote an essay entitled 'What Chaucer Really did to Il Filostrato'. This looks at the poem by Boccaccio, and considers how Chaucer reworked the material when he wrote Troilus and Chriseyde. Whatever your opinion of Lewis in general, the essay makes a compelling read, I think.

It is most likely that Chaucer picked up the original poem when he went to Florence and other parts of Italy. This was a Florence in the early stages of the Rennaissance. In fact, although Brunelleschi hadn't yet constructed the cathedral dome, in poetry at least the renaissance was well under way. Boccaccio's poetry is charged with the importance of the individual sensibility, with some limited sense of recovery of the past, of humanitas, as well as the complexities of proper behaviour in romantic love. Chaucer must have admired him - in addition to Troilus, both The Knight's Tale and to a degree The Canterbury Tales as a whole are built upon originals by Boccaccio.

But London in the 1370s and 1380s was a long way from Florence. It did not yet hear or recognise the attractions of the rennaissance. Lewis argues, from a relatively close reading of Troilus, that the changes Chaucer makes to his original all tend in the same direction. He takes a renaissance poem and medievalises it. And amazingly, in shedding some of its renaissance trappings and substituting some of the tropes he knew from, say, French fabliaux writings, he makes it grander, more complex and with a far wider range of references, both literary and philosophical.

As an aside, there has been a bit of a hoo-hah amongst some of the London literati in the last few months about a recent translation of some of Henryson's poems by Seamus Heaney. Henryson was one of a number of later 15th Century poets known as 'The Scottish Chaucerians' who took lessons from Chaucerian poetry and reworked it for themselves. The Testament of Cresseid - the title poem of the collection - is a quite well-known sequel to Troilus. Like Chauser, it doesn't really require translating (IMHO). More importantly for the purposes of this argument, some of the richness and compexity of Chaucer's poem is lost in Henryson's version and its tragic final emphasis.

So what of Raleigh and Tennyson? I'm not sure - they feel somehow much further apart than Boccaccio, Chacuer and Henryson. It isn't just that one text is an essay and the other a poem. There are strong similarities - for example Raleigh, while presenting at least a veneer of balanced consideration, writes in just as biased, nationalist and propagandist way as Tennyson. Both place the Spanish as lesser men, 'dogs' by comparison with Englishmen.

But before that, Raleigh tries to be quite precise about the details of the battle, tries very hard to set out all of the circumstances he can (albeit not necessarily in a totally balanced way). Tennyson certainly uses material from Raleigh, but deploys it in a very different manner. He narrows Raleigh's view, reduces his subtlety, and creates a more direct, popular rabble-rouser. If they both focus on the hero of the battle, Sir Richard Grenville, then Tennyson does so to the exclusion of much that makes Raleigh's essay interesting.

Tennyson does add to his original; he moves the language from that of a rather distanced commentator on the event to that of a melodramatic nationalist. Tennyson is the tub-thumper here. Perhaps not my favourite Tennyson.

One final question: when I read The Revenge in class, no mention was ever made of Raleigh's essay. Does anyone else think it would be useful for students to read the two in parallel?