Author Archives: thewhitespike

“The Tempest”: The Participatory Sea

Early Modern &c.

In The Tempest, Shakespeare describes an entity not only capable of making the choice to participate in human affairs, but actively doing so. The simple, poignant lines of Ariel’s song introduce the idea of a sea with agency, providing a vision of the possibility and revealing an entity able to enact both physical and mental change. More than just a ruse to draw Ferdinand into Prospero’s plan, Ariel’s song is an attempt to confound the psyche and distract by recounting the sea’s physical power to transform:

Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes,
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange. (1.2.397-402)

In these lines, Shakespeare uses words reminiscent of Clarence’s dream in Richard III (1.4.24–33) and the forfeited wealth it describes on the sea floor. Ariel’s song, like…

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Thomas Middleton and The Changeling: Introduction and Overview

Early Modern &c.

Fair warning: Thomas Middleton’s The Changeling can be difficult to read or watch. Most of the characters are a blend of the attractive and the disagreeable; they’re not individuals you’d want to meet or have a relationship with. The plot involves manipulation, sexual assault, scheming, and murder, and there’s a subplot that includes the use of the mentally ill as entertainment or comic relief. (Evidence suggests this unsavory practice was common in the early modern period.) As if that’s not enough, it’s misogynistic, like most early modern plays. To counter that aspect with a feminist discussion, I highly recommend the Changeling episode of “Not Another Shakespeare Podcast!.”

If The Changeling is stuffed with difficult subject matter and the characters are so awful, why is it so popular? Why does anyone bother? These are good questions, and the short response to both is that the play is extremely…

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20th Century Poetry #19: Louis MacNeice

Wonderful poetry.

Human Voices Wake Us: A Podcast of History, Poetry, Creativity & Myth

Louis MacNeice (1907-1963)

One way to understand where poetry is now is to see where it was a hundred years ago. Every Wednesday I’ll be posting not the best, but at least the most representative, poems from the last century, where we can see poetry constantly changing. You can read the other entries here.

Louis MacNeice at Wiki, Poetry Foundation


I do not want to be reflective any more
Envying and despising unreflective things
Finding pathos in dogs and undeveloped handwriting
And young girls doing their hair and all the castles of sand
Flushed, by the children’s bedtime, level with the shore.
The tide comes in and goes out again, I do not want
To be always stressing either its flux or its permanence,
I do not want to be a tragic or philosophic chorus
But to keep my eye only on the nearer future
And after…

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The Mayerling Incident: scandal, suicide and the Bavarian kink

Mathew Lyons

Around noon on 30 January 1889 Austria’s official newspaper Wiener Zeitung in Vienna reported that 30-year-old Crown Prince Rudolf, heir to the fraying and fractious Austro-Hungarian Empire, husband of Princess Stéphanie of Belgium, had died that morning of a stroke. It was a lie.

The following day, the court issued a clarification: Rudolf had died of heart failure. That also was a lie.

It was true Rudolf had died around 7am on the 30th at the imperial hunting lodge at Mayerling, some 16 miles from Vienna. The first news of it had reached the court towards the end of the morning, with a report that he had been poisoned. Remarkably, that wasn’t true either.

The truth – almost certainly – is that Rudolf and his new 17-year-old mistress, Baroness Marie Vetsera (pictured) had died in a suicide pact. He shot her in the early hours of the morning. It seems…

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A page at a Time

enter Richard, Duke of Gloucester, alone.
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York,

So, starts The Arden Shakespeare edition of: Richard III. This is all that is written of the play on page one. A whole page dedicated to the first words of Shakespeare’s history play, not even a full sentence as you can see by the apostrophe at the end. The rest of the page is filled up with notes on this single half sentence. The speech goes on over the next three pages before Clarence makes an appearance. The extensive notes are brilliant, they inform you that Richard is the only character in a Shakespeare play to open with a soliloquy. The first three paragraphs of notes deal with the location and of the different ways the play has been staged, The Court, London, or a street near the Tower of London. Then the notes go on to talk about the metaphors in the mention of winter, summer. There is a famous Spanish tragedy by Thomas Kyd written between 1582 and 1592, which Shakespeare has Richard reversing the opening lines. I am trying to interpret these notes without writing them verbatim from the page but, for me to understand deeper the writing of Shakespeare I must study these notes, some of them are complex and harder to understand than the words of the actual play. According to the notes, “metaphors of seasonal transformation were ubiquitous in Tudor poetry.” Well, yes, they certainly are! I have read The Faerie Queene, a long poem by Edmund Spenser, I have had a go at the poems of John Donne, so I do know a bit about metaphors but, it doesn’t come natural or easy to me. Then there is the history of the monarchy at that time, I get confused with the relationships of the brothers and uncles, fathers and sons.

Son. There is a lot of different opinions on what this one word means. It could refer to Edward IV, Richards brother, son of the Duke of York. Or it could be a pun, referring to the emblem on Edwards shield, after three suns appeared during his victorious battle with the Lancastrians. It has also been suggested that it refers to the infant, later to be Edward V. I may have it all wrong but, I wonder if the latter is the best guess on what he means by Son of York. The war of the Rosses is a source of confusion to me, at one time I thought it was simple, Yorkshire against Lancashire, I know now it wasn’t. But that is history, although I love history, I am more interested in his drama. For instance, the first two acts of Richard III span 12 years, I think that is astounding in the context of the play. Watching it being performed, I would have had no idea. Weather that is a good thing or bad, I will have to think about it the next time I go to see it on the stage.
A page at a time, that’s what I have called this post because, this is the way I will have to go, even then, I’ll struggle to understand the subtleties of Shakespeare’s words. But, as I have said in past blog posts, it’s the journey that is the most fun, trying to decipher the meaning of his poetry is a secondary past-time.

I am grateful to The Arden Shakespeare, third series, edited by James R. Siemon, for their amazing work. These books are a massive help to a Shakespearian Truck driver like me.

George Allan.

Bathgate, Monday 3rd of December 2018


New Book

Put it in Writing

Out Now

Yes, at last it’s here! My new novel Settlementis now available. It’s the book I never planned to write – the sequel to Displacement. I thought I’d told all of Rachel and Jack’s story but readers of Displacement told me no. They insisted there was more to tell. And they were right. So much so – I’m now planning the third and final – yes final – part of this unexpected trilogy.

And, although it’s a sequel, I’ve written it so it can be read as a standalone – but of course I’d love it if people read both.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed spending more time with Rachel and Jack and their families and friends. I hadn’t realised how much I missed them and I can’t wait to get cracking on the final instalment.

So what’s it about?

Falling in love is the easy bit. Happy ever…

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Iris Murdoch

Under the Net
I have just finished Under the Net, the first novel by Iris Murdoch. It is the story of a lazy intellectual academic and boozer named Jake, who makes a living from translating, with a cast of characters, male and female, his friends Finn and Dave and his girlfriends or maybe lovers, or maybe objects of Jakes desires, two sisters Anna and Sadie, and Madge. At the start of the story, Madge, who he has been living with, along with Finn, throws him out of her house, as she is getting married to a bookie. So, begins the tale. And central to this tale there is Hugo, a big man, fireworks factory owner and head of a film company.
This is my first Iris Murdoch book. I remember when the film: Iris, came out there was a lot of talk in the media about her, I had only vaguely heard of, Iris Murdoch but, all the talk about how great a writer she was had me intrigued. I still haven’t watched the film, but I did see an exert from it with Jim Broadbent, as Iris’ husband, telling Judy Dench as Iris, suffering from the horrible disease of Alzheimer’s, what she did, when she couldn’t remember about her work, he tells her about all the wonderful books she had written. A heart-breaking scene. My wife Kathy worked in the field of Alzheimer’s and has studded at The Iris Murdoch centre for the disease in Stirling. So, Iris began to work her way into my conciseness and with a brilliant Twitter account that puts out regular quotes from her books I felt it was time for me to try one of her novels and to begin at the start, her first book, Under the Net.
Under the Net is a brilliant story, there is a lot of philosophical passages throughout the whole narrative and I remember reading a terrific book: At the Existentialist Café by Sarah Bakewell. It is a history of Philosophy – that doesn’t do it any justice at all and I may write about that one day – in it she mentions that Iris Murdoch wrote a biography on Jean-Paul Sartre, one more push to get me on the path to reading her novels. This book is also a great London novel and it is hard to believe that it came out in 1954, it’s so fresh. The only tell-tale signs are the pub opening and closing times. There is also a short detour into Paris, which is so descriptive, I think she must have loved Paris as much as she loved London. With Jakes acquisition of The Marvellous Mr Mars, a canine movie star and Mrs Tinckham and all her cats, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and read it in quick time, it was so easy to read, and I was sad when it finished. Sometimes, and I have heard a lot of people saying this, when you finish an enjoyable book, you don’t know where your next good one will come from well, now I know who to turn to.



In the past year or so I have been neglecting my Shakespeare journey, only the odd glance and a lot of guilt, my reputation as a Shakespearian shot to pieces. Then; The Royal Lyceum, just before Christmas, announced they will be performing: The Winter’s Tale, in the New Year. I haven’t saw a performance of this play nor have I read it so I am very excited and looking forward to it immensely. I started reading, from my copy of the complete works, The Winter’s Tale between Christmas and the New Year. There are no notes or guidelines with the complete works, just the raw play, so I have had to take my time, going back and re reading long passages to make sure I have a good grasp of the story.
In the complete works: The Winter’s Tale, is proceeded by Cymbeline and is followed by The Tempest, these are amongst the latter plays of Shakespeare. Doing my research online, Wikipedia, it says that it is one of (the problem plays) because the first three acts are filed with “intense phycological drama” and the last two acts are quite comedic. I must admit, I really did struggle with the beginning, not all of those first three acts, maybe one and a half. I could have done with some help, I did look in my local Waterston’s for a copy of the play by Arden or Oxford but, to no avail. I could have bought half a dozen Macbeth’s but, that’s probably because I live in Scotland, we seem to like it up here, I must admit I do love it too I have read it and saw it performed quite a few times, unlike The Winter’s Tale, which is brand new to me.
Now that I have finished reading the play though I haven’t been to see it yet I am not sure if I don’t agree with it being a problem play. The way it brings in “Gentlemen” to round of the story was a bit frustrating for me. It felt as if it was, not so much tying up loose ends as, spelling it out to us. This may be way off and once I have been to watch the play it may make more sense.
This post could be part one in a series about The Winter’s Tale. After I see it, my eyes and mind may be opened to the wonder and beauty of a late masterpiece. After all that is what happened with Hamlet, I didn’t find the play very inspiring when I first read it, then I bought and watched the DVD with David Tenant and was enthralled with it, re-read it went to see it performed on stage and at the cinema. Now, I love it so much.
A little post script here, just to get me over the five hundred words mark. This has been a good exercise, reading and getting to know The Winter’s Tale. It may not be very good, my post I mean, or all that informative but, it has managed to push me back onto the road of my Shakespeare journey. I know that’s corny but look at the word count. Words don’t always flow.

Reflections on a Writing Conference

Put it in Writing

I spent last weekend at the annual Scottish Association of Writers (SAW) Conference, and, as always it was an enjoyable couple of days.

It was held, as it has been for the last few years, in the lovely Westerwood Hotel in Cumbernauld near Glasgow. And the hotel staff along with the amazingly hard-working, volunteer members of the SAW council ensured the whole thing ran very smoothly.

There were a variety of workshops to choose from and I went to three:

SELF-PUBLISHED FROM MANUSCRIPT TO MARKET – this was led by the director of an assisted and highly reputable publishing company. It was a good overview of the process of self-publishing but understandably he took the view that an author going completely alone couldn’t do as good a job as would be done by a company like his. But although I didn’t agree with everything he said, I did find the…

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26 Books in 2017 Book 20: A Book That Has Been Translated

Put it in Writing

The Millennium Trilogy by Steig Larsson.

Unlike most of the other books in this challenge, number 20 was an easy choice and came to mind immediately. Originally written in Swedish and subsequently translated into English (the language in which I read them), this dark, psychological, crime thriller trilogy ranks amongst my most favourite ever reads.

Okay it’s three books but to me they’re very much a unit. The set consists of:

  • The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2005)
  • The Girl Who Played With Fire (2006)
  • The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest (2007)

The translator is Reg Keeland for publisher MacLehose/Quercus

For me these novels were compulsive reading. The main characters in all three books are Lisbeth Salander – a damaged, feisty, feminist, techie fighter for justice, and Mikael Blomkvist – an investigative journalist – and they are a totally beguiling partnership. The stories are intriguing, shocking and completely gripping.

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