Five More Great History Podcasts

I have posted about excellent history podcasts on a number of previous occasions. 

During the recent weeks of spending a lot more time at home, I’ve discovered a couple more that are interesting and enjoyable. 

‘That Was Genius’ 

Each week, Sam and Tom share an interesting story from history that fits into a chosen theme for the week. Not safe for listening at work or in the presence of children, it’s irreverent, sweary, and hilariously funny, I started at the introductory episode and subscribed before I got to the end of the second one. It has proven to be brilliant entertainment during the coronavirus lockdown. Having already listened to 37 episodes in the past two weeks, it’s fair to say I’m a fan. 

‘Cool Canadian History’.

I love history, and I love Canada. This podcast is the perfect opportunity for me to pursue both at the same time. The topics are varied and always interesting, and the host David Morris is enjoyable to listen to. 

’Dark Histories’ 

This is a British podcast which focuses on the macabre, spooky, and eerie events of history. The first episode is on Jack The Ripper, but the topics that follow are quite varied and are not limited to people or events of the UK. The material is well written and the podcast is easy to listen to. 

‘Aaron Mahnke’s Cabinet of Curiosities’

Another podcast, this one American in origin, that explores the inexplicable, the unsettling and the curious stories of history. Aaron Mahnke delivers two shows a week, exploring the history of people, events and objects with unusual and sometimes bizarre stories to tell. Some of the tales are coincidental, while others are more sinister. 

‘You’re Dead To Me’  

Hosted by Greg Jenner of Horrible Histories fame, this podcast offers a weekly discussion on a topic of history with the aim to make it interesting and relevant to the everyday person, including those who haven’t taken much of an interest before.  The guests are interesting, drawn from all walks of life, and deliberately not all academics.  I started at the introductory episode and have listened to half a dozen or so now. The topics have been varied and the quality has been consistently.  ‘You’re Dead To Me’ looks like a keeper. 

Five More Great #History #Podcast #Recommendations
#historical #ListenTo

Fabulous and Free! Entertainment While Staying Home

Looking for something fabulous to watch? Problem solved.

My family are definitely looking out for me while we’re all staying home. Just this week, two of my nieces sent me messages about opportunities for free entertainment while we’re all staying home and staying safe.  I’m super grateful to them both for thinking of me and passing on the details of things they knew I would love. 

In factt, those opportunities are so good, they deserve sharing with you, too. 

The Globe Theatre is streaming a free Shakespeare play each fortnight, starting with Hamlet on April 6th.  What a fabulous opportunity to watch great productions by some of the best in the world! And for any Shakespeare lovers who, like me, live somewhere that means they’ll never get to see as many of the plays as they wish to in live theatre, this is a fabulous chance to see more of the canon in near-to-live performance. 

Sign up for free Shakespeare performances here!

The Shows Must Go On! features productions of various Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, free of charge, on YouTube. The first show available is Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor TM Dreamcoat. Given that I directed that show last year, anyone who knows me will tell you there is absolutely zero chance of me not singing along with every word. 

(Edit: already watching… already singing. Strange as it seems… )

I know it’s not the same as actually going to the theatre, but such fabulous, free entertainment is most welcome, especially while we’re all maintaining social isolation and trying to maintain our wellbeing. 

Fabulous, free entertainment opportunities for #StayingHome
#StayHome #entertainment #WhatToDoDuringQuarantine #WhatToWatch

Image by Wortflow from Pixabay

Ghostly Inspirations: ‘The Trial for Murder’ by Charles Dickens (1865)

As is evident in my favourite classic book admiration posts on Bleak House and A Christmas Carol, I love Charles Dickens’ writing. He has always been one of my favourite authors and a source of inspiration.

This is one of Dickens’ short stories that I have not yet read, so it’s fair to say that this blog post that alerted me to that fact made my day! I hope to read it this afternoon.

I’m excited to share the story with you, too — and I’d love to know what you think of it!

Paula Cappa

The Trial for Murder  by Charles Dickens  (1865)

Tuesday’s Tale of Suspense    February 11, 2020

This week, February 7, is the birth date of Charles Dickens. How many of us have read his ghostly inspired The Trial for Murder? Let’s focus on Dickens today to remember this timeless author and his life.

A quick 30-minute read, this story is a dive into 19th century England, murder, a trial, and a ghost.  Because Dickens was a court reporter during Victorian times, we can appreciate the accuracy and characterization of this murder trial.

During the 1830s, Dickens covered Parliament and British elections for the Morning Chronicle. Many of his fans know that Dickens owned a beloved raven “Grip.” Dickens  believed that his pet raven was immeasurably more knowing and “could make a very queer character of him.”

He was a member of the Ghost Club along with Arthur Conan…

View original post 231 more words

My Go-To Christmas Movie.

One of my Christmas traditions is watching my go-to Christmas movie: ‘The Muppets Christmas Carol’. 

It combines the genius of Charles Dickens with the genius of Jim Henson’s Muppets, featuring Gonzo as Charles Dickens, Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit, and Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge. It retains key dialogue from the book and adds some delightful character development and interactions, and complements both with an original soundtrack that includes some delightful Christmas songs.

As far as movie adaptations go, this is one that stays faithful to both the storyline and the spirit of Dickens’ classic novella

It’s charming in the right places, and Victorian and Gothic enough to be spooky when it needs to be. It still delivers the crucial message of Dickens’ attacks on Utilitarian thinking and selfishness, encouraging the audience to focus on the value of people and family rather than on making money and treating others as though they are worthless unless they can work. 

It’s great entertainment for the whole family, and even when Scrooge is awful, the Muppet cast is entirely adorable. 

Pumpkin.

I love pumpkin. It’s my favourite vegetable. I love the colour and shape of them. I love the fact that they are all so different. If there were ever a type of vegetable that embraced individuality, the gourds and squashes would be it.

When I visited Canada, I loved seeing them decorating shops, gardens, front porches, letterboxes, streetscapes… they were everywhere. What really surprised me is how little pumpkin they actually seemed to eat, unless it was in a pie.

Speaking of which, I need some pumpkin pie. I adore pumpkin pie, but it’s really hard to get here in Australia.

While I’m daydreaming about that most delectable of desserts, please enjoy this rumination on ‘pumpkin’ via Sesquiotica.

Sesquiotica

It’s orange, except when it isn’t. And it’s big, except when it isn’t. But when it’s big, it can be very big, and it can keep getting bigger and bigger, sometimes until it’s too big and it just breaks right open. Hazards of competitive growing!

View original post 627 more words

New Words

As I often explain to my students, language adapts and evolves all the time. People invent new words, or blend old ones, to create new meanings or to explain something in a new way. 

I’m always fascinated by the process, and take interest in which words are being “added to the dictionary”. Even that phrase makes me laugh, because we all know there’s more than one dictionary, and they don’t all add new words at the same time. 

The article titled Five New Words To Watch comes from the Macquarie Dictionary Blog.

The Macquarie Dictionary is my favourite for a number of reasons. Macquarie University is my alma mater, and back when the first Macquarie Dictionary was being written and compiled, I had the privilege of having two of the contributors as my lecturers and tutors in English and Linguistics. More importantly, the definitions are clear and easily understandable, Australian colloquialisms are included, and the pronunciation guide is provided in the international phonetic alphabet, which I love. 

Yeah. Nerdy, I know. 
But if you’ve been following my blog for three minutes, you’ll know I’m unapologetic about that. 

I hope you enjoy this article.
If you’d like to tell me your favourite newish words, or words you’ve invented, I’d be super happy for you to leave a comment!  

Do I Owe My Love of the Gothic and Macabre to My Childhood TV Habits?

I have always credited The Addams Family and The Munsters with feeding, if not inspiring, my early love of the Gothic and the macabre, but I never really thought about how much Scooby Doo fit that same genre in so many ways until I read this great article on CrimeReads.

I was certainly watching those things on TV before I was reading anything Gothic. I think my first Gothic read was Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ when I was maybe 9 or 10.  

Scooby Doo was always one of the cartoons I enjoyed, and I still say “Rut Roh!” in my Scooby voice when I have a feeling things are about to go badly. 

I guess it’s fair to say that some of the TV I watched definitely did normalise the Gothic for me during my childhood, and opened me up to the darker side of storytelling. 

I hope you find this article as interesting and enlightening as I did. 

How Scooby Doo Revived Gothic Storytelling for Generations of Kids

My New Favourite Shakespeare Podcast

A few weeks back, I posted about the most popular post published on this blog thus far, which happened to be about my ‘Top Four Shakespeare Podcasts’. 

While they’re definitely great podcasts to check out, I do have a new favourite!

I recently discovered The Hurly Burly Shakespeare Show, a fabulous podcast by Aubrey Whitlock and Jess Hamlet, AKA Whamlet. Both are vivacious and highly entertaining ‘lady academics’ – their words, not mine – who use their knowledge and expertise to make the plays accessible to new audiences and inspiring them to enjoy and appreciate Shakespeare’s works.

Both hosts are very engaging and easy to listen to, although the podcast does come with a ‘bawdy language’ warning which would be well heeded by those offended by expletives. 

The podcast explores each play at a 101 level, giving the listener all the basics they need to know about that play to help them understand it better. Plot, characters, key themes and points of interest are discussed in a relaxed and relatable way.

Each episode also presents insights into the performance or staging of the plays, dramatic devices used by Shakespeare in crafting his works, and various developments in the worlds of studying or performing Shakespeare.

Some plays are revisited at a 201 level, exploring central themes and ideas at a deeper level. 

In addition to exploring Shakespeare’s work, there are some really interesting episodes dedicated to the writing of Shakespeare’s contemporaries – Thomas Kidd, Christopher Marlowe, Ben Johnson, and Thomas Middleton. 

The Hurly Burly Shakespeare show is both highly entertaining and informative. It has not only reinforced my knowledge, but also motivated me to read more widely and to expand my knowledge of the world in which Shakespeare lived and wrote. 

If you enjoy Shakespeare, or if you’d just like to know more about his work, I recommend this excellent podcast. 

WEBSITE  |  TWITTER  |  INSTAGRAM

A Favourite Shakespeare Play: ‘Julius Caesar’

‘Julius Caesar’ is a brilliant play in which Shakespeare demonstrates his genius is in taking a story we all know and making the characters familiar in a personal and almost tangible way. Shakespeare takes one of the most famous men in history and portrays him as fully human, flawed and even vulnerable in different ways. It’s not the way we’re accustomed to thinking about ‘historical giants’ like Caesar., but Shakespeare makes it all seem quite natural. 

At the beginning of the play, even while he is being celebrated as Rome’s all-conquering hero, his first interactions cast him as a husband who is acutely aware of his wife’s childlessness. We don’t know if his instructions to Calpurnia and Antony are motivated by sorrow or by his desire for an heir to whom he might pass his empire, but either way, Caesar doesn’t miss an opportunity that might make a difference.  

Before long, we see him as a man afflicted by disease when he is struck by a seizure, and is obviously bothered by the fact that is happens in public. He may control all of Rome and its empire, but he cannot control his illness. 
We also see him as a man keenly aware of popular opinion, sen in his public refusal of the crown not once, but three times, yet ignorant of the way his own senators feel about him personally. Regardless of his aspirations, he is astute enough to know that actually accepting a crown as Emperor is not the best move for him at this point in time. 

In these things, the audience begins to see the great historical hero Julius Caesar as a complex, thoughtful man, one who holds a variety of responsibilities and obligations that he takes very seriously. He is very much human, in contrast to the Roman tendency to venerate their heroes almost as gods. We see his humanity rather than his pride, although we know that exists because it is his hubris that brings about his downfall. 

Shakespeare’s portrayal of other characters is equally powerful.

Caesar’s assessment of Cassius is profound: “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; he thinks too much: such men are dangerous.” In those few words, Shakespeare establishes a vivid image that shapes our perception of the man and positions the audience to distrust the character. 

Brutus is shown as a moral man struggling with a dilemma that weighs heavily on him. A strong sense of foreboding settles on the audience when he puts his trust in Cassius, making himself vulnerable to a man whose thoughts and conspiracies are indeed dangerous, particularly for Caesar. At this point, even though both Caesar and the audience like Brutus, his destiny as one of the conspirators is sealed. 

In all of this, Shakespeare makes expert use of dramatic irony and foreboding to keep the audience in suspense as Caesar’s train speeds ignorantly toward its derailment. This is established right at the start of the play with the mysterious soothsayer who delivers the warning, “Beware the Ides of March”. 

While it is a history play, it has some elements of  a tragedy in that Caesar is completely oblivious to the fact that his actions are contributing to his own eventual demise at the hand of the conspirators whom he still perceives as friends and allies. The pathos of his question to Brutus: “Et tu, Brute?” — “You too, Brutus?” makes the moment of his all-too-late realisation one of almost palpable betrayal and sorrow. In that moment, Caesar dies knowing that he is truly friendless and alone.

It’s important to note that the play makes it clear that assassinating anyone is not a good idea, and the assassins do not prosper as the result of their actions. It wasn’t in Shakespeare’s interests to be seen to promote or condone assassinating the established ruler, as he was reliant on the good favour of Queen Elizabeth I and, after her, King James. He wasn’t encouraging anyone to try to kill their leader: he was showing that, historically, doing so didn’t actually achieve what the conspirators hoped it would. 

It’s a very direct and straightforward play – there are no real subplots and the political undercurrents are all really obvious because they are what drives the play. This makes it a great play for a “first Shakespeare play” for those who are just beginning their Shakespeare journey. 

For the word-nerds, this is the text from which we get great, still commonly used phrases like “It’s all Greek to me” and “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”. It’s also the source of the title of John Green’s enormously popular novel ’The Fault In Our Stars’. 

Thursday Thoughts: I’m Textually Active.

If you’ve been following my blog for any amount of time, you’ll probably know that when I’m not blogging, reading or writing, or strutting my stuff on stage in musicals, I’m a teacher. 

Teaching is demanding and tiring and stressful, but I am always up for a great booknerdy discussion with my students, who I happen to believe are some of the coolest kids on the planet. That is one of the parts of my job that I really love. 

Last semester, my Year 9 English class studied ‘Beowulf’ and Year 11 studied both ‘Richard III’ and ‘A Christmas Carol’

The fun continues this semester. I’m excited to be teaching four more texts I really enjoy. 
My Year 9 English class are going to study ‘Much Ado About Nothing’  and ‘Treasure Island’
My Year 11 English class will be studying ‘The Complete Maus’ and ‘The Book Thief’. 

Teaching teenagers can be a tough gig sometimes, but it also has its perks.

If you had a teacher you liked, I’d love to know what it was about them that appealed to you or inspired you. Leave a comment and inspire me!