The story of the 1914 Christmas Truce is one that has always fascinated me and saddened me at the same time.
I know they were all fighting for their country, and most of them were fighting for something they believed in, but it must have been strange if not incredibly difficult to go back to war and shooting at the men they’d befriended the day before.
On December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary hiatus of the war for the celebration of Christmas. The warring countries refused to create any official cease-fire, but on Christmas the soldiers in the trenches declared their own unofficial truce.
Starting on Christmas Eve, many German and British troops fighting in World War I sang Christmas carols to each other across the lines, and at certain points the Allied soldiers even heard brass bands joining the Germans in their joyous singing.
At the first light of dawn on Christmas Day, some German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the Allied lines across no-man’s-land, calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues. At first, the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick, but seeing the Germans unarmed they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with the enemy soldiers. The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum…
“….It is said that Henry V wore it [the Black Prince’s Ruby] in his jewel-encrusted helmet at the battle of Agincourt, and Richard III did also at the battle of Bosworth….”
I found the above sentence in a post on the British Medieval History Facebook group. How very intriguing. It’s something I had never heard before. Did Richard really wear the priceless but cursed gem at Bosworth? If so, was he (as one friend has suggested) emulating Henry V? Or even the Black Prince himself?
The ruby is actually “a magnificent 170-caratredspinel, the largest uncut spinel in the world. This particular precious stone, known as ‘the Great Imposter’, has a traceable history dating back seven centuries and is rumoured to be cursed, as its consecutive royal owners have been dogged by…
As an Australian, I get very mixed responses when I tell people I enjoy Halloween.
Some see it as an opportunity for the community to share in something fun. In my town, the local Scout group organises the trick or treating so that the kids are supervised. Anyone wanting the kids to visit them for treats must be registered and checked out first. One of the local cafes sets up a House of Horror for everyone to enjoy, free of charge, and various other businesses run promotions.
Most Aussies, however, respond with something like “Ugh, It’s so American!” or “It’s just more commercialism!”
While it’s true that Halloween hasn’t historically been a big part of our culture in Australia, most are surprised to discover it’s not an American thing at all. It actually originated as a Celtic celebration of Samhain in Ireland, and from there spread to Scotland, Wales, England and France. In a strange coincidence, the British who landed in Australia in 1788 thinking they owned the place also originated in those places, so there’s that.
My first real experience of celebrating and embracing Halloween was in Canada, where it was all about community and celebrating the season, rather than commercial opportunism. It was wonderful. People decorated their homes and yards as a sign to kids that they were welcome to visit on their trick or treating routes. People in the streets wished each other a happy Halloween. We visited an apple orchard that offered hayrides and a corn maze, in addition to picking your own apples and enjoying the fare of the kitchen. October was a time of festivity and community amidst the changing of the season and the anticipation of winter’s arrival, made all the more cheerful by the brightness of pumpkins decorating shops, streets, gateposts, homes, and anywhere else people chose to put them.
Sure, the shops sold more chocolates and toys designed to give to kids who came knocking. But why can’t that be seen as a boost to the economy, rather than soulless exploitation of shoppers? If people don’t want to join in the celebration, they are not obligated to do or buy anything at all.
It is fair to say, though, that the growing popularity of Halloween in Australia is the result of the predominance of American TV and movies on Australian screens. People can complain about Halloween all they like, but until they’re willing to stop watching all the American shows and films they tune into religiously each week, or binge watch on weekends, it’s quite a hypocritical objection to raise. You can’t complain about your neighbour’s kids dressing up to go trick or treating if you can’t pause the latest episode of ’The Haunting of Hill House’ or ‘Riverdale’ to answer the door.
Ultimately, people can make their own choices. There’s no obligation to join in, but there’s also no need to be supercilious about it.
I’ll be celebrating Spooky Season all month, and joining in the Halloween festivities in my town again this year. And I’ll be loving every moment of it.
A semi-colon forms part of a highly symbolic tattoo on my inner wrist. Like many others who bear the symbol on their skin, I chose it because I, too, have struggled with depression, mental illness, self-harm and suicide. It’s a reminder that “this” is not all there is, and it’s not the end of the story.
As a punctuation mark, I am a big fan of the semicolon. It has the power to make someone wait momentarily, to hold a thought or their breath for a moment, and to anticipate what is to come next. It’s the symbol that tells the reader that there is more to come.
I really enjoyed this article by Celia Watson which discusses how the semicolon came to be.
And if you’re a grammar nerd like me, you’ll understand the appeal of Watson’s book on that wonderful, versatile little punctuation mark, simply titled ’Semicolon’, which I discovered via Stan Carey’s review.
The article titled The Birth of the Semicolon published in The Paris Review (August 1, 2019) by Cecilia Watson is not to be missed. Here is just the beginning to whet your appetite for arcane knowledge offering clues to the development of formal language.
The semicolon was born in Venice in 1494. It was meant to signify a pause of a length somewhere between that of the comma and that of the colon, and this heritage was reflected in its form, which combines half of each of those marks. It was born into a time period of writerly experimentation and invention, a time when there were no punctuation rules, and readers created and discarded novel punctuation marks regularly. Texts (both handwritten and printed) record the testing-out and tinkering-with of punctuation by the fifteenth-century literati known as the Italian humanists. The humanists put a premium on eloquence and excellence in writing…
I’m always a bit lost for words when people remark that history is boring. Not because I have nothing to say— far from it— but because I know they are never going to be anywhere near ready for the conversations I want to have with them.
I accept that in the past, some teachers have been guilty of making history very, very dull, but it was not the history that was boring: it was the teacher.
I’ve had some of my own students question, “Why do we need to learn about this? How am I ever going to use this in real life?” My responses vary depending on the topic at hand, but they are consistently positive and enthusiastic about how interesting and inspiring history can be.
I have recently discovered two new examples to offer to students or friends who complain about history.
A week or so ago, I read a story of a 14th century nun named Joan who faked her own death to get out of the convent she was living in. How’s that for dedication?
Apparently, she wasn’t the only one who wanted to escape either. Having studied medieval history and knowing the lifestyle adhered to by monks and nuns of the time, I can’t say I blame any of them.
Faking your own death is definitely taking it to the next level, though, so I feel that Joan deserves a bit of recognition and applause for her commitment to the performing arts.
I now know more about this amazing creature than my friends will ever think beneficial. You can bet I’m going to tell them all about it, and I know my Year 9 boys are going to love it, too. I almost can’t wait until they complain again, so that I have a good reason to get the story out and share it.
Seriously, take a look at this beast. This picture from a medieval bestiary, or book of animals, portrays this particular bonnacon as being rather pleased with himself and his toxic poop. He’s never going to be sorry.
Go on. Tell me now that history is boring. I dare you.
‘Julius Caesar’ is a play by William Shakespeare about the assassination of Caesar by a group of his senators.
Given that the play clearly demonstrates that the assassination was morally wrong, and that the conspirators did not prosper as a result of their actions, you might be tempted to think that anyone who knew the play well enough to perform the role of Mark Antony would know better than to assassinate someone.
And if you thought so, you’d be wrong. A famous actor and a member of a prominent family among theatre circles, John Wilkes Booth played Marc Antony while two of his brothers played Cassius and Brutus in a production of Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ at The Winter Garden theatre on November 25, 1864, just four months before he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.
Obviously, his decision to shoot the president brought his acting career to a screeching halt. What a shame that he took more inspiration from Brutus than he did from Mark Anthony. Less violence and more brilliant rhetoric might have served us all well.
My friends and I were standing in front of a portrait of Oliver Cromwell at the Tudors to Windsors portrait exhibition at the art gallery in Bendigo. .
As I often do, I added my own commentary. In a posh English accent and lower vocal register, I quipped, “Look at me being all godly and humble and unroyal and stuff before I go and kill a bunch of people and destroy all the monasteries… you know, on God’s behalf.”
A well-dressed elderly gentleman had come to stand beside me. When I finished speaking, he added in a crisp, upper class accent: “Bastard.” He was not wrong.
I enjoy many of Shakespeare’s plays, but I do have a few particular favourites.
At the top of that list would be Richard III. one of the history plays and part of the series that explores the conflict between the Lancaster and York branches of the Plantagenet family tree which we call The Wars of the Roses.
Shakespeare’s characterisation of Richard as the ultimate villain is so masterful that it shaped how Richard was viewed for centuries afterward. The fact that the history was severely distorted and, at times, entirely fabricated, and that Shakespeare’s representation of Richard was hardly realistic, has nothing to do with it. Shakespeare was a playwright, not a historian, after all, and therefore not inclined to let the truth get in the way of a great story.
Of course, it was in his interests to cast Richard in a less than positive light. Shakespeare was very conscious of the fact that his Queen, Elizabeth I, was the granddaughter of Henry Tudor who defeated Richard in battle at Bosworth to become Henry VII. Making Richard less worth of the crown further legitimised Henry’s claim to it, and therefore reinforced her own. In a time when conspiracies and plots against Elizabeth were numerous, the validation of her place on the throne of England was essential for any playwright hoping for royal approval, and patronage from among the upper classes.
Thus, Shakespeare’s Richard is a man who not only recognises his evil nature but delights in it and determines to see how much he can achieve with it.
Richard’s choice to pursue evil rather than good from the very start sets the tone of the whole play, and the audience knows they are in for one hell of a ride. His soliloquies deliver profound insights into the evil mind of a villain. They are absolutely fascinating, crafted with intrigue and malice that horrify and enthrall the audience at the same time. It’s riveting stuff. And as Richard puts his schemes into action and celebrates his own cleverness and cunning when they succeed, the audience is acutely aware that they are watching an evil genius in action.
My favourite character, though, is Margaret, the former queen of Henry VI. She is strong, she is angry, and she is hell-bent on justice. Margaret speaks vitriol and hurls insults and curses so effectively that Cecily, Richard’s own mother, asks Margaret to teach her how it’s done. She attains a level of Shakespearean Insult proficiency that nobody else ever quite managed, not even Richard himself.
The language of the play is magnificent. From the insult competitions to the curses that burn with the brimstone of hell itself, there is not a word wasted in this play. The imagery is incredibly powerful, and the emotive language is so clever and subtle that while the audience may recognise that the characters on stage are being deceived, they don’t realise until after the fact that that they, too, have been positioned and manipulated by a master of the art.
It is only at the end of the play, when one realises they feel a little sorry for the villainous Richard, that the audience understands how the language and drama of the play have seduced them.
To take a man from the pages of history, craft him into something hateful, and have the audience still feel something other than hatred for him— albeit, while most likely feeling hatred for him at the same time— is testimony to Shakespeare’s genius as a wordsmith and playwright.
While Shakespeare was writing plays and fancy sonnets that made him incredibly famous, Miguel de Cervantes was sitting in a jail cell for getting his accounts wrong while working for the Spanish tax department, writing this work of comic genius that would bring him, too, worldwide fame.
As always, the comedic examines important issues and ideas in ways that no other form feels free to do. Think of medieval court jesters and today’s stand-up comedians – they make their mark on the world by saying things nobody else feels free to say and making people laugh at the same time. That’s exactly what Don Quixote does.
Don Quixote is a story about a man who is so obsessed with stories of chivalry, romance and adventure that he loses his mind and sets off on his own missions of derring-do and knightly behaviour. He is a man who cannot separate the imaginary from the real world, so in his version of reality, he rescues damsels, fights giants, and seeks to solve the problems and wrongs that beset the people he meets. Everyone else, including his own faithful sidekick Sancho Panza, thinks he’s nuts.
It’s a story that could be sad and pathetic, but it’s written with a strong sense of comedy and powerful wit that enable the reader to empathise with Don Quixote, who is a man living his dream in every sense of the word. There are some “Groundhog Day” elements, with some scenes being relived and reinvented long after the fact, which emphasises both the delusion and the intelligence of Don Quixote as the creator of his own reality.
As the story progresses, it poses an interesting dilemma: if you can’t actually do what you’d most like to do, and if your imagination can take you there and allow you to do it- is it crazy to pursue your dream, or madness to forego the pleasure?
It’s a fascinating and fun read that, like Shakespeare’s works, has inspired musicals, ballets, films, and countless other stories and novels in the 400+ years since its publication.