October 31, 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. The 16th century is a fascinating era of big personalities, schisms, and upheavals, many of which led to the birth of the modern world. Biographies and historical narratives bring the past to life, and many new books are being published to commemorate this crucial time in Western history.
Take a moment to savor the summer delights and craft some new traditions while learning the legends of summer.
Humans in prehistoric times built monuments to commemorate both the winter and the summer solstices throughout the world. Solstice comes from the Latin words sol meaning sun and sistere meaning to cause to stand still. As the days lengthen, the sun rises higher and higher until it seems to stand still in the sky. Nature religions, both ancient and modern, hold the solstices in great esteem. Modern-day druids perform rituals based on old beliefs at Stonehenge each year. In the Americas, Machu Picchu and the Sun Dagger of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico show evidence of ancient astronomical design.
William Shakespeare is considered to be one of the most influential playwrights in literature. Over four hundred years ago, he lit up the stage at the famous Globe Theater in 16th- and 17th-century England with his lavish histories, comedies, and tragedies.
Why not learn to juggle? It’s a fun way to impress your friends even if you are just a beginner. Like sports? Juggling is said to increase your hand-eye reflexes and your coordination. Like to be in the spotlight? It’s a great way to show off in a talent show, andk if you get really good at it, you can do it professionally at festivals or parties.
Twenty years before Jamestown was founded, over 100 women, men, and children came to Virginia to try their luck at starting a colony. They arrived on the stormy shores of what we know now as North Carolina. They were not the first to land there. Two years before, another group of colonists, all men, gave up trying to settle Roanoke Island and sailed back to England. The supply ships arrived too late to save the abandoned first colony, but they left behind fifteen soldiers to mind the fort who soon vanished into the wilds, driven off by an Indian attack.
When you first approach reading Shakespeare, it can be a daunting experience. Even though I grew up reading books with similar language, I still found Shakespeare difficult unless I had a teacher holding my hand every step of the way. I could just about understand the basic plot line and even some of the language, but many of the jokes, the history, and the language went over my head.
Over the years, I have found several things helpful in reading Shakespeare’s plays. With these aids, I am able to enjoy Shakespeare so much more than before as well as understand the plays at a deeper level.
In Shakespeare for Beginners, I listed various books and resources I like to use to help in reading Shakespeare’s plays. However, one of the best accompaniments to reading his plays is watching one or more of the movies or stage productions.
When I studied Shakespeare in college, one of the requirements of the class was to watch each of the plays we were studying. Although I had seen a couple of live productions, I had never seen a Shakespeare film, but since it was required, I dutifully checked out my first Shakespeare video, Richard II. I was entranced. With facial expressions, props, costumes, and even the way the actors said their parts, I was drawn into the action of the play even more than when I had read it.
History, particularly popular history, need not be dull, something that Cormac O’Brien demonstrates readily in his book, The Forgotten History of America. Written in a conversational tone and broken into vignettes, old history is made new when written this way. Even so, it’s not the standard stuff taught in schools. It’s about wars and both sides in those wars, reaching back to the country’s colonial beginnings in the 16th century. With personalities writ large on both sides and a good understanding of the differences in modern and historical society, O’Brien leads his readers on journeys back in time:
It begins with the first permanent European settlement in North America:
Pedro Menedez de Aviles anxiously paced the deck of his flagship, San Pelayo. Two days earlier, off the coast of Florida, he had gone ashore and met with Indians who offered valuable information about the prey he was desperately seeking. Now, confident of success, he led his five vessels northward along the coastline, scanning the beaches for any sign of European settlement. The day was September 4, 1565, and Menendez was hunting heretics.
The subtitle of A Brave Vessel by Hobson Woodward says it all: The True Tale of the Castaways Who Rescued Jamestown and Inspired Shakespeare's The Tempest. The voyage of the Sea Venture, May to July, 1609, featured an encounter with a perfect storm that flung the little boat ashore on the island of Bermuda instead of its intended destination, the fledgling colony at Jamestown.
The author is a credible historian (the text is fleshed out with ample notes and an extensive bibliography) with a novelist's skill at telling a story enlived with fleshed out characters, dramatic tension, and pacing that make it a true page turner. One of the Sea Venture's passengers was William Strachey, a writer whose extensive chronicle of the castaways' experiences of the desert island was widely circulated on his successful return to England and clearly was familiar to Shakespeare who apparently wrote his play while the news was still fresh.
Who were these people? How did they survive? How did they hand build a boat capable of getting them up to Jamestown and what did they find when they arrived? What elements did Shakespeare incorporate into his play? Fascinating reading, with an amazing finish.
By Thomas Hariot
The Second Part
CONCERNING SUCH COMMODITIES AS VIRGINIA
IS KNOWN TO YIELD FOR FOOD AND THE SUSTENANCE
OF LIFE, CUSTOMARILY EATEN BY THE NATIVES
AND USED BY US WHILE WE WERE THERE
FIRST, CONCERNING SUCH AS ARE SOWN AND FARMED.
Pagatowr is a kind of grain. It is called maize in the West Indies; Englishmen name it Guinea wheat or Turkey wheat, after the countries from which a similar grain has been brought. This grain is about the size of our ordinary English peas and, while similar to them in form and shape, differs in color, some grains being white, some red, some yellow, and some blue. All of them yield a very white and sweet flour which makes excellent bread. We made malt from the grain while we were in Virginia and brewed as good an ale of it as could be desired. It also could be used, with the addition of hops, to produce a good beer. The grain increases on a marvelous scale-a thousand times, fifteen hundred, and in some cases two thousand fold. There are three sorts, of which two are ripe in ten, eleven, and, at the most, twelve weeks, when their stalks are about six or seven feet in height. The third one ripens in fourteen weeks and is ten feet high. Its stalks bear one, two, three, or four heads, and every head contains five, six, or seven hundred grains, as near as I can say. The inhabitants not only use it for bread but also make food of these grains. They either parch them, boiling them whole until they break, or boil the flour with water into a pap.