All the Unfit Kings and Riot Grrlz

It’s time to go back and see some live theater! Even if it’s on film.

We took a long weekend to trek up to Ashland for three plays, so if you’re thinking this is like free advertising for Oregon Shakespeare Festival, you’re probably right. But the performances were excellent, and all three have been filmed. If you can’t make the trek up to the rolling hills of the Rogue River Valley before the seasons ends,  then you can watch the films live next weekend or on demand. Check out the options here.

My particular goal was to get my bingo card punched, which is to say that I had seen 36 of the 37 plays of Shakespeare and was only missing “King John.” (You’re going to point out that “The Two Noble Kinsmen” makes it 38 plays, and I’ll counter that it’s never staged and besides, John Fletcher co-wrote it. If you find a version of it somewhere, send me a link, and I’ll watch it.  Meanwhile, I’m calling B-I-N-G-O.) And Shakespeare was his name-o!

Who Wants to Play a Weenie?

We were speculating as to why “King John” is almost never staged, when the history play that precedes it, “Richard III,” is done all the time It may be the nature of villainy in the central character. Even though Richard is one of the worst scoundrels that ever walked a stage, he controls his own destiny. He pillages, rapes, and murders with glee. A good actor will get the audience laughing at his roguish charm, while Richard woos his enemy’s widow or plans the assassination of the princes in the tower. Don’t believe me? Watch the Ian McKellen 1995 “Richard III.”

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W is for Window Painting

Cosmé Tura, Virgin & Child 1453. Photo from wikimedia.

First of all, on the surface which I am going to paint, I draw a rectangle of whatever size I want, which I regard as an open window through which the subject to be painted is seen.

Leon Battista Alberti

Fenestra aperta. The window to the outside. It seems such a simple idea to paint light falling into a room, a mirror on the wall, or a landscape through a window. But it was new in the Renaissance. Windows themselves were changed, and the new technology and advances in understanding of mathematics spilled into painting.

STEM becomes Art

Alberti—architect, philosopher, and artist—was as famous for his ideas as his creations. But his idea about painting through the window inspired many of the painters who came after, from Da Vinci to Raphael. He was helping create the new idea of perspective, to help artists think of their canvas as a reflection of the world outside. But to be able to use that idea required a simple thing: the ability to see through the window.

Enter the Venetian glass makers: the guild, the island of Murano, sequestered and jealously guarding their secrets. I’ve mentioned before that the glass makers were a monopoly. The artisans were wealthy, but you could not leave the guild. Assassins were dispatched if a glass maker left with the secrets. Glass making technology improved significantly the early Renaissance, often shown in museums as elegant and sophisticated glass objects from Murano. But, just as significantly, the technology led to thinner, clearer glass–for windows. Everywhere.

Murano glass, revered for delicacy, also would lead to better windows. Photo by kajmeister.
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V is for Veronica Franco

Veronica Franco even had her own musical. Photo from USC Dormsife.

One of the most famous people in Renaissance Venice was not an artist, duke, noble, doge, pope or even wealthy merchant. But she did know all of them.

Veronica Franco, a poet, publisher, and high society intellect was also known cortigiana onesta: an honored courtesan. The famed artist Tintoretto painted her multiple times, sometimes etching her name on the back and sometimes not. Her notoriety led to multiple books, movies, and even a musical about her. She was the toast of the town in 1565, the Kim Khardashian of her day. Except that the Khardashians haven’t been called before the Inquisition. Yet.

Honored Courtesan, no Mere Prostitute

Cortigiana meant, for women, a position parallel to a male courtier, a word with connotations of splendor and high cultural accomplishments. Onesta can translate as “honest,” and biographers of her have used that adjective. But used with the courtier, it meant privileged, wealthy, recognized.

She was respected for her poetry as much as for her beauty. Some poems were sonnets, love poems, but others were early expression of feminist ideas:

When we women, too, have weapons and training,
we will be able to prove to all men
that we have hands and feet and hearts like yours;
and though we may be tender and delicate,
some men who are delicate are also strong,
and some, though coarse and rough, are cowards.

Franco: A Challenge to a Poet Who Has Defamed Her, from monstrousregimentofwomen.com
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