The Best Books about Shakespeare

Our pick of the ten best biographies and other books about the Bard which everyone should read

Mayor of London Boris Johnson has been offered a publishing deal – purportedly worth £500,000 – to write a book about Shakespeare to be published next year for the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death in 2016. But plenty of other books about Shakespeare will be appearing over the next year to coincide with this event, many written by Shakespeare scholars. With a new book by renowned Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro being published this year (The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606), we thought it was time we offered our pick of the best books about William Shakespeare: the best introductions to his life and his work. The following is not designed to be an exhaustive list, but many of these books were written by leading Shakespeare scholars and each contains something which every fan of the Bard should know. Read the rest of this entry

A Short Analysis of Thomas Wyatt’s ‘Whoso List to Hunt’

Sir Thomas Wyatt’s ‘Whoso List to Hunt’ is one of the earliest sonnets in all of English literature. What follows is the poem, followed by a brief introduction to, and analysis of, the poem’s language and imagery – as well as its surprising connections to King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Wyatt (1503-1542) probably wrote ‘Whoso List to Hunt’ some time during the 1530s, and the poem was published in the 1550s after his death.

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, hélas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Since in a net I seek to hold the wind. Read the rest of this entry

Five Fascinating Facts about Rupert Brooke

Some quick facts about celebrated poet Rupert Brooke and his short but interesting life

2015 marks the centenary of Rupert Brooke’s death, so we thought we’d offer some interesting facts about the life of one of Britain’s most popular war poets.

1. Rupert Brooke once went skinny-dipping with Virginia Woolf. This happened in Cambridge, where Brooke (1887-1915) was a student. He had won a scholarship to King’s College, Cambridge after writing a dissertation on Jacobean playwright John Webster and his debt to Elizabethan drama.

2. He was a huge influence on another celebrated war poet. Brooke was something of a hero to John Gillespie Magee, who would write one of the most famous poems of the Second World War, ‘High Flight‘. As well as that sonnet, Magee also wrote a ‘Sonnet to Rupert Brooke’. Magee also won the same poetry prize at Rugby School which Brooke had won some thirty years earlier. Read the rest of this entry

Five Fascinating Facts about William Faulkner

Fun facts about the life of William Faulkner, author of The Sound and the Fury

1. William Faulkner was born Falkner; according to one story, the ‘u’ was the result of a typesetting error Faulkner didn’t bother to correct. Curiously, Falkner’s  great-grandfather had been Colonel Faulkner but had removed the ‘u’ – William put it back. Faulkner (William, that is) was born in New Albany in Mississippi in 1897, the eldest of four sons.

2. The website Snopes.com took its name from the Snopes, an unpleasant family who feature in the works of William Faulkner. Faulkner’s Snopes Trilogy, comprising The HamletThe Town, and The Mansion, was published between 1940 and 1959 and centres on the Snopes family, a grasping and corrupt dynasty including a paedophile (Wesley), a pornographer, and a thief (this article has more Snopish detail). Perhaps because of the association between Faulkner’s corrupt fictional family and the corruption of facts which begets urban legends, when the website Snopes.com was launched in 1995 the founders looked to Faulkner’s work for a name. Read the rest of this entry

A Short Analysis of T. E. Hulme’s ‘The Embankment’

A brief introduction to one of modernism’s most important early poems

T. E. Hulme (1883-1917) was an influential poet and thinker in the first few years of the twentieth century. He left behind only a handful of short poems – our pick of which can be read here – but he revolutionised the way English poetry approached issues of rhyme, metre, and imagery. Few before Hulme had thought seriously to liken the moon to a child’s balloon or the ruddy face of a farmer, but Hulme was resolute that poetry, in the hands of the Victorians, had become stale and old, and needed to be reinvented.

In many ways Hulme’s masterpiece is the following poem, ‘The Embankment’, written around 1908-9 while Hulme was an active member of the Poets’ Club (later the Secession Club) in London:

The Embankment
(The fantasia of a fallen gentleman on a cold, bitter night)

Once, in finesse of fiddles found I ecstasy,
In a flash of gold heels on the hard pavement.
Now see I
That warmth’s the very stuff of poesy.
Oh, God, make small
The old star-eaten blanket of the sky,
That I may fold it round me and in comfort lie. Read the rest of this entry

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