William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) British
Dramatist and poet
The colossous who bestrode English literary scene with his immortal plays so diverse in subject, unrivalled in brilliance and depth, ironically remains still an enigma. Even its authorship has been doubted by scholars and critics who have analysed his plays – confronted with works of such grandeur can not attribute their authorship to who had such a humble beginnings.
It is true that all known facts of his life would fill only a page or two; He was born at Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire in the year 1564, probably on April 23, the son of John Shakespeare, a yeoman who later became an alderman at Startford.
William courted Anne Hathaway (1582), daughter of a substantial yeoman, who was eight years older to him. At the age of eighteen he married her. Later we hear him making a name in London as a playwright and actor. In those days and times a playwright was a mere play – provider – a man of the theatre, a master of the company, whose sole duty was to provide text. It was unheard of printing a mere playwright’s story, especially one who was not even of courtly status.
So little is known of his career in London. He appears to have been a handy man and a play provider rather than an actor at the Globe and other theatres. It was not until seven years after his death that two of his old friends and fellow actors saw to the production of the First Folio of his play. Similarly it was not until nearly a hundred years after Shakespeare’s death that his first biography appeared. We may have to rest content for want of better proof in the adage, “the life of an artist survives not in his biography but in the products of his art.”
But if his plays tell us little about himself, they reveal a mind rich in the knowledge of his fellow creatures with their greatness and their faults. He was a warm, pleasant and unassuming companion, the local boy who made good by his sharp business sense, was a boon companion as vouched by many of his contemporaries.
One day Burbage who played Richard III in the Bard’s Company made a tryst for the night with a lady and the password for her chamber was Richard III. Overhearing this the Bard knocked at the lady’s door and gained admission using the password. While they were making merry the actor knocked at the door. In response the Bard sent word to Burbage that William the Conqueror was before Richard the Third.
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Posted in personalities, tagged atheism, Bruno, Descartes, dualism, Dutch, eternal order, ethics, excommunication, Goethe, inquisition, modes, Philosopher, Uriel a Costa on August 24, 2011|
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Spinoza, Baruch (1632-1677) Dutch
The greatest of the modern philosophers brought rational approach to the enquiry of great questions like God and human destiny. He laid the groundwork for the 18th century Enlightenment. His masterpiece Ethics never found light of the day in his lifetime. The reason was simple. He was excommunicated* for his heretical thinking from the Jewish community in Amsterdam and the odium of it had preceded his brief life; however stoicism of his race was in his blood as a result of persecution running through centuries, and made him think his own thoughts and make a living by an useful trade of polishing lenses. If he, despite all odds became the greatest ( Frederick Hegel on one occasion speaking to his contemporaries said thus: ‘You are either Spinozit or not a philosopher at all.’) it still owed to his Jewish identity. The fact that he was born a Jew was both a curse and a blessing.
All his works were put on the proscribed list (index librorum prohibitorum) by the Roman Catholic Church. He was greatly influenced by Bruno (1548-1600) whose dictum, ‘all reality is one substance’ naturally would make him oppose Descartes’ mind-body dualism. Bruno perished under inquisition and if the Catholic Church proscribed Spinoza the reason was obvious.
Spinoza’s thinking however latched on to an idea of Descartes that all forms of matter had a ‘homogeneous’ substance, and it propelled him in the direction his precocious mind was taking, and served as light clearing many dark recesses of doubts on way. In 1656 he was excommunicated on charges of heresy and the upshot of it was his father refused to receive him and his sister tried to cheat him out of a small inheritance. (He contested the case in court and won. He duly handed the bequest over to his sister.) Rejected by his family and friends, an assassination attempt on his life made him leave Amsterdam. He changed his name to Bernard de Spinoza and disciplined his life to extreme thrift. He was happy living within his modest means and many influential men of his day found him stimulating and his company congenial. Some of them offered help but he refused stipends and money saying, ‘Nature is satisfied with little; if she is, I am also.’
He finally settled in The Hague in 1670 economically secure and surrounded by rich and powerful friends who looked up to him with great respect.
As a person he was of middle size, his face pleasing, and skin somewhat darker and his hair curly and eyebrows dark and long stamping his Portuguese ancestry in his looks.
Spinoza chose not to found a sect and he founded none and yet philosophy after him was permeated with his thought. The great German polymath Goethe was converted after one reading of Ethics and also was cured of wild romanticism of his past. Spinoza supplied what his yearning soul had sought, dass wir entsagen sollen-‘that we must accept the limitations Nature puts on us.’
There is a statue of him at The Hague erected from public subscription collected from every part of the educated world. At the unveiling of it (1882) Ernest Renan made a moving speech at the conclusion he said thus.’ This man from his granite pedestal, will point out to all men, the way of all blessedness which he found; and ages hence, the cultivated traveler, passing by this spot, will say in his heart, ‘the truest vision ever had of God came, perhaps, here.’
In 1656 the 24-year old Spinoza was summoned before the elders to answer the charges of heresy. One of the sticking points was his doubt regarding the belief in another life. The Synagogue was concerned such a view, contrary to the essence of Christianity would seem inimical to the community that had welcomed them into their midst. For their security in the host country the Dutch Calvinists had to be appeased and no cost was to be reckoned too little. The same mindset that had prompted Caiaphas to say about Jesus was alive in the elders of his time. (‘It was expedient that one man should die for the people’- Jn.18: 14) If the Synagogue had not spared Jesus or Uriel a Costa it was not going to spare the young Spinoza either.
The young skeptic was offered $500 in annuity for his silence and outward loyalty to the Synagogue and his faith. He refused.
On July 27, 1656, he was excommunicated with all the somber formalities of Hebrew ritual. During the reading of the curse, wailing of the great horn was heard and lights were put out one after the other, indicating the quenching of spiritual life of the man under curse. Spinoza took it under quite courage. He did not join another sect for comfort and determined, as he was to seek his own salvation. The form of the Synagogue and shape of elders that guided it was a mode far from the ‘substance’ of God that moved him. Mode pandered to circumstances and compromised wherever it suited while his soul was ever fixed. His life was his proof to his thought.
(ack: Will Durant- The story of Philosophy: Pub. The Washington Square Press-1964)
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Posted in notice on August 10, 2011|
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I shall not be able to blog as I was used to at least for some time. Here is wishing all my readers everything that I can wish for myself and lastly but not the least my thanks go to the movers and shakers of WordPress without whose help I would have been speechless.
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HENRY VIII (1491-1547)
Prince Henry the son of Henry VII became a king(1509) by chance. A gifted man and larger than life in appetites he was determined to leave his mark on the history of England. His father had found Catherine of Aragon for Prince Arthur, as the means of diplomatic alliance between England and Spain. On his untimely death his father by special permission from the Pope arranged marriage for his other surviving son. Much of Henry VIII troubles would stem from his decision to be his own man and rule by his counsel alone. As a gesture of how his reign would proceed, one of Henry’s first decisions was to order the arrest of Sir Richard Empson and Edward Dudley – the two men who had been responsible for implementing Henry VII’s financial measures.
King Henry VIII was not the “universal genius” that Erasmus labelled him but he was a shrewd judge of merit in people and Thomas More and Cardinal Wolsey were of exceptional gifts to guide the kingdom from the troubled times his father had inherited. In outthinking some of Europe’s monarchs, Francis I of France for example he required them.
It was very important to Henry that his wife should give birth for the continuation of the House of Tudor. Catherine gave birth to six children but five died within a few weeks of being born. Only one child, Mary, survived into adulthood. Ever since 1524 Henry had been planning to divorce Katherine. It was inevitable that he developed intimacy with Anne Boleyn (1526) Katherine’s maid of honour. Anne’s biographer, Eric Ives, has argued: “At first, however, Henry had no thought of marriage. He saw Anne as someone to replace her sister, Mary (wife of one of the privy chamber staff, William Carey), who had just ceased to be the royal mistress… Henry decided by the spring of 1527 that he had never validly been married and that his first marriage must be annulled…. However, Anne continued to refuse his advances, and the king realized that by marrying her he could kill two birds with one stone, possess Anne and gain a new wife.” From a simple equation of resolving a private domestic quarrel it was blown into the proportions that neither the king nor Pope Clement II had foreseen.
When Katherine discovered Henry’s plans she informed King Charles (Carlos) of Spain and Emperor Charles (Karl) V of the Holy Roman Empire. Unwilling to upset any one of these two powerful monarchs the Pope put off making a decision about Henry’s marriage.
In March 1534 he eventually made his decision. He announced that Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn was invalid. Henry reacted by declaring that the Pope no longer had authority in England. In November 1534, Parliament passed an act that stated that Henry VIII was now the Head of the Church of England. Thomas More did not support the king that led him to the Tower and execution. Anne would later be beheaded but it was she who introduced Henry to the books of Protestant writers such as William Tyndale.( She pointed out that in Obedience of a Christian Man, Tyndale had argued that kings had authority over the church.) Through her Thomas Cromwell who supported the ideas of Tyndale would supplant Sir. Thomas More.
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