Revising (and Reviving) History through Fiction

Photo by Flickr user History Books

Photo by Flickr user History Books

 

“History takes a long time for us to reach.”

That rather obvious statement was made by a former president of the United States, George W. Bush, when reflecting upon his legacy. While some sneered that his B.A. in history from Yale University meant little, this was not the only time that Bush proved he had learned a little something about the topic. He told Brian Williams in 2006, “There’s no such thing as short-term history, as far as I’m concerned.” He also famously said, “History. We don’t know. We’ll all be dead.” (In Plan of Attack, by Bob Woodward)

While it is possible to view these quotes as simple explanations of a basic fact of human existence – time adds upon time adds upon time – or as an attempt to avoid responsibility, Bush was actually getting at something profoundly true. While we may view history as that most unchanging of all things, forever frozen in place, experience suggests otherwise. Continue reading

The Queen of England’s Budget Crisis

The oh-so-shiny Imperial Crown of India, part of Queen's Elizabeth's Crown Jewels. Flickr photo by Pietro & Silvia.

The oh-so-shiny Imperial Crown of India, part of Queen’s Elizabeth’s Crown Jewels. Flickr photo by Pietro & Silvia.

I woke up this morning to what can only be described as a sign of the apocalypse: The Queen of England is out of money!  How can this be?!

Yes, in case you missed it, the British House of Commons’ public accounts committee has just released a report in which it states that the Queen’s reserve fund has dwindled from £35 million in 2001 to a measly £1 million today.  While many UK government departments have been making sweeping cuts as part of the coalition government’s austerity drive over the last few years, Her Majesty’s household has only managed to trim its expenses by 5%. Continue reading

Richard III: Shakespearean Hit Job?

STC 22314, title page

First page of the first edition of William Shakespeare’s play “Richard III”

England’s King Richard III has been experiencing a bit of  renaissance lately after his remains were discovered underneath a carpark (a.k.a. parking lot) in Leicester, UK last year.  Of particular interest has been the debate over whether or not Shakespeare’s portrayal of the late king in his famous play Richard III is historically accurate.  Scholars had suspected for some time that the villainous, deformed version of Richard that appears in the Bard’s script could have been a clever form of Tudor-era propaganda – the Tudors being the English royal dynasty that unseated Richard III and would have been keen to emphasize his illegitimacy as king.

The discovery of Richard III’s skeleton has now proved that at least two details in Shakespeare’s play were incorrect: the king did not have a withered hand, and while he did suffer from scoliosis (side-to-side curvature of the spine), descriptions of a hideous hunchback were exaggerated.  As for the many crimes that Shakespeare alleges – murdering his two nephews and a brother while manipulating his way to the throne – the Richard III Society offers a spirited defense for him.

In addition, a mock trial at Indiana University’s law school  in 1996, presided over by former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William Rehnquist and other legal experts, found Richard III not guilty of murdering the two princes.  Taking all of this into consideration, and remembering that the play was written more than a century after Richard’s death, it seems quite likely that at least part of Shakespeare’s tale was invention. Continue reading

To Be a Royal Baby

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia user Carfax2

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia user Carfax2

The international media is buzzing about the imminent arrival of Britain’s newest royal baby, the son or daughter of Prince William and Princess Catherine, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.  A simple Google search turns up countless pages of speculation about the baby’s sex, due date, name, and nursery decorations.  Even before birth, this child is among the most famous celebrities in the world.  Such treatment is not particularly out of the ordinary for the offspring of the rich and famous.  Consider, for example, the similar attention given to the recent pregnancies of Kim Kardashian, Angelina Jolie, or Katie Holmes.  But unlike those children, the baby about to make its way into Will and Kate’s family is destined to sit on an actual throne.  Thanks to a recent act of parliament, that will be the case regardless of whether the child is a boy or girl, since it will be the first born.

Even though it is a mostly symbolic position at this point, the opportunity to be a member of British royalty still carries with it a pedigree that cannot be matched by any other family on earth, at least as far as the tabloids are concerned.  For young Edward, Jane, George, or Matilda (I’m pulling for that last one if it’s a girl), a normal life is completely impossible.  He or she will have every moment in public documented a thousand times over, from the christening at St. George’s Chapel inside Windsor Castle, to the first day of school at Eton, to games of polo at Martha’s Vineyard and canoodling with equally posh members of the opposite sex in the Swiss Alps.

Speculation is now mounting that Kate has actually passed her due date, and I am not surprised.  As I remarked to the cashier at the local Barnes & Noble cafe this past weekend, if I were the royal baby, I would want to stay tucked away from the world as long as possible, knowing that these were the last few private, undictated moments I was every likely to have.  Savor your final moments as the paprazzi’s favorite celebrity offspring, Suri Cruise.  Within a few days, it will be time for Charles, or Margaret, or Stephen, or maybe even Matilda.