Daily Archives: September 16, 2014

The Scottish Referendum And a 17th-century Braveheart

By Vimala C. Pasupathi

For a Hofstra professor currently teaching English 60, “Constructing British Literature,” Thursday’s vote on a referendum on Scottish Independence from the United Kingdom is an exciting event that reinforces many of the points I make for my (usually) American students about the status of “The United Kingdom” and its relationship to “Britain”––in particular, it reminds us that these are political designations as much as geographical ones, and that these terms we use in class to describe geographical regions are not stable terms. The Referendum also helps make clear that the shifting relationships we see in our investigation of literature from England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland in the period the course covers (rather improbably, about 800 to 1798) continue to shift even now.

As a scholar who has studied the relationship between Scotland and England for more than a decade in my research, I find the news about the Referendum interesting for reasons that extend beyond the classroom. Over the past ten years, I’ve written about Anglo-Scottish relations in a variety of contexts, though primarily my interests center on how they are represented in 16th- and 17th century works composed for dramatic performance. For instance, examining plays like Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1605) and 1 Henry IV (1596) and Henry V (1599), I’ve noted that the playwright’s Scotsmen are almost exclusively soldiers, and that Shakespeare identifies these men as powerful martialists with changeable loyalties––an instability rooted in Scotland’s military traditions and in what English writers saw as a mercenary culture that could not be trusted. I’ve also written about an amateur playwright, parliamentarian, and horse-racing enthusiast, John Newdigate, who removed the character of a Scottish jockey from one of his plays as tension between the English and the Scots mounted in the 1630s over Charles I’s imposition of an Anglican prayerbook in the Scottish church. The two versions of Newdigate’s play that we’ve found show that even a private citizen might feel pressure to censor himself in creating entertainment for his friends and family, excising from the later version of the play all references to “the North” as well as the joking jockey with a distinct Northern or Scottish dialect.

Valiant Scot Titlepage

Taken by Vimala C. Pasupathi at the Folger Shakespeare Library, STC 24910 Copy 2.

I’ve also written about another play called The Valiant Scot (composed in the 1620s), which features the Scottish “freedom fighter” William Wallace and depicts his rebellion against the English monarch who took the throne in 12th Century Scotland by way of military force. This play, a seventeenth-century analog to the American film Braveheart, takes up the issue of union and broken alliances in explicit fashion, encouraging audiences to consider the political status of both countries from its very first scene. In its opening, we see English noblemen boast about their new status as “rulers over Scotland” (1.1.2-3); one observes, “they are a Nation / Haughty and full of spleen, and must be manag’d /With straighter reins and rougher bitts.” (1.1.6-10).

Another disagrees; “I find them easie, tractable and mild,” he asserts, and insists that “Authority may with a slender twine / Hold in the strongest head” (1.1.11-17)  Continue reading


Byron in Georgia: Julia Markus at the International Byron Conference

photograph of Tblisi at sunset

“Tbilisi sunset-6” by Vladimer Shioshvili – Flickr: Tbilisi sunset. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tbilisi_sunset-6.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Tbilisi_sunset-6.jpg

The trip from Connecticut  to the Fortieth International Byron Conference held in Tbilisi, Georgia this June was  complicated enough as to make me admire Lord Byron  for having gotten there by horse two centuries previously.  As I found out at the crowded opening ceremony,   Byron only dreamed of getting to Georgia—2 lines in one poem,  1 line in another.

Painting of Lord Byron

«Lord Byron in Albanian dress» de Thomas Phillips – Desconocido. Disponible bajo la licencia Public domain vía Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lord_Byron_in_Albanian_dress.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Lord_Byron_in_Albanian_dress.jpg

As the present Lord Byron said in his opening remarks that evening,  the tv cameras and media following his every word,   Byron’s “DNA” was finally  making this trip in the poet’s  honor.  Both he and his cousin the  Earl of Lytton  attended and participated in the week-long  Byron conference..  The hospitality of the Georgians was unending.   I spoke the second morning, as on the first day we were offered  a trip to the country that ended  with an enormous out -door feast including dancing under the stars to Georgian music, Greek music, and finally rock and roll!   We didn’t roll back to our Tbilisi  hotel till one that morning.  Still, there was Lord Lytton,  Lady Byron’s direct descendant,  in the first row,  bright and early that next morning,  to hear me discuss  Sir Walter Scott’s awe of  Lady Byron  whose ill-fated one -year marriage  to Lord Byron  had  ended in scandal.   A reinterpretation of that marriage and Lord Byron’s  angry reaction to it in his poetry will be part of my   biography of  “Lady Byron After Love”  (W.W. Norton in Fall, 2015).

The entire  week in the Republic of Georgia was a most moving  and varied experience.  One day we all visited Gori   where Stalin was born and toured the controversial Stalin museum which many Georgians object to and others point out as part of their heritage–Stalin remains, after all,–  Georgian.

Photlo of monumnet enclosing Stalin's birthplace

“Stalin birth house” by Nenad Bumbic – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stalin_birth_house.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Stalin_birth_house.jpg

That evening the municipality of Gori offered all eighty of us a magnificent feast. In the middle of  the eating and drinking and toasting,  the head of the municipality brought the news that Georgia had just signed a trade agreement with the  European Union.  The explosion of joy was incredible, even though we were far from  the fireworks and concerts that spontaneously erupted in Tbilisi.   The desire of the Georgians to be part of the West  overwhelms one.   Lord Byron wished to fight for Greek independence  two centuries ago.  In Georgia today, the poet  remains  the symbolic  champion of  political liberty.  In that sense,  Georgia shares the poet’s dream.

Julia Markus

“Thence shall I stray through Beauty’s native clime,
Where Kaff is clad in rocks, and crowned with snows sublime.” –Byron, “English Bards, And Scotch Reviewers”

Find more information about Professor Markus and “Lady Byron After Love” at JuliaMarkusWrites.

Democratic Republic of Georgia map.jpg
Democratic Republic of Georgia map“. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.