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Why the richest woman in Britain changed her will 26 times

Mark Kishlansky: The Duchess of Marlborough

14 November 2002
The Favourite: Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough 
by Ophelia Field.
Hodder, 575 pp., £20, June 2002, 9780340768075
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... an important political force. Though her memoirs tie her inextricably to Queen Anne, she enjoyed the Queen’s favour for probably less than the first two years of Anne’s rule. Many biographies, OpheliaField’s among them, rely too heavily on Sarah’s own interpretation of her life. If it was said of Winston Churchill that you spent the first hour becoming acquainted with his vices and the rest ...

Two Poems

Ted Hughes

21 February 1980
... Unfinished Mystery Enter Hamlet, stabbed, no longer baffled, Stepping across his mother, drowned in a pearl, Carrying lifeless Ophelia. Now enter Stabbed Othello, enlightened at last, From his cistern of toad-genderings, bearing Suffocated Desdemona. Now enter Headless Macbeth, regicide killed in him, Stepping from the cauldron of ...

Whirligig

Barbara Everett: Thinking about Hamlet

2 September 2004
... and when she or one like her is destroyed in the quest for dynastic power, Wyatt frames the harshly simple line, ‘These bloody days have broken my heart.’ The shadow of such a phrase falls across Ophelia. Other Roman shadows enter Shakespeare’s play, the most obvious being the name of Hamlet’s stepfather, changed from all the sources. Claudius was Nero’s stepfather and predecessor on the ...

Last Word

John Charap

19 November 1981
The Physicists: A Generation that Changed the World 
by C.P. Snow.
Macmillan, 191 pp., £8.95, September 1981, 0 333 32228 2
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... Wolfgang Pauli’s prohibition, ‘Let no man join what God has put asunder’) took place in Dirac’s 1928 paper on the relativistic electron. And from that union has come relativistic quantum field theory, the doppelgänger to particle physics. Particles and fields are different descriptions of the same reality: space is a plenum all aquiver with interactions. The electromagnetic field, which ...

Brute Nature

Rosemary Dinnage

6 March 1997
Masters of Bedlam: The Transformation of the Mad-Doctoring Trade 
by Andrew Scull, Charlotte Mackenzie and Nicholas Hervey.
Princeton, 363 pp., £23, February 1997, 0 691 03411 7
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... doctoring, through the career of Sir Alexander Morison, so wonderfully painted by Dadd. Like Haslam, Conolly and Browne, he received his medical training at Edinburgh. His entrée into the private field was gained when he became personal physician to a Scottish peer with good social contacts. He was spared the daily sight of walls daubed in blood and shit, though he did act as visiting physician to ...
7 March 1996
Shakespeare at Work 
by John Jones.
Oxford, 293 pp., £35, December 1995, 0 19 811966 6
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... collected edition, the Folio of 1623. His method is demonstrated on the first page by this example: SHALLOW: O, Sir John, do you remember since we lay all night in the Windmill in Saint George’s Field? SIR JOHN: No more of that, good Master Shallow, no more of that. SHALLOW: Ha, ’twas a merry night! And is Jane Nightwork alive? SIR JOHN: She lives, Master Shallow. The italicised words ...

Sleepwalker on a Windowledge

Adam Mars-Jones: Carmen Maria Machado

7 March 2019
Her Body & Other Parties 
by Carmen Maria Machado.
Serpent’s Tail, 245 pp., £8.99, January, 978 1 78125 953 5
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... mall: Bright teal slips and dusky pink thunderpuff, the Bella series, the one the colour of bees. Mermaid cuts in salt-flat white; trumpet-style in algae red; princess gowns in liver purple. The Ophelia, which looks perpetually wet. Emma Wants a Second Chance, the exact shade of a doe standing in a shadow. The Banshee, with its strategically shredded, milk-coloured silk.In ‘Mothers’ the lushly ...

Brooke’s Benefit

Anthony Powell

16 April 1981
... friend seems constantly rising in rank, while Reynard suddenly finds himself treated as a deserter. The book ends with his arrest, facing a sentence of a hundred lashes and a fortnight’s field-punishment. The Image of a Drawn Sword, in its way not inferior to Kafka (though Brooke had read no Kafka at the time the novel was written), has a haunting sinister quality very well maintained. One ...

American Manscapes

Richard Poirier

12 October 1989
Manhood and the American Renaissance 
by David Leverenz.
Cornell, 372 pp., $35.75, April 1989, 0 8014 2281 7
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... kind of criticism doesn’t, of the way literary traditions and the modes of literary representation help create a canonical aura for some writers more than for others. Once the negotiating field for admission to the canon becomes so bound by local circumstance as it is in this book, there follows the inevitable question of how a writer canonical in one period ever manages to hold onto his ...

In the Body Bag

Adam Mars-Jones: Ian McEwan’s ‘Nutshell’

5 October 2016
Nutshell 
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 198 pp., £16.99, September 2016, 978 1 911214 33 5
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... to think of people with penises as men’) caused a certain amount of offence. When​ Paul Griffiths wrote his novel let me tell you, published in 2008, he made the formalist decision to narrate Ophelia’s life story using only her idiolect in the play – a vocabulary of 483 words. Good luck trying to voice personal grievances or casual opinions about cultural trends through that! The chosen ...

Faint Sounds of Shovelling

John Kerrigan: The History of Tragedy

20 December 2018
Ladies’ Greek: Victorian Translations of Tragedy 
by Yopie Prins.
Princeton, 297 pp., £24, April 2017, 978 0 691 14189 3
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Greek Tragic Women on Shakespearean Stages 
by Tanya Pollard.
Oxford, 331 pp., £60, September 2017, 978 0 19 879311 3
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Eclipse of Action: Tragedy and Political Economy 
by Richard Halpern.
Chicago, 313 pp., £34, April 2017, 978 0 226 43365 3
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Samson Agonistes: A Redramatisation after Milton 
by John Kinsella.
Arc, 109 pp., £10.99, October 2018, 978 1 911469 55 1
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... this to surface? One explanation must lie in the gender mismatch between the female protagonists of antiquity and such characters as Titus and Hamlet. It needed a feminist scholar to review the whole field for the map of influence to emerge. A second reason lies in what Pollard identifies as ‘a longstanding tradition of English exceptionalism’ that ‘has presented the British Isles as isolated ...

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