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The Last Whale

Colin Burrow, 4 June 2020

Ahab’s Rolling Sea: A Natural History of Moby-Dick 
by Richard J. King.
Chicago, 430 pp., £23, November 2019, 978 0 226 51496 3
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Complete Poems 
by Herman Melville, edited by Hershel Parker.
Library of America, 990 pp., £37.99, August 2019, 978 1 59853 618 8
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... to inspect a sperm whale’s penis? This is one of the many intrepid expeditions undertaken by Richard King in the course of researching Ahab’s Rolling Sea. His book, like Moby-Dick itself, tells you everything you ever wanted to know about whales but were too ashamed to ask. The fact that the sperm whale’s penis, or ‘grandissimus’, is four ...

Which play was performed at the Globe Theatre on 7 February 1601?

Blair Worden: A Play for Plotters, 10 July 2003

... and was among those executed after the rebellion. ‘The play,’ he averred, ‘was of King Harry the 4th, and of the killing of King Richard II.’ Third, on 18 February, one of the players, Augustine Phillips, in signed testimony given under oath, described the play as ‘the play of the deposing and ...

The King and I

Alan Bennett, 30 January 1992

... autumn I bought, at Deighton Bell in Trinity Street, a copy of George III and the Politicians by Richard Pares, a book I have still, my name written in it by a friend, as I disliked my handwriting then as I do now. It was a detailed, allusive book, demanding a more thorough knowledge of 18th-century politics than a schoolboy could be expected to have, but I ...

Improving the Plays

Frank Kermode, 7 March 1996

Shakespeare at Work 
by John Jones.
Oxford, 293 pp., £35, December 1995, 0 19 811966 6
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... in argument, that anybody with a genuine interest in Shakespeare, and particularly in Hamlet, King Lear and Othello, should read it for pleasure and then reread it to pick quarrels about details. Jones’s material is drawn principally from readings in earlier Shakespearean texts that differ from those of the collected edition, the Folio of 1623. His ...

Female Bandits? What next!

Wendy Doniger: The incarnations of Robin Hood, 22 July 2004

Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography 
by Stephen Knight.
Cornell, 247 pp., £14.50, May 2003, 0 8014 3885 3
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... or at least unprovable, that a Mr R. Hood ever existed,’ though, for some people, Robin Hood, King Arthur ‘and even God himself all existed because of their manifold presence in human life and culture’. Knight concludes that ‘Robin Hood’s biography is mythic in that the multiform figure does not have physical identity.’ His biography is thus ...

Bring out the lemonade

Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite: What the Welsh got right, 7 April 2022

Brittle with Relics: A History of Wales, 1962-97 
by Richard King.
Faber, 526 pp., £25, February, 978 0 571 29564 7
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... Tip 7 was not an act of God but an avoidable tragedy.These two submerged villages are central to Richard King’s oral history of Wales – or, really, of Welsh-language activism and Welsh nationalism – in the late 20th century. The injustices and catastrophes caused by the government in Westminster weren’t the only thing that stimulated Welsh ...

Because It’s Ugly

Jonathan Rosen: Double-Crested Cormorants, 9 October 2014

The Double-Crested Cormorant: Plight of a Feathered Pariah 
by Linda Wires.
Yale, 349 pp., £20, June 2014, 978 0 300 18711 3
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... getting some decent attention lately. Last year saw the publication of The Devil’s Cormorant by Richard King, a fine study of several species of the bird on several continents, as well as an argument against its shabby treatment in the US. In 2012 Denis Wild published The Double-Crested Cormorant: Symbol of Ecological Conflict. A decade earlier, Lyanda ...

Go to the Devil

David Carpenter: Richard II, 22 July 2010

Richard II: Manhood, Youth and Politics, 1377-99 
by Christopher Fletcher.
Oxford, 336 pp., £24.95, August 2010, 978 0 19 959571 6
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... By far the most striking image of Richard II is the one found in the great portrait of him, crowned and enthroned, which still survives in Westminster Abbey. Painted in the 1390s, when the king was in his twenties, it gives him a slightly boyish, even feminine appearance, with red cheeks, full lips and a small goatee beard ...

King shall hold kingdom

Tom Shippey: Æthelred the Unready, 30 March 2017

Æthelred: The Unready 
by Levi Roach.
Yale, 369 pp., £30, September 2016, 978 0 300 19629 0
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... Levi Roach​ ’s book is an attempt to redeem the reputation of Æthelred II, king of England, with one interruption, from 978 to 1016. This is a hard task, as the book’s title concedes: Æthelred has been known as ‘the Unready’ for around a thousand years. Ever since 1066 and All That (originally a parody of Oxford University exam papers) he has also been logged as ‘the first Weak King of England ...

Done for the State

John Guy: The House of York, 2 April 2020

The Brothers York: An English Tragedy 
by Thomas Penn.
Penguin, 688 pp., £12.99, April, 978 0 7181 9728 5
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Richard III: The Self-Made King 
by Michael Hicks.
Yale, 388 pp., £25, October 2019, 978 0 300 21429 1
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... a blizzard on Palm Sunday, he took the throne from the weak, ineffectual Henry VI and was crowned King Edward IV.Usurpers were plentiful in the 15th century. Edward’s claim was by lineal descent from Edward III, and was a strong one if you ignored the deposition of Richard II in 1399. In the mid-1450s, ...

Knights of the King and Keys

Ian Aitken, 7 March 1991

A Dubious Codicil: An Autobiography by 
by Michael Wharton.
Chatto, 261 pp., £15.99, December 1990, 0 7011 3064 4
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The House the Berrys built 
by Duff Hart-Davis.
Hodder, 299 pp., £16.95, April 1990, 3 405 92526 6
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Lords of Fleet Street: The Harmsworth Dynasty 
by Richard Bourne.
Unwin Hyman, 258 pp., £16.95, October 1990, 0 04 440450 6
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... determination to get drunk. In this aim they were all too successful, so that a visit to the King (it was always singular in conversation, even if the sign over the door said otherwise) and Keys was liable to be hazardous for a relatively sober Expressman. Fights were frequent, bawling arguments were perpetual, and many of the participants were senior ...

King Cling

Julian Bell: Kings and Collectors, 5 April 2018

Charles I: King and Collector 
Royal Academy, London, until 15 April 2018Show More
Charles II: Art and Power 
Queen’s Gallery/London, until 13 May 2018Show More
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... Perched​ on one platform, King Charles I; perched on another, the Dutch painter Daniel Mytens; lowered in between them, a canvas some two feet taller than the king, who was reportedly of small stature. If, as an inscription on the finished portrait insists, the likeness was painted ad vivum, then this might have been the way to do it ...

Unction and Slaughter

Simon Walker: Edward IV, 10 July 2003

Arthurian Myths and Alchemy: The Kingship of Edward IV 
by Jonathan Hughes.
Sutton, 354 pp., £30, October 2002, 0 7509 1994 9
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... When Richard, Duke of York, laid claim to the English throne in 1460, he presented himself as a physician, sent to heal the ills of the kingdom. In partnership with his apothecaries, the faithful Commons, he would probe ‘the root and bottom of this long-festered canker’ and separate ‘the clean and pure stuff from the old, corrupt and putrefied dregs ...

A Frisson in the Auditorium

Blair Worden: Shakespeare without Drama, 20 April 2017

How Shakespeare Put Politics on the Stage: Power and Succession in the History Plays 
by Peter Lake.
Yale, 666 pp., £25, November 2016, 978 0 300 22271 5
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... Queen Elizabeth. The greater part of the book explores the plays about English history: the six King Henry plays and two King Richard plays, which relate the origins and course of the Wars of the Roses, and King John. But there are also extensive discussions of the contemporary ...

Occasions for Worship

Simon Walker, 4 September 1997

Richard II 
by Nigel Saul.
Yale, 528 pp., £25, April 1997, 0 300 07003 9
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... Each generation fashions its own image of Richard II. To his contemporaries, Richard’s fate was an admonitory instance of changing fortune: the King fell in the midst of his glory and was delivered into the hands of his enemies. To historians of the Tudor age, Richard’s deposition by one of his subjects was a terrible warning of the dangers of rebellion, bequeathing to succeeding generations a legacy of bloodshed and civil strife ...

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