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Dialect does it

Blake Morrison

5 December 1985
No Mate for the Magpie 
by Frances Molloy.
Virago, 170 pp., £7.95, April 1985, 0 86068 594 2
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The Mysteries 
by Tony Harrison.
Faber, 229 pp., £9.95, August 1985, 9780571137893
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Ukulele Music 
by Peter Reading.
Secker, 103 pp., £3.95, June 1985, 0 436 40986 0
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Hard Lines 2 
edited by Ian Dury, Pete Townshend, Alan Bleasdale and Fanny Dubes.
Faber, 95 pp., £2.50, June 1985, 0 571 13542 0
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No Holds Barred: The Raving Beauties choose new poems by women 
edited by Anna Carteret, Fanny Viner and Sue Jones-Davies.
Women’s Press, 130 pp., £2.95, June 1985, 0 7043 3963 3
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Katerina Brac 
by Christopher Reid.
Faber, 47 pp., £8.95, October 1985, 0 571 13614 1
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Skevington’s Daughter 
by Oliver Reynolds.
Faber, 88 pp., £8.95, September 1985, 0 571 13697 4
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Rhondda Tenpenn’orth 
by Oliver Reynolds.
10 pence
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Trio 4 
by Andrew Elliott, Leon McAuley and Ciaran O’Driscoll.
Blackstaff, 69 pp., £3.95, May 1985, 0 85640 333 4
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Mama Dot 
by Fred D’Aguiar.
Chatto, 48 pp., £3.95, August 1985, 0 7011 2957 3
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The Dread Affair: Collected Poems 
by Benjamin Zephaniah.
Arena, 112 pp., £2.95, August 1985, 9780099392507
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Long Road to Nowhere 
by Amryl Johnson.
Virago, 64 pp., £2.95, July 1985, 0 86068 687 6
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Mangoes and Bullets 
by John Agard.
Pluto, 64 pp., £3.50, August 1985, 0 7453 0028 6
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Ragtime in Unfamiliar Bars 
by Ron Butlin.
Secker, 51 pp., £3.95, June 1985, 0 436 07810 4
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True Confessions and New Clichés 
by Liz Lochhead.
Polygon, 135 pp., £3.95, July 1985, 0 904919 90 0
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Works in the Inglis Tongue 
by Peter Davidson.
Three Tygers Press, 17 pp., £2.50, June 1985
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Wild Places: Poems in Three Leids 
by William Neill.
Luath, 200 pp., £5, September 1985, 0 946487 11 1
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... with familiar choices in respect of obscurity and clarity: how much should the reader be made to take, ought there to be a glossary, ‘ee by gum’ or ‘eeh baah gum’? (The issues are raised by WilliamNeill when he prints two versions of the same poem on facing pages, both in dialect but one a good deal more dialectal than the other.) Since poets are not etymologists they may play fast and loose ...

Short Cuts

Rosemary Hill: Shakespeare’s Faces

7 January 2016
... to me, that if something is believed in or wanted for long enough, it will eventually materialise. From John Aubrey’s passing remark in 1665 that Stonehenge might have been built by druids, through William Stukeley’s obsessively detailed and almost entirely invented account of the druidic religion it took another hundred and fifty years, but in the early 20th century druids appeared at Stonehenge and ...

Money Man

Michael Neill: Shakespeare in Company

6 February 2014
Shakespeare in Company 
by Bart van Es.
Oxford, 357 pp., £25, February 2013, 978 0 19 956931 1
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... to make him a member of the ‘housekeepers’ whose investments set them apart from the mere ‘sharers’ in the company. The Globe, as James Shapiro reminded us in 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (2005), was ‘the first London theatre built by actors for actors’, but, by virtue of Shakespeare’s position there, it developed as ‘a playwright’s and not an actor’s theatre ...

Glimpsed in the Glare

Michael Neill: Shakespeare in 1606

17 December 2015
1606: William​ Shakespeare and the Year of Lear 
by James Shapiro.
Faber, 423 pp., £20, October 2015, 978 0 571 23578 0
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... with its own times, since ‘however much Shakespeare may have preferred to remain in the shadows, he can be glimpsed in the glare of what was going on around him.’ In 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, Shapiro observed the paradox that while Shakespeare ‘more so, perhaps, than any writer before or since … held the keys that opened the hearts and minds of others’, he ‘kept a ...

Shelley in Season

Richard Holmes

16 October 1980
The Unacknowledged Legislator: Shelley and Politics 
by P.M.S. Dawson.
Oxford, 312 pp., £16.50, June 1980, 0 19 812095 8
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Shelley and his World 
by Claire Tomalin.
Thames and Hudson, 128 pp., £5.95, July 1980, 9780500130681
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... People’; the other by the new concept of the ‘democratic revolution’, with its French and American antecedents – Godwin, of course, Tom Paine, Francis Burdett, Cartwright and, interestingly, William Hazlitt. Throughout, Dr Dawson pays Shelley the tribute – a rare one, as it would certainly have been in the days before the pioneering work of the American scholar Kenneth Neill Cameron – of ...

Wilderness of Tigers

Michael Neill: Shakespeare’s Latin

19 March 2015
Shakespeare and Classical Antiquity 
by Colin Burrow.
Oxford, 281 pp., £16.99, September 2013, 978 0 19 968479 3
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... tend to go along with sighing, crying or peevishness’, suggesting that ‘the acquisition of learning [was] a painful business.’ In The Merry Wives of Windsor, Parson Evans attempts to show off William Page’s learning to his mother; but when the boy admits he’s forgotten the declension of his pronouns, the schoolmaster at once threatens him with an educative thrashing: ‘If you forget your “ ...
22 August 1996
The Dictionary of National Biography 1986-1990 
edited by C.S. Nicholls.
Oxford, 607 pp., £50, June 1996, 0 19 865212 7
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... whom it is not easy to find information elsewhere. If we do not need it for Lord Blake’s long piece on Harold Macmillan, we certainly need it for the life of a lesser prime minister, Lord O’ Neill of Northern Ireland. This is the man, we are reminded, who on retirement said: ‘It is frightfully hard to explain to Protestants that if you give Roman Catholics a good job and a good house, they ...

Physicke from Another Body

Michael Neill: Cannibal Tinctures

1 December 2011
Medicinal Cannibalism in Early Modern English Literature and Culture 
by Louise Noble.
Palgrave Macmillan, 241 pp., £52, March 2011, 978 0 230 11027 4
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Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires: The History of Corpse Medicine from the Renaissance to the Victorians 
by Richard Sugg.
Routledge, 374 pp., £24.99, June 2011, 978 0 415 67417 1
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... Keogh recommended warm blood as a tonic for the falling sickness. In folk-belief Keogh’s prowess seems to have endowed the blood of all his descendants with mysterious properties, so that in 1883 William George Black recorded that Dubliners regarded Keogh blood as a proven remedy for the toothache, while an acquaintance claimed to know of a Belfast Keogh ‘whose flesh had actually been punctured ...

In the Shady Wood

Michael Neill: Staging the Forest

22 March 2018
TheShakespearean Forest 
by Anne Barton.
Cambridge, 185 pp., £75, August 2017, 978 0 521 57344 3
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...  For the wood is his house against all weathers.’ Declaring that the mantle served ‘unto the Irish as to a hedgehog his skin [enabling him] to live and lie out in bogs and woods’, Sir William Herbert argued that the only remedy would be to enforce a long-standing ban on native dress and drive the woodkerne from their forests. In Shakespeare’s own writing, the Irish forest and its ...

Ich dien

Michael Neill: Shakespeare and the Servants

22 October 2009
Shakespeare, Love and Service 
by David Schalkwyk.
Cambridge, 317 pp., £50, June 2008, 978 0 521 88639 0
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... masters and servants in many respects resembled that between parents and children – even if ‘a seruants place and dutie’ was acknowledged to be ‘of more abiect and inferiour kinde’, as William Gouge put it in Of Domesticall Duties (1622). By the mid-20th century, the material conditions of service had changed beyond recognition, yet the ideological assumptions that had governed the early ...

They would have laughed

Ferdinand Mount: The Massacre at Amritsar

4 April 2019
Amritsar 1919: An Empire of Fear and the Making of a Massacre 
by Kim A. Wagner.
Yale, 325 pp., £20, February, 978 0 300 20035 5
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... being accorded to a disgraced temporary brigadier. Only Collett puzzles over who could have given permission for this and fingers those notorious reactionaries and outspoken Dyer supporters, Sir William Joynson-Hicks, the home secretary, and Sir Laming Worthington-Evans, then war secretary, but he can find no trace of the necessary arrangements in the papers of either ‘Jix’ or ‘Worthy ...

Old Dad dead?

Michael Neill: Thomas Middleton

4 December 2008
Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works 
edited by Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino.
Oxford, 2016 pp., £85, November 2007, 978 0 19 818569 7
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Thomas Middleton and Early Modern Textual Culture: A Companion to the Collected Works 
edited by Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino.
Oxford, 1183 pp., £100, November 2007, 978 0 19 818570 3
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... Middleton’s father was a prosperous London building contractor, while Shakespeare’s was a glover who rose to become an alderman of Stratford-upon-Avon. Both fathers were socially ambitious: William Middleton bought himself a coat of arms from the College of Heralds in 1568, thereby securing the all-important right for himself and his successors to style themselves ‘gentleman’ – a feat ...

Toxic Lozenges

Jenny Diski: Arsenic

8 July 2010
The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain Was Poisoned at Home, Work and Play 
by James Whorton.
Oxford, 412 pp., £16.99, January 2010, 978 0 19 957470 4
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... period, so to speak, seems to have been between roughly 1850 and 1925, and the murderers whose reputation has stood the test of time are the following: Dr Palmer of Rugeley, Jack the Ripper, Neill Cream, Mrs Maybrick, Dr Crippen, Seddon, Joseph Smith, Armstrong, and Bywaters and Thompson. Orwell discounts Jack the Ripper as an altogether special artisan of murder, but of the remaining eight ...

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