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Archive for October, 2011

The new film Anonymous offers one of several theories about whether Shakespeare wrote his own plays. Theories surrounding Shakespeare’s authorship of his plays focus on whether he had enough education to do so and whether a learned man who was a noble, and therefore, feared people would think it beneath him to write the plays, may have asked Shakespeare to take the credit for them. Scholars have debated these questions for years and will continue to do so.

Few people, other than Shakespearean scholars, know that besides the thirty-seven plays generally attributed to Shakespeare, there are a group of “apocryphal” plays that have been attributed to him, either with him being the author in full or in part. Even editions of Shakespeare’s works that include these apocryphal plays do not always include all of the same ones, including The Birth of Merlin. In all, over forty additional plays have been attributed to Shakespeare besides the thirty-seven usually agreed upon as his work.

The Birth of Merlin—the only Arthurian play ever attributed to Shakespeare—first had Shakespeare’s name placed on it when it was published in 1662. The play is noticeably absent from the First Folio of his plays published in 1623. In fact, it was not performed on stage until 1622—six years after Shakespeare’s death. It has been attributed to Shakespeare with William Rowley as co-author. Most scholars believe Rowley wrote the play himself and Shakespeare’s name got attached to it to give it popularity. Rowley was himself a playwright who lived from 1585-1626.

William Shakespare First Folio

The first page of The First Folio, the first collection of Shakespeare's plays. The Birth of Merlin is noticeably absent from it.

After having read The Birth of Merlin, I personally feel it unlikely it was written by Shakespeare. It has some elements typical of Shakespeare—such as iambic pentameter and nobles speaking in verse while commoners speak in prose—but these were common in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. My first thought was that it could be a very early play of Shakespeare’s—at best it might be ranked with his early Titus Andronicus, but even that play is far more dramatic and has a stronger plot. And since it wasn’t performed until 1622, it is unlikely a part of Shakespearian juvenilia—and Shakespeare retired after The Tempest, one of his best plays, so a falling off in his powers seems unlikely if he wrote it at the end of his life—after all, he died at the young age of fifty-two; and again, if he did write it, why would it not have been staged until six years after his death? Furthermore, the play is lacking in the poetic element, the double-meaning word play, or really any scenes that stir the heart or imagination. I have a hard time believing it could be Shakespeare’s play, although his interest in history would have made it a likely topic for him.

Arthurian scholars have often noted the falling off of popularity in the Arthurian legend during Elizabethan and Jacobean times, save for some masques and the Tudors’ attempts to claim a family relationship to King Arthur. The only reference in all of Shakespeare to King Arthur, actually, is in King John where Prince Arthur, upon dying, hopes to rest in “Arthur’s bosom.” We will never know whether Shakespeare ever considered writing a play based on the Arthurian legend or why he may have decided against it. That said, The Birth of Merlin does reflect that the Arthurian legend was still well-known and popular in Jacobean times.

William Rowley, or whoever wrote the play, did know his Arthurian legend. All the basic elements of Merlin’s story, as told in Geoffrey of Monmouth and other authors, are here, with some odd additions. In the play, Aurelius has defeated the Saxons and chosen as his bride Artesia, the sister to the Saxon leader, who ultimately plots to overthrow him and poisons him toward the end of the play. Meanwhile, Joan, a young commoner, has become pregnant and goes to her brother, simply named “Clown” in the play, to tell him of her misfortune; together, they try to find her a husband so her child will not be a bastard. The “Clown” character is typical of comedies of the era and there to add comic relief, although admittedly, the play is not very funny, and it does not fit into standard definitions of comedy or tragedy but rather would have been classified as a “History” play.

Joan does not even know the name of the man who impregnated her, although eventually it is revealed to be the Devil. When Merlin is born, he is already grown and has the start of a beard. The rest of the story follows the traditional one of Vortigern trying to build his castle. Merlin goes to him since Vortigern believes he needs to sacrifice one without a human father to keep his castle from falling. Merlin, however, reveals the dragons beneath the castle. He goes on to reveal that Aurelius has been slain and Uther will become king. He then makes a prophecy about Uther’s descendants, similar to the prophecy in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, including predicting King Arthur’s coming.

Wikipedia states that “The play is rich with visual effects of varying types, including devils and magic and masque-like spectacles. It was clearly designed to provide broad, colorful, fast-paced entertainment.” Among these spectacles is the comet that Merlin interprets to make his prophecies. Having only read the play, and it being unlikely ever to see it performed, I cannot speak to how entertaining it would be on stage, but it is a solid piece of Arthuriana in terms of following traditional stories about Merlin’s birth and youth.

As for Shakespeare, we can only dream what his Arthurian play would have been like had he ever written one. If only….

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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The Wandering Jew may not be a well-known figure to readers of Arthurian literature, but as a significant legend, he was bound to get involved with the Arthurian legend eventually.

For readers not familiar with the Wandering Jew, one of my personal favorite literary characters, here’s a little background information.

Gustave Dore The Wandering Jew

Gustave Dore's The Wandering Jew

In most versions of the legend, the Wandering Jew was a shoemaker named Ahasuerus who refused to allow Christ to rest on His way to the cross. Christ punished Ahasuerus by forcing him to wander the earth without death or any form of rest until Christ’s return on the final Judgment Day. Usually, this cursed condition is interpreted to mean that Christ will eventually redeem Ahasuerus who will have atoned for his sins by his prolonged wandering. As he wanders the globe, the Wandering Jew remarkably appears without explanation at the sites of great historical events such as the sack of Rome, the crusades, the fall of Constantinople, and decisive Napoleonic battles; these appearances at great events suggest that the Jew may have supernatural powers that allow him to appear wherever he chooses and that he might also be involved in manipulating such events. The Jew’s constant wandering is enhanced by his fear that Christians will learn his true identity, so he must continually move from place to place so he is not identified and thus mistreated.

The Wandering Jew’s literary origins date back to the Middle Ages. The first recorded reference in England of the Wandering Jew was in 1228 in the chronicle of the monastery of St. Alban’s, entitled Flowers of History by Roger of Wendover. Among the other medieval depictions of him, the most notable appears in Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Pardoner’s Tale” where an old man must wander the earth until he can find someone willing to exchange youth for his old age. The Wandering Jew’s popularity in literature increased during the seventeenth century. He is given the name of Ahasuerus in an anonymous German pamphlet of 1602 entitled Kurtze Beschreibung und Erzehlung von einem juden mit Namen Ahasverus; Ahasuerus would become the favored name for the Jew, although Matthew Paris also wrote a story in the seventeenth century, naming the Jew Cartaphilus. Occasional other mentions of him appeared throughout literature but his popularity really caught on in the nineteenth century following his appearance in Matthew Lewis’s 1795 Gothic novel The Monk.

Romantic and Victorian literature is filled with mentions of the Wandering Jew, or characters who obviously owe a debt to the Wandering Jew for their own wandering and extended lives, including Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, William Godwin’s St. Leon (1799), and Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820). The legend of the vampire, and especially Bram Stoker’s depiction of Dracula (1897), is also indebted to the Wandering Jew.

Given the Wandering Jew’s popularity in the nineteenth century, it only stands to reason that he should end up in the Arthurian legend. The connection occurred when Richard Wagner introduced a female Wandering Jew figure in his opera Parsifal (1882). Although this woman named Kundry is not stated to be the Wandering Jew specifically, she clearly is based in his legend’s origins. Kundry is a wild and unpredictable woman who helps the Grail Knights periodically. Later she is transformed into a temptress by the evil wizard Klingsor, who calls her various names including Herodias (the woman who danced for Herod in exchange for John the Baptist’s head, implying she may be cursed to wander for that deed). Finally, when the Grail is revealed, she sinks lifeless to the ground, the curse finally lifted.

Wagner’s version of the Wandering Jew would later inspire author Susan Shwartz to write a novel The Grail of Hearts (1993), which is dedicated to Kundry’s story, including a scene set in biblical times explaining how she received her curse.

The Grail of Hearts Susan Shwarz

The Grail of Hearts by Susan Shwartz

In addition, characters based on the Wandering Jew, or at least similar to the character because they equally have extended lives include Merlin and Morgan le Fay, King Arthur and the Fisher King, all of whom appear to live on well past their normal lifespans.

My interest in the Gothic and the Wandering Jew have resulted in my upcoming book The Gothic Wanderer which will explore wanderer figures in more detail and which I hope to publish in 2012. Meanwhile, I’m sure we have not heard the last of the Wandering Jew in Arthurian literature.

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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When I found this book at the bookstore, I had never heard of Kinley MacGregor or the Lords of Avalon series. I bought this book because it was relevant to the King Arthur legend–I’ll buy just about any King Arthur novel out there, although I’d say half of them disappoint me. This one turned out to be near the top of my list of disappointments.

First of all, it wasn’t until after I finished reading it and I went to Amazon to read reviews by other authors that I even realized I had read the 2nd book, not the first, in the series. I had thought it was the first since inside the book is a list of the author’s other works and it is listed above Sword of Darkness, which made me assume it was the first and Sword of Darkness the second in the series. Nowhere on the front or back cover was it indicated in which order to read the books. However, I don’t feel I missed anything by not reading the first in the series and I have no intention of reading it in the future.

I also discovered at Amazon that Kinley MacGregor is a pseudonym for Sherrilyn Kenyon, whose name I had heard in reference to her vampire novels, although I had not read them. Those vampire novels might be worth reading, but when I did a little more research and found this author has written over 60 novels and is only in her mid-40s, I understood why Knight of Darkness is so bad. No author can whip out that many books in 20 years and expect to create quality. That she is a bestselling author is just a sign of how good marketing can sell anything. The attractive cover must have helped sell this book–the writing inside sure couldn’t.

Actually, Knight of Darkness didn’t start out too badly. The main character, Varian duFey, is the son of Sir Lancelot and an evil woman who is Morgen le Fey’s right hand. Varian, however, works for the good guys–including Merlin, but a female Merlin–and as a hired assassin for them. The book is set in modern times as well. I was slightly intrigued by the situation.

When a grail knight is assassinated, Varian is supposed to find out who the murderer is. So far, so good, and for about fifty pages, I was interested, despite the writing not being of the first quality, but then the book falls into campiness. Varian is captured and imprisoned, and in his efforts to escape, becomes involved with an unattractive woman, Merewyn, who agrees to seduce him in exchange for becoming beautiful–and Varian’s mother is the one who makes the deal with her. I just read this book a couple of days ago, but I’m having trouble remembering the details of what they even wanted from Varian–a sign the plot wasn’t thought out well. Varian has magical powers they want to prohibit, but they also want to stop him from learning who murdered the grail knight.

But what makes things really difficult is the whole mystery gets forgotten in the ridiculous overuse of magic throughout the novel, Varian and Merewyn’s escape into some sort of inbetween realm that doesn’t make sense–really is nonsensical, not to mention cheesy–and a whole lot of erotic scenes between Varian and Merewyn that go on and on and tend to be more boring than titillating. Add into it Merewyn falling into a slough of despond or some such name that sounds like something out of Pilgrim’s Progress, and mix into that a bunch of characters who keep quoting from Spamalot–a show I like but which I don’t need to have replayed for me in the pages of the book (I won’t even get started on the book’s other faults, including the talking rock that’s supposed to grow up to be a gargoyle and all the ridiculous geeky dialogue). Suffice it to say, this book may well be tied with the movie Quest for Camelot for the title of the ultimate Arthurian cheesefest!

Seriously, I don’t mind some humor–I find Spamalot very funny–but cheesiness is more than I want. The Arthurian legend has prevailed for centuries because of its tragedy, its romance, its awe and mystery, its sense of ideals to strive for, even if they may not always be reached. None of that exists in the pages of this book. All that is here is a badly-written, badly-thought out story, that I would not have even finished reading if it hadn’t been the only book I had to read while on an airplane.

If you want some cheesy Arthurian time travel in other dimensions type story, go check out the worst of the remakes of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court–there are plenty of them, and they are all better than this book. Knight of Darkness is truly a dark night for Arthurian literature.

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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I first heard about the book, The Revelation of King Arthur: Deceit, Intrigue, and the Guard’s Account, after its author, Robert Bruce Fruehling, posted a comment on my blog and told me he believed the story of King Arthur’s return would be used to bring about the coming of the Antichrist. I was intrigued but skeptical by that statement and first thought Fruehling meant King Arthur would be the Antichrist. His argument is not that radical but rather that the Antichrist will present himself as being King Arthur.

The Revelation of King Arthur Robert Bruce Fruehling

The Revelation of King Arthur by Robert Bruce Fruehling

Fruehling has an M.A. and M.Div. from Ashland Theological Seminary and ministers through “aviv Ministries.” And he clearly knows the Bible well from the way he has researched his theories and quotes from the Bible in this book.

The Guards’ Account in the subtitle refers to theories, based on lies spread by Roman soldiers following the Crucifixion, that Jesus’ body was stolen and that he did not rise from the dead but simply had not died. This story spread as a lie throughout the ancient world and Fruehling shows it is the origin to more recent works like The Da Vinci Code and Holy Blood, Holy Grail that claim Jesus had children with Mary Magdalene. Basically he explores in great detail the reasons why these stories are not true and debunks these myths.

I have never bought into these fantastic theories about Jesus’ descendants, although Jesus’ siblings were likely to have descendants, among whom King Arthur is usually included. And in my research for writing King Arthur’s Children, I never came across any legitimate claims that King Arthur was directly descended from Jesus, nor do I believe that to be the case. Fruehling does an effective job of showing how unbelievable these theories are.

The second part of Fruehling’s book explores the Arthurian legend. Fruehling relies on some unreliable scholarship—especially that of Norma Lorre Goodrich, although he assumes her work is impeccable—but ultimately, her often contradictory theories have little bearing on Fruehling’s main argument. Nevertheless the book wanders about in places talking about Martin Luther’s opinions of the Jews and how they influenced Hitler, how the Society of St. Vincent de Paul was a secret society (highly questionable) and misunderstanding history—such as attributing Princess Diana’s ancestor being a King of Jerusalem to refer to her being descended from Jesus via the Merovingians—I guess he never heard of the Kingdom of Jerusalem set up by the crusaders. He also acts like Laurence Gardner, the late author of Bloodline of the Holy Grail, was a legitimate scholar—something I have yet to believe considering he could never document anything properly in his books.

Aside from such wanderings and relying upon weak sources, Fruehling’s primary focus is upon how the images in the Book of Revelation relate to King Arthur—particularly the image of the red dragon on the flag of Wales being the beast in Revelation, a sign of the AntiChrist.

I won’t go into detail about the comparisons made between King Arthur Book of Revelation, but those interested can explore all the evidence Fruehling cites there. I have to admit that while Fruehling gives plenty of evidence to back up his theories, I remain skeptical simply because plenty of biblical scholars have tried to explain Revelation ad nauseam. Frankly, I don’t believe the biblical book of Revelation accurately depicts how the end of the world will happen and I think the book has done more harm than good. If only the Church fathers had been wise enough to leave it out of the Bible.

Fruehling also takes issue with novelists who depict King Arthur’s return, primarily Stephen Lawhead, who is generally regarded as a Christian author, and influenced by Tolkien and C.S. Lewis—also considered Christian authors. He shows how all of these authors strayed from orthodox Christianity and introduced and blended pagan myths with Christianity which is not acceptable as a belief system for a true Christian. Fruehling is completely correct in these charges against these authors, but they wrote great fiction nonetheless.

I can’t say that I agree with Fruehling’s religious beliefs wholeheartedly, but he makes a solid argument that will win over orthodox Christians, and it does give much pause for thought. I suspect we will never see the return of King Arthur in reality, or the events of Revelation, but perhaps both will result in some new fiction depicting a false King Arthur as the Antichrist. I don’t wish to be cynical, but after two thousand years of waiting for Jesus to return and countless people trying to analyze the book of Revelation to determine when and how that will happen, despite Jesus himself stating that no one will ever know that hour, I remain skeptical. Still, I have to admit I found myself wondering why the legend that King Arthur will return is so fascinating to us—perhaps because we want a savior who does not have a religious context. Much as I am a fan of the King Arthur legend, and I am more than willing to write fiction about his return because it makes fabulous fiction—it would be just that, fiction. Jesus is, by comparison, a much more likely to be historical person, and from all written about King Arthur and Jesus, King Arthur could in no way compete with Jesus to be the better savior.

Fruehling closes by saying “We are on the eve of the revelation of King Arthur. We are also on the eve of the return of Jesus of Nazareth. Which ‘messiah’ will you choose? May we choose our hero wisely.” I imagine most of us would choose wisely—I’m just skeptical, after centuries of hearing we are “on the eve” that we will need to make a choice. As I said, Revelation has probably done more damage than anything else the way it has held our imaginations hostage for all these centuries.

Despite my personal qualms with the arguments in Fruehling’s book, I did find it compelling reading and I encourage people interested in Christianity and King Arthur to read The Revelation of King Arthur and make decisions for themselves.

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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