Showing posts from March, 2013

Ferdinand Magellan - the first man to circumnavigate the globe. Or was he?

On the twenty-eighth day of the month of March in the year of the world 1521, the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan arrives at the undiscovered island of Cebu after 19 gruelling months of voyaging.

Two long boats, which an Italian sailor onboard, Antonio Pigafetta, identifies as ballanghai, approach his ship and Magellan sends for his slave Enrique, bought in Malacca in 1511 to act as interpreter. 

In the larger of the ballanghai is the island‘s king Humadon. Magellan calls out to him: “If you’re thinking of opening a bank account in Cyprus - don’t!” Enrique translates, and the king replies: “No problem!”

According to Magellan, Enrique came from Malacca, though Pigafetta claimed he was born in Sumatra. Magellan took his slave west with him back to Portugal. Seven years later Enrique accompanied his master on his farewell world tour. So when Enrique addressed King Humadon in his own language, had he already become the first person to circumnavigate the planet? 

Magellan had set out on…

Speed reading Shakespeare

Ever wanted to read the Complete Works of Shakespeare but have never just had the time? Then why not try one of the many speed reading courses that are available?

Some claim they are able to boost the average reading speed of 250 words per minute to a phenomenal 1,000 works per minute, or even higher. The world champion, Anne Jones, has been clocked at an incredible 4,700 words per minute! [Wikipedia].

But maybe you prefer to see the plays on the stage, the medium for which they were written, perhaps performed by the RSC - The Royal Shakespeare Company. But this would mean spending over 100 hours in cramped theatre seats, unable to stretch your legs, not daring to cough, and - horror of horrors! - not even allowed to turn on your mobile phone! And you'd still have all that nasty archaic language to cope with!

But mercifully help is at hand in the shape of the other RSC - The Reduced Shakespeare Company, who romp through the entire opus of 37 plays in just 97 minutes - an average of l…

Southwark playhouses commemorative postage stamps

In August 1985 the British Post Office issued a series of five commemorative postage stamps celebrating playhouses in Southward (London) which were open and pulling in the crowds during the time of Shakespeare.

The theatres depicted were The Rose (1592), The Swan (1595), The Globe (1599), The Hope (1613), and The Globe (1614).

The first Globe was destroyed by fire in 1613 during a performance of Shakespeare's Henry VIII (All Is True). It enjoyed a second reincarnation when a meticulously research reconstruction was built in the 1990s despite initial opposition from a local council leader who reportedly said 'Shakespeare is tosh' (rubbish, nonesense). [Source: Financial Times]

About 750,000 people now visit the new Globe each year [Source:].  Tosh indeed, Mr Council Leader!

Joachim-Raphael Boronali, aka Aliboron, the donkey Impressionist

On a day in March 1910, in the Montmartre district of Paris, the quarter frequented by artists, a young art critic by the name of Roland Dorgelès arranges a rendezvous in the club Lapin agile with two of his friends, the critic and writer André Warnod, and the illustrator Jules Deraquit.

At the same time he informs a local innkeeper, known as Father Frédé, that he will require the services of his donkey Aliboron - Lolo to those who knew him - for a joke he wishes to play on his Impressionist painter friends.

The three friends enjoy a convivial dinner while Frédé goes to bring Lolo. At around 3 p.m. a representative of the legal profession arrives, Me Brionne, invited by Roland to give formality to the pleasantry. Then Frédé returns with Lolo, and they get down to work.

Roland puts a canvas on a chair. Already painted on the canvas are two colours representing the sky and the earth, a technique directly inspired by Monet. Then Frédé attaches a brush to the tail of Lolo, brings the donkey …

Pope Paul IV and his pesky nephews Carlo and Giovanni

5 March 1561 and the executioner’s axe falls on the neck of the Giovanni Carafa, the Duke of Paliano, nephew of Pope Paul IV. 

The day before, the duke’s brother, Cardinal Carlo Carafa, suffers a similar fate, though spared the bloody axe because of the dignity accorded to his holy office. For Carlo death is administered by suffocation, much to the relief of the servants, spared the messy job of mopping up afterwards. So, after reciting the seven psalms of penitence, the cardinal is garrotted. 

Thus ended the lives of the Carafa brothers, who just two years earlier had been among the most powerful men in the Vatican, thanks to benevolence of their uncle, Pope Paul IV. 

'It is an heretic that makes the fire, Not she which burns in't'. [William Shakespeare]
The Carafa family was one of the most powerful in Naples, and in 1555, one of its members, Cardinal Giovanni Pietro Carafa, was elected pope under the name of Paul IV. 

A man lacking in charisma, for several years he had overs…