Friday, 19 December 2014

What to watch: "Penny Dreadful"

The cast of "Penny Dreadful"
What began in the mid 1800’s as stories which were intended for young men at a price of a penny, evolved into a spectacular cinematic display of gothic horror, which is where, “Penny Dreadful got it’s start. Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful” is a mind-sweeping and alluring tale of some pretty fascinating characters. Their stories delve into our imaginations, hearts, and souls as their lives unfold throughout the serious various episodes. 

The show takes the viewer back to Victorian London. The backdrop of the show evolves around the murders of Jack the Ripper, and other various tid bits of historical drama of the times. The center of the story evolves around Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) and Sir Malcolm Murray (Sir Timothy Dalton). The underlining story is one of heart break, yet a reality for many during this time. Forbidden love affairs and the impact of mental illness and its influence on spirituality and the supernatural unknown. This first season revolves around Vanessa’s demons and how she overcomes them to help Sir Malcolm with his mission to find out what happened to his daughter Mina.  Interestingly Mina is also the name of one of the main love of the vampire Dracula in folklore.

Additionally, the show, historically does a very good job of depicting how mental illnesses was treated during this time, and also how it was so misunderstood, both the supernatural and medical aspect nature of treatment is shown. The show also explores how sexual trauma can impact ones view on reality and ones around them. For Vanessa, it is all too real for her and perhaps the source of her illness.

But what is the story, the genre that “Penny Dreadful” falls into? Gothic horror.  The history of Gothic horror or romance grew its roots deep before Victorian society emerged to the forefront. It began with the works of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, which combines genres of romanticism, fiction, and horror. It became the foundation of the literary genre that reached its height of popularity in the mid 18th and 19th centuries. Other authors such as Ann Radcliffe, the Bronte sisters, Mary Shelly, Edgar Alan Poe, and even Charles Dickens, were all gothic horror romance novelists who later help shape the genre to what we know of it today.

In examining Walpole’s 1764 novel in which the genre is attributed, it introduces into literary society something new. It held a host of new elements that were pleasing in sorts of terror, and held an extension of literary romance, which was relatively new to this period in which his novel was introduced. His novel also introduced parody and melodrama, also including self-parody. All are fundamental elements of all Gothic genres.

Most importantly, the term “Gothic” was applied to this new form of literature simply because these were the architectural style of the buildings in which the literature had its stories take place. They were the backdrops for these dramas to unfold.

After Walpole’s introduction of the genre in England, others followed. In France the genre was called “roman noir” and in Germany it was called “schauerroman.” Walpole’s overall intent was to combine elements of medieval literature, which in his mind it was too fanciful, and then with the modern novel. To him the modern novel was too strict and confining. The combination of the two is what he intended the story of The Castle of Otranto to be.

Walpole also introduced the basic structure for these novels. The basic plot introduced included a threatening mystery, an ancestral curse, many trappings or hidden passages (This is quite apparent in the later story of “Jane Eyre” by Emily Bronte.) and off fainting heroines. There also became a demand for romances with superstitious elements, that at times were void of “didactical intention.” Some argued that this had no place nor was it acceptable as a modern piece of literature.

Walpole’s novel is essential because even though named a forgery at one point, it was a story with history and fiction, that at times contradicted the main principles of the enlightenment. It also brought to light the relationship with “fake” documentation and folklore. Which were very recurrent themes in Gothic literature.
Eva Green as Vanessa Ives

Many influential authors helped shaped the genre. One was Ann Radcliffe. Her works introduced the basis of having a brooding gothic villain, whom later became the “Byronic hero.” Her stories also introduced a theme called “supernatural intrusion,” which eventually throughout the story, gets traced back to a natural cause, called “explained supernatural.” All her works became best-sellers despite the highly educated of society calling the works “sensational entertainment.”  She also provided an atheistic value for the genre with “On The Emphasis of Supernatural” which is poetic work. It examines the relationship and correlation between horror and terror in Gothic fiction.  Later, the genre was strengthened by many of the major romantic poets such as Poe, who made many contributions to the Gothic genre in terms of darkness and the unexplained.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Movie Review: "The Black Death"

When I first saw the previews for this flick, I was like... yeah this is dumb...according to my medieval expertise and nit-picky-ness.  But I evenutally ended up renting it off iTunes.  iTunes is awesome by the way for random stuff.. or Netflix.  Either way, not bad for the $6.99 I paid.  The show had some familiar faces: Sean Bean (Bordamir in LOTR and Ned Stark on Game of Thrones) and the actor who played Jack from "Pillars of the Earth" on Starz, Eddie Redmayne.

My opinion historically, to be honestly, some of the depiction seemed accurate, but I would have to review notes from past studies, to say wither it got a rotten tomato or not. But of course it is Hollywood, artistic license likes to be taken a lot. It was graphic.. kinda, but oh well. Costumes seem okay, not sure about the amour, it did seem a tad out of place. Remarkably though, the villages portrayed seemed very Anglo-Saxon. There is a historical reproduction of a settlement in East Anglia, that the villages reminded me of.

One thing that stood out were the masks worn by the individual's who buried the dead, and yes they did have the pointy nose bit on them. Historically speaking, why were they constructed like this? Reason behind it was that they wearer put herbs and posies in them to help filter out the smell and "protect" them from the pestilence.  The song "Ring around the rosey, pocket full of posies" has it's origin from a time when pestilence and plague were quite common in communities.  The idea though, pretty slick.. I guess for the medieval person yes.

Through out the film there are notations of witchcraft, necromancy etc.. Highlighting the still very strong pagan, or mystic belief systems of the medical era. Yet, when examining the education level of the average person back then, people believed what they saw, fact or not, real or unreal. For they had no other reason to not belief in the folk lore of the time. With the church and daily life painting many of times a dark picture, individuals turned to old beliefs to keep faith and hope in society going, a hope and will for survival, that the new gods could not bring.

My over all opinion: Redbox it and buy it when it gets cheap. It is a fun flick to watch, and if you are a history buff, perhaps buy.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Wheel of Fortuna

How was medeival society influenced by Fortuna's Wheel?

The relationship mysticism and its importance with in the belief system of Medieval society is a strong example of this. Fortune or Fortuna’s Wheel (Rota Fortunae) known by some is an ancient and medieval philosophy that refers to the constant changing nature of fate. It is a wheel that is owned and spun by Fortuna. It can change individual places on the wheel at random, thus determining their “fate.” They can have great misfortune, or be blessed with good. 

The wheel itself is depicted in many manuscripts both medieval and ancient and highly referenced in the medieval allegorical religious teachings of the time.
John Lydgate's Siege of Troy, showing the Wheel of Fortune

Fortuna Wheel's beginnings began in Ancient Greek mythology, as a celestial zodiac with 8 points, and the 9th being the pointer.  It is referenced in the play Everyman c. 1495. In this play the wheel is known to play reference to the value placed on everyday things, and stress the “temporary” nature of them. Death comes of course unexpected to those who do bad deeds, there is emphasis placed on doing good deeds in order to secure a place in Heaven.

The emphasis of these philosophies and the strong religious teachings of the day more than likely were very prominent in the morals of many of the day. For many in the Middle Ages, this would have been more than likely a very important aspect of their beliefs and thought process.  To many this piety, and loyalty show the value placed on morality and to keep in mind the teachings both allegorical and religious of the day in thought and decision making process. 

Unfortunately, as history rolls on, many were not completely in control of what was to come next in life. Plagues and famine and poor crop production, were seen as signs of poor fate that directly came from the Wheel of Fortuna and influenced the basic belief system of the time.