Friday, November 5, 2021

Guy Falkes Day Anniversary -- Nov. 5, 1605

I didn't know much about Guy Falkes and the Gunpowder Plot - a Carholic attempt to take England back - the equivalent of 9/11 for England. And it came oh so close to succeeding.

Yes I was a history major with 27 credits towards a Masters but every day I learn so much about what I didn't learn. 

I loved the movie V is for Vendetta (2006). The fact that Guy Falkes has become a symbol of anarchy (the plot was probably backed by the Pope - so no anarchy there - shows how symbols can get twisted. We saw Guy Falkes masks on Jan. 6.

And then a few years ago I began to read James Shapiro's books on Shakespeare and this one dealth with the remarkable output - King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra --- over a year which just happened to coincide with the Plot.

The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606

Paperback The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606 Book

Censorship laws didn't allow writers to comment about current events, thus forcing Shakespeare into using historical events to delve into current events without getting chopped. Here's a clip from the book blurb - defintely brings the real world events into how they influenced art.
The foiled Gunpowder Plot would have blown up the king and royal family along with the nation's political and religious leadership. The aborted plot renewed anti-Catholic sentiment and laid bare divisions in the kingdom. It was against this background that Shakespeare finished Lear , a play about a divided kingdom, then wrote a tragedy that turned on the murder of a Scottish king, Macbeth . He ended this astonishing year with a third masterpiece no less steeped in current events and concerns: Antony and Cleopatra . "Exciting and sometimes revelatory, in The Year of Lear, James Shapiro takes a closer look at the political and social turmoil that contributed to the creation of three supreme masterpieces" ( The Washington Post ). He places them in the context of their times, while also allowing us greater insight into how Shakespeare was personally touched by such events as a terrible outbreak of plague and growing religious divisions. "His great gift is to make the plays seem at once more comprehensible and more staggering" ( The New York Review of Books ). For anyone interested in Shakespeare, this is an indispensable book.
Here's another link:

Shakespeare’s ‘Scottish Play’ was probably written in 1606, just three years after King  James I (VI of Scotland) was crowned as Elizabeth I’s successor, and so undoubtedly seems to be paying homage to the succession of the Scottish King to the English throne.

But within that time, in November 1605, the Gunpowder Plot had been discovered: the plan to blow up the Houses of Parliament, kill James, and replace him with a Catholic monarch failed, and the plotters were tortured and horribly executed. The impact of the event was so dramatic, we still remember it today on Bonfire Night (‘Remember, Remember, the fifth of November, Gunpowder, Treason and Plot’, goes the traditional rhyme…), so we can only imagine the enormity of the event for Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

 It is often said Macbeth is a comment on the Gunpowder Plot, so why, and how are the two connected? Firstly, many of Macbeth’s themes resonate with the attempted revolt: it’s a play about treason, the overthrow of a King, and the downfall of his murderers. Even more importantly, King James was commonly believed to be descended from Banquho the thane of Lochquhaber, the historical counterpart of Shakespeare’s Banquo, the friend who Macbeth betrays and has murdered. With this in mind the witches’ prophesy that Banquo’s ancestors will be kings takes on a new meaning: it is referring to Banquo’s ancestor James Stuart, King of Scotland and England. By extension, it has been suggested that the escape of Fleance, Banquo’s son, from Macbeth’s murder plot is designed to echo James’s own escape from the Gunpowder Plot and to subtly compliment the House of Stuart as legitimate and truly-descended rulers.

And one more from Garrison Keillor's Writers Almanac

Today is Guy Fawkes Day in Britain, also known as Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night. On this night in 1605 Guy Fawkes was arrested while guarding a secret stash of explosives beneath the House of Lords. Fawkes was a member of the Gunpowder Plot, a plan hatched by a group of provincial English Catholics who plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament and assassinate the Protestant king, James I, and replace him with a Catholic head of state. In the aftermath of Fawkes’s arrest and the discovery of his accomplices, King James encouraged his subjects to celebrate his “survival by divine intervention” by setting off fireworks, lighting bonfires, and burning the traitors in effigy. During his interrogation Fawkes told the Lords that his intention was “to blow you Scotch beggars back to your native mountains.” Fawkes and his 12 co-conspirators were tortured and beheaded in front of cheering crowds.

The celebration became an annual event which, over the years, grew to include effigies of everyone from the pope to Margaret Thatcher.

In turn-of-the-century-Britain children constructed effigies of Guy Fawkes and trundled them around villages in wheelbarrows, demanding a “penny for the Guy,” much like trick or treating in the U.S. Fawkes’s distinctive, curling mustache, pointed beard, and oversized smile became a popular mask for children. Masks were given out for free each autumn with the purchase of a comic book.

Once considered a notorious traitor, Fawkes is now seen as a revolutionary hero, with his mask becoming a well-known cultural symbol for anarchy worldwide. The online hacktivist group known as Anonymous uses the mask as their symbol. In Alan Moore’s comic book V for Vendetta (1982) and the film version (2006) the character of Vendetta wears the Fawkes mask and blows up Parliament. During the 2011 protests in Wisconsin the masks were worn by protesters in the crowd, as they were during the Occupy protests on Wall Street and in Argentina. In response to the use of Guy Fawkes masks during possibly unlawful activity, Canada has banned the wearing of masks during riotous or unlawful assembly. With some exceptions, an indictable offence in Canada is one that is subject to a fine of greater than $5,000 or imprisonment of more than six months.

And in the Harry Potter book series, the character of Albus Dumbledore has a phoenix named Fawkes.


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