Last Wednesday (23 April) was the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth. So, to mark the occasion, here is a crossword I created to test your knowledge of the great man's life and works. Click here to download a PDF version, and here for an interactive web version.
Sotheby's is auctioning first edition books with handwritten notes by the authors and the top lot is the first Harry Potter novel containing revealing commentary by J.K. Rowling. Tara Cleary reports.
TRANSCRIPT REPORTER: The first edition of the first Harry Potter book. Its value would normally be set at around $30,000 U.S. dollars. But this particular version is worth a lot more, says Sotheby's specialist Philip Errington, as it contains handwritten notes by its author, J.K. Rowling. DR PHILIP ERRINGTON: "The sale title is 'First Editions, Second Thoughts' and the authors really have done that, they've had second thoughts on their texts they have revised, they've annotated, they've put illustrations in, they have really engaged with their original texts." REPORTER: One of Rowling's notes explains the idea for Quidditch: ACTOR READING J.K. ROWLING'S NOTES: "Quidditch was invented in a small hotel in Manchester after a row with my then boyfriend. I had been pondering the things that hold society together, cause it to congregate and signify its particular character and knew I needed a sport. It infuriates men … which is quite satisfying given my state of mind when I invented it." REPORTER: Other annotated first publications include Helen Fielding's "Bridget Jones's Diary", Roald Dahl's "Matilda" and Ann [sic] Martel's "Life of Pi". The "First Editions, Second Thoughts" auction took place on May 21st with the first edition Harry Potter book selling at 150,000 British pounds or 227,000 U.S. dollars.
THE CARTOON The cartoon is drawn in the style of E.H. Shepard'sillustrations for the Winnie-the-Pooh books, and depicts Pooh as a James Bond figure dressed in a tuxedo and bow tie. His introduction 'The name's Pooh—Winnie the Pooh' is a clear reference to James Bond's iconic catchphrase, "The name's Bond, James Bond". Of course, the connection is that James Bond is a spy too.
VOCABULARY A spy is a person whose job is to find out secret information about another country or organization. • Pierce Brosnan, who played the famous spy from 1995 to 2002, has announced he will be doing a new espionage film to rival James Bond.
This cartoon by Paul Thomas from the Daily Express relates to the controversial remarks made by double Booker prize-winning author Hilary Mantel about the Duchess of Cambridge, aka Kate Middleton. In a lecture at the British Museum, Ms Mantel described the Duchess as “painfully thin” and a “shop-window mannequin, with no personality of her own, entirely defined by what she wore”. Ouch!
In the cartoon, Mantel is shown at a book signing in a bookshop (do they still exist?). The Queen, Prince Charles, and Prince Harry are standing next to the table where she is signing copies of her latest novel, "Bring Up The Bodies". She asks them, "What shall I put in it?" (i.e., what message should I write). The Queen and Prince Charles reply, "A sock!" Clearly, they are not amused by Ms Mantel's attack on William's wife.
EXPLANATION If you tell someone to put a sock in it, you want them to shut up and be quiet because they are annoying you. The Phrase Finder has this to say about the origin of the expression: "The imagery behind the phrase is that putting a sock in whatever was causing the noise would quieten it down. What that thing was isn't known. There are suggestions that this may have been the horn of an early gramophone or, more straightforwardly, the raucous person's mouth".
Jane Austen published Pride and Prejudice 200 years ago. No one could have known at the time that two centuries later the novel would still occupy a solid place in popular culture, and be a confirmed money-spinner for publishers. Edward Baran reports.
TRANSCRIPT REPORTER: Two centuries old, and still a global hit. Two hundred years ago, the public first got their hands on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The initial edition of the English author's novel appeared on January 28, 1813. At the Jane Austen House Museum in Hampshire in southern England, where the author once lived, her writing table and handwritten letters are on display alongside a first edition of the book. Museum curator Louise West says it's still influential. LOUISE WEST: "I don't think you'd say it was even her greatest novel, but it is certainly her most popular one. And it encompasses all that's great about the other novels in the groundbreaking work that Jane Austen was doing in transforming the novel of the eighteenth century into a novel very much like the ones we read today." REPORTER: Austen's works are now out of copyright which means that anyone can publish them. That, plus the fact that they can be published digitally for free, means it's impossible to accurately track sales and downloads. But all the indications are this book's still doing very well. And it's still a money-spinner for publishers, says Helen Conford from Penguin Books, which prints many English classics. HELEN CONFORD, PENGUIN BOOKS: "She sells incredibly well. If you look at her inside Penguin Classics with George Orwell, Shakespeare, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Dickens, she's really number one." REPORTER: Last year in the UK appoximately 50,000 copies of Pride and Prejudice were sold. While in the US it's estimated 135,000 copies were snapped up. That's compared to an initial print run of just 1,500 copies in 1813. CEO of the Publishers Association, Richard Mollet, says Austen's themes of marriage, money, class and love are universal. RICHARD MOLLET, CEO, PUBLISHERS ASSOCIATION: "We can see in characters like the Bennets and like the Dashwoods, we can imagine their equivalents in the modern day and that's what makes them so engaging." REPORTER: The film and TV adaptations have been many and varied. Even Bollywood fell in love with the tale in 2004 with its adaptation Bride and Prejudice. This year Austenland will be released -- a comedy about a young women obsessed with the book. And that should secure the novel a new generation of fans.
On the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens' birth, celebrations take place in London demonstrating the author's enduring value is more than just literary. Joanne Nicholson reports.
TRANSCRIPT REPORTER: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... Could this be the way we'll look back on the recession that's blighted the global economy in recent years, as Charles Dickens did when he wrote about the French revolution in a 'Tale of Two Cities'? It's exactly 200 hundred years since the birth of one of the UK's literary giants. Celebrations were led by Prince Charles, and some 250 of Dickens' descendants gathered in Westminster Abbey. His great, great granddaughter, Marion Lloyd, who was born a Dickens before she married, says the issues he wrote about still resonate. MARION LLOYD, GREAT, GREAT GRANDDAUGHTER OF CHARLES DICKENS: "The big things, like the hypocrisy of people with great power, the enormous differences between those with great wealth and those who've got very little...these big issues are still very much with us and there are parts so much of Dickens makes one think about those big things." REPORTER: The Charles Dickens legacy, according to report, brings in £280 million a year to the UK economy. The actor, Simon Callow, who is also an official Dickens biographer, explains why his books continue to sell - reportedly bringing in £3 million a year. SIMON CALLOW, ACTOR AND BIOGRAPHER: "He creates unforgettable characters, unforgettable, bizarre, sometimes just very tender and touching characters because he tells remarkable stories. that would be true even if the social dimension wasn't there. If it was just fun, or if it was just drama, melodrama, it would still be there." REPORTER: It doesn't end there. Visitors flock to Charles Dickens themed museums, there are coffee mugs and t-shirts - adaptations of his work for tv and film are reported to make £34 million, and in the theatre, £64 million. The UK government could learn a thing or two, as the culture secretary reflected when he presented his colleagues with the author's works to mark the bicentenary. The Prime Minister was given copies of Hard Times and Great Expectations, and the leader of the House of Lords - Bleak House. Joanne Nicholson, Reuters.
This cartoon by Martin Rowson from The Guardian shows two crumbling stone pillars in the midst of a sandstorm. Nearby, half-buried in the sand, lies the head of a statue featuring the scowling face of deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. The stone pillars are marked 'Made in USA'.
At first sight, the cartoon might seem like a fairly obvious metaphor for the demise of the US-backed Egyptian dictator (a fallen statue crumbling in an Egyptian desert storm). However, the title of the cartoon, Ozymandias, suggests there is more to it than meets the eye.
EXPLANATION "Ozymandias" is a sonnet by English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, published in 1818. It is frequently anthologised and is probably Shelley's most famous short poem. The central theme of "Ozymandias" is the inevitable complete decline of all leaders, and of the empires they build, however mighty in their own time. (Adapted from Wikipedia)
In fact, the stone pillars are the legs of the statue, as is made clear by the poem below.
OZYMANDIAS I met a traveller from an antique land Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand, Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed. And on the pedestal these words appear: "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Cartoonist Jim Morin invokes Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol to explain the fears the European debt crisis holds for the United States. The cartoon relies primarily on symbols to get the point across: the ghost, the barrel, Uncle Sam.
BACKGROUND On May 1, the Greek government proposed a series of austerity measures including spending cuts and tax increases to help address the country's growing national debt. The proposal clinched a 110 billion euro bail-out package for Greece but triggered a national strike and widespread protests that turned violent. World stock markets fell sharply on fears that the debt crisis will spread through the euro zone.
If, like me, you never really took to Shakespeare at school, you should check out these multimedia versions from Shakespeare in Bits. An SIB play presents the text, audio, action and study notes in a complete, easy-to-navigate package that really brings the play to life. You might learn to love the bard!
Currently, only Romeo and Juliet is available, but Macbeth is due to appear later in 2010. The full version costs €27.99, but you can download and install a trial version which gives a good overview of the product's features.
COMMENT These multimedia versions make Shakespeare's plays accessible to a much wider audience and could be used with whole classes if you have a videprojector.
A teachers' section has lesson plans and activities built around Poetry Archive recordings, while the students' section features a range of resources including background material on the poets and filmed interviews, which will help you understand the context for their work. A separate Children's Poetry Archive contains poems especially chosen for children.
COMMENTS I wouldn't say that I was a poetry lover, but this site might just turn me into one. A fantastic resource for teachers and students alike.
FOOTNOTE I heard about The Poetry Archive while listening to the excellent BBC Radio 4 programme about the project this morning. It's available on the BBC iPlayer for another seven days.
They are some of the most memorable and stirring words of the 20th century, but Churchill’s speech exhorting the British to “fight on the beaches” would fail if submitted as a school essay and subjected to a proposed computerised marking system.
The wartime leader had a style that was too repetitive, according to the computer being tested for the online marking of school qualifications. It rated Churchill as below average in the equivalent of an A level English exam.
His reference to the “might of the German army” lost him marks because the computer interpreted this as an incorrect way of writing “might have” rather than recognising “might” as an abstract noun.
COMMENTS ETS has been using computerised marking for the GMAT since 1999, albeit in conjunction with a human corrector. In theory, the idea is very attractive—it takes me around four hours to mark a batch of forty 300-word essays (and it's not my favourite activity!) See here for a research paper on automatic evaluation of essays.
Mills & Boon, the publisher of romance novels, is celebrating its centenary. Harry Potter may have shifted 400m books in 11 years but Mills & Boon sell the same amount every two. In the UK, it releases 50 romantic titles a month. Its novels, translated into 25 languages, are sold in 109 international markets, and this year it began publishing for 300m English readers in India, where the books, uniquely, are popular with men as well as women. Read more >>
TimesOnline has an amusing picture gallery showing how Mills & Boon covers have changed with time. Here's one of the earlier ones from 1952 (bizarre title—and what's she planning to do with that whip?).