On this day of Remembrance, I am reminded of the hilarious yet poignant final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth, ‘Goodbyeee!‘ The second & third series of Blackadder are brilliantly funny depictions of Elizabethan & Georgian England, a must-see for anyone interested in early modern-themed wordplay. Furthermore, the font inspired by the original series (Blackadder ITC), as my colleague Stephen Snobelen has pointed out, is based on Guy Fawkes’s signature–the Guy, of course, is commemorated (or rather burned in effigy) every November 5 for the failed Gunpowder plot in 1605 to blow up Parliament–though his handwriting after being tortured is notably less legible than before. My advice, therefore, is not to plan any high treason prior to signing important documents, unless, of course, you have a ‘burning’ desire to do so.
This past week has also seen a number of stories on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. CBC Radio One Sunday Edition’s primer on the Russian Revolution, part one, mentions the fear that the overthrow of the Tsarist regime and Provisional Government would lead to ‘Bonapartism’–just as the French Revolution, which sought to create a regime based on the Rights of Man, ended up in the absolute dictatorship of Napoléon Bonaparte. This indeed came to pass with Lenin and especially Stalin. It just goes to show, from the pivotal historical event which marked the end of the 18th century, that violent revolution will always lead to bones-apart.
On a slightly lighter note, the era of the Napoleonic wars coincided with the ruthless and bodice-ripping social violence depicted in the works of Jane Austen, which have in turn inspired a video game, test-driven by a Guardian reporter. Will this lead to other early modern-themed video games? Here are some ideas (royalties may be sent to me by cheque c/o the University of King’s College): World of Priestcraft 1 & 2 (Borgia & Medici versions): a challenging strategy game in which you, as Pope Alexander VI, orchestrate the prominence of your bastard son Cesare Borgia through Papal machinations; or as Pope Leo X, ensure the eternal rule of family members and union of religion and state by occupying the highest positions in the Church and selling Indulgences to finance glorious works of art & architecture (content warning: lots of sex, incense, and fancy outfits). Halo MDXXV: this exciting multi-player action game re-enacts the German Peasants’ War of 1525; players earn a halo for every 666 ungodly Papists smited by their Covenant Pitchforks (content warning: intense violence & unbearably zealous piety). Grand Theft/Autonomy: take the greatest test of all and choose between robbery (thereby violating Kant’s Categorical Imperative, in that your maxim of theft universalized would contradict the concept of property as such) or obeying the moral law within and willing the kingdom of ends (content warning: this game will not make you happy, but only worthy of happiness).
In our classes this coming week: In Laura Penny‘s EMSP 2000 class, students will consider the thoughtful objections of Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia to René Descartes’ problematic attempts to reconcile mind and body: their correspondence led not only to the composition of The Passions of the Soul, but also angry anti-Cartesian slanders in which the French philosopher defended his honour with rapier and pistol (also known as Cartesian dualism). In her class on early modern vice, the pupils of her pupils may dilate as they breathe in writings on opium addiction in the comfort of their local den; Marx should have realised that opiates are the religion of the masses, not the other way around.
The students in Jannette Vusich’s class on Baroque art will have an art history research workshop, while those learning about love, lust, & desire in Renaissance art will consider visual depictions of Ovid’s famous love poem Metamorphoses–a work considered an overly self-referential sequel to Phoses and More Phoses. It is hoped that the reboot, Phoses: A New Beginning will breathe new life into the franchise.
We expect that Kathryn Morris will make cutting remarks in discussing Vesalius, who performed his own dissections of corpses, in EMSP 3000; and ex-Hume the undead debates concerning the origins of religion in David Hume’s thought, in her class on early modern atheism.
My students in EMSP 4000 will be reading a play by the great French dramatist, Jean Racine–whose daughter was the inventor of root beer in France (racinette), an excellent pairing with that amusement park treat, ‘Corneille on the cob’–as well as the first part of the novel Oroonoko, by the English Restoration woman of letters, Aphra Behn (whose dramas were so huge in resonance, chiming with her contemporary culture, that she was nicknamed ‘Big Behn’). And in Asia & the West, we will begin a discussion of modern Indian thinkers on the west, before and after independence and partition–foreshadowed by Voltaire’s controversial novel about a young Indian pacifist who secretly preaches non-violent resistance to an ignorant and hostile world, Gandhide.
Till next time,
Director, Early Modern Studies Program