Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Dumbest Question a Computer Has Asked Me Today

Doing a keyword search on a university library catalog for "Elizabeth Woodville," I received less than a handful of results and this helpful inquiry:

Did you mean elizabeth woodpile?

Obviously a Ricardian programmer at work here.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Booking Through Thursday: Highlights

From Booking Through Thursday:

It’s an old question, but a good one . . . What were your favorite books this year?

List as many as you like … fiction, non-fiction, mystery, romance, science-fiction, business, travel, cookbooks … whatever the category. But, really, we’re all dying to know. What books were the highlight of your reading year in 2007?

This has been a peculiar reading year for me. My reading time has been cut down a lot, partly because of my writing, partly because I no longer have a period of enforced leisure while I sit in my van and wait for my daughter to come out of school. (She's on a different schedule now.) So while I can make a list, the field I had to choose from wasn't as broad as I wish it would have been. Still . . .

Favorite historical novel read in 2007: The King's Touch by Jude Morgan. Vivid characterizations, sharp, unfussy, but lovely writing style.

Favorite historical novel read in 2007 that was actually published in 2007: Nefertiti by Michelle Moran. Lively characterizations and a sympathetic heroine. Another favorite: Mozart's Sister by Rita Charbonnier.

Favorite reissued historical novel: The King's Pleasure by Norah Lofts.

Favorite Jean Plaidy novel read in 2007: The Queen's Favorites.

Favorite nonfiction: The Yorkists by Anne Crawford. Also enjoyed Ian Mortimer's The Fears of Henry IV, Nancy Goldstone's Four Queens: The Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe, and Andrew Ferguson's Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe's America.

Favorite Ricardian Novel: Richard Plantagenet by Brenda Clarke. He's the good guy, of course, but at least he's not as insufferably perfect and the other characters as villainous as they might have been, and the writing is exceptionally good.

Favorite adult historical novel I read only because it was a review book and found myself enjoying very much: Courting Trouble by Deanne Gist.

Favorite young adult historical novel I read only because it was a review book and found myself enjoying: Louisiana's Song by Kerry Madden.

Favorite Jane Austen spinoff: More Letters From Pemberley by Jane Dawkins.

Favorite tacky cover: The King's Mistress by Jean Plaidy. (See it here.)

So there you have it! I'm hoping in 2008 that I'll have a longer list from which to choose--but there's still some great stuff here.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Blog Advent Calendar

Well, it's my turn on the Blog Advent Calendar! Here are the other participants. (Blogger's being mean about pasting in links, so you can find a list with links here.)

9 December - Raidergirl (An Adventure in Reading)/ Chris (Stuff as Dreams are Made on)
10 December - Dewey (The Hidden Side of a Leaf)
11 December -Suey (It's All About Books)
12 December - Chris (Book-a-rama)
13 December - Jill (The Well-Read Child)/Stephanie (The Written Word)
14 December - Robin (A Fondness for Reading)
15 December - Alyssa (By The Book)
16 December - Rachel (A Fair Substitute for Heaven)
17 December - Literary Feline (Musings of a Bookish Kitty)/ Stephanie (Stephanie's Confessions of a Book-a-holic)
18 December - Dev (Good Reads)
19 December - Callista (S.M.S. Book Reviews)
20 December - Tiny Little Librarian (Tiny Little Librarian)
21 December - Carla (Carla Nayland Historical Fiction)/ Susan (Reading, Raving, and Ranting by a Historical Fiction Writer)
22 December - Carolyn Jean (The Trillionth Page)
23 December - Booklogged (A Reader's Journal)
24 December - Kailana (The Written World) / Carl V. (Stainless Steel Droppings)

First, here's Boswell in my daughter's Victoria's Secret Santa hat (photo shoot courtesy of my daughter):

Second, thanks to Joan Szechtman, who posted the link over at the Richard III Society discussion group, here's some caroling Roombas.

Third, our feature presentation: The Duke of Debenhams: A Christmas Eve Playlet (see below). Henry, Duke of Buckingham, is said to haunt Debenhams department store in Salisbury, built on the site of his execution . . .

Merry Christmas, everyone, and Happy New Year! I hope it will be a good one for all of you.

The Duke of Debenhams: A Christmas Eve Playlet

(It is closing time on Christmas Eve at Debenhams department store in Salisbury. As the last customer leaves the Mens department, the staff mills around, tidying up, counting the day’s receipts, chatting idly, and so forth. The employees leave in several groups, until at last, two employees shut off the lights in the department and head toward the exit.)

Employee 1: Well, see you on Boxing Day! Merry Christmas!

Employee 2: Merry Christmas! (Turns to look at the men’s department, now empty of workers.) And Merry Christmas, Duke Harry!

(Sounds of locking doors and disappearing footsteps are heard in the distance. Finally, all falls silent. A ghostly shape, dressed in 15th-century clothing, comes into view, turns on a light, and looks around him.)

Buckingham: At last. Left in peace for another Christmas. (Walks around the department and fingers the merchandise on the racks.) So shall it be sporty casual or a suit? Well. It’s a festive occasion. A suit might be too stuffy. But definitely not jeans. Trousers and-- Here we go! A cashmere jumper. Perfect. Now for some fragrance. (A floorboard creaks.) What? Who comes here? Security? Oh, what a nuisance. I’ll move something through the air and scare them off.

Richard III: It’s not security.

Buckingham: That voice! I recognize it.

Richard III: So. You do recognize your rightful king after all this time.

Buckingham: Richard?

Richard III: “Your grace” to you.

Buckingham: Well--all right. Your grace. What brings you here?

Richard III: My spirit grows restless at times. Just as yours does, it seems. (Looks around him.) Ready to wear? Not quite your style, I would have thought.

Buckingham: Obviously you haven’t seen the designer items here. Very upmarket.

Richard III: (Frowning at a polyester blend.) If you say so. And so this is where your spirit wanders?

Buckingham: Since 1483 when you executed me on this site. Oh, it’s changed over the years, of course. But it’s been a department store here for many years, and I couldn’t be happier. Very comfortable surroundings. (Grins maliciously.) And your gravesite is now covered by a car park, I understand.

Richard III: Thanks to faithless creatures like yourself.

Buckingham: Richard, it would be lovely to spend the evening reminiscing about old times with you, but the truth is, I’m expecting a friend tonight. A very special friend.

Richard III: One of your slimy Woodville in-laws?

Buckingham: Oh, no, they wouldn’t be caught dead with me now. (Laughs eerily.) Get it?

Richard III: I see you haven’t lost that irritating habit of laughing at your own jokes.

Buckingham: Well, at least I can make one.

Richard III: So who is it, then?

Buckingham: A lady friend. Other than that, I’m not saying. Oh, well, I’ll tell you this much. She’s French.

Richard III: Margaret of Anjou! I knew you were always a Lancastrian deep down. Why, that viper! How dare you--

Buckingham: It is not Margaret of Anjou, for God’s sake. Don’t get your knickers in a twist. Speaking of knickers, there’s some lovely bra-and-knicker sets over in Lingerie. They were just flying off the shelves today.

Richard III: So, not Margaret of Anjou. But who?

Buckingham: (Coyly) I’m not telling!

Richard III: Maybe she’d like to spend an evening with a king. Have you ever thought of that?

Buckingham: No. This lady has had quite enough of kings. (Aside) And so have I. (To Richard) Now, your grace. I’m sure you must be lonely. But you do have the Richard III Society to console yourself with, you know. There’s no Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham Society, after all.

Richard III: I know. But sometimes that just isn’t enough. (Fiddles nervously with neckties hanging on a rack.) Harry, there’s something I’ve always wanted to know. What did you mean to tell me before I executed you? I’ve always wondered.

Buckingham: (Sulkily) Well, you could have let me speak with you then and found out, couldn’t you? But no. You had to get up on your high horse, didn’t you?

Richard III: Can’t you tell me now?

Buckingham: Well, I just don’t know. It’s hard to think back that far--

Richard III: Please, Harry? For old times’ sake? If you do, I’ll leave you and your lady friend alone. And I’ll never come back. I promise.

Buckingham: Oh, very well. What I wanted to say was--

Richard III: Yes? Yes?

Buckingham: What I meant to say was—

Richard III: Oh, do not prolong my agony!

Buckingham: That I was truly, truly sorry, and that I thought you were going to make a great king, and that I wished you an early Merry Christmas. That’s all.

Richard III: Truly?

Buckingham: Truly. Now if you’ll excuse me, I really must go to Home and get some champagne and flutes.

Richard III: Thank you, Harry! I feel much better now. Merry Christmas!

Buckingham: Merry Christmas, your grace. Good night! (Aside, as Richard exits) First he and his stupid Society try to pin the murder of the Princes on me and dear aunt Maggie, then he tries to ruin my perfect evening.

(Buckingham exits. When he returns, he has changed into a cashmere jumper and trousers and is carrying champagne and two flutes. Then a rustling sound comes from offstage. Queen Isabella, widow of Edward II, enters. She does not look a day over twenty-five.)

Buckingham: Isabella, dearest! You came! All the way from Castle Rising!

Isabella: Why, of course, Harry! (Runs and embraces him, then looks around.) Oh, my. This certainly is much nicer than that dreary old castle.

Buckingham: Didn’t I tell you so, your grace, when my spirit was abroad in Norfolk the other day? Yes, this is the life. So to speak.

Isabella: Oh, Harry. Such a card you are. (Looks around some more.) Look at all these clothes. Harry. Tell me. Is there a Womens department?

Buckingham: Why, of course. You could find yourself something more comfortable to slip into in Lingerie. And there’s a Home department, with--er--bedding. But I’ll show you that later, your grace. Why don’t we just have some champagne now?

Isabella: Harry, not with all of those clothes to look at! You just wait here. I’ll be back soon. (Hurries away. The stage grows dark for a few minutes, and then Isabella returns. She has been to Luggage as well as to Womens. Her suitcases are bulging and her hands are flashing with rings from Jewellery.) Harry, I’ve never had such a wonderful Christmas Eve in my life, not even since dear Mortimer and I were an item! Thank you so much for bringing me here!

Buckingham: You don’t mean you’re leaving now?

Isabella: Why, dear, I must go home and try on all of these clothes and jewels! But we’ll get together soon. Toodles, dearie!

Buckingham: Toodles. (Sits down dejectedly.) Someone warned me that she was a she-wolf. Well, another Christmas Eve by myself. It’s going to be a long one. (Gulps some champagne.)

Gaveston: Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure about that.

Buckingham: Piers Gaveston? From Scarborough Castle?

Gaveston: The one and the same. (Picks up champagne.) Nice champers you’ve got here. May I join you?

Buckingham: Well--of course. (Moves away a little bit.)

Gaveston: Oh, don’t be shy.

Buckingham: It’s just that my tastes don’t run in that direction, you know.

Gaveston: Oh, I know. I understand the fair Isabella spurned you. Consider yourself lucky. After what she had them do to poor dear Ned--

Buckingham: (Shuddering) You know, I think you’re right. It is good that she left. Good for Debenhams too. Why, the workers in Womens couldn’t stock the shelves fast enough for her. Me, I’m much more restrained. That’s why I get along here so well. (Confidingly) I really like it here, you know.

Gaveston: Indeed? (Buckingham nods, a bit too enthusiastically.) Harry, I’m beginning to think you don’t have a very good head for champagne.

Buckingham: Well, no. (Giggles.) Of course, that could be because I lost my head. And so did you. (Thoughtfully) You know, we have a lot in common, it seems.

Gaveston: We certainly do. Harry, why don’t you put down the champers and change into one of those robes I see? It’d be much more comfortable now that it’s so late. (Buckingham nods.) And I’ll slip into something more relaxing too.

(The stage goes dim for a few minutes. When the lights go on again, Gaveston and Buckingham enter from opposite sides, both wearing robes. Gaveston is carrying a small wrapped package.)

Buckingham: For me? Oh, you shouldn’t have. (The clock strikes midnight.) It’s Christmas Day! Can I open it?

Gaveston: Why, of course.

Buckingham: Slippers!

Gaveston: Brown, just like your beautiful eyes.

Buckingham: Why--thank you. That’s the loveliest thing anyone ever said to me, and that includes Richard III when he said he was going to give me the Bohun lands. (Steps closer, as does Gaveston.) Merry Christmas, Piers.

Gaveston: Merry Christmas, Harry.

(The curtain falls as they embrace passionately)


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Three More Search Terms

Couldn't resist adding these before January starts up and they no longer appear on my monthly report:

queen isabella is nice

OK, if you say so.

is it alright to call yourself dead since you are going to be

Can we get an ethicist over here, please?

for god s sake will you stop coughing??

Nothing like tea and sympathy, huh?

Anyway, tomorrow's my day for the Blog Advent Tour, so stay tuned! I've got a very cute picture of Bozzer and a playlet about the Duke of Buckingham in store.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Review Round-Up

As I'm completing some reviews for the February Historical Novels Review (my, time flies), here are some from the November issue. (I was a busy girl!)

Rivals for the Crown
Kathleen Givens, Pocket Books, 2007, $14.00/C$16.99, pb, 432pp, 9781416509929

In 1290 London, childhood friends Isabel de Burke and Rachel of Anjou are abruptly parted when Edward I expels the Jews from England. As Rachel and her family make their way to Scotland, where they start life anew as innkeepers, Isabel becomes a lady-in-waiting to Queen Eleanor of Castile. When tension between England and Scotland mounts, Isabel and Rachel find themselves caught in the middle—and attracted to two handsome Highlanders, cousins Rory MacGannon and Kieran MacDonald.

Givens' romantic historical is plotted deftly, with likeable main characters, plenty of intrigue and narrow escapes, and truly dastardly English villains in the Braveheart tradition, including the always reliably nasty Edward I (offstage) and his lecherous sidekick, Bishop Walter Langton. The book was marred for me, though, by the distinctly modern attitudes sometimes displayed by the sympathetic characters: for instance, in an age not noted for its religious tolerance, the only people opposed to the romance between Rachel and Kieran are Rachel's father and Rachel's Jewish fiancé (who as a butcher doesn't stand a chance against a handsome Highlander). Readers who can suspend their disbelief more readily, however, will likely enjoy this book.

The Queen's Handmaiden
Jennifer Ashley, Berkeley, 2007, $14.00/C$17.50, pb, 320pp, 9780425217320

Unwanted by her new stepfather, Eloise Rousell ends up in the care of her relation Kat Ashley, governess to Elizabeth Tudor. Growing up alongside her royal mistress, Eloise discovers that she has talents not only for dressmaking, but for intrigue—skills that Eloise will use to Elizabeth's advantage as the future queen is threatened from all sides.

Spanning the period from Edward VI's reign to the early years of Elizabeth's reign, from scandal with Thomas Seymour to scandal with Robert Dudley, this is a diverting tale, narrated by the resourceful, loyal Eloise in an engaging, lively fashion. A love story involving Eloise, though not so prominent as to intrude upon the main story, adds a nice touch.

Perhaps because so many events were packed into a relatively short space, however, I found that this novel was somewhat lacking in depth and focus—it was difficult to get a sense as to some of the characters' personalities and motivations. That being said, I found the characters here to be refreshingly true to their time, not the modern beings in fancy dress that have marred some Tudor fiction, and the novel to be well researched. I look forward to future forays into historical fiction by Ashley.

The King's Pleasure
Norah Lofts, Torc, 2006, £6.99, pb, 334pp, 0752439464

Originally published in 1969, this reissued novel by one of the grande dames of twentieth-century historical fiction tells the familiar story of Katharine of Aragon, spanning her childhood in Spain to her death as the cast-off wife of Henry VIII. Katharine's tale is told by a third-person narrator not only from Katherine's own perspective, but from those of other players in the drama of Henry's reign.

This is a novel that has held up remarkably well over time. Though it's slow moving on occasion, its leisurely pace allows us to savor the impressive gallery of characters. Lofts gives us information about the backgrounds of even the minor ones, so that they become much more than mere props supporting the lead protagonists, but interesting people in their own right. Henry, always a challenge for historical novelists, is not a cardboard villain but a complex man of many qualities. Katharine is admirable but maddeningly stubborn, taking the hard path where the easier one might have been better for all concerned. The interactions between all of these people feel absolutely authentic and natural, as in the scene toward the end of the novel where two of Katharine's attendants bicker as Katharine lies dying in the next room. And although the novel ends with Katharine's death, Lofts occasionally provides us glimpses into the future, adding to the book's richness.

This is a classic of the genre that should appeal both to those revisiting old favorites and to those just discovering the masters of the past.

Letters from Pemberley: The First Year
Jane Dawkins, Sourcebooks, 2007, $13.95/C$17.95/UK£7.99, pb, 213pp, 9781402209062

Having married Fitzwilliam Darcy and settled on his estate of Pemberley, a slightly homesick Elizabeth Bennet begins writing letters to her older sister, the newlywed Jane. With new acquaintances, Mr. Darcy's plans to remodel Pemberley (a task he takes on with much more sensitivity than Mr. Rushworth), and Georgiana's baffling onset of low spirits, Elizabeth finds herself with a great deal to write about.

Dawkins deliberately incorporates language, renamed characters, and situations from Austen's life and novels into Elizabeth's letters, providing some fun in recognition for sharp-eyed Janeites. Contemporary details, such as the fashions Elizabeth wears and the books she reads, are also worked in nicely. Otherwise, Letters is rather short in substance, Elizabeth settling into her roles as wife and mistress of Pemberley almost a little too easily. I found myself wishing at times that Mrs. Bennet would pay an extended visit just to stir up some trouble. All in all, though, Letters makes for a charming, quick read, especially for Jane Austen fans who need something to tide them over while waiting to re-read the originals.

Courting Trouble
Deeanne Gist, Bethany House, 2007, $13.99, pb, 332pp, 9780764202254

Outgoing, good-natured, and fond of elaborate hats and bicycle riding, Essie Spreckelmeyer is well-liked in her hometown but seriously short on suitors, an unwelcome state of affairs for a 30-year-old woman in 1890's Corsicana, Texas. In her usual forthright manner, the unconventional Essie decides to remedy the situation by picking a likely husband. Having assessed each candidate's good and bad points in writing, all that is left is to get her prospective spouse to agree to the arrangement.

Featuring a bust enhancer that doubles as a mouse catcher, a runaway snake, and Essie's adventures on the new "wheeled feet" her friend the peddler brings to town, Courting Trouble is delightfully humorous at times. There's a dark side to this novel too, however, as we see when a moment of recklessness threatens disaster for Essie and when Essie is on the verge of entering into a relationship that would stifle her individuality. Gist expertly blends these disparate elements and creates likeable yet flawed characters, resulting in a novel that's both highly entertaining and thought-provoking. I'm looking forward to seeing the sequel.

Louisiana's Song
Kerry Madden, Viking, 2007, $16.99/C$21.00, hb, 278pp, 9780670061532

In the spring of 1963, twelve-year-old Livy Two and her nine siblings eagerly await their father's return to the home they share in North Carolina's Great Smoky Mountains. But the Tom Weems who comes home from the hospital, where he has been recovering from a head injury received in a car accident, is not the man he used to be. He doesn't know that JFK is President, and although he hears music in his head, he can't remember that he himself is a musician—a gift he has passed down to Livy Two.

With Tom prone to wandering off, money getting tight, and Grandma Horace talking about moving the family off their beloved mountain to a nearby factory town, the Weems family is in need of all the help it can get. Livy tries to do her part, persuading her artistic but shy sister Louise (the "Louisiana" of the title) to draw portraits in nearby Waynesboro and barraging a Nashville music company with her songs.

The second book in a series of three, Louisiana's Song is narrated by Livy, an endearing, indomitable heroine, whose narrative voice is conversational and folksy without ever sounding contrived or artificial. The novel teems with wonderful, vivid characters, from the Weems family members to the bookmobile lady to Mathew the Mennonite. Even the family dog, Uncle Hazard, has a personality all of his own. Don't let the somewhat hackneyed title scare you off—Louisiana's Song is an original. Lively, funny, and moving, it's a novel that adults as well as young readers should enjoy.

The Case of Abraham Lincoln: A Story of Adultery, Murder and the Making of a Great President
Julie M. Fenster, Palgrave, 2007, $24.95/C$31.00, hb, 256pp, 9781403976352

In 1856, Springfield, Illinois is abuzz. One of its citizens, a prosperous blacksmith named George Anderson, has been murdered—and the suspects are Anderson’s wife and his young nephew, believed to have been carrying on a love affair in Anderson’s own house. Eventually, another citizen of Springfield will become involved in the Anderson murder case—a prominent lawyer and rising politician named Abraham Lincoln.

The Case of Abraham Lincoln has two main strands, the murder case in Springfield and Lincoln’s career as a lawyer and a politician. The strands intersect only peripherally until near the end of the book, when Lincoln joins the Anderson defense and plays a crucial, though undramatic, role in achieving an acquittal for the suspects.

Despite the subtitle, readers expecting a juicy tale of murder and adultery will be disappointed. Fenster’s main interest is in the procedural aspects of the case and in the lawyers on both sides, not in the suspects, who took their secrets, if they had any, to the grave. Those wanting to know more about Lincoln as a lawyer and about his role in 1850’s American party politics, however, will find this a welcome addition to their shelves.

Loves of Harriet Beecher Stowe
Philip McFarland, Grove, 2007, $26.00/C$32.50, hb, 320 pp, 9780802118455

As every American schoolchild knows, or ought to know, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the great anti-slavery novel. Few, including myself, know much more about her. Loves of Harriet Beecher Stowe undertakes to fill this gap.

McFarland looks not only at Stowe, but at her "loves" of the title—chiefly her family members, including Stowe's brother, the famed preacher Henry Ward Beecher, whose notorious adultery trial is given particular attention here. We also meet Stowe's good friend Lady Byron, whose posthumous reputation Stowe championed, resulting in controversy both in the United States and in England. Uncle Tom's Cabin and the sensation it caused are examined in depth, but Stowe's lesser known writings (one of which, Dred, garnered fulsome praise from George Eliot) are given their fair share of attention, as are her successful reading tours. In addition, McFarland examines Stowe's views on such diverse issues as spiritualism and women's rights, introducing us to people such as stockbroker, free-love advocate, and presidential candidate Victoria Woodhull (whom Stowe described succinctly as "this witch").

As a portrait not only of a fascinating woman but of a vibrant period in American history, Loves of Harriet Beecher Stowe is an illuminating read.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Search Terms, We've Got Search Terms!

From the hopper today:

i am locking for a sweet girl to be my wife

I do hope he meant "looking."

edward 1 was he an english justinian or a ruthless opressor?

That's what I like, an easy question.

tudor fiction

You mean people write novels about the Tudors? Next you'll be telling me that people write romances set in Regency England!

was henry james s writing influenced more by family members than others?

Just knowing that someone used this question to reach my website makes me feel ever so much smarter.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Yippee! Live on Amazon!

For all of you Amazon denizens out there, I'm pleased to say that Hugh and Bess: A Love Story can finally be ordered in paperback there! Look to the sidebar for a link to both the paperback and the newfangled Kindle versions.

A Happy 17th Birthday to my son today!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Monday Night Odds and Ends, and Books for Compliments

Tabitha over at iUniverse Book Reviews has posted a review with yours truly, complete with photograph. (Tabitha is having sort of a Edward II theme these days; Brandy Purdy's The Confession of Piers Gaveston is also reviewed on the blog.) If you're not one of the lucky denizens of Apex, North Carolina, this will be one of your few opportunities to see me in my spectacles, so stop on by! First two people who stop by my own blog and say, "Susan, you look adorable in your spectacles," will win a copy of The Traitor's Wife or Hugh and Bess--your choice--with a big red bow tied around it and a chicken scratch otherwise known as my autograph. Perfect for the holidays!

Speaking of which, a couple of people have wondered when Hugh and Bess will be live on Amazon. So have I! It may be a few more weeks, but I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, it can be ordered from Lulu (they deliver quickly) or from Amazon in a Kindle version if you've bought one of those newfangled devices. By the way, has anyone ordered one?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

A Night at the Theater with Edward II

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I got to see a performance of Marlowe's Edward II at Washington, D.C.'s Shakespeare Theatre Company. I'm not a theater critic and can't act my way out of a paper bag myself, so instead of a review per se, here are just a few thoughts on the Edward II production.

First (she said smugly), since I attended the play alone and therefore splurged on my ticket, I had a great seat--second row center, close enough to see the actors very well but just far enough away to avoid being spat on. The woman behind me told her companion that she had the best seat, but I think mine was better. So there.

The play was staged in 1920's dress. I rather like modern-dress productions of old plays if they're done well, and this one was. Isabella and Gaveston's wife, Margaret de Clare, looked very nice in their flapper outfits. Most of the men were dressed in military attire, except for Edward II and Gaveston. The 1920's setting also meant that guns were used on occasion: the unfortunate Spencer (Hugh le Despenser the younger) and Baldock were shot to death, although Gaveston and Mortimer were beheaded. The only jarring note was when the talk turned to religion; it was odd to have English people dressed in 1920's garb speak of the Pope's authority.

The play opened at Edward I's funeral, with the little Edward III and Isabella silently offering their condolences to Edward II. This was a nice touch, since the play closes at Edward II's funeral.

In the play, one of the barons' biggest complaints about Edward II is his fondness for masques and the like, and Gaveston's return was accordingly staged as a production number featuring men in skimpy outfits and in women's clothing, with Gaveston finally borne in wearing wings. (Spencer, as I recall, was in a yellow spangly number. If you're at Tewkesbury Abbey and hear rolling sounds coming from the real Hugh's tomb, that's probably why.)

I rather liked the actress who played Margaret de Clare, portrayed here as a squealing ingenue who assumes a priceless facial expression when rather late in the game, she finally realizes that there's something odd going on between Uncle Ned and her husband. It was also a good touch to have Margaret attending her uncle's funeral in the final scene.

I enjoyed the actor who played the Earl of Kent. I thought he did a good job of conveying Kent's hopelessly torn loyalties.

When Gaveston comes home from his second exile, there's a big sign reading, "Welcome Home Gaveston" onstage. I don't know why, but that gave me the giggles. I liked that sign.

Edward III is played by two actors; a young boy and a young man. Shortly before his crowning (and probably about the time of the boy actor's bedtime), Edward III's growing maturity is depicted by substituting the older actor for the younger one onstage. I thought that was clever on the part of the director, and also helped in showing the passage of time, which Marlowe compresses considerably.

Finally, Gaveston, having been executed, reappears several times in angel's wings to offer comfort to Edward, most importantly in the red-hot poker scene (where the wings also obscure the poker business). This could have been silly in the wrong hands, but it was quite moving, especially when Gaveston bears his friend's body offstage.

In short, I thoroughly enjoyed this play, which doesn't get produced in the US that often outside of the largest cities. It's playing through January 6, so if you're in the DC area (or can get there), check it out!