December 16, 2018
Garrison Keillor returns to Crooner’s with singer Christine DiGiallonardo & pianist Richard Dworsky. Shows at 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
New York, NY
December 2, 2018
A mini Prairie Home reunion featuring Garrison Keillor, Rob Fisher, Fred Newman, and Heather Masse and Christine DiGiallonardo.
November 3, 2018
Garrison Keillor performs with duet partner Lynne Peterson and longtime collaborator & pianist Richard Dworsky.
5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
A live performance at the Brady Theater
Long Beach, CA
A live performance at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center
by Linda Pastan
The text for today’s poem is not available. The collection in which it appears, Traveling Light, may be purchased here.
Othello was performed for the court of James I. In the “Accounts of the Revels at Court” from 1604, there is an entry that says: “By the Kings Maiesties plaiers. Hallamas Day being the first of Nouembar, A play in the Banketinge house at Whithall called The Moor of Venis. Shaxberd.” Othello, the Moor of Venice was performed several more times before Shakespeare died in 1616, but it wasn’t printed until 1622.
Richard Burbage, Shakespeare’s friend and the leading man in his acting company, probably played the first Othello, just as he played Hamlet, King Lear, and Richard III. He definitely played him in later productions, and a poet described Othello as Burbage’s “chiefest part, / Wherein beyond the rest he moved the heart.” King James was a scholar himself and a serious patron of the arts — he gave his name to the King James Bible, and he and his wife particularly enjoyed theater, and so many of Shakespeare’s plays were performed before the royal court. Macbeth was written specifically for James, who was fascinated by witchcraft. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, who preceded James, an average of six or seven plays were performed each year in the royal court. The court of James I averaged more than 20 each year.
And it was on this day in 1611 that The Tempest was first performed, once again for the court of James I. The Tempest tells the story of Prospero, a powerful magician and the former Duke of Milan who is exiled to a remote island with his daughter. He conjures up a storm to shipwreck his brother, who stole his throne. Prospero is one of the only Shakespeare protagonists who is not based on a known historical figure. But in 2008, a retired policeman-turned-amateur historian from Scotland named Brian Moffatt self-published a book called Death Resurrection and the Sword. In it, he explained his theory that Prospero is based on the real-life Francis Stewart, the Fifth Earl of Bothwell. He was the king’s cousin, but he turned against James. He and his wife were said to be practitioners of witchcraft and magic, and Bothwell apparently tried to cast a spell to conjure up a storm and shipwreck his cousin, James, as he returned from Denmark with his new bride. The spell didn’t work, and Bothwell was tried and acquitted, but later exiled, and he ended up dying in Naples.
Because The Tempest is Shakespeare’s last major play, a lot of people think that Prospero is meant to stand for Shakespeare himself, and that his last speech, when he gives up his powers, is Shakespeare’s own comment about the end of his career: “To the dread rattling thunder / Have I given fire and rifted Jove’s stout oak / With his own bolt; the strong-based promontory / Have I made shake and by the spurs plucked up / The pine and cedar: graves at my command / Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let ’em forth / By my so potent art. But this rough magic / I here abjure; and, when I have required / Some heavenly music — which even now I do, — / To work mine end upon their senses, that / This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff, / Bury it certain fathoms in the earth, / And deeper than did ever plummet sound / I’ll drown my book.”
The theater scene at James’ court must have gone downhill after Shakespeare’s day, because a few years later, in 1614, a courtier wrote to his friend complaining of the constant plays: “We have Plays at Court every night, — wherein they shew great patience, being for the most part such poor stuff that, instead of delight, they send the auditory away with discontent. Indeed our Poets’ brains and inventions are grown very dry, insomuch that of five new Plays there is not one that pleases, and therefore they are driven to furbish over their old; which stand them in best stead and bring them most profit.”
It’s the birthday of novelist Susanna Clarke, (books by this author) born in Nottingham, England (1959). She worked in publishing, then went to Italy to teach English, and while she was there she said: “I had a kind of waking dream about a man in 18th-century clothes in a place rather like Venice, talking to some English tourists. And I felt strongly that he had some sort of magical background — he’d been dabbling in magic, and something had gone badly wrong.”
She decided to write a novel about this character, even though, as she said, “I really like magicians, but there was no reason to suppose anyone else would.” She took a five-day science-fiction and fantasy class, and one of her teachers was so impressed with a short story she wrote in the workshop that he sent it to his friend Neil Gaiman, who showed it to an editor, who called her up and offered to publish it. So she started publishing short fiction, but her novel was slow-going. She was working as a cookbook editor for Simon & Schuster, and for years she got up and started writing at 5:30 in the morning, wrote for about three hours, and then went off to her day job. The novel took her 10 years to write, but finally she was done with the manuscript, called Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It’s the story of two wizards, one a handsome and charismatic young man named Jonathan Strange and one an uptight scholar named Gilbert Norrell. It isn’t a book of high fantasy as much as a comedy of manners and a history of early 19th-century England during the Napoleonic Wars — with a lot of magic thrown in. When it was finally published, Susanna Clarke got as many comparisons to Jane Austen and Charles Dickens as to any fantasy writer.
But publishing Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell wasn’t easy — it was 800 pages long, and the first few publishers turned it down, saying that it would be impossible to market such a book. But then Bloomsbury picked it up and was so sure it would be a success that they offered her a huge advance. Sure enough, the book stayed on the New York Times best-seller list for about three months.
The Arecibo Observatory opened on this date in 1963. At a diameter of a thousand feet, it’s the largest single-aperture telescope ever built. It’s also got the largest focusing dish in the world, which gathers electromagnetic waves from space. Located near the city of Arecibo in Puerto Rico, it’s close to the equator, which enables it to “see” (via radio waves) all the planets in the solar system; within six months of its opening, it enabled scientists to study the rotation rate of Mercury and determine that it rotated every 59 days, rather than 88 as was previously thought. It’s also been used for military purposes like locating Soviet radar installations by tracking their signals as they were reflected off the moon. It’s provided the first full imaging of an asteroid and also led to the first discovery of planets outside our solar system.
In 1999, it began collecting data for the SETI Institute; SETI stands for “search for extraterrestrial intelligence,” and the organization looks for deliberate radio or optical signals from other planets. The Arecibo Observatory also sends data over broadband to the home and office computers of 250,000 volunteers, who, through the Einstein@Home program, donate their computers to be used for data analysis during periods when they would otherwise be idle. Eight years ago, three such volunteers in Iowa and Germany discovered a previously unknown pulsar, 17,000 light years from Earth.
The first medical school for women opened in Boston, Massachusetts, on this date in 1848. It was started by Samuel Gregory, who named it the Boston Female Medical College. The first class — 12 women in all — graduated just two years later, in 1850. Gregory’s own formal medical training consisted of a summer lecture course that he had taken in anatomy and physiology. He wasn’t remotely a supporter of women’s rights, but he believed it was unseemly for male doctors to assist women in childbirth, so the college was mostly intended to serve as a school for midwives at first. In 1856, the school’s name was changed to the New England Female Medical College; it named among its graduates Rebecca Lee Crumper, the first African-American to earn a medical degree, which she did in 1864.
The “match race of the century” between Seabiscuit and War Admiral was run on this date in 1938. Seabiscuit had become something of a kindred spirit to dispirited Americans in the grip of the Great Depression: He was little, he was ugly, his legs were crooked, and he was plagued by frequent injuries. He was named for his sire, Hard Tack; a “sea biscuit” is another name for the hard bread eaten by sailors. Early in his racing career, he had been unreliable — sometimes blazing fast, sometimes lazy and tough to motivate — and he liked to overeat and oversleep. In spite of being trained by one of the top trainers in the business, Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, he lost his first 10 races and no one really thought he’d amount to much. Fitzsimmons began to neglect him, and turned his attention to more promising colts.
But Seabiscuit eventually found a new owner. He also found a new trainer, who had recently served a suspension as a scapegoat in a doping case; and a new jockey, who had a drinking problem and happened to be blind in one eye. Trainer Tom Smith and jockey Red Pollard saw potential in the colt, and worked to awaken his competitive spirit. The horse’s stubbornness began to work in his favor, and soon he was winning. He would draw even with his competitors and stare them down out of the corner of his eye until they gave in, almost defeating them through sheer force of will. He became so competitive and so fierce that some of his stablemates refused to run against him in workouts. Track handicappers, in an attempt to make races more equitable, loaded him down with lead weights, but still he won. In 1937, as a four-year-old, he won 11 of 15 races and was the top money earner of the year. But he lost the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year to another stallion, who just happened to be his uncle.
That other horse was War Admiral, son of the great Man o’ War, who was Seabiscuit’s grandfather. War Admiral was everything Seabiscuit was not. Tall, gleaming black, and handsome, he had won the Triple Crown. A match race was set between the five-year-old Seabiscuit and the four-year-old War Admiral at Pimlico Race Course in Maryland. Forty thousand people packed the stands, and 40 million listened in on the radio. At one-to-four odds, War Admiral was the overwhelming favorite. Seabiscuit broke fast from the gate, pulling away quickly, but War Admiral gained on him and the two traded the lead for a while. Seabiscuit’s usual jockey, Red Pollard, was sidelined with a bad racing injury, but he’d told his replacement what to do: Ease up on the horse and let him get a good look at his opponent. Seabiscuit looked War Admiral in the eye and pulled away with a burst of speed, winning by four lengths. The little brown horse’s tale inspired two movies and several books, including Laura Hillenbrand’s best-seller, Seabiscuit: An American Legend (2001). In 1940, The Saturday Evening Post called him “the Horatio Alger hero of the turf, the horse that came up from nothing on his own courage and will to win.”