Regular readers of this blog – and I believe there are a few – will know that this blog isn’t particularly focussed on any one thing. I don’t even describe this as a “books blog”, or as a “literary blog”: most of my posts are, admittedly, on literary matters, but on the whole, this blog is as unfocussed and as meandering and – let’s be honest – as undisciplined as my mind. I write about whatever takes my fancy, and, on the whole, quite enjoy the freewheeling nature of it all.
However, this freewheeling approach means that this blog doesn’t really have a brand, as such. There’s no niche in which to settle. And recently, I have been tempted, sorely tempted, to give this blog a more distinctive identity. It all started recently when I started tweeting on a book I have been reading recently – a biography of Caravaggio by Helen Langdon (of which more later: watch this space, as they say). And it struck me what a wonderfully rich era, in terms of culture, the turn of the 17th century was – from the 1590 into the 1600s. For me, of course, this was principally the era of Shakespeare; but it was also the era of John Donne, Monteverdi, Francis Bacon, William Byrd, Cervantes, the young Rubens, John Dowland, Caravaggio, Lope de Vega, Ben Jonson, Thomas Campion, El Greco, Johannes Kepler, Giordano Bruno, Galileo, and so on. In short, it was one of the most extraordinary periods in the Western world in terms of culture, and the advancement of learning. Now, wouldn’t it be interesting to focus my blog on this era? Perhaps to discipline myself to write on nothing but this era?
Histories of England tend to split this era into the Tudor period and the Stuart period, thus introducing a break in 1603 with the death of Queen Elizabeth I; and in terms of “-isms”, no-one can really decide whether this was the era of the late Renaissance or the early Baroque: Byrd and Shakespeare are often referred to as Renaissance figures, whereas Caravaggio and Monteverdi are considered Baroque. Perhaps the Italians, ahead of the times as ever, decided to become Baroque somewhat earlier than the British got round to it – who knows!
As with any era, of course, it’s an era of great diversity, and there’s little point – or even perhaps convenience – in sticking labels. What does it matter whether Shakespeare was Renaissance or Caravaggio was Baroque when they were both, at the same time, producing masterpieces of unsurpassed tragic grandeur? It’s an era I really would like to immerse myself in, and writing about it here would be, if nothing else, an education for me: apart from the plays of Shakespeare – whose works I won’t claim to know well, but which I have at least lived with for a great many years – I am really not at all knowledgeable about these other major figures of the time. Wouldn’t it be great to know well the music of Byrd, or of Monteverdi? To come to a deeper understanding of those dark masterpieces of Caravaggio? To appreciate better the poetry of Donne? To re-read Don Quixote? Or, if I allow myself the freedom to go back a decade or two, come to terms – as I have long been intending to do – with the essays of Montaigne?
It’s certainly tempting. However, while I think there will be a great many posts here next year on this fascinating period, I doubt I’d want to lose the freewheeling aspect of this blog: I’d like to give myself the freedom to continue to write about whatever takes my fancy – whether it’s a piece of nostalgia, or some account of some film or play that I’ve just seen, or some concert I’ve just heard, or simply have a damn good rant. That last bit is especially important: I most certainly do not want to give up on my rants, especially when there is so much in our times worth ranting about.
So, no radical changes I suppose; but when we get into 2015 – which is now frighteningly close – do be prepared for a plethora of posts on the arts and culture of the late 16th to the early 17th centuries.