A Conference in Penshurst, England,

June 8-9, 2014

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The University of Lancaster is convening a conference called "Dramatizing Penshurst" at the ancestral home of the Sidney family at Penshurst Place and gardens (about 32 miles southeast of London, in Penshurst, near Tonbridge, in Kent) and will "explore how site and writing connect in the work of the Sidney-Herbert family."

The presenters are scholars in this field of research and include Margaret Hannay, an authority on Mary Sidney, and Dr Susan West, the architectural historian of Penshurst Place. The topics of memory, place and tradition and their contribution to literary innovation will be discussed, including sonnet sequences, lyric poetry, female-authored drama and pastoral romance. There is a call for proposals for 20-minute papers to complement these talks.

For more information, click *here* and also find the contact information for Professor Alison Findlay, Lancaster University, to whom proposals and enquiries should be directed.

The Sidney and Herbert families, and their literary coteries, were influenced and supported by the places in which they gathered.

Mary Sidney Herbert and her brother, Philip Sidney, grew up at Penshurst Place.

The Penshurst conference will also feature an initial Globe Theatre production of Love's Victory, by Mary Sidney's niece, Lady Mary Wroth. Conference attendees will be invited to comment on the performance with the aim of planning a larger production in the future.

In Love's Victory, Venus is miffed because she has not been shown enough respect, and she orders her son, Cupid, to wreck some havoc, whereupon the shepherds and shepherdesses get confused, and the fun begins. This is a closet drama, somewhat more formalized than a play, and it addresses various kinds of loves:  true, flawed, chaste and comic. Amongst other pastoral entanglements it refers to the great friendship and love affair between Mary Sidney and Dr Matthew Lister which occurred after the Earl of Pembroke died. (Dr Lister was later the physician for Queen Anne, queen of King James.) Mary Wroth also included a portrayal of her own true love affair with her cousin, William Herbert, Mary Sidney's son. 

Penshurst is well worth a visit; some accommodation suggestions nearby are at this site: <http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/dramatizing-penshurst/travel-and-accommodation/>

By the way, the playwright Ben Jonson was a close friend of the Sidney family, and a member of the extended Sidney-Herbert coterie; he wrote a poem in honor of Penshurst: to read it, click here.


Mary Sidney's lyrical version of Psalm 131 . . . and coffee grounds?

Psalm 131 Domine, non est

Mary Sidney’s version:

A lofty heart, a lifted eye,

        Lord, thou dost know I never bare:

Less have I borne in things too high

        A meddling mind or climbing care.

        Look how the weanèd babe doth fare:

Oh, did I not? Yes, so did I:

         None more for quiet might compare

Ev’n with the babe that weaned doth lie.

         Hear then and learn, O Jacob’s race,

         Such endless trust on God to place.


King James version:

Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.

Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child.

Let Israel hope in the Lord from henceforth and for ever.


An English translation of an Aramaic version:

Lord Jehovah, my heart is not lifted up neither are my eyes lifted up, neither have I walked in a pretense of things greater than I.

But my soul is humbled like one weaned of his mother, and my soul is like one weaned of me.

But let Israel hope in Lord Jehovah from now and unto eternity.


In their fine introduction to the The Sidney Psalter, The Psalms of Sir Philip and Mary Sidney, first published by Oxford University Press in 2009, the editors Hannibal Hamlin, Michael G. Brennan, Margaret P. Hannay, and Noel J. Kinnamon acknowledge that the translated psalms begun by Sir Philip Sidney (psalms 1-43) and completed by his sister, Mary Sidney (psalms 44-150) not only glorify the biblical works but are some of the most accomplished lyric poems of the English Renaissance. John Donne described the Sidney psalms as the “highest matter in the noblest form” and they were acknowledged in their own time as masterpieces, examples of the lyric potential of English poetry. Read the introduction in this wonderful book for more information about the biblical psalms, the Sidneys, the collaborative aspects of the psalms, the forms, the extraordinary variety, the content and more. (Buy the book at Amazon books, or order it from your local bookstore.)

You can read an interesting short article by Margaret Hannay titled “Mary Sidney, A Poet and Psalmist of Shakespeare’s Time” at this link: http://www.eewc.com/Articles/mary-sidney for more information about Mary Sidney and the psalms. (This is on the Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus, Christian Feminism Today website.)

For a look at the Hebrew text of psalm 131 and to read commentary by Rabbi Benjamin J. Segal in an article titled “Psalm 131 – Tranquility” select this link: http://psalms.schechter.edu/2012/08/psalm-131-tranquility-text-hebrew-text.html (This is on the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies website.)

And about the coffee grounds: I was intrigued to read in the “Note on the Text” on page xxxii of The Sidney Psalter that eighteen manuscripts of the Sidney Psalms survive and that one of the most important ones is a 17th century copy by a Samuel Woodford of Mary Sidney’s own copy, which shows Mary’s practice of revising her own psalms as well as her brother’s. What really got my attention was the fact that Mr. Woodford rescued this copy from his brother, who was using it to hold ground coffee!



The True Compliment: Stephen Fry reads Sonnet 130

Stephen Fry has the most delightful, mellifluous voice for reading, reciting and acting that I’ve ever heard. And he somehow manages to incorporate irony, wit, charm, kindness, and a hint of darkness in his fabulously intelligent delivery of Sonnet 130. I suppose if he were to simply read the telephone book from East nowhere out loud I’d also be quite delighted.

 You may listen to him – and watch him -- recite the sonnet that begins “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” at the following link, which is very, very slow to load -- have patience: let it load and then come back to it, to hear the complete poem without annoying pauses, to hear the words flow from irony to respectful love (which by the way, does not matter if it is directed toward a man or a woman):

Stephen Fry at OpenCulture.com

Some of the same understanding and sensitivity heard in the poem is evident in Stephen Fry’s superb performance of Malvolio in the Globe production of Twelfe Night (an original spelling) that was brought over from London to New York City in repertory with Richard III. I was able to attend both plays in October, 2013. The entire cast was outstanding for both plays, including the extraordinary Mark Rylance who played Olivia with hilarious comic timing and exquisite tenderness, and then the next night showed the audience an original and oddly funny King Richard who was therefore peculiarly scary and pathetic.

 Perhaps Stephen Fry’s compassionate portrayal of Malvolio in Twelfe Night and his exquisite performance of sonnet 130 are each due to unusual comprehension and careful reading.

This rendition in the Open Culture link above is from an ambitious iPad app called “Shakespeare’s Sonnets” which features many different readers. However, I wouldn’t have minded if all 154 sonnets were read by the inimitable Stephen Fry.



Sonnet 18, sung by David Gilmour

Want a soothing moment in your busy day? Listen to guitarist and lead singer with Pink Floyd, David Gilmour, sing Sonnet 18 and you may be intrigued by his rendition. 

The sonnet was set to music which was written by the composer and conductor, Michael Kamen, and it was part of a 2002 benefit album for the Royal Academy for the Dramatic Arts in London titled When Love Speaks. About that same time Gilmour recorded himself singing the song, and the recording was released as an extra on the 2002 DVD David Gilmour in Concert. I found several links to his recording online;  one was at the Open Culture site which had information about how the recording came about. It also included the following comment about the sonnet: “It was written in about 1595, and most scholars now agree the poem is addressed to a man.” As a fan of Mary Sidney, I imagine that she wrote this sonnet to her brother, Sir Philip Sidney (who was killed young, in battle), saying that as long as this poem is read aloud or silently, it will give life to him—immortal poetry indeed!

(This YouTube link of the recording may work. The Open Culture site link is unreliable.) If this link doesn't take you to Mr Gilmour on his boat on the Thames, browse around; it is worth finding a way to hear his rendition of this sonnet.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Former poet laureate recognizes Mary Sidney as poet

Robert Pinksy, former poet laureate, wrote a wonderful article about Mary Sidney as a poet and translator, and appreciates that she inspired John Donne. He reads aloud one of the psalms she versified, Psalm 52.

Psalm 52 at Slate.com

Not long ago, Joyce Carol Oates made a reference to Mary Sidney having written Shakespeare, in the New York Times Sunday Book Review:

Q: If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you want to know? Have you ever written to an author?

A: We would probably all want to meet Shakespeare—or so we think. (We could ask the man if he’d really written all those plays, or if, somehow, he’d acquired them from—who?—Sir Philip Sidney’s sister, perhaps? Wonder what W.S. would say to that.) Some of us have fantasized meeting Emily Dickinson. (The problem is, would either W.S. or E.D. want to meet us? Why?)

Joyce Carole Oates at NYtimes.com

Let’s hope that Oates and Pinksy are talking to each other!