Archive for the ‘History’ Category

The Days of Obadiah Are Over

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

I believe that the days of Obadiah are over.  The days of Elijah have come.

Obadiah, pious, Godly has saved thousands of believers.  In order to do that Obadiah had to be anonymous, quiet.  Oh he was privately advancing the cause of YHWH.  And it must be said that he was a pious, Godly effective man in his day, to his people.

But the days of Obadiah are ending. . . the days of Elijah are coming.

Peter Berger, a secular sociologists, reminds us that the social structures we call “culture” are no longer sustaining our society, that, in effect, things are falling apart.  Our problems are much deeper than the economic crisis, there is a crisis of cultural authority. Or, as my old friend Professor Harvey Cox, at Harvard, coyly observed, “Once Americans had dreams and no technology to fulfill those dreams.  Now Americans have tons of technology, but they have no dreams left.”

The first strophe of William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” begins:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre,

The falcon cannot hear the falconer.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

The blood-dimmed tide is tossed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

American in the beginning of the 21st century is spinning out of control.  We are stretching our wings adventurously, but drifting farther away from our God. We are in trouble.

The days of Obadiah are ending and the days of Elijah are coming!

The fact is, and numerous theologians and social annalists echo this, America is in a post- Christian era.  Ergo, for the first time in American history, Evangelical, born-again Christians, are most definitely a minority element in America.  Writers like William Willimon, Thomas Sine, David Wells, Os Guinness, and others echo this theme of “resident aliens” throughout America.  Increasingly we who proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior are finding ourselves in a minority culture.

It seems, at times that Americans are lost.  “The sense of being lost, displaced, and homeless is pervasive in contemporary culture,” Walter Brueggemann writes. “The yearning to belong somewhere, to have a home, to be in a safe place, is a deep and moving pursuit.”  I am a pastor, and in spite of our hedonistic bravado, I generally find most of my congregation members–who generally are not living a life centered on Jesus Christ–are in fact desperately unhappy.  And no wonder.  This world does not provide what we need.  No, it really doesn’t.  It once thought it did.

I can remember being seduced by the august institution that was HarvardUniversity.  In 1976, I really believed my university chaplain who told the incoming Harvard class, “You are the next history makers of America.” I wanted to believe it.  I needed to believe it. My acquaintance and colleague from Harvard Divinity School, Dr. Forrest Church, now pastor in a Unitarian Church in New York City, was fond of saying, “In our faith God is not a given, God is a question . . . God is defined by us.  Our views are shaped and changed by our experiences. We create a faith in which we can live and struggle to live up to it . . . compared to love a distant God had no allure.”  Indeed.  This thinking has gotten us into quite a mess.

Oh, but, my friends, the days of Obadiah are ending and Elijah is coming!

Elijah with his bravado and choleric melancholy.  Elijah with his intrepidness and eccentricity.  Elijah the prophet. Choleric Elijah is coming home—and no one wants him to come home.  He is crossing his Rubicon.  After a long time, in the third year, the word of the LORD came to Elijah: “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.”   King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, of course, hate him.  But even, Obadiah, a faithful follower of God and trusted advisor to the king and queen, who had learned so well to survive in this hostile land, who has done so much good for God’s people—Obadiah was not too thrilled to see him either.   In fact, no one welcomed Elijah—not the hostile king and queen nor the pious evangelical Obadiah. Even though Elijah brings good news—it is finally going to rain—no one welcomes him.  Elijah’s fish-or-cut-bait prophetic messages are irritating the life out of the status quo.  That is bad enough.  But what really scares the dickens out of everyone is the fact that Elijah has come home to Zion, to the City of God, to challenge the gods of the age to a duel.

In one sense, like Obadiah, we resist the coming of Elijah.  The anonymity that we evangelicals have so enjoyed over the last few years has caused us to prosper.  But there is no middle ground left to us evangelicals.

On the other hand, as Os Guinness reminds us, there needs to be a great falling away, perhaps a great persecution before there is great revival.  Bring it on, Lord!

Elijah is coming to town!

One of the most disturbing essays I have ever read is an essay by Thomas Merton entitled “A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichmann.”  “One of the most disturbing facts,” Merton begins, “that came out in the Eichmann trial was that a psychiatrist examined him and pronounced him perfectly sane.”  The fact is, given our world, we can no longer assume that because a person is “sane” or “adjusted” that he/she is ok.  Merton reminds us that such people can be well adjusted even in hell itself! “The whole concept of sanity in a society where spiritual values have lost their meaning is itself meaningless (p. 47).”

Obadiahs, spread forth your grandeur!  Proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord!  For Elijah is coming!

Be the best you can be.  Speak, act, work with excellence!  Ask for no quarter, give no quarter, but go to the Mt.Carmels of our society, tear down the Asherath Poles, and confront the Gods of this age!!!!

1Walter Brueggemann, The Land (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977),  p. 1.

Where is Dante When we Need Him?

Friday, January 25th, 2013

Where is Dante when we need him? Faust: A Tragedy is indeed a tragedy, but neither Goethe or Faust know it.  The tragedy is that this Romantic tale lacks a tragic ending. We Christians earnestly, fervently hope that it does.  The notion that there is no moral universe with no consequences, no cause and effect, invites inevitable chaos and nihilism that is so much a part of our Post-Modern world. Faust’s yearning for experience and knowledge created a type for the Modern (1900-1990) and Post-Modern (1990-Present) ages still known as the Faustian hero, though in reality Goethe’s Faust is more a villain than a hero; and the purported villain–Mephistopheles–is one of the most likable characters in the play. His yearnings draw him toward the heavens, yet he is also powerfully attracted to the physical world. Ultimately the tragedy of Goethe’s tragedy, is that mankind cannot have his cake and eat it too:  we cannot reject Christ as Savior and suppose that we will spend eternity in his presence.  The fact that Goethe thinks otherwise is remarkable in its presumptuousness.

Faust is a very learned professor, who is dissatisfied with human knowledge, which by its nature is limited. Using magic, he conjures up the Earth Spirit in his darkened study. Regarding himself as more than mortal, he tries to claim the Earth Spirit as a colleague, but the Spirit rejects him scornfully and disappears.  Despairing, Faust contemplates suicide. He is saved by the sound of the bells welcoming Easter morning. He and his research assistant, Wagner, go out into the sunlight and enjoy the greetings of the crowd, which remembers the medical attention given to the people by Faust and his father. Faust is still depressed, denying the value of medicine and feeling torn between the two souls in him, one longing for earthly pleasures, the other seeking the highest spiritual knowledge. A dog follows Faust and Wagner home.  The dog, of course, is Mephistopheles!   The overall theme of this work is the struggle mankind undertakes to overcome evil and to discriminate between good and evil.

Faust Part One is a complex story. It takes place in multiple settings, the first of which is heaven. Mephistopheles makes a bet with God. He says that he can deflect God’s favorite human being (Faust), who is striving to learn everything that can be known, away from righteous pursuits. The next scene takes place in Faust’s study where Faust, despairing at the vanity of scientific, humanitarian and religious learning, turns to magic for the revelation of ultimate knowledge. He suspects, however, that his attempts are failing. Frustrated, he ponders suicide, but rejects it as he hears the echo of nearby Easter celebrations begin. He goes for a walk with his assistant Wagner and is followed home by a stray poodle.  God is only one among equals—epistemology is more important than faith, truth is subjective, not objective. We are no longer enjoying sunsets with William Wordsworth and speculating on their origins—we are looking into Hell itself, the New Age, Modernism, what Nietzsche calls “the vacuum.”

With Goethe, we move forward four hundred years through the Reformation, through the Renaissance, and into the Enlightenment. The period of Neoclassicism and Romanticism, the greatest epoch in German literature, fell within the lifetime of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The age of Goethe went beyond the Enlightenment’s substitution of science for religion, inasmuch as it ascribed to science only a peripheral position in relation to the ultimate questions of life. It insisted upon the value of feeling in face of the limitations of reason. Impulse, instinct, emotion, and intuition acquired a quasi-religious significance as being the links that connected man with divine nature—one way to define Romanticism. The ideal of the classical age was that of the fully developed personality in which intellect and feeling should be harmoniously balanced. We see the enigmatic Doctor Faust representing all three movements. Three phases may be distinguished in the evolution of this new outlook: Sturm und Drang (storm and stress), Classicism, and Romanticism. Goethe belonged to and profoundly affected the Sturm und Drang movement, which aimed at overthrowing rationalism. There is, however, something that is modern: the emphasis on an amoral vision. We see the beginning of a Friedrich Nietzsche’s “survival of the fittest” mentality.   It continues today . . .

Aristotle vs. Plato

Monday, January 21st, 2013

From our study of Greek history we know that there are basically two world view roots: One originates from Aristotle and argues that the empirical world is primary.  Thus, if one wants to advance knowledge one has to learn more about the world.  Another root originates with Plato who argues that the unseen world is primary. In Plato’s case, that meant that if one wished to understand the world one studied the gods.  In our case, we agree with Plato to the extent that we believe that God–who cannot be seen, measured–is in fact more real than the world.

Incidentally, these two world view positions are replicated in American society today.  How important is God’s Word?  Does a person claim allegiance to something and to someone he cannot see?  Or does one bank on science and empiricism?  The truth is in 2013 I think our epistemology has taken us about as far as we can go.  We need our metaphysics to rescue us.

Both Plato and Aristotle were impacted by Socrates.  Socrates was one of the most influential but mysterious figures in Western philosophy.  He wrote nothing, yet he had a profound influence on someone who did: Plato.  Plato carefully recorded most of his dialogues.  Unlike earlier philosophers, Socrates’ main concern was with ethics.  There was nothing remotely pragmatic about Socrates who was the consummate idealist.  Until his day, philosophers invested most of their time explaining the natural world.   In fact, the natural world often intruded into the abstract world of ideas and reality.  Socrates kept both worlds completely separate.  To Socrates, the natural laws governing the rotation of the earth were merely uninteresting speculation of no earthly good.   Socrates was more interested in such meaty concepts as “virtue” and “justice.”  Taking issue with the Sophists, Socrates believed that ethics, specifically virtue, must be learned and practiced like any trade.   One was not born virtuous; one developed virtue as he would a good habit.  It could be practiced only by experts.  There was, then, nothing pragmatic about the pursuit of virtue.  It was systematic; it was intentional.  Virtue was acquired and maintained by open and free dialogue.  For the first time, the importance of human language was advanced by a philosopher (to reappear at the end of the 20th century in Post-modern philosophy).

There was no more important philosopher in Western culture than Socrates’ disciple, Plato.   Plato, like Socrates, regarded ethics as the highest branch of knowledge.   Plato stressed the intellectual basis of virtue, identifying virtue with wisdom.  Plato believed that the world was made of forms (such as, a rock) and ideas (such as, virtue).  The ability of human beings to appreciate forms made a person virtuous.  Knowledge came from the gods; opinion was from man.  Virtuous activity, then, was dependent upon knowledge of the forms.

To Plato, knowledge and virtue were inseparable.  To Aristotle, they were unconnected.  Aristotle was not on a search for absolute truth.  He was not even certain it existed.  Truth, beauty, and goodness were to be observed and quantified from human behavior and the senses but they were not the legal tender of the land.  Goodness in particular was not an absolute and in Aristotle’s opinion it was much abused.  Goodness was an average between two absolutes.   Aristotle said that mankind should strike a balance between passion and temperance, between extremes of all sorts. He said that good people should seek the “Golden Mean” defined as a course of life that was never extreme.  Finally, while Plato argued that reality lay in knowledge of the gods, Aristotle argued that reality lay in empirical, measurable knowledge.   To Aristotle, reality was tied to purpose and to action.  For these reasons, Aristotle, became known as the father of modern science.  Aristotle’s most enduring impact occurred in the area of metaphysics–philosophical speculation about the nature, substance, and structure of reality.  It is not physics–concerned with the visible or natural world.  Metaphysics is concerned with explaining the non-physical world.  Aristotle, then advanced the discussion about God, the human soul, and the nature of space and time. What makes this particularly interesting is Aristotle’s penchant for delving into the metaphysical by talking about the gods in human terms.   Aristotle said, “All men by nature desire to know” and it is by the senses that the gods were known–or not.  Faith had nothing to do with it.   In other words, Aristotle, for the first time, discussed the gods as if they were quantified entities.  He spoke about them as if they were not present.   The Hebrews had done this earlier (Genesis 3) but Aristotle was probably not aware of Moses’ text.   While some Christian thinkers such as Augustine and Aquinas employed Aristotelian logic in their discussions about God, they never speculated about His existence as Aristotle did.  They only used Aristotle’s techniques to understand more about Him.

As you consider the decisions that you must make for your children, yourselves, and your nation, make sure that you epistemology (knowledge) doesn’t take you farther than your metaphysics (faith) can rescue you!

Columbus Day

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

It seems each year, especially this year , Columbus Day has become more of an embarrassment than a holiday. Many New Left historians claim that Columbus was a blood thirsty, self-serving, religious fanatic who systematically, single-handedly, destroyed the Native American culture in South and ultimately North America.

The truth is, Columbus, like so many 15th century Europeans, was a pious Christian, but also an aspiring entrepreneur.  His first report to Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella betrays this ambivalence:

These people in the Caribbean have no creed and they are not idolaters, but they are very gentle and do not know what it is to be wicked, or to kill others, or to steal…and they are sure that we come from Heaven….So your Highnesses should resolve to make them Christians, for I believe that if you begin, in a little while you will achieve the conversion of a great number of peoples to our holy faith, with the acquisition of great lordships and riches and all their inhabitants for Spain. For without doubt there is a very great amount of gold in these lands….

Columbus wanted to share the Christian faith with Native Americans but he was also searching for fame and fortune.  Surely, pilgrim, we can sympathize with Christopher C.!  My oversubscribed credit cards attest to the same problem in my own life!

However, none of these things make Columbus a “bad boy.”  To blame Christopher Columbus for General Sheridan’s comment that an only “good Indian is a dead Indian” is absurd.

But that is what we have done.  Recently a statute of Christopher Columbus was removed from Columbus Circle.  Besides, Christopher Columbus is no longer “politically correct,” (although it is interested that New York scions wanted to remove the monument but not the holiday—labor wanted its paid holiday on October 8) the monument has been removed because “Monuments give form to memory.”  And we don’t like that.

Monuments allow us to reflect upon our history, value and experience.  Unfortunately, we no longer share a consensus on what that history, those values and that experience should be.  We barely agree on what we should remember rather than forget and we share no common understanding of what form our memories should take. (James Panera, “A Monumental Problem,” Wall Street Journal, Sept. 25, p. D5)

I think it is sad—don’t you?—that we cannot “agree on what we should remember than forget.”

This is, of course, a penultimate moment of cynicism for this sad country in a sad era.  In close connection with this thought, Nietzsche in his essay “On the Uses and Disadvantage of History for Life” (Nietzsche 1983, 57-123) argues that the life of an individual and a culture depend upon their ability to repeat an unhistorical moment, a kind of forgetfulness, along with their continuous development through time, and the study of history ought therefore to emphasize how each person or culture attains and repeats this moment. There is no question, then, of reaching a standpoint outside of history or of conceiving past times as stages on the way to the present. Historical repetition is not linear, but each age worthy of its designation repeats the unhistorical moment that is its own present as “new.” In this respect, Nietzsche would agree with Charles Baudelaire, who describes modernity as “the transient, the fleeting, the contingent” that is repeated in all ages ( Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

My friends, perhaps we have become “unhinged from time” as Billy Pilgrim experiences in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter House Five.

In this twilight fall, forty days before the apparent victory for a president who openly flaunts a post-Christian mentality, perhaps it is fitting that we take down a monument of Christopher Columbus.  We are, it appears, lost in time and in space.

The Good News, always, is that God is most assuredly not lost.  And the task before us is to blow to smithereens this tasteless paranoia that invites us to ignore who we are.  That bastardizes our history with empty plaudits and corny self-righteousness!  No, brothers and sisters in Christ, we serve a mighty God who founded a nation, who used men like Christopher Columbus, to advance the Kingdom of God!  We don’t need perfect forefathers because we serve a mighty, sovereign God who is in complete control of history.  Only puny, pathetic a historical iconoclasts who believe nothing is worthwhile, who disbelieve in objective truth, need to step outside the warm of providence and into the stormy blizzard of nihilism.  We should feel pity, not rancor toward these lost souls.

Managing History

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Without a doubt, America was founded by Godly men and women.

To claim otherwise, is to miss the drama that is the American pageant. Perry Miller, Ph. D., Harvard professor, in the 1930s definitively argued that to understand America one first had to understand the Pritans/Pilgrims.  They had, as Miller says, quoting early Puritans, “an errand in the  wilderness.”

So it would be wrong for any historian to deny that America, from its inception, was conceived as a “Christian” nation.  Furthermore, one must also see America as an “evangelical” nation in that our Founding Fathers and Mothers, and even those who came before, believed in an inerrant reading of Scripture and a personal relationship with God.  Spanish Conquistadors, French Jesuits, English Entrepreneurs—they all shared in common a belief in our Christian God.  They all committed their endeavors to His glory and honor.  The fact that they fell short in their in their endeavors in no way diminishes their sincerity and raisan d’être.

Yes, and even Benjamin Franklin, a notorious immoral Deist, would be horrified at what our nation has become.  Likewise, Thomas Jefferson, who no doubt was confused about soteriology (salvation theology) and Christology (Christ theology), nonetheless was more like Cotton Mather than President Obama.

We all know this to be true and are frustrated by the modern historical penchant to ignore what is a critical component of American history.  The problem is, in our frustration we employ poor historical analysis.  To borrow a term from Reinhold Niebuhr, in The Irony of American History, we attempt to “manage history” to suit our purposes.  For instance we are a little nervous about the author of the Declaration of Independence being characterized by modern historians as a left wing radical.  Indeed, that is absurd!

In our exuberance, though, we grasp for whatever evidence we can find to support what we know to be true.  That is what David Barton did—he found some primary source material of dubious quality and he used it to “manage” history in the way he wanted it to go.

That never works—Remember what I told you last week? Historians must be committed to the truth no matter where their scholarship leads them. At times historians will discover unflattering information about their nation/state.

The sad thing is, God is in control of history. Period.  He is Sovereign and altogether good.  He does not need us to rewrite history to make Him look good or to complement what we know is true!

Think about it.  And don’t manage history.  Let God do that!

The Study of History

Monday, January 14th, 2013

The times in which we live require a new look at history.  History, of course, never changes.  But we do.  Each generation looks rewrites history, so to speak, in light of its present circumstances. For instance, I bet American history books would have a far different perspective on radical Islam pre-Sept. 11, 2001 than history books written post-September 11, 2001!

The writing of history is the selection of information and the synthesis of this information into a narrative that will stand the critical eye of time. History, though, is never static. One never creates the definitive theory of a historical event.

History invites each generation to reexamine its own story and to reinterpret past events in light of present circumstances.

The creation of this story is more difficult than it seems. From the beginning the historian is forced to decide what sort of human motivation matters most: Economic? Political? Religious? Social?

For instance, what causes the American Revolution?

The historian Bernard Bailyn argues that ideology or the history of thought caused the American Revolution. No, the historian Oscar Handlin argues, the Revolution was caused by social upheaval (i.e., the dislocation of groups and classes of people). Sydney Ahlstrom argues that religion was an important cause of the American Revolution. And so forth.

We must look at several theories of history, primary source material, and then decide for themselves what really happened.

Students must know and accept that the past is constantly changing according to new scholarship discoveries. Therefore, as new sources are discovered, and old ones reexamined, students understand that theories of history may change. My history books—American, World,  British, Middle School Epoch I, II, III Histories force students to commit themselves to the task of examining these theories, primary source material, and ultimately to form their own theories of history. “Every true history is contemporary history,” historians Gerald Grob and George Billias write. My students make the theories of historical events personal and contemporary.

While I know that my students can never be completely neutral about history, scholarly historical inquiry demands that they implement the following principles:

  1. Historians must evaluate the veracity of sources. There must be a hierarchy of historical sources. Primary source material, for instance, usually is the best source of information.
  2. Historians must be committed to telling both sides of the historical story. They may choose to lobby for one view over the other, but they must fairly examine all theories.
  3. Historians must avoid stereotypes and archetypes. They must overcome personal prejudices and dispassionately view history in ruthlessly objective terms.
  4. Historians must be committed to the truth no matter where their scholarship leads them. At times historians will discover unflattering information about their nation/state.
  5. Finally, historians understand that real, abiding, and eternal history ultimately is made only by people who obey God at all costs.


Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Elizabeth I’s accession to the throne eventually brought more relaxed times to the people of London (the Puritans called it “debauchery.”) It was the apex of the English theatre, and Londoners flocked to London as the entertainment capital of the city. It was the New York City of its age, and the Globe Theatre was the Radio City Music Hall and Yankee Stadium all tied up into one.

At this time, London was the heart of England, reflecting all the vibrant qualities of the Elizabethan Age. This atmosphere made London a leading center of culture as well as commerce. Its dramatists and poets were among the leading literary artists of the day. In this heady environment, Shakespeare lived and wrote. Here were the Hope, the Swan, the Rose and the Globe: great theatres all. The latter two were the work places of William Shakespeare who spent most of his life in this area of London. Of course, for the Nascar crowd, there was bear baiting or cock-fighting.

After the attempted invasion of Britain by the Spanish Armada in 1588, when the loyal Londoners raised a large band of men to help defeat the invaders, England became more politically stable. There was a marked increase in prosperity and the population of London grew accordingly. The core of the city was built around the lands seized from the church and rich citizens moving out to the suburbs and country estates to the west of the city along the Thames where many of the old bishops’ palaces (taken by Henry VIII) were rebuilt for use by the nobility (David Nash Ford).

London in the 16th century underwent a transformation. Its population grew 400% during the 1500s, swelling to nearly 200,000 people in the city proper and outlying region by the time an immigrant from Stratford came to town. A rising merchant middle class carved out a productive livelihood, and the economy boomed.

The first former theatre as we know it was called the Theatre, built in, London in 1576 and the owner was James Burbage. James Burbage had obtained a 21 year lease with permission to build the first playhouse, aptly named ‘ The Theatre ‘. Before this time plays were performed in the courtyard of inns or inn-yards. The most famous Elizabethan playhouse was the Globe Theatre (1599) built by the company in which Shakespeare had a stake – now often referred to as the Shakespearean Globe.

Days out at the Globe Theater would have been an exciting event. The grounds surrounding the Globe Theater  would have been full of people, anxious to get the best location in the theatre (there were no seats.  Everyone stood). There would be vendors selling merchandise and souvenirs—no programs but yummy snacks like pickled pig feet and chestnuts– creating a market day atmosphere. Non playgoers would flock to the Globe Theater merely to go to the market stalls and find a few bargains. The Globe would have particularly attracted young people and the were many complaints of apprentices avoiding work in order to go to the theater.

A trumpet was sounded to announce that the play was about to begin at the Globe Theatre in order for people to take their final places. Towering above the Globe was a small tower with a flag pole. Flags were used as a form of Elizabethan Advertising! Flags were erected on the day of the performance which sometimes displayed a picture advertising the next play to be performed. Colour coding was also used – a black flag meant a tragedy, white a comedy and red a history.

The enclosed but not covered Globe theatre allowed stage productions to become quite sophisticated with the use of massive props such as fully working canons, although it would of course had to be left on stage for the entire performance of the play.  Special effects at the Globe were also a spectacular addition at the theater allowing for smoke effects, the firing of a real canon, fireworks (for dramatic battle scenes) and spectacular ‘flying’ entrances from the rigging in the ‘heavens’. The stage floor had trap-doors allowing for additional surprising incidents (as was witnessed in Romeo and Juliet). Music was another addition to the Globe productions. It was provided by guitarists and, if possible, a harpsichord (

Actors worked hard.  There were no female actresses—male actors, often young boys, played female aprts.  In just two weeks Elizabethan theaters could often present “eleven performances of ten different plays”. The Shakespearean Actors generally only got their lines as the play was in progress. Parts were often allocated on the day of the performance. Many times the actors didn’t even get their own lines. They did “cue acting “, which meant that there was a person backstage who whispered the lines to the actor just before he was going to say them. This rapid turnover led to another technique called  “ cue scripting ”, where each actor was given only his own lines. The complete scene of the play was not explained to the actors until it was actually being performed. This technique allowed for zero rehearsal time, thus enabling a fast turnover in terms of new productions at the Globe Theater and a huge portfolio of different roles. There were no actresses. Female characters had to be played by young boys. The acting profession was not a credible one and it was unthinkable that any woman would appear in a play. Two of the most notable actors of the Elizabethan era were Edward Alleyn and Will Kempe.

The Elizabethan general public (the Commoners) referred to as groundlings would pay 1 penny to stand in the ‘Pit’ of the Globe Theater. The gentry would pay to sit in the galleries often using cushions for comfort! Rich nobles could watch the play from a chair set on the side of the Globe stage itself. Theatre performances were held in the afternoon, because, of course, there was no artificial lighting. Men and women attended plays, but often the prosperous women would wear a mask to disguise their identity. The plays were extremely popular and attracted vast audiences to the Globe. The audiences only dropped during outbreaks of the bubonic plague, which was unfortunately an all too common occurrence during the Elizabethan era. This happened in 1593, 1603 and 1608 when all theaters were closed due to the Bubonic Plague (The Black Death). The Shakespearean actors were therefore temporary out of work and left London to stay in other parts of England. William Shakespeare no doubt used these periods of closure to write more plays and go home to Stratford (

Spanish Armada

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

King Philip II of Spain was the most powerful man in Europe in the latter half of the 16th century. His poessessions in the New World brought him enormous wealth.  England, by comparison, was a relatively small nation, and not a particularly powerful or wealthy one.

But England was a fiesty country, and, in Philip’s eyes, a Protestant one.  That is one reason Philip hated England.  For another reason, Elizabeth had killed her cousin Mary, Philip’s future wife.  That was gauling!

In his youth, for political reasons, Philip was married to his fellow Catholic, Mary, Queen of Scots. He was not king of England, and would never would be by marriage. In fact, the only way the English Parliament would allow the marriage was if Philip was expressly forbidden from ruling. Philip never cared for Mary, indeed, he said while on his way to his marriage, “I am going to a crusade, not to a marriage feast”. He was fueled by a religious desire to father a Catholic heir who would keep England within the Roman Catholic sphere. Mary, by now a middle-aged spinster, certainly did care for her new husband, and even managed to convince herself that she was pregnant at one point, but it was not to be.  There was to be no Catholic king through Mary.

When Mary died in 1558 the Protestant Elizabeth came to the throne. Philip, in spite of being the grieving husband, was willing to do his duty and proposed marriage to Elizabeth.

Sly Elizabeth had no intentions of marrying Philip but kept communication open with him, and confirmed her friendship but would wanted things to stay that way right now. At the same time, Elizabeth surreptitiously encouraged English privateers like Hawkins and Drake to seize Spanish ships and goods in the West Indies. They were good at it and were at the top of the 10 most wanted list in Spain.

In the 1560s Elizabeth also irritated Philip by supporting Protestants in the Netherlands in their revolt against Spanish occupation.

Besides that, Philip believed that Elizabeth was illigetimate. Under Catholic law, Elizabeth’s father Henry VIII had no right to divorce his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, to marry Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyne. Therefore Elizabeth was born out of proper wedlock, and thus had no right to the throne.

More importantly for the fervently Catholic Philip, he believed that it was his duty to lead Protestant England back to the Catholic faith – by force of necessary. He was the genuine article.  He sincerely walked in his faith.   In fact, before the Armada sailed, Philip obtained papal approval for his invasion, and a promise of money to be delivered after the Spanish had landed in England. He also got papal permission to name the next ruler of England. Philip planned to name his daughter Isabella as Queen of England, under his control.

To say the least, Philip had no further designs on Elizabeth’s affections.  He intended to execute her.

Philip began preparing his invasion force as early as 1584. His first choice as commander was the Marquis of Santa Cruz, but when Santa Cruz died Philip ordered the Duke of Medina Sedonia to take command of the fleet. The Duke was an experienced warrior – on land. He had no naval background, and no interest in leading the Armada, as the invasion fleet came to be called. He begged to be dismissed, but Philip ignored the request.

Despite Spanish precautions, the English were well aware of the Spanish preparations. In a bold move that was apparently against Elizabeth’s wishes, Sir Francis Drake sailed a small English fleet to Cadiz, where they surprised a large number of Spanish warships in the harbour. Drake burned and sunk a number of ships and slipped away before the Spanish could rally. This gave the British new courage.

By May of 1588, however, the Armada was finally ready to sail. The fleet numbered over 130 ships, making it by far the greatest naval fleet of its age. According to Spanish records, 30,493 men sailed with the Armada, the vast majority of them soldiers. Many of the Spanish vessels were converted merchant ships, better suited to carrying cargo than engaging in warfare at sea. They were broad and heavy, and could not maneuver quickly under sail.

The Spanish did not intend to engage the English in a sea battle. The ships of the Armada were primarily troop transport. Their major task was simply to carry armed men to a designated landing point and unload them.

This was unfortunate for the Spanish.  Navy tactics were evolving and the advantage in sea battles often belonged to the fastest and most manuverable vessel.  it was still common for ships to come alongside each other and allow fighting men to engage in hand to hand combat. Advances in artillery were only beginning to allow for more complex strategies and confrontations at sea. At this stage the English were far more adept at artillery and naval tactics than the Spanish, who were regarded as the best soldiers in Europe, but poor sailors.

Tacticly, the Spanish planned for the main fleet to sail up the English Channel and rendezvous off Dover with the Duke of Parma, who headed the Spanish forces in the Netherlands. This in itself presented huge problems. Communications were slow, and the logistical problems of a rendezvous at sea were immense.

The English were ready. A series of signal beacons atop hills along the English and Welsh coasts were manned. When the Spanish ships were at last sighted on July 19, 1588, the beacons were lit, speeding the news throughout the realm. The English ships slipped out of their harbour at Plymouth and, under cover of darkness, managed to get behind the Spanish fleet.

The Spanish sailed up the Channel in a crescent formation, with the troop transports in the centre. When the Spanish finally reached Calais, they were met by a collection of English vessels under the command of Howard. Each fleet numbered about 60 warships, but the advantage of artillery and maneuverability was with the English.

Under cover of darkness the English set fireships adrift, using the tide to carry the blazing vessels into the massed Spanish fleet. Although the Spanish were prepared for this tactic and quickly slipped anchor, there were some losses and inevitable confusion.

On Monday, July 29, the two fleets met in battle off Gravelines. The English emerged victorious, although the Spanish losses were not great; only three ships were reported sunk, one captured, and four more ran aground. Nevertheless, the Duke of Medina Sedonia determined that the Armada must return to Spain. The English blocked the Channel, so the only route open was north around the tip of Scotland, and down the coast of Ireland.

It was then that the summer English weather took a hand in the proceedings. A succession of storms scattered the Spanish ships, resulting in heavy losses. By the time the tattered Armada regained Spain, it had lost half its ships and three-quarters of its men.

In England the victory was greeted as a sign of divine approval for the Protestant cause. The storms that scattered the Armada were seen as intervention by God. Services of thanks were held throughout the country, and a commemorative medal struck, with the words, “God blew and they were scattered” inscribed on it (


Monday, May 31st, 2010

The Elizabethan Age in some ways has no precedence. The reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) saw England emerge as the leading naval and commercial power of the Western world. England consolidated its position with the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, and Elizabeth firmly established the Church of England begun by her father, King Henry VIII .

When Elizabeth assumed the throne the nation was ready to support her.  The alternative was civil war—her father, Henry VIII, made everyone uneasy. His successors, Edward VI and Mary, brought great discord.  Most Englishmen saw the disaster that would result if England divided again over religion.  So, mostly, people decided not to be religious.  In some ways, then, Queen Elizabeth usher in one of the first “secular” regimes in world history.

Elizabeth understood and fervently sought public support for her person and policies.  She was a masterful campaigner and resourceful public relations experts. She embraced Parliament. “Though I be a woman I have as good a courage answerable to my place as ever my father had.  I am your anointed Queen.  I will never by by violence constrained to do anything.  I thank God I am endowed with such qualities that if I were turned out of the realm in my petticoat, I were able to live in any place in Christendom. . . and though you have had, and may have many princes, more mighty and wise sitting in this state, yet you never had, or shall have, any that will be more careful and loving.”

Elizabeth worked hard and surrounded herself with capable counsellors, counsellors who were honest advisors, not sycophants. Her wise rule brought England out of the Middle Ages to the Modern Era.

Her explorers gave her the world.  Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the world and became the most celebrated English sea captain of his generation. Sir Humphrey Gilbert and Sir Walter Raleigh sent colonists eastward in search of profit. European wars brought an influx of continental refugees into England, exposing the Englishman to new cultures. In trade, might, and art, England established an envious pre-eminence.  England experienced a cultural


Friday, May 28th, 2010

Christianity came at the pagan Anglo-Saxons from two directions. The Celtic Church, pushed back into Wales, Cornwall, and particularly Ireland. The Roman Catholic Church approached from the south, beginning with the mission of St.Augustine to Aethelbert, King of Kent, in 597.

Aethelbert was chosen because he was married to Bertha, a Frankish Christian princess, whose support was essential. King Aethelbert, unsure of the intent of the Christian magicians, chose to greet them in the open air to ensure that they couldn’t cast a spell over him.

Augustine’s original intent was to establish an archbishopric in London, but this ignored the political fact that London was in the realm of decidedly pagan religions, particularly Mithraism, so Canterbury, the capital of the Kentish kingdom, became the seat of the pre-eminent archbishop in England.

The Celtic church was empathic, fervent, monastic, and more spontaneous. Ultimately the more disciplined, structure, Roman Church prevailed.

The church was the only truly national entity tying together the different Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. The early monasteries of Northumberland were vital centers of learning and the arts until they were destroyed by the Viking raids of the 9th century.

The earliest and most important writer of prose was the Venerable Bede, a contemporary of the auth or of Beowulf.  Bede also spelled BAEDA, or BEDA (672/673-735), Anglo-Saxon theologian, historian, and chronologist, best known today for his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of the English People), a source vital to the history of the conversion to Christianity of the Anglo-Saxon people.  He also introduced to historical works the system of dating events from the birth of Christ and did careful work in historiography.

Churches were almost the only forum for education. Under the auspices of Alfred the Great church schools were encouraged, and many Latin works were translated into English. The higher church officials also played important secular roles; advising the king, witnessing legal transactions, and administering landholdings of the church, which could be exceedingly large.

Most of the early work of spreading the Gospel was done from monasteries. The monks of the 7th and 8th centuries were not confined to a closed monastic community, but carried the responsibility of traveling, usually on foot, throughout the surrounding countryside to preach and convert in the villages.

Most church buildings were built of stone, but this was not true of domestic buildings. Even in towns, very few buildings would have had even a stone foundation. Most dwellings were wooden, with low, thatched roofs, an open hearth in a floor of earth or gravel, and walls of planks or mud and sticks (

The Anglo-Saxons ruled England for almost a century.  During that time they established a nation.  It is true, as G. K. Chesterton argues, that the end of Roman rule meant the beginning of barbarian rule. “It seems certain that in this welter Roman Britain bought help from ruder races living about that neck of Denmark where is now the duchy of Schleswig. Having been chosen only to fight somebody they naturally fought anybody; and a century of fighting followed, under the trampling of which the Roman pavement was broken into yet smaller pieces. It isperhaps permissible to disagree with the historian Green when he says that no spot should be more sacred to modern Englishmen than the neighbourhood of Ramsgate, where the Schleswig people are supposed to have landed; or when he suggests that their appearance is the real beginning of our island story. It would be rather more true to say that it was nearly, though prematurely, the end of it.” Still, thanks mostly to Christianity, Anglo-Saxon culture emerged from barbarism, to a high culture.  The Church then surely is one of the major reasons the nation of Great Britain emerged.