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Food for the Soul Posted - Apr 18, 2019
Erasmus called it "the food of the soul." He was referring to the Bible. The problem was very few people could read it. If he could read at all, the average Englishman couldn't read Greek or Hebrew, the language of the Bible, or even the Latin translation. And those who were trained to read Greek, Hebrew and Latin–churchmen and scholastics–weren't reading the Bible either. The Catholic Church had forbidden it, by decreeing that the very safety of the Christian religion "lay in ignorance of the text." Little wonder that the Catholic intelligentsia spent their hours debating the exact number of angels on the head of a pin. They had nothing better to do.

Erasmus pointed out that the evangelists themselves had translated into Greek what Christ Himself had spoken in Aramaic. In fact, Christ had spoken in the broadest possible terms, in similitudes and parables, to be widely understood. Why not translate such language into the native tongues of everyone?

Enter William Tyndale (1495-1536). He took Erasmus' words to heart. A Cambridge scholar of very great gifts, he set out to translate the Bible into English so that everyone could read and understand it. "...I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scriptures than (the Pope.)"

Tyndale succeeded beyond even his greatest expectations and paid the ultimate price. He was tried for heresy and burned at the stake. For awhile thereafter, even owning a copy of Tyndale's translation could get you killed.

Today Tyndale is known as the father of the English Bible. His story and those of others are told in "Wide as the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution It Inspired" by Benson Bobrick.

Trying to stop Tyndale's translation from circulating among the masses was like trying to stop a Tsunami. People everywhere across England learned to read in order to read the Bible; public education was the result. The English people gradually came to realize that religious power resided not with the established church but rather resided in their very own hands. After a few generations of this mindset, it wasn't too much of a stretch for them to realize that political power did not reside in the hands of the Monarch, but in their own desire to be self-governed. This led to the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and eventually to the American Revolution of 1776. Such was the result of people reading the Bible.

Only Shakespeare's prose/poetry had a greater impact on the English language. Tyndale's translation of the original Greek and Hebrew imparted to English a certain rhythmic sonority it had not formerly possessed. Among the turns of phrase coined by Tyndale: "apple of the eye," "the salt of the earth," "eat, drink, and be merry," "writing on the wall," "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak," "a multitude of sins," "twinkling of an eye," "gave up the ghost," "judge not that you be not judged," "the powers that be," "a man after his own heart," "the living God," "the gate of heaven," "a land flowing with milk and honey," "to fall by the sword," "a stranger in a strange land," and "as the lord liveth."

Seventy years after Tyndale's death, a committee of 60 Cambridge and Oxford scholars translated the Bible into English, based on a number of previous translations. This translation became known as the King James Version, or KJV. In 1998, a complete analysis of the KJV revealed that Tyndale's words account for 75.6% of the Old Testament and 84% of the New Testament. Writing in the Contemporary Review, Joan Bridgman states: "Although the (KJV) is ostensibly the production of a learned committee of churchmen, it is mostly cribbed from Tyndale with some reworking of the translation."

"Wide as the Waters" is well-researched and fairly well-written. My one complaint, and it's a minor one, is that Bobrick might have given the text another run through his typewriter to further sharpen the text. Therefore, I give the book four stars instead of five.

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The Wonderful Winter
Posted - Apr 07, 2019
Having read “William Shakespeare of London” by Marchette Chute I decided to read “The Wonderful Winter.” While ostensibly a children’s novel, it’s a fairly sophisticated story set in Elizabethan England, about a boy who runs away from home and is taken in by a family whose world revolves around the London theater. William Shakespeare is one of the characters. The author takes full advantage of the exhaustive research she did while writing Shakespeare’s biography, to create an historically accurate yet enchanting world for a boy of about 12 to have an adventure. If you aren’t familiar with Marchette Chute, she’s a first-rate storyteller, whether it’s a biography, a Bible commentary, or children’s literature.

The story is told from the point of view of Sir Robert Walker, a.k.a. Robin. We experience the world as he experiences it, from his three-day trek from Suffolk to London, where he wanders the narrow streets looking for work and a place to stay. After a day or two his wandering takes him back outside the city to a round thatched-roof theater, where he sees a production of Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 2. He’s put off by the multiple beheadings but otherwise is bedazzled by the array of actors forever entering and exiting the stage, and by their brightly colored customs. One thing leads to another and Robin becomes a guest at the home of John Heminges, one of the principle theater owners (with William Shakespeare). He helps with chores and wins the affection of Mrs. Heminges and her three daughters, one of whom he rescues from drowning under the ice of the frozen Thames. But can he act? That’s the question that consumes the best part of the story, for it tells us so much about the London stage in Shakespeare day; about stage direction and the physical skills required: the ability to dance, fence, negotiate freely in bulky costumes, speak lines clearly while projecting your voice to the farthest reaches of the theater. Not everyone can do it, and Robin prove to be one who can. His real talent, however, is gardening. When spring comes and the theater troupe prepares to tour the provinces, Robin decides it’s time to return home. The boy who ran away at the start of winter and returns home is considerably wiser and now older than his years.

Unlike her biography of William Shakespeare, the author speculates on Shakespeare’s marriage, through the voice one of her characters. “I cannot help holding it against Anne Shakespeare,” says John Heminges, “that she refuses to be a real wife to Will. She stays in Stratford for the children’s safety, but the boy died in any case. And there is strength in being together that she will never know.” Also unlike the bio, she speculates on Shakespeare’s creative genius. “(People) have their reasons, and I like to find out what they are,” she has Shakespeare say. “When I read a book or old play (for source material), I can see the people moving behind the pages, waiting for someone to set them free, and that is why I write plays on my own. The words are waiting, and the people. It is only a question of getting them together.”

A wonderful book, entertaining and informative, that had me turning pages until I finished.

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"Stories From Shakespeare" by Marchette Chute – a review
Posted - Mar 29, 2019
What do you say to someone who has spent a lifetime studying the works of William Shakespeare and the English Bible, who wrote children’s literature, and who authored acclaimed biographies of three of the greatest writers of English narrative poetry—namely Geoffrey Chaucer, Ben Jonson, and Shakespeare? You say, thank you. If "Stories from Shakespeare" is your first encounter with independent scholar Marchette Chute, you’re in for a lively, informative, and entertaining experience.

Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be performed, not to be read. Indeed, that is why Ms. Chute wrote this book. To make it easier for the average person to appreciate Shakespeare the storyteller. Shakespeare’s plays are taught in the schools as “required reading.” This is an excellent idea in itself, she says, since some people would make his acquaintance in no other way, but it also has the disadvantage of being compulsory. “The average person does not like to be told what to do,” she writes, “and he might begin to study a play like ROMEO AND JULIET with the conviction already formed in his mind that he is not going to enjoy himself. He starts to read the first act and finds that two characters named Samson and Gregory are talking about coals and seem to be making very little sense. He begins leafing through the pages, looking for some kind of a story, and finds a great many Italian names that he cannot keep apart and speeches full of long words. So he puts the book down, convinced that Shakespeare is much too difficult to be read for pleasure and that the whole subject is overrated.”

Sound familiar? One way around it is to see Shakespeare’s plays performed on the stage. Another is to read this book. Indeed, the ideal situation is to read this book first to gain an understanding and appreciation of Shakespeare’s art, then to go and see as many of his plays as possible.

About William Shakespeare: he was not only one of the world’s greatest poets and storytellers, but also was one of the greatest playwrights. “He could write about battlefields or country flowers, witches and children, dying heroes or young lovers or chatty old men,” writes Ms. Chute, “and could do it in poetry which is not only perfect in itself but which joins hands with the storytelling, so that the two go together like the words and music of a song.” In performance, Shakespeare’s plays are poetry in motion. Best of all, he understood the demands of the theater so well that the passage of time has not aged or weakened his plays. They still leap into life on the stage. Part of this is due to the fact he was a genius, but also partly because he was a practical man of the theater who spent most of his adult life as an actor and producer. He knew what people wanted—and he delivered. In 400 years, Shakespeare's plays have never gone out of fashion.

Shakespeare wrote 36 plays, which were published in the First Folio. Ms. Chute has written cogent and compelling summaries of each of these plays. Like the folio, she groups them together as comedies, tragedies, and histories. If you intend to see a particular play, read the summary first. It will make the play that much more enjoyable. My suggestion is to read all the summaries, beginning with the comedies. If thoroughly captivated, then by all means read one of the plays themselves. Once you know what to expect, you’ll find Shakespeare's plays are not all that difficult. Who knows, you might read all 36! Imagine that?

"A Little History of the World"
Posted - Mar 23, 2019
You have to love a writer who believed it should be possible to explain most things to an intelligent child without jargon or pompous language. This wonderful book ("A Little History of the World" by E. H. Gombrich) is the result, written simply and intelligently. It began with a chapter he wrote on the age of chivalry. Having submitted it to a publisher who liked what he read, he sold the idea of writing a complete book on the history of the world. Having sold it, he was told he had six weeks to produce a manuscript, which he did, studying diligent by day and writing by night. Producing a chapter a day, he made the deadline. His book was published and went on to become an international best-seller.

The beauty of it is its simplicity–imagine, a history of the world you can read in about three hours. It's all here: the development of towns, trade and markets, writing and math, the art of printing, and the great empires of antiquity: Persia, Egypt, Athens, Rome, as well as a history of philosophy, architecture, religion, theater and the arts, plus European history: the Merovingians, the Carolingians, Charlemagne's battles in Gaul, Martin Luther and the Reformation, the age of revolution, the age of invention, the Renaissance, the Age of Discovery, the 100-year war and the 30-year war, even a chapter on Chinese history (did you know China was the only country that was not ruled by the nobility, nor by soldiers, nor by the priesthood, but by scholars?). The book was first published in 1936. The copy I have was given to me by a friend, and was published in 2002. Read it, learn something new, while be entertained.

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Work of My Sons

Morning Softly - Water Echoes Movement
-Released in 2014. Bill made guitar riffs and synth tracks at home, got Lya Finston to write some lyrics and sing, and got Scott to provide some bass.

Morning Softly - Early Eerie Feeling
-Recorded in 2014. Songs written by Bill, at home. Synthesizers were added later. Some drumming done by Brendan Lenihan.

Scott Nisley - Brick City Skies
-Released in 2014. With his piano melodies and vocals, Scott entrusted the production of his album to several studio musicians.

The 45's - Roof-Hopping
-Recorded in 2010. A collaborative effort between Scott and Bill Nisley, Adam Sherman, and Zach Belka.

Oh, Yeah...

Richard Nisley's Brothers in Cars
Thanksgiving Day, 1967. From L to R: my brothers David, Charles, and Rob. Photo by John Nisley.
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