Em and Jesse discuss the life and plays of Hrotsvit, the strong voice of Gandersheim and the first named playwright in western Europe. Small content warning, we do discuss rape in this episode, but not explicitly.
Annotations and Corrections
1/ For those too young to remember Benny Hill, this is what Em is talking about.
2/ Buster Keaton falls out a window about 25 seconds into this compilation. There’s also a very late in life Buster Keaton in the film version of A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to the Forum–it’s the last film he was in and he is still wonderful. [This montage is so great! Some things worth noticing: the ladder trick is an ACTUAL lazzo from early modern Italy (and let’s be fair, has probably existed since the invention of the ladder). The moment when Keaton misses the building and falls through the awnings–he was supposed to make it to the other building, but when he missed, he created a new lazzo. (Tom Cruise recently did a building-jumping stunt, missed the building, and crushed his ankle.) The house facade falling on Keaton (from Steamboat Bill, Jr., 1928) is absolutely real. It’s probably Keaton’s most famous–and most copied–stunt, but most people do it with a fake façade. Keaton used a real wall and a TINY window. –JN]
For reference, his given name was Joseph Frank Keaton (later he changed his middle name to Francis). The version of his nickname origin story is a version that he told; others sources suggest he was a bit older (18 months vs 6 months) and the nickname was given by another actor named George Pardy.
I’m pretty sure we have linked to Charlie Chaplin dancing with the globe previously, but go ahead and watch it again (actual dance starts around 1:45). And if you haven’t seen it, just go watch Modern Times.
3/ Minstrelsy was a 19th century phenomenon consisting of comic skits, musical acts, and the like, primarily depicting Black people as played by White actors. Here, you can hear the great Tom Lehrer riffing on what he calls the “Southern” song. (And before Jesse can mention it, it’s a little unfair to call the laws of the South “Medieval”–the Middle Ages were a long and complicated time and in many ways better to people of color than the South was. But it rhymed.)
Jesse: Minstrelsy=Blackface=terrible history of US entertainment. Great commentaries on this fact appear in Spike Lee’s Bamboozled and Mel Brooks’s Blazing Saddles, while great commentaries on the continued use of Blackface can be seen here (from SNL).
For a reminder that voice minstrelsy still exists, or if that’s behind a paywall, try this, and, of course, Hari Kondabolu’s The Problem with Apu.
Em: We previously linked to RZA’s jingle in episode 15, but here it is again.
4/ Want to hear all of Carmina Burana? Click here. Composed by Carl Orff, text by a lot of people.
5/ Hrotsvit of Gandersheim: the first named playwright in Europe. 935–1002 CE. [I said 1001/2 in the podcast, but in fact her death could have been as early as 973, when she may have written her last work. However, it’s possible that she wrote another text later, which would have required her to live until 1002, if all sources are believed. Either way, I tend to lengthen her life rather than shorten it. Just because she wrote her last work c.973 (if, in fact, this was her last work), it does not mean she died immediately. Even if records are wrong, she may have written later works that are no longer extant (or that haven’t been attributed to her). Most people leave her death date open, which seems fair–we could just say she lived in the second half of the 10th century. See Katharina Wilson’s essay in the collection Medieval Women Writers, edited by Wilson, esp. p. 30 and note 5 p. 42–43. Peter Dronke points out that in 1007 Gandersheim was made a dependency of the diocese of Hildesheim, so the “feminist uptopia” discussed here lasted about the length of Hrotsvit’s time in at Gandersheim. At least she presumably didn’t live to see this happen. Dronke, Women Writers of the Middle Ages, p. 295 note 26–JN]
Jesse: This Falstaff moment is in 1 Henry IV, Act IV scene ii.
6/ We have probably linked to this before, but if you want a beginner-friendly overview on the topic of “What exactly is the Vatican?,” here you go.
7/ Jesse: For a description (in Italian) of the “feminist utopia” described here, see: Ferruccio Bertini, Il teatro di Rosvita: con un saggio di traduzione e di interpretazione del Callimaco (Genova: Tilgher, 1979), p. 9.
Peter Dronke, Women Writers… Amazon link.
Autonomous peasant collective. As I’ve gotten older and know more people like Dennis, this has become funnier and funnier.
8/ Christine de Pizan (1364–c.1430): I actually don’t think we’ve mentioned her before.
9/ Terence: I still think we have mentioned him, but I can’t find him in the notes anywhere (as close to an index as we are able to come) and unfortunately I don’t have any memory whatsoever. So–here you go, short summary: lived right around 185–159 BCE (give or take), Roman African playwright who got his start as a slave but was later freed. Wrote six plays, traveled to Greece to gather material and was never heard from again.
10/ Dactylic hexameter: each line has five dactyls (a long-short-short foot) and a final sixth foot that is two syllables (usually a spondee–two long syllables–or a trochee, which is long-short). It isn’t much used in English except by Longfellow in “Evangeline” (e.g., “THIS is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks…”), and by Public Enemy in “Bring the Noise,” when they wrote lines like, “Never badder than bad cause the brother is madder than mad / At the fact that’s corrupt as a senator…”
The double dactyl is a form of light verse that, when done well, is at least marginally more amusing than a limerick. It was invented by Anthony Hecht and Paul Pascal in 1951 (or possibly by Hecht and John Hollander in 1966). The form is two four-line stanzas, each comprising three lines of dactylic dimeter (that is, two dactyls per line) with a choriamb (long-short-short-long) as the fourth. The first line is always two nonsense words, often “higgeldy piggeldy.” Here are a bunch.
Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” is written with dactyls.
Byron’s “the destruction of the anapest”…no…”The Destruction of Sennacherib.” It’s written in anapests (two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable; short-short-long), which are rarely used in English. (It sounds like the galloping hoofbeats of the Assyrian army maybe?)
James Thurber made some fun of this poem in this essay (“Miscellaneous Mentions”), but it doesn’t excerpt very well.
11/ Jesse: The Passion of the Holy Virgins Agape, Chionia, and Hirena
(aka “Dulcitius”). Dronke’s note is in Women Writers, p. 294 note 11. Dronke discusses the source on p. 77: “a strange source, a late Roman Passion of St Anastasia, which troubled its twentieth-century editor, the great Bollandist Delehaye, because of the amount of ‘fantasy’ and ‘audacious fiction’ that had contaminated what was doubtless a ‘good’ original. The very features that disquieted Delehaye were those that attracted Hrotsvitha: in fact, she chose to focus on these and ignore all else, discarding even the figure of St Anastasia, the protagonist in the source. Hrotsvitha selected, and brought to life, especially the three sisters (whom her source introduced only as minor characters, protégées of Anastasia) and villain-buffoons, Dulcitius and Sisinnius, who are mocked and confounded by those girls” (Dronke, Women Writers, 77; see also p. 297 note 56).
Kathnina Wilson’s Hrotsvit of Gandersheim: A Florilegium of her Works (Library of Medieval Women). The Latin is “voluptas parit poenam, necessitas autem coronam.” Here’s the entire play in Latin.
Maleficium (witchcraft/sorcery): Dulcitius and Sissinus refer to the women as witches using witchcraft (“maleficiis” and “maleficam”).
12/ A list of some Renaissance women painters. A lot of women artists specialized in still lifes because it would have been inappropriate for them to learn anatomy (often carried out by painting nude male figures).
13/ 1:10:40 “George Sanders” = George Sand.
14/ For more on the Shellys, see episode 20 note 16.
Here is “You and Me and PB Shelley” by Ogden Nash.
15/ This is an amazing Google document for pre-1945 BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, global plays that the internet is working on.
16/ I can’t link to them all, but Kate Beaton did some of my favorite parodies of Wuthering Heights.