christopher james

Poems and prattle

Category: Sherlock Holmes

Fragment of lost play by William Shakespeare discovered in Tuscany

Four hundred years on from Shakespeare’s death, the discovery of a fragment of a new play, The Jeweller of Florence, is dividing academic opinion. Could there really be an undiscovered work in the Bard’s canon?

There are two plays generally accepted to be written, at least in part, by William Shakespeare, which are now considered ‘lost.’ The first, ironically, is titled, Love’s Labour’s Won and is mentioned on a contemporaneous 16th century bookseller’s list. It is also referred to by the late 16th century writer Francis Meres, although no text is extent. This has led some scholars to believe that it was merely an alternative title for All’s Well That Ends Well or Much Ado About Nothing.

shakespeare

Then there is the intriguing prospect of Cardenio, said to be a late collaboration between Shakespeare and Fletcher, also referenced in documents from Shakespeare’s time. Its source, it is said, is Cervantes’ Don Quixote , which fits Shakespeare’s pattern of drawing on existing sources as the starting point for his own works. Over a hundred years on from Shakespeare’s death, a play emerged called Double Falsehood  produced by one Lewis Theobald in 1727. He admitted that he adapted it from no less than three manuscripts of an unnamed play by Shakespeare. Critical consensus is that Double Falsehood does indeed contain authentic work by Shakespeare.

This leads to the most recent discovery, in February 2016 of a single page of a play in a private collection of papers in Lama, a remote hamlet in Tuscany. ‘The fragment is a tantalizing prospect,’ says Shakespearean expert, Professor Anna Greening, ‘made even more so by the name of Ferdinando I de’Medici inscribed in the margin, leading some to believe he was the patron of the work.

‘It is thought to be written around the same time as The Merchant of Venice, 1596, possibly earlier. A draft of the inscription, also included in the papers reads: The most excellent history of The Jeweller of Florence being the true account of the marriage between Alessandra, daughter of the Duke of Florence and Flavio, master jeweller. With the obtaining of a necklace of pearls for the wife of the Duke and the comic interludes of Filippo the clown who appears in divers jocular scenes.’ 

It was discovered in a cache of papers by a family who had recently purchased a property in the area. ‘The theory runs as follows,’ says Professor Greening. ‘Ferdinando I de’Medici, son of the infamous Cosimo I of Florence, was a cardinal and eventually the Grand Duke of Tuscany. He was a ruthless and perhaps a cruel man even by the standards of the day. But at heart, he was an artist. This manifested itself in his collecting. He was a man of enormous curiosity and boundless appetites. He created an unrivalled collection of sculpture, bestowed patronage on poets and composers and commissioned mosaics, notably the intricate pietre dure created from precious stones.

‘Above all, he was obsessed by the idea of artistic genius. As a man of the court, naturally his principle entertainment was theatre. The re-enactments of battles on the Arne are legend. But he was a man of the world and his interests extended far beyond the shores of the Mediterranean. He dreamed of establishing civilizations in the new world, creating great cities in Brazil. We believe he had heard of this man William Shakespeare and had his plays translated and enacted for him. He was fascinated by the playwright’s mind; how he could conjure a man from the air and make him as real as you or I. But it was not enough simply to hear his plays; the same words that had been heard by countless others. The Medici was a family of limitless wealth and power. Nothing was impossible for them and once set on a course they could not be easily swayed. Through his brokers he sent word to England that he would commission this playwright at whatever cost. He wanted a play that would be no less dazzling in its ambitions than any other Shakespeare’s great works. For this he would pay handsomely. But there was one condition, it must be his and his alone.

‘A fee was negotiated, it is believed through Richard Burbage, the actor and one of Shakespeare’s closest associates. No one has recorded the sum, but it must have been stupendous. In 1596, he was writing four plays simultaneously. How could he write another?

‘Legend has it,’ continues Professor Greening, ‘that he wrote it in a furious burst over three days. At the end of it he drank a bottle of Spanish wine and then slept for a day and a night. A single copy was printed in conditions of the greatest secrecy.’

If the theory seems fanciful, then the fragment itself is convincing enough, even if, perhaps it does not contain some of Shakespeare’s greatest poetry.

DUKE

What music, sir, is this?

 

ANTONIO 

Tis wedding music, my lord. They practice as larks at dawn.

 

DUKE

What happy pair will join in such delight?

Hannibal’s elephants would not trumpet

With such joy as this. The trunks of England’s

Trees would shake at such a cacophony.

This fanfare of angels, this well wrought sound

of heaven, has seeped through our vault of sky

and filled the twin cathedrals of our ears.

Fetch me those who engendered this row

I shall bless their matrimony, their solemn vow.   

 

                                                                (They go)

 

SILVIO

What foul weather has blighted our fair conceit!

The servant’s flapping tongue forewarns the duke

Of a marriage. But yet he has not wind

That these nuptials are his own daughter’s,

And that she is betrothed to the only son

Of his foresworn enemy. What dark skies

would come from this unseen tempest;  

such squalls and that would wreck his heart.

 

MARCELLO

Soft, fair brother, he hath not the reason

Nor temperament to suspect; his season

Is always spring; serenity blossoms

In him as bitterness dwells in the spleen

Of the cynic; by the time he smells the rose

The altar will be clear, the candles snuffed.

 

SILVIO

Now where goes Flavio? These hours ‘til our

Brother’s union will I fear be fraught;

But for a stoup of wine to numb our nerves.    

 

While the possibility of a hoax remains, the pages are currently being forensically examined and dated with the results expected in January 2017. Then there is the question of the remainder of the play. Is it still waiting somewhere on a Tuscan hillside to be discovered?

There is a compelling piece of evidence that corroborates the story. In 1597 Shakespeare suddenly found the money to buy New Place, the grandest house in all of Stratford. How could a simple actor find such wealth?

The discovery has already inspired a work of fiction: Sherlock Holmes and The Jeweller of Florence, by Christopher James, which puts the famous detective on the trail of the lost play.

The Sherlock Holmes Toolkit – 10 things you’ll need to write a new Holmes adventure

So what are the ten things every aspiring Sherlock author needs to write a convincing Holmes novel or short story?

Vicar

  1. A splendid title, preferably with a colour in it: there are no less than ten adventures in the original canon that feature a colour in the title, from The Adventure of the Yellow Face to The Adventure of the Red Circle.
  2. A reliable guide to Victorian London slang:
  3. A superb, twisty plot. If you can’t come up with one of your own, why not seek help from this work of madness: https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/01/06/plotto/
  4. Some historical knowledge of the year in which your adventure is set. Your friend Wikipedia is the invaluable help.
  5. All 56 Holmes short stories and four longer works. There is simply no point starting until you’ve read all of these. You will just annoy aficionados with your school boy/girl errors..
  6. The MacGuffin – the object, person or idea that the protagonists seek and which drives the plot along. Think Rosebud in Citizen Kane. For your Holmes adventure this could be a suitably curious object of unknown providence. I used eight ruby elephants for my first Holmes adventure.
  7. Some choice vocabulary. Holmes is an eloquent fellow. You may need to brush up your English if you are to produce a truly credible effort.
  8. A brilliant villain – give him some suitably grotesque impediment, such as a missing ear or six toes on one foot. He should be a match for Holmes in strength and intellect. Don’t automatically reach for Moriarty.
  9. Some light relief – there’s plenty of humour in the original canon, so bring on some light relief in the form of some helpful nitwit or ludicrous situation. In The Adventure of the Ruby Elephants, Holmes stuffs a diminutive monocle salesman (who insists on wearing two monocles at the same time) in a large Ming vase.
  10. Some philosophical moments – some of the best of Conan Doyle’s writing is when Holmes muses on some aspect of the human condition from his lofty vantage point in 221B Baker Street.

Buy two new Sherlock adventures for a limited time only on eBay, including The Jeweller of Florence which is not officially available until 16 September 2016

The Thirty-Nine Steps

It was only last year that I finally got around to reading John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps. I’d watched the celebrated Hitchcock film, but the book has a particularly stylish and exhilarating quality all of its own. The voice of the irrepressible, resourceful Richard Hannay, an engineer and intelligence officer recently arrived in London from Africa  is what gives its character, both cynical and scornful of authority. The pace is astonishing, with several things happening almost at once – there are chases, explosions and gun fights, but the central motif is travel.

The 39 steps

Buchan clearly has fun with the possibilities offered by motor cars and aeroplanes and along with trains, and chases on foot across Scottish moors, Hannay is always on the move. The plot, which revolves around a plan to precipitate a European war, is almost ancillary to the odd characters (including a milkman, hung over road worker and prospective parliamentarian) Hannay meets on the way. While it owes something of a debt to Conan-Doyle, it has inspired a thousand of copy-cat blockbusters and Hollywood films, particularly those which feature the archetype of the stylish, clever, maverick outsider, wayward, but ultimately committed to King and country. Ian Fleming, you suspect had a copy on his bedside table.

Anyway, all of this inspired the inevitable song! 

10 great adversaries of Sherlock Holmes

moriarty

Holmes aficionados know there’s more to life than Professor Moriarty. The Sherlock Holmes stories contained an astonishingly colourful cast of cads, crooks and show boaters (most frequently wayward colonels for some reason). Indeed Conan Doyle was often at his best when drawing pen sketches of his villains. It is of remarkable how he can conjure them into life with just a few deft strokes.

                                             Sherlock silhouette      Top hat
                   

Here is a list nine memorable scoundrels from the original canon, plus a surprise at number ten from my own, new Sherlock Holmes novel: The Adventure of the Ruby Elephants. Beware of some spoiler alerts, however, as some of these are not revealed as the villains until the end of the stories. You have been warned!

  1. Irene Adler, A Scandal in Bohemia

To Sherlock Holmes, she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes, she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex.

‘What a woman – oh, what a woman!’ cried the King of Bohemia.

  1. Colonel Lysander Stark, The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb

I saw the lean figure of Colonel Lysander Stark rushing forward with a lantern in one hand, and a weapon like a butcher’s cleaver in the other.

  1. Charles Augustus Milverton, The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton

He was a man of fifty, with a large intellectual head, a round, plump, hairless face, a perpetual frozen smile and two keen, grey eyes, which gleamed brightly from behind broad, golden-rimmed glasses.

‘Mr Holmes, Mr Holmes,’ he said, turning the front of his coat and exhibiting the butt of a large revolver. I have been expecting you to do something original.’

  1. Professor Coram, The Adventure of the Golden Pinze-Nez

It was a gaunt, aquiline face which was turned towards us with piercing dark eyes, which lurked in deep hollows under overhung and tufted brows. His hair and beard were white, save that the latter was curiously stained with yellow around his mouth. A cigarette glowed amid the tangle of white hair. ‘Tobacco and my work – that is all that is left to me.’

  1. Baron Gruner, the Adventure of the Illustrious Client

The fellow is, as you may have heard, extraordinarily handsome, with a most fascinating manner, a gentle voice and that air of romance and mystery which mean so much to a woman. He is said to have the whole sex at his mercy and to have made ample use of the fact…The Baron has little waxed tips of hair under his nose, like the short antennae of an insect.

  1. Mr Culverton Smith, The Adventure of the Dying Detective

With a shrill cry of anger, a man rose from a reclining chair beside the fire. I saw a great yellow face, coarse grained and greasy, with a heavy double chin, and two sullen menacing grey eyes that glared at me from under tufted and sandy brows.

‘What is this?’ he cried in a high, screaming voice. ‘What is the meaning of this intrusion?’

  1. Colonel Sebastian Moran, The Adventure of the Empty House

It was a tremendously virile and yet sinister face which was turned towards us. The brow of a philosopher above and the jaw of a sensualist below, the man must have started with great capacities for good or for evil.

  1. Colonel James Moriarty, The Adventure of the Final Problem

He is extremely tall and thin, his forehead domes out in a white curve and his two eyes are deeply shrunken in his head. He is clean shaven, pale and ascetic-looking, retaining something of the professor in his features. ‘It is a dangerous habit to finger loaded firearms in the pocket of one’s dressing gown.’

  1. John Clay, The Adventure of the Red Headed League

‘John Clay, the murderer, thief, smasher and forger. He is a remarkable man, is young John Clay. His grandfather was a Royal Duke and he himself has been to Eton and Oxford. He’ll crack a crib in Scotland one week, and be raising money to build an orphanage in Cornwall the next. I’ve been on his track for years and have never set eyes on him yet.’

  1. The Archangels, The Adventure of the Ruby Elephants

I awoke in a room that was perfectly dark. The floor was cold, and the air was damp, like that of a cellar.

‘Stand up, Dr Watson,’ came a voice.

‘Who are you?’

‘My name is Michael.’ There was a light in the form of a single flame. I heard another voice.

‘I am Raphael,’ it announced and another torch was lit.

Then behind me, another:

‘Uriel.’  And at the fourth point of the compass:

‘I am Gabriel.’ I was at the centre of the four flames.

The four of them wore identical black frock coats, top hats and strange, round spectacles with darkened glass. At the far end of the room, they gathered themselves into a knot, with blades flashing at the end of their canes, their eyes gleaming like demons.

‘You are vampires, not angels,’ I cried.

Ruby elephants cover

Holmes comes to Haverhill

To Haverhill’s leafy East Town Park on a balmy summer evening for The Chapterhouse Theatre Company’s splendid production of The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. As far as I could make out, this is an original play and a fine one it is too. Tightly constructed with stylish, snappy dialogue, this is close to the spirit of the original. Flocks of swifts dart through the sky and soundtrack of twittering birds makes for an evocative setting.

show5

Holmes and Watson are summoned to a nunnery to investigate the mysterious Eye of God, an ancient talisman that has been protected within the nunnery for centuries. Holmes is acted with some aplomb, both masterful and eccentric, capturing his infuriating brilliance. (The performance is another reminder of the sizable debt Dr Who owes to Holmes and Conan Doyle). Watson is equally good, unusually robust, and less deferential than he is in the original stories. Both actors are magnificent speakers – projecting out into the trees and the families playing in the park. There is terrific chemistry between the two and the long suffering Watson’s nerves (and teeth) are tested to the limit.

The supporting cast are excellent too; the formidable head of the convent has a wholesome, matronly authority while the two novices are respectively feisty and earnest. Brother Benjamin (a beekeeper Holmes fans!) has a superb energy and holds his own against the two male leads.

There is a slight uncertainty of tone. Like the books, the play is essentially a melodrama and the company has resisted the urge to play it too broad. There are moments of mild slapstick however, which threaten to take it into more comic territory but this is by no means a send up. There are touches of horror too and the drama with its various wrong -footing diversions is expertly executed.

All the usual Holmesian tropes are in place: Sherlock appears in disguise, there’s the Webley revolver and some very natty tailoring; Holmes is pencil thin in green tweeds and wing collar. The smoking has been toned down for more enlightened times and audiences, although, amusingly, some herbal cigarettes play an unusually important part in the drama.

A light shower during the second half (cue a spray of floral umbrellas) only served to add atmosphere to this compelling production and I thoroughly enjoyed myself (abetted by a couple of bottles of Badger’s Hopping Hare beer!) The evening was topped off by winning a bottle of white wine in the half time raffle and best of all, it was Watson who sold me the winning ticket! Gloriously old fashioned, outdoor entertainment for ages 12 to 112.

Sherlock Holmes and The Adventure of the Ruby Elephants

Some excellent news! MX Publishing will be bringing out my first Sherlock Holmes novel: The Adventure of the Ruby Elephants in late autumn 2015. The book is set in 1890 (quite early for Holmes) and involves diamonds, rubies, assassins in top hats, Penny Farthing chases and lots more! The incredibly talented Bob Gibson has designed the cover. What a treat.

Ruby elephants cover

How to write a Sherlock Holmes novel

My apologies to anyone who was following the blog only to find that I suddenly vanished into thin air. Well, I’m back. The reason for my disappearance? I was writing a new Sherlock Holmes novel, which I have now completed.

I began my preparations by reading all of Conan Doyle’s brilliant short stories and novels. Check out The Adventure of the Three Students – they’re not all about murder. You will be dazzled at the ingenuity of the plotting, the stylish trappings and the pungency of the wit. Essentially authentic Holmes is light comedy meets Hammer horror.

Holmes and Watson

I then plugged away, rattling out 500 words a day for most of the year. It’s been a bit of a slog, but incredibly enjoyable. So what’s the secret of writing a Holmes’ pastiche?

1) If you get stuck, return Holmes and Watson to 221b Baker Street, put them in their armchairs and get them to talk about something. Anything. New inventions, things in the news and so on. Then get someone with an unusual character feature (a limp, a scar, a missing ear etc.) to walk in.

2) Make Watson incredibly loyal to Holmes and keep the friendship between them to the fore at all times. It’s basically a Bromance.

3) Invent some colourful baddies, each with an interesting Achilles Heel. Don’t automatically reach for Moriarty!

4) When things get a little slow, get Holmes to practice some of his Bartitsu, the obscure martial art that combines boxing, stick fighting and kung fu. It makes for a good break between the pipe smoking.

5) Find different words for the carriages they ride in. You will find Watson and Holmes spend an incredible amount of time travelling between places in hansoms, broughams, etc. etc.

6) Introduce a feisty female with a special power that will intimidate Holmes a little. He can respect her, but otherwise will show no interest.

7) Focus on objects and tiny details – Holmes’ art is all based on the observation of ‘trifles’ to solve the crimes. Leave lots of clues for the reader, some of which can be red herrings.

8) Give Mycroft, Holmes’ brother, a couple of stylish cameos, showing his superior intelligence and large appetite, but don’;t overuse him.

9) Introduce some strangeness; real oddity; the Victorians loved this and this is what makes the Holmes’ books so memorable. Remember to include colourful and authentic food and drink, like deviled kidneys!

10) Research as many Victorian exclamations as possible. Watson utters these with astonishing regularity as Holmes calmly reveals the next plot twist. ‘By Great Gordon’s Ghost, Holmes!’ ‘Heaven’s!’ ‘Mercy!’ etc.

Good luck!