Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies: RSC Stage Adaptation by Hilary Mantel & Mike Poulton

published 2014



Character Notes: GREGORY CROMWELL You are in your late teens as this story unfolds. You are Thomas Cromwell’s only surviving child, and you are brought up as if you were a prince. You will be known to your contemporaries as ‘the gentle and virtuous Gregory’. Implacably sweet-natured, you seem to be bowed under the weight of all that is invested in you… The important thing is, the King likes you. You will marry the sister of Jane Seymour. (So the blacksmith’s grandson is related to the King.) This family connection saves you when your father is executed… though you do not inherit your father’s title of Earl, you are granted a baron’s title, and as Lord Cromwell you live and die a country gentleman, fathering many children and making a negligible impact on national life. How could you possibly have lived up to expectations? In the third Cromwell novel, you will say to your father, ‘You know everything. You do everything. You are everything. What’s left for me?’






Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Published 2009

Jane's sister Lizzie is at court with her husband, the Governor of Jersey, who is some connection of the new queen's. Lizzie comes packaged into her velvet and lace, her outlines as firm as her sister's are indefinite and blurred, her eyes bold and hazel and eloquent. Jane whispers in her wake; her eyes are the colour of water, where her thoughts slip past, like gilded fishes too small for hook or net. It is Jane Rochford – whose mind, in his view, is underoccupied – who sees him watching the sisters. ‘Lizzie Seymour must have a lover,’ she says, ‘it cannot be her husband who puts that glow in her cheeks, he is an old man. He was old when he was in the Scots wars.’




observations: There are no known surviving pictures of Gregory Cromwell, and it’s just a guess that the woman in the picture, by Hans Holbein, is Elizabeth Seymour, who will become his bride.

The first two of Hilary Mantel’s Tudor trilogy have been turned into two plays, currently being performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford: they are marvellous, and long-ago sold out, and will certainly move to London soon. Ben Miles is truly excellent as Thomas Cromwell, and Gregory is given a rather larger role than in the books, so that he can be used for exposition of some of Cromwell’s thoughts and explanations. Thomas Wyatt is also used for this purpose, and there is a picture of him extant, but he looks so unlike our view of him that I was reluctant to use it. (Clothes in Books holds a romantic view of Thomas Wyatt, and featured one of his poems last year along with further discussion of these Tudor times.)

The character notes in the playscript are by Mantel herself, and make particularly fascinating reading for anyone who knows the books well: and here tucked away is a line from the anxiously-awaited third one, and news of Gregory’s fate – which we (discreetly) spoilered in this entry on Bring Up The Bodies, while elsewhere we suggested that Catherine Zeta Jones is born to play the part of Anne Boleyn.

I re-read Wolf Hall after seeing the plays, and experienced the same effect as the other times I have read the book and its sequel: for a few days I kept considering things the way Thomas Cromwell might, seeing the world through his eyes. (Which presumably is more like Hilary Mantel’s world…) And, nothing changed my view that the books are the great novelistic achievements of the early 21st century: it is too early to tell about the plays, but they certainly help out while we’re waiting for the next book.

Boleyns, Tudors and Mantel all over the blog – click on the labels below. Mantel's Jane Seymour - Lizzie's sister - is here.

8 comments:

  1. Moira - Oh, I'm so glad the plays are good. I'm glad to hear that they do some justice to the novels. And what an interesting piece of history Mantel explores in those stories. Just full of so many interesting characters, lots of court intrigue, the politics, the whole thing.

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    1. Yes, I really enjoy any kind of Tudor history - fiction, non-fiction, plays. But I also think it would be a great way to introduce young people to it, and make them see the fascination of history, and its applications to modern life.

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  2. Moira, why do you do this to me. I mostly only read mysteries and I don't need any more books, and this is the first time anyone has convinced me that I should try Wolf Hall. I guess if I can venture into sci fi and fantasy, I can try some straight historical novels. So I will put Wolf Hall on my list for future reading. (I did read The Other Boleyn Girl so I am interested in this time in history, which helps.)

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    1. Sorry Tracy! I think having read other books does help, but really this is just a great book... one day you will find time. And a female author for your percentages.

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  3. When I see books like this, I'm reminded of history at school........it's a no from me.

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    1. Was expecting that, though there IS quite a lot of gruesomeoness in the books in the way of torture and executions, though it's offstage.

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  4. Moira: A day after telling you I had not read any of your 2013 favourites you post about a book I have read. I found Wolf Hall a good book but would not lavish it with the praise many have given it. I have read the play offers another perspective of Cromwell. I hope I can see it.

    The painting evokes a sense of restrained richness in the fabric and details of the dress.

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    1. Thanks Bill. I think the plays are very good, and will have a life of their own, so everyone will get a chance to see them.

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