Sunday, October 26, 2014

Guy Fawkes Day

Here in the United States we observe 9-11 in various ways, flying flags at half-staff, pausing for moments of silence, and so on. But what if the 9-11 conspirators had been caught before any harm was done? How would we observe that?

George Cruikshank's Depiction of Guy Fawkes
Guy Fawkes Day is a celebration of such a situation--the foiling of the "Gunpowder Plot." On November 4, 1605, Guy Fawkes was captured in a cellar beneath England's Parliament. He was there to detonate thirty-six barrels of gunpowder in order to kill England's Members of Parliament and King James I when they assembled the next day, November 5 ("Guy Fawkes" 124). It would have been much like blowing up the U.S. Capitol with the President, Senate, and House of Representatives all inside!

So every November 5, people in England celebrate Guy Fawkes Day, also known as "Bonfire Night," by parading about with effigies of Guy Fawkes, called "Guys," which they throw onto bonfires ("Guy Fawkes Day" 318). Although other conspirators played a larger role in hatching the plot, Guy Fawkes, caught "red-handed," is the one who gets all the attention.

Treasonous Conspiracy, or Frame-Up?

Some believe that the whole conspiracy was actually a frame-up to make it easy to get rid of people who were a threat to the throne. There are many precedents for this, including one in 1600 that also involved King James. The Earl of Gowrie and Gowrie's brother supposedly tried to assassinate James, but some think that this was a frame-up by the king to get rid of potential rivals. And not just rivals--a debt, too: James owed the Gowries eighty thousand pounds, a fortune in those days. Eliminating the Gowries not only eliminated this debt, but, as a bonus, allowed James to seize their property as well (Greenblatt 340)!

Similarly, some argue that England's government invented the Gunpowder Plot to frame people they considered dangerous. Most historians, however, believe that the Gunpowder Plot was real ("The Gunpowder Conspiracy Trial" 95).

When William Shakespeare wrote Macbeth about a year later, he alluded to the Gunpowder Plot and James I in several ways. In this play, for instance, a Scottish king is assassinated. Likewise, the conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot had attempted to kill James, who was Scottish (Greenblatt 337). Also, as Macbeth unfolds, the heirs of Banquo--an ancestor of James--are prophesied to succeed to the throne (Mullaney 41).

A dramatic event like the Gunpowder Plot invites the pursuit of many different avenues of exploration, including the religious, political, and literary aspects of its time and place. Fortunately, your ACC libraries offer a wide variety of resources for delving deeper into history and culture. For more information about Guy Fawkes Day, the Gunpowder Plot, English history, Shakespeare, and related subjects, for example, check out these and other library materials:
 

Circulating Materials (May Check Out)

The Age of Shakespeare
Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare
Conspiracy Theories
The Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare (DVD Set--Disc 3: Macbeth)
The History of England
Macbeth (Orson Welles' Production) (DVD)
Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare

Online Sources  (You may need to log in if off campus)

"Conspiracy Theories." -- Article in St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture
"The Gunpowder Conspiracy Trial." -- Article in Famous Trials in History
"Guy Fawkes." -- Article in Encyclopedia of World Biography
"Guy Fawkes Day." -- Article in Holidays Symbols and Customs
JSTOR -- Database covering history, literature, and many other subjects

Streaming Videos from Films on Demand

Equivocation: Shakespeare, the King's Man
For All Time (In Search of Shakespeare)
Macbeth: A Critical Guide
Revolution (The British: An Epic Adventure Through the Ages)
The Stuarts
William Shakespeare: A Concise Biography




Works Cited

Greenblatt, Stephen. Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became

     Shakespeare. New York: W. W. Norton, 2004. Print.

"The Gunpowder Conspiracy Trial." Famous Trials in History. Elizabeth A.

     Cawthon. New York: Facts on File, 2012. 94-99. Facts On File Library of

     World History. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.
 
"Guy Fawkes." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Ed. Tracie Ratiner. 2nd ed.


     Vol. 27. Detroit: Gale, 2007. 123-125. Gale Virtual Reference Library.

     Web. 17 Oct. 2014.

"Guy Fawkes Day." Holidays Symbols and Customs. Ed. Helene Henderson.

     4th ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2009. 316-319. Gale Virtual Reference

     Library. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.

Mullaney, Steven. "Lying Like Truth: Riddle, Representation and Treason in

     Renaissance England." ELH 47.1 (1980): 32-47. JSTOR. Web.

     23 Oct. 2014.

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