December 10th, 2007


What I'm reading

I recently finished Filthy Shakespeare, by Pauline Kiernan. It's a study of "Shakespeare's most outrageous sexual puns." Scholarly and free of axe-grinding, it opens up Shakespeare's language in fascinating ways.

I was struck by one thing. In Shakespeare's day, people talked about going to the theater to "hear a play," not "see a play." Scenery was at a minimum, and special effects were limited. What people of all social classes wanted was the language, the WORDS. They were drunk on words, and their ears were attuned to catch every last nuance.

I'm now reading Basilica, by R. A. Scotti, a history of the building of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The history of this huge project is, of course, all bound up with the sale of indulgences and the looting of the Americas, as well as outsized personalities of all types, ecclesiastical, political, artistic, and financial.

Through all the many changes in design over decades, one thing remained constant. The goal of the project was to pile the Pantheon (the largest dome of antiquity) on top of Maxentius's Basilica (the last and biggest of the civic basilicas of the Roman Empire). In the end, St. Peter's dwarfs both. Until the dictator of Cote d'Ivoire built his massive concrete church down in Africa, St. Peter's was the largest church in Christendom, I believe.