Swordplay and Shakespeare: Who Could Ask For Anything More?

C.C. Humphreys dressed as John Lawley.

I recently had the pleasure of attending the book launch for Shakespeare’s Rebel and am wondering if all book launches are this much fun. I had never been to one before so when the opportunity arose I took it.

The event was co-hosted by the author C.C. Humphreys and Academie Duello in the main tent at Bard on the Beach in Vancouver which meant that this wasn’t your average ‘author standing in front of a group of people reading excerpts from their book’ book launch. Not to say that wouldn’t have been enough. Humphreys is thoroughly engaging when he reads and at one point had the audience so enthralled that we were all willing to shout “bollocks to the bard!” at his request.

The addition of a historic swordplay group to the evening meant that I could indulge in my other passion with equal fervour. Devon Boorman, the director of Academie Duello, gave a lecture about the role of the Globe theatre and the prize fights of the London Master of Defense in Shakespeare’s day while members of the group demonstrated the use of various weapons of the time. The lecture ended with a modern prize fight (i.e. not choreographed) for two of the Duello members. This was probably my favourite part as I had a front row seat and could indulge in  a little amateur analysis of their techniques.

Another highlight of the evening for me was the lecture given by Bard on the Beach’s own fight choreographer, Nick Harrison, in which he describes the work that goes into staging the final fight scene from Hamlet when all the stage direction given in the play is ‘the fight’. He explained how certain lines in the play give clues as to how one might stage the fight so as to not have just a couple of actors standing there poking at each other with weapons but to have a scene that engages the audience as well. As Hamlet is being performed this year we were able to witness for ourselves the result of Mr. Harrison’s work. Yay, more swordplay!

The evening ended with Bard on the Beach’s artistic director reading a passage from the book and one final fight scene in which Humphreys himself took part before we all moved outside to have our books signed by the author. What a great experience! I hope I have a chance to do something like this again.

If you would like to see some pictures of the event C.C. Humphries has posted some on his webpage here and also shared his thoughts on the evening here.

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Rijksmuseum Renovations Finally Finished

After a ten year renovation the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is re-opening today. What better way to promote this than with a Rembrandt inspired flash mob!

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April 13, 2013 · 6:00 am

Sewing in the Dark

I have been working on some thread covered buttons for my new outfit and have come to a bit of a revelation. I’ve found that sitting at a table in the dark with only a desk lamp for illumination has really helped me get better at making these damnable things. As I was sitting here this evening a painting I remember seeing in the past came to my mind. It is one where a woman is sewing at night using a pitcher of water as a magnifying glass. I always assumed that this was a seamstress trying to get some extra work done in the evening. But what if it were simply the fact that sewing this way is more efficient? Especially if one is working on fidgety little things like thread covered buttons or lace. I know that I have found this to be the case and that’s my revelation. Sewing in the dark like this has really helped me focus on what I am doing. It has also made it easier. I’m not constantly straining to see what I am doing. At some point I am going to have to do some research to see if this is the case. If you have any insight into this please leave a comment below.

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Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century Fashion in Detail

This sumptuously illustrated book reveals the decorative seams, exquisite stitching, voluptuous drapery, strict corseting and slashing and stamping that make up the clothing in the V&A’s superlative seventeenth and eighteenth-century fashion collection. Using an authoritative text, exquisite colour photography and line drawings of complete garments, the reader is allowed the unique opportunity to look closely at clothing often too fragile to be on display.

My copy arrived in the post today. I had forgotten just how beautiful this book is!

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Diary of a 17th Century Dutch Outfit – The Proem

I am going to be teaching at a local Academy in November so that means that I just have to have a new outfit! I am embarrassed to say that it has been far too long since I treated myself to one.

Copyright – Rijksmuseum

 This dashing fellow is Lt. Lucas Jacobsz. Rotgans (detail from Thomas de Keyser’s The Militia Company of Captain Allaert Cloeck, 1632). He cuts a fine figure doesn’t he? His outfit, althouhg a bit dated in 1632, was popular in the Netherlands in the 1620’s and nowhere else it seems. I’ve always been particularly drawn to the style of this ensemble so I think that I will try my hand at making it.

As I stated in a previous post the first step is always to do some research.

Oh who am I kidding?

The first step for me is to do a lot of research!

I can’t help it.

I’m a research junkie.

Fortunately, being the junkie that I am, most of the research for the outfit has already been done so completing the outfit on time shouldn’t be a problem.

I won’t bore you with all the research now (that’s material for another post) but if you have any information about Lt. Rotgans’ outfit please feel free to leave a comment below.

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Rawlings Synthetic Broadsword – First Impressions

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

I recently acquired a couple of Rawlings synthetic broadswords from Purpleheart Armoury and thought that I would share my first impression of them with you.

When the box arrived I felt like a young boy at Christmas. I had been looking forward to these swords since the moment I ordered them. I have to say that my excitement was well founded.

Like most toys some assembly is required.

The swords are made up of four parts: blade, hilt, slide-on grips and pommel. The quality of the construction of each piece is quite good and nothing feels cheap in any way.

The first thing I noticed once the swords were assembled was how much they weighed. For a nylon sword it has an exceptionally good heft to it thanks to the metal rod than runs down the centre of the blade and through the handle to give the pommel something to attach to. This weight coupled with good balance and I was smiling like a Cheshire cat.

I only had a couple of minor issues with the swords at the beginning. Both of which related to the hilt.

My fist was the size of the hilt itself. I have hands that tend toward the large side to begin with and for practice I wear padded Kevlar re-inforced gloves so I need a pretty beefy hilt to get my hand into. Although not as large as I would like, the hilt is big enough to fit my gloved hand but there’s no room to spare. A slightly larger hilt would be nice.

Doesn't look too small does it?

No it's not Darth Vader.

The other issue I had with the hilt were its edges. As the hilt is molded nylon the edges are a bit sharp and can be uncomfortable on bare hands when they contact. Of course this ceases to be an issue when I put on a pair of gloves.

I said they were minor issues.

Seriously I had to come up with something to critique otherwise it wouldn’t be a very good review.

These swords are great!

I spent a half an hour the other night smacking them against a wooden pell pole because none of my friends were available and by the end I was euphoric. The weight and balance of these swords make throwing cuts almost effortless. The solid ‘whump’ as the sword hit the wood made me giddy (even now writing this I’m getting giddy again). I never felt like I was going to damage the sword no matter how hard I hit the pell.

The blades seem to stand up quite well against rough handling. After my short practice you could hardly tell that it had even been used. I’ll be interested to see what they will look like in a couple of months.

Eventually I was able to get an hour of time with a friend doing some drills to see how the swords handle. My pleasure at having bought these sword was not diminished at all. There was almost no glancing with hard parries and once again the weight of the swords made me forget that I wasn’t working with my metal backsword.

I can see why Rawling’s synthetic longswords have been all the rage among the Liechtenauer/Fiore groups.

At $62 plus S&H, taxes, etc. this is an amazing practice sword. I’m going to be using mine as much as possible over the next few months to see how it will hold up to use. Even so a replacement blade is only $40.

Do you have any experience with this or any of the other swords from Rawlings? If so, leave a comment below to let me know.

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You Need to go to Barkerville

I recently dragged my family to Barkerville.

You need to go there if for no other reason than to visit a place where your family can spend a couple of days without you hearing those dreadful words: Dad I’m bored.

Not once.


Barkerville has it all.

Action – you can have a ride on the top of a real stagecoach.

Adventure – you can pan for gold, visist an old cemetery and did I mention the stagecoach?

Comedy – the Gold Rush Revue at the Theatre Royal is a great variety show and only one of four shows to choose from.

There’s even a bottomless cup of coffee (just ask at C. Strouss & Co.).

It’s better than a Harry Potter movie……well it’s cheaper than a Harry Potter movie.

Speaking of which (being cheap not Mr. Potter) when you do go make sure to stop and buy your tickets at the Wells information centre. You’ll get a discount on admission and your second day for free.

St. Saviour's Church, Barkerville, BC

For those of you who haven’t been following my lead up to this trip, Barkerville is an historic townsite that consists of 120+ heritage buildings dating from the 1860’s through the 1930’s.

Almost all the buildings have been kitted out with artifacts to show how they would have looked originally. Some you can walk through while others you can only view from the outside. There’s a working blacksmith shop and water wheel.  The town boasts the oldest Masonic Lodge in British Columbia. My daughters’ favourite was the schoolhouse where they were treated to an 1860’s style school lesson.

As with most historic sites there are living history interpreters milling about in the streets and the shops acting out scenes from the history of the town all day. Even better is the fact that these scenes progress in time as the day progresses. So the tour of the town in the morning is guided by townsfolk from the 1860’s and by the end of the day you are hearing about what Barkerville was like in the 1930’s.

My favourite interpretation was the one at the Richfield Courthouse where I was so drawn in by the interpreter that I felt as though I were listening to Judge Matthew Baillie Begbie himself tell us about his life as the first Chief Justice of British Columbia. It was well worth the 1.6 km hike to get there.

If you are the type who likes to rough it there are three campgrounds nearby that are more than adequate. The one we stayed in had showers, a playground and a reconstruction of an 1860’s miner’s campsite. One warning though if you are going to camp stock up in Quesnel as it is the closest place with a real grocery store.

If you’d rather be catered to there are two B&B’s on Barkerville’s main street. One of them, the St. George Hotel, is in a restored saloon/brothel for that true gold rush experience.

Either way Barkerville is well worth the visit.

You need to go there.

If you’ve already been let me know what you liked most about Barkerville in the comments below.

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