Real Time Reading, Uncategorized

SON Real-Time Reading – November 1 – Chapters 1 and 2


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Welcome to the Real-Time Reading for Shadow of Night! Over the next couple of months, we’ll be sharing tidbits and observations from each chapter of SON as they happen in the book. The RTR is a great opportunity to spend some time musing on the book and its intricate details as they unfold in real time. Without further ado, let’s journey into 1590 with Matthew and Diana!

Chapter 1

We arrived in an undignified heap of witch and vampire.

In Chapter 1, Matthew and Diana step from Sarah and Em’s hop barn in 2010 New York into Matthew home in 1590, the Old Lodge. We first visited the Old Lodge in Chapter X of A Discovery of Witches.

Tipping my head back, I saw the ceiling — thickly plastered, coffered into squares, with a splashy red-and-white Tudor rose picked out in gilt on each recess.

“The roses were obligatory when the house was built,” Matthew commented drily. “I can’t stand them.”


Matthew refers to the red-and-white heraldic emblem of the Tudor family, adopted at the end of the so-called War of the Roses to signify the unity of the royal houses of Lancaster (red rose) and York (white rose). The “War of the Roses” refers to a period of English civil war wherein the Lancaster and York families battled for the English throne. The war ended with the ascension of Henry VII, who married Elizabeth of York and thereby neatly eliminated the best surviving challenger for the English throne. Incorporating the rose into your decor or your livery during this period signaled your loyalty to the crown and the united Tudor dynasty.

At Matthew’s words, the young man dropped the paper to the table and pivoted, joy lighting his face. I’d seen that face before, on my paperback copy of Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta.

“Putative Marlowe portrait.” 1585. Held by Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

Diana likely refers to this alleged portrait of Christopher Marlowe, discovered by workmen in Corpus Christi College in 1953. Those who say that the portrait represents Marlowe point to his putative motto (quod me nutruit me destruit), his attendance at Corpus Christi on or about the date of the work, and the apparent age (21?) of the sitter. Detractors claim that the sitter’s costume is too fancy and would have violated England’s sumptuary laws and that Marlowe–notoriously short on cash–never could have afforded the luxury of a portrait. In the world of All Souls, I simply assume that Matthew paid for both the doublet and the portrait because he couldn’t help but humor Kit.

As a side note, the sumptuary laws of England are a fascinating topic for another time — they played a significant role in maintaining the strict Elizabethan social hierarchy and told every class of society what they could and could not wear. Speaking of class, status, and hierarchy…

“Why no beard? Have you been ill?”

OMG, you guys.

When we recorded our first SON episodes, I hadn’t done the research for these posts and therefore didn’t yet know that beards were a Big Deal in Elizabethan England. Did you know that the lack of a beard was associated with class, masculinity, and virility? The Elizabethan construct of masculinity used the beard as a token of manhood and a sign of strength separating women from men. (See Fisher, Will. The Renaissance Beard: Masculinity in Early Modern England. Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 54, No. 1 (Spring 2001)). Elizabethan beards came in many shapes, styles, and colors, and there was apparently a market for prosthetic beards. Elizabethans also associated some beard shapes with professions, like the cathedral beard or the glover’s beard.

Elizabethans associated smooth cheeks with “dubious masculinity” and there is a theory that the strict performance of gender in the Elizabethan era stemmed from the existential challenge Elizabeth I’s reign posed to a patriarchal society. (See Dolan, Frances. “Gender and sexuality in early modern England” in Gender, Power, and Privilege in Early Modern Europe, Munns, J., and Richards, P., eds. (2003)). My whole point being that I believe that the beard gag running through the first few chapters of SON is essentially one long challenge to Matthew’s virility and social status and that it’s maybe a really intelligent penis joke that also has layers of meaning for the gender politics of SON and how Diana sharpens and complicates all of these gendered questions by bringing her 2010 sensibilities into the world of 1590.

It’s pretty good, guys.

Chapter 2

I asked Francoise a number of questions during the complicated process. Portraits of the period had led me to expect an unwieldly birdcage called a farthingale that would hold my skirts out at the hips, but Francoise explained that these were for more formal occasions.

Ah, the bum roll.

As you might have gathered from this chapter, Elizabethan women wore many, many layers of clothing. Elizabethan outfits often comprised multiple pieces that could be re-arranged and matched, such as bodices and sleeves. The average Elizabethan woman wore nine separate garments for formal dress, including smock, stockings, corset, farthingale and/or bum roll, petticoat, kirtle, forepart, partlet, gown, and sleeves. Everything under the petticoat gives structure to the outer garments and creates a fashionable silhouette on which to layer the more valuable and decorative outer garments. 

The farthingale Diana expects came to England via Spain, where the same garment is called a verdugado. Made of wood, the farthingale holds the skirts out in a pleasing bell or cone shape. The bum roll achieved a similar effect by using rolls of fabric to hold the skirts away from the body. Historians first found evidence of the bum roll in the accounts of Elizabeth I’s wardrobe from 1580. If you’d like to make a bum roll of your own, you may want to check out these instructions.

We’ll pick up on Chapter 3 of SON tomorrow, November 2. In the meantime, Deb’s post on Chapter 1 of SON can be found here. We covered Chapters 1-3 of SON in Episode 20, Elizabethan Vacation. Our friends at Daemons Discuss covered Chapters 1-2 in Take 26! The One with the Boys.

Follow us on Twitter at @chamomilenclove for real-time reading posts and join our Facebook group, the Clovers, for more in-depth discussion.

Until tomorrow,


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