It's the fifth of November: Guy Fawkes night, bonfire night - fireworks night, and as I've already mentioned this in a previous post I was trying to think of another topic for today, but I can't. Is this through too little imagination? Possibly, but there is something tempting in a national celebration of a plot to overthrow the government.
Whether you celebrate the capture, mourn the discovery, express relief at the prevention of death, or just seize upon the impulse to stick two fingers up to authority; the intrigue, suspicion and betrayal - coupled with the idea of an explosion, fits in brilliantly with the closing nights and conspiratorial chill in the air.
The actual plot is a matter for ambiguity, was it a plot or counter plot, a bid for freedom or an elaborate political stunt? Were they terrorists, freedom fighters or dupes? The cause, as well - the eternal battle (well, in Jacobean Britain anyway) between Protestant and Catholic; although I understand it historically, I can't say it grabs me in a modern context - as it seems to be about two groups of vested interest.
Yet this is a too easy dismissal, after all this was the tension that lead to some of the most radical political thought in our history - the Levellers and Diggers and the English Revolution (or Civil War if you want). Thoughts about monarchy and citizenship, about common ground and how people relate to it, and about what it means to have a voice.
The debates and conflict over religion provoked new interrogation about our place in the world, our understanding of right and wrong, and questioned the very order of the universe. These questions led to the overturning of social assumptions about land, class and privilege; true, questions that were answered and quashed by the forces of vested interest, but they were asked nonetheless. Amongst the 'ooh' of the fireworks, the pennies for the guy, the stickiest of toffee, this is a festival of why.
Add in the setting, Jacobean London: close alleys, shadowed by flickering candlelight, the slurp of the Thames lapping at the edge of the Houses of Parliament, the smog of rumour and deception, and the inner rebel is let loose. This is history, romanticised - woven into a tale of conspiracy and deception, but it is ripe with the power of narrative and potent with an idea caught in the imagination of a culture.
Remember, remember indeed; but also question, interrogate and think.