Death and Taxes: Lessons Learned

Death and Taxes are the two things no one can avoid. While taxes is something we face every year, the death of a parent is something we face only once or twice, depending on our family situation. As I found out with the 2016 death of my mother, our knowledge of how to handle taxes after the death of a parent or other close loved one is very limited.

Despite all the information out there online on both subjects individually, I found it all extremely confusing as I tried to navigate that complexity of what happens with your taxes when someone close to you dies.  Tax law is very complicated and tax guidance is even more complicated. No one wants the liability of telling you anything just in case what they tell you does not apply to you. In most cases, people want you to spend massive amounts of money consulting with attorneys and tax professionals instead of giving you the most basic advice.  It’s akin to a nurse not telling me to run cold water on a burn and sending me to the hospital (at a delay of hours) when my hair caught fire blowing out candles when I was in university. The burn gets worse by not taking immediate action.

The following is what I learned filing my 2016 taxes.  My situation may be different from yours. You may have a more complicated tax situation than I did. What follows is some simple advice from my tax filing as equal beneficiary to my brother who was the executor on her estate.

Taxes to be paid:

  • The executor of the state must file Federal and State income taxes for the deceased. If the deceased has no tax liability, that is fine. But the returns must be filed on behalf of the deceased.
  • If deceased owns her home at time of death and it is to be sold, sell the home as quickly as possible to reduce tax liability and simplify your tax situation. Same for any other property that is usually taxed upon sale.  If you are not keeping the property for the long term, you make your life easier by selling it as soon as possible.
  • If you inherit any annuities or retirement funds, those funds are taxable by the Federal government if they were tax-deferred plans such as 401K, traditional IRA, etc. Pre-pay that tax before you receive any funds if at all possible.  It may not always be possible to pre-pay the taxes so ask the financial institutions involved about it.

The more you pre-pay taxes, the easier filing your return becomes. In this it is no different than when you choose fewer tax deductions as you are working and thus have more taxes taken out of each check as you earn. When the tax season hits, a refund is easier to handle than a big tax bill. Err on the side of caution and pay as much tax as you can before you receive funds from the estate so you don’t over spend and find yourself unable to pay those taxes when the bill arrives.

Now here is the good news:  what is NOT taxable:

  • Cash, savings, checking, and certificate of deposit funds.  That is because the deceased already paid income taxes on those funds.  You do not report these funds to the IRS.  It’s your money.
  • Proceeds from the sale of a home if the executor has paid all applicable taxes up front.  In the common case of a home being sold and its funds being dispersed to multiple beneficiaries, those beneficiaries do not pay taxes on it nor do they claim those funds as income because all taxes have already been paid.  For example:  a home sells for $100,000.  After taxes, attorney fees, and other closing costs the net sale is $80,000.  The Will specifies two beneficiaries which then each receive $40,000. The $40,000 received is not taxable because it’s the net after taxes are paid. The beneficiary does not pay tax on the $40,000; the money stays off the tax return.

 

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My mother and me during a 2001 visit as part of the studio audience for Good Morning America.  This is us with anchor Charles Gibson, one of my mother’s favourite celebrities.

Now of course I’m not a lawyer.  I am not a tax professional. I’m a historian and an author from a humble background.  My mother was not a rich, glamourous person.  She was a teacher before I was born and a factory worker and retail clerk for most of her working life after I was born. She was very average, living paycheck to paycheck and doing creative things to keep us fed and with some sort of roof over our heads.  So her estate was not massive and there were no capital gains taxes that I needed to concern myself with.

Maybe this blog post is useless. But maybe it helps you too.  I stressed out for MONTHS over the tax consequences of my mother’s death. I smartly put 30% of my inheritance into a high yield savings account (I switched to Ally Bank to maximize those earnings) in part because I was terrified that I was going to have to pay nearly everything I inherited back to the government.  I did not. A tax professional explained to me what I just posted and set my mind at ease.  I hope this post does the same for you.

Rest in peace mom. May you find joy in your new incarnation and the love you never found in this life.

King Stephen and Herr Trump: thoughts on the inauguration

Today Donald J. Trump will take the oath of office to become the 45th President of the United States. He does so as the most hated and distrusted person to ever swear that oath, an oath that he refuses to uphold and will never uphold beyond his ability to use the government of the United States for personal profit, something explicitly forbidden by the Constitution of the United States and therefore the oath he is about to take.

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Taking an oath of office you have no intention of upholding is nothing knew.  Nearly every king and queen regnant of England, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom has sworn a coronation oath.  Here is that oath and coronation ritual as King Stephen swore it on 26th of December, 1135 when he usurped the throne of King Henry I’s daughter and heir, Empress Matilda:

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“Do you Stephen de Blois solemnly swear to uphold the three duties of the king of England? Will you swear first, that the church of God and the whole Christian people shall have true peace at all time by your judgment; Second, that you will forbid extortion and all kinds of wrong-doing to all orders of men; Third, that you will enjoin equity and mercy in all judgments?” asked the Archbishop of Canterbury as he stood before the assembly at Westminster Abbey.

“I so swear!” promised Stephen.

The archbishop turned to the nobles assembled before him, “Do you, members of the Witan council consent to this man ruling as your king?”

“We wish it and grant it,” confirmed the Witan.

“Stephen de Blois, it is the will of the English people that you are to be king!  Receive now the anointing from God through me that you may be blessed in your reign!” proclaimed the archbishop as he anointed Stephen on his hands, breasts, shoulders, and arms with holy oil prepared for the coronation. In honour of the king’s duty to protect his people, he girt Stephen with a mighty sword before placing the royal crown upon his head. The royal ring he placed on Stephen’s finger. The sceptre and the rod he placed in Stephen’s hands. Finally, and at long last King Stephen sat down on his throne, his ambition fulfilled.

 

Trump’s coronation today (for there’s nothing democratic about his “presidency”) will resemble King Stephen’s in many strikingly similar ways–as will his reign. Stephen of course did not have nuclear weapons.  But like Trump, Stephen was a sort of puppet, a weak-minded monarch who allowed shrewder and even more ambitious men to use him for their personal gain — at the expense of not only the English people, but the entire island of Britain. King Stephen’s reign and its impact on England, Scotland, and Wales is an important part of “Empress Matilda of England.”  

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Empress Matilda of England tells the story of Henry I’s sole surviving legitimate child.

Matilda herself did not cross the Channel to assert her birth right upon hearing of Stephen’s treachery for she was heavily pregnant at the time and crossing the English Channel was a dangerous matter.  Stephen of course did not have nuclear weapons at his disposal.  Four hours from this writing, Donald J. Trump will.

We cannot afford delay in Resisting. We cannot afford to wait and see and hope that maybe Trump isn’t as bad as he seems.  Do not let the gas-lighting convince you to mistrust your own eyes, ears, and judgement. Do not get lulled into a false sense of security.

King Stephen inflicted eighteen years of civil war upon Britain, years called “The Anarchy.” They were among the worst years in British history.  Let us not allow history to repeat itself here.  Let us learn from history. Only our lives and liberties are at stake.

 

 

 

Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd Análisis De La Escena: Vestuario

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Ya disponible.

Traducido por Andrés Sotelo Soria:

Buen día y bienvenido seas a tu viaje como recreador, actor o productor de una de las Obras Teatrales de las Mujeres Legendarias de la Historia Mundial.
Como historiadora, me apasiona la historia. Adoro pocas cosas más que ver una obra de teatro del periodo correcto en la que se representan de forma exacta los vestuarios. Pero, ¿qué se puede hacer si tienes poco presupuesto o si vas a montar las obras de “Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd” o de “La Emperatriz Matilda”? ¿Qué pasa si no tienes años de experiencia en investigación de vestidos medievales?

La siguiente es una guía general para las producciones de “Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd: Un obra en tres actos” y para la reconstrucción general de personajes del siglo XII:

ANÁLISIS DE LA ESCENA: VESTUARIO

A menos que se especifique en algún otro sitio, los personajes usan atuendos comunes del siglo XII

MUJERES: vestidos de túnica que llegan hasta el suelo y los primeros briales conocidos, ambos usados con cinturones largos que se ajustan fijamente alrededor de la cintura. Los briales (cuando se usen) se atan de lado. Las capas se usan en la noche y durante los meses de invierno.  Las galesas usan una continuación de la antigua capa envuelta y asegurada con un prendedor llamada “brat”.

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HOMBRES:  camisas de túnica que caen hasta la rodilla y pantalones sencillos. El cinturón está amarrado fijamente a la cintura. Las capas se usan en la noche y durante los meses de invierno.  Los galeses usan una continuación de la antigua capa envuelta y asegurada con un prendedor llamada “brat” La jerarquía tanto de los hombres como de las mujeres se muestra a través del tipo de tela y los adornos con bordados elaborados a lo largo del escote, las mangas y dobladillos en los dobladillos de la ropa usada por la realeza. La joyería también establece la jerarquía con anillos elaborados y gargantillas llevadas por los ricos y poderosos.  Nota:  los collares de librea (los cuales se posan de forma plana contra el cuerpo en vez de colgar libremente en el cuello) se usaron por primera vez en el siglo XIV y, por lo tanto, están fuera de este periodo.  Vestuario especialPrólogo: el fantasma de Gwenllian usa un brial de color azul pálido con rosas blancas y narcisos amarillos bordados a lo largo del dobladillo.  Es el mismo vestido que usa Gwenllian en el Acto I, Escena VIII.

Acto I, Escena II: El lodo cubre las capas y las botas de Hywel y el príncipe Gruffydd.

Acto I, Escena VII: Gwenllian usa un bello vestido y una capa bordada.  Su cabello pelirrojo está perfectamente trenzado y cae sobre su espalda.  Una diadema sencilla de nobleza oculta su verdadera posición social como la hija del rey.

Acto I, Escena VIII: Gwenllian usa un brial de color azul pálido con rosas blancas y narcisos amarillos bordados a lo largo del dobladillo.  Lleva sobre su cabeza la diadema real de una princesa de Gwynedd sobre su cabello trenzado descubierto.

Acto III, Escena I: la dama de compañía pone una capa gruesa sobre el vestido de túnica sencillo de Gwenllian. Los sirvientes colocan una armadura pesada sobre el príncipe Gruffydd sobre la cual atan una capa gruesa.

Acto III, Escena II: la armadura del príncipe Morgan, su ropa y su cara están cubiertos de sangre, lodo y hollín.

Acto III, Escena V: los granjeros usan túnicas y pantalones viejos y en su mayoría raídos. Gruffydd ap Llewellyn usa una armadura modesta y está armado con armas de calidad. Morgan y Maelgwn llevan una armadura y armas finas.

 

Language switching and “Empress Matilda of England”

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As Matilda prayed King Henry quietly slipped into the chapel, “You are still in mourning, Matilda.”

Matilda turned to him and bowed her head respectfully, “Mein König!”

“You are not empress and this is not Germany.”

“Ja, mein König.”

“Stop calling me that and speak English, Matilda,” growled King Henry sternly.

“Pourquoi?”

“Parce que je suis le roi d’Angleterre et vous êtes ma fille!”

“Oui, sa est ta fille, Henri,” confirmed Queen Adeliza as she strode out from behind one of the chapel’s many columns. Adeliza curtsied to Matilda, “Guten Morgen, meine Kaiserin. Fröhliche Weihnachten.”

“Fröhliche Weihnachten,” smiled Matilda before switching to English, “You must be my step-mother.”

If you are a fan of the Legendary Women of World History Series, you are probably familiar with quick language switching from the above except from “Empress Matilda of England” that hallmarks the series. Historical persons speak many languages in the Legendary Women of World History, a reflection of their personal histories and the world around him. Speaking in one’s native tongue, at least occasionally, helps us remember who people are.  Language is a core part of our identity, our psychology, even when we are not conscious of it. Words carry not only their direct meaning, but a cultural subtext that literally alters how we think.  One of the many benefits of speaking multiple languages, at least partially, is the way each language forces us to work from a different point of view.

Chinese, for example, uses the same verb form regardless of singular, plural, or when something happened.  In Chinese things these are signaled through nearby words. For example 我说中文 means “I speak Chinese.” 说 is the verb “to speak.” 她们过说中文 means “they [female] used to speak Chinese. In spoken Chinese the words “he” and “she” are pronounced exactly the same. The ideas of “he” and “she” are contextual in Chinese. 她们过说中文 and 他们过说中文 sound exactly the same and in English are translated the same since English does not distinguish gender in the third person plural unlike French which does (ils sont verses elles sont).

Specific traits from our native language shape our view of the world. Gender is not immediately obvious in spoken Chinese (only in written Chinese) unlike many Western European languages where gender is instantly recognizable. Welsh often begins sentences with the direct object and puts the subject last. A famous example of that from Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd is my favourite line, “Cymraes dw i,” which means I am a Welsh woman. Cymraes means Welsh (person) in the feminine form (the masculine is Cymraeg which is the same word as you use for the Welsh language). Dw i means “I am.” Welsh often mutates. “Gymraeg” is the same word as “Cymraeg” and which one you use depends on context — and is one reason why the language is best learned in person with native Welsh speakers.

It is this massive role that language plays in our lives that requires the persons in the Legendary Women of World History series to occasionally speak a few words of her or his native tongue.  When Baron William Fitzgerald calls Matilda, “F’arglwyddes!” she and you along with her immediately know that William is Welsh. F’arglwyddes, if you haven’t guessed, means “Milady.” Incidentally “Fitz” in a name means “son of” and is the French equivalent of Welsh “ap” in a name.

Fortunately, most of the non-English in the LWWH can be figured out through context. Contextual reading is not usually the way Americans are taught to read, but it is critical skill to develop and one more reason why the LWWH make excellent texts for home schools. Contextual reading means you are working not only on the word level, but the sentence and paragraph level to discern meaning. In chapter one of Empress Matilda, I kick this up a notch in a single scene.

“Guten morgen. Sie müssen Matilda sein. Ich bin Heinrich, der römisch-deutsche Kaiser.” Smiling Emperor Heinrich looked into Matilda’s grey eyes, the blankness on her face making clear to him that she did not understand what he just said. Slowly Heinrich knelt beside her to meet her eyes, his voice soft and reassuring. “Ich werde dich nicht verletzen. Hab keine Angst. Ich bin derjenige, der dein Mann sein wird. Ich bin jetzt dein Kaiser und wenn du alt genug bist, wirst du meine Kaiserin.”

Here we are confused and meant to be confused. Matilda is eight years old and suddenly ripped from her home and family in London to be presented to Kaiser (Kaiser means “emperor” in German) Heinrich V to whom she is to be wed. Like most royal brides of the middle ages and early renaissance, she does not speak a word of her future husband’s language. Because we do not understand on a sentence level what he is saying to her, we share in her terror and confusion and in her relief when, soon after in the scene, the English ambassador steps forward and summarizes what Heinrich just said, telling her that this is the emperor to whom she is to be wed and conveying to her his reassurances that he means her no harm.

This is context on the scenic level which is the level that we operate on when in social situations. For example, a simple “Merry Christmas” can express completely different ideas and intentions depending on who we are speaking to, when, our tone of voice, and our histories with the person or persons we are saying it to.

This is the level you are sometimes asked to work on when reading Empress Matilda of England. This is a major reason why Matilda is for ages twelve and up; it requires a more advanced reading proficiency than the six previous books in the series.

Whether Empress Matilda of England becomes your next favourite book or not, it is my sincerest wish that you will never stop reading, never stop learning, and never stop seeking to make tomorrow better than today. Let’s roar!

 

 

Repost: Sweet potato hash brown egg cups

Reposted from http://www.today.com/recipes/sweet-potato-hash-brown-egg-cups-recipe-t106986

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COOK TIME: 30 minutes
PREP TIME: 20 minutes
SERVINGS: 12

Eggs and hash browns go together like, well, eggs and hash browns! But eating them in a muffin-form makes them even better. I love to top mine with avocado and a drizzle of hot sauce. This is a great recipe to make on a Sunday morning because if you have leftovers, they are the perfect breakfast on-the-go for later in the week.

Technique tip: Squeezing the grated potatoes in a paper towel before baking them will remove excess water and make for a crispier hash brown shell.

Swap option: You can definitely stick to one potato or the other, depending on your preference. I like to add one russet potato to the sweet potatoes because I feel like it creates a crispier hash brown. You can also experiment by adding veggies or cheese before placing the eggs on top.

Ingredients

    • 1 tablespoon butter
    • 1 small onion, finely diced
    • 3 cups sweet potato tater tots (defrosted)
    • 1 cup regular potato tater tots (defrosted)
    • 12 eggs
    • Cooking spray
    • Salt and pepper

Preparation

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

2. In a medium skillet, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add the onions and sauté for a few minutes. Add the tater tots, season with salt and pepper and sauté for roughly 10 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, break them up while they cook so they resemble hash browns. Set aside.

3. Line a few paper towels in a large colander. Place hash brown mixture into the paper towel. Wrap up the potatoes with the paper towel and squeeze out as much water as you can. Then place in a large bowl.

4. Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray. Take a few tablespoons of the hash brown mixture and place in each cup, using fingers or a rubber spatula to push the potatoes into the bottoms and up the sides of the cup, creating a tight nest. Spray once more with cooking spray.

5. Place hash browns into oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool slightly.

6. Crack one egg into each cup. Season tops with salt and pepper. Place back in oven and cook for another 15 minutes, until whites of eggs have set (you can cook for longer if you prefer a firmer yolk).

“Catherine de Valois”Stage Verses Book: How The Adaptation Differs From The Biography

The following article is part of the reference materials at the end of “Catherine de Valois: A Play in Three Acts.”

 

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“Based on a true story.”  When we hear those words we know and fully expect (rightfully) that a play, teleplay, or screenplay takes certain artistic licenses that deviate from events as they really happened.

Though every effort was made to keep this stage play as faithful to the biography upon which it is based as possible, there are a few differences between book and play which make both worth reading, exploring, and performing.

As with all books, the narrative biography “Catherine de Valois” uses prose-format narrative covering events that are not readily translated to the stage.  For example, after the Battle of Agincourt, King Henry V secured an alliance with the Holy Roman Emperor and together waged a naval battle against the French and Genovese at Harfleur in 1416.  Between Act I, Scene VI and Scene VII four full years have passed.  In the book you know what happened; in the play you do not.  Likewise the book covers the entire twenty-seven months Catherine and Henry were married, including the birth of Prince Henry on 6th December 1421.  Finally the book explores Catherine’s marriage to Owen Tudor.  We are there in the book as each of Catherine’s sons are born, seeing Catherine as the loving mother that she was and why King Henry VI, Owen Tudor, and Edmund Tudor remained so close after her death in January 1437.

Though most of the events covered in the narration were left out of the play (for example, the birth of Edmund Tudor), some events that were conveyed narratively instead of dramatically are in the play.  These appear as new scenes:

  • Act I, Scene VIII: in this mother-daughter scene set fourteen months after Henry and Catherine’s first meeting in October 1419, we learn that Catherine and Henry married on 2nd June 1420 and that Catherine still despises Henry.
  • Act II, Scene IV: as the Siege of Meaux begins in earnest, King Henry confides to his younger brother John Duke of Bedford about his marriage to Queen Catherine.  Henry’s court herald arrives from London to inform him of the birth of his son, Prince Henry.
  • Act II, Scene VI: Catherine returns to Paris certain that her duties as queen of England are now over with Henry’s death. This scene was added to make it explicit that Henry V is dead.
  • Act III, Scene III: Catherine and Owen’s wedding.  Historically all we know about this wedding is that it happened in secret  sometime before 1427 and that their priest told no one.  This scene shows the wedding to make it clear that Catherine and Owen married at least three years before Edmund’s birth in 1430.

Finally one scene stealing character was all but removed from the play version on practical grounds.  That character of course is Isabelle, Catherine’s Alexandrine parakeet.

In medieval Europe, companion birds were the primary pets for most people with the type of bird kept largely controlled by wealth and access to the food and shelter needs of the bird species.  From 2006 to 2013 I researched medieval aviculture as part of my membership in the Society for Creative Anachronism.  I became society expert on parrots in the middle ages and taught seminars on both medieval aviculture and medieval falconry.  So it only makes sense that my expertise in this area makes an appearance in Catherine’s biography.  In fact nothing could be more “Laurel” than including a parrot in the narrative.

In the book Isabelle behaves exactly the way the parrots I know (mine and those of friends) behave.  From the food stealing in chapter one to the playful aerial antics in chapter three, the book showcases life with parrots as I know it.

Parrots are unpredictable; they have minds of their own; they are not domesticated creatures.  Though they can be trained, there is no guarantee at any given moment that the bird will do what you ask.  In a live environment like theatre this is asking for trouble, trouble readily avoided by keeping Isabelle confined to a single scene where she can be replaced by a hand prop if need be.

 

In summary, “Catherine de Valois:  A Play in Three Acts” is a faithful adaptation to its parent biography.  Though not everything in the book makes it to the stage, it accurately and dramatically renders the events of Queen Catherine’s life in a form so entertaining it’s hard to realize how much you are learning in the process.

Enjoy the audio edition, kindle edition, and paperback edition of the original biography on Amazon sites worldwide.  Audio edition narrated by veteran Shakespearean actor and voice artist Richard Mann.

 

Roman British Costuming: General Guidelines for “Boudicca: A Play in Three Acts”

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A Roman lady wears a tunic (white), stola (blue), and palla (red).

As a historian, history is my passion.  I love few things better than seeing a period-correct drama where the costumes are accurately rendered.  But what do you do if your budget is small or you are playing scenes from “Boudicca: A Play in Three Acts” or Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar?” What if you don’t have years of expertise researching Roman and Roman-British clothing?

The following is a general guide for productions of “Boudicca: A Play in Three Acts” and for general re-enactment of Roman and Roman-British characters/personae:

 

 

BRITISH CLOTHING

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The brat is a 2 meter long, 30″ wide heavy wool rectangle that is wrapped or pinned around the body to protect the wearer from the elements. Worn across “Celtic” societies on both the continent and the British islands. The late medieval “kilt” of Scotland evolved from the ancient brat which can be pinned and belted (as above) as desired or simply folded and wrapped around the body in dozens of different ways.

Simple wool tunics.  Men wear shorter tunics with warm, simple-cut trousers. The trousers of upper class warrior men are cropped with hemlines between the knee and an ankle.  Women wear ankle length tunics.  Both sexes wear brats: a heavy and often coarsely woven rectangular shawl folded lengthwise across the body.  The brat may be worn as a shawl, draped and pinned as a cloak, draped and pinned as a surcoat, or simply folded and pinned secure to the upper breast.  Jewellery is abundant and includes decorative broaches.

ROMAN CLOTHING

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Men wear knee length tunics called “chitons.”  Over this common men wrap a rectangular cloak similar to a brat that is often pinned securely. High ranking men wear togas over their chitons instead of a cloak.

Women wear a long-sleeved tunic dress covering most of the body.  Over this women wear a stola which is high-waisted and held together at the shoulders by broaches.   The top layer for upper class Roman women is her palla which is wrapped around her in dozens of different ways to cover her head, warm her like a cloak, or even serve as a female version of a toga.

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The Roman palla and how to wear it.

Roman soldiers wear armour and carry a gladius (a short thrusting sword) at all times.

 

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Components to a Roman legionnaire’s armour.

Special costuming for “Boudicca: A Play in Three Acts”and for general reenactment of Roman British characters/personae

Act I, Scene I: Prasutagus wears the fine linen/wool that marks him as a member of the upper class with decorative trim along the hem edges of his tunic and brat.  Roman bureaucrat wears a toga marking him as a Roman citizen and aide to the Roman governor.  The broach securing Boudicca’s brat features a raven as a mark of her devotion to Cathubodva.

Act I, Scene II:  Boudicca wears a Roman stola over her Celtic tunic dress.  A palla drapes across her body like a shawl.  Her flaming red hair is now elaborately braided and pinned up matronly.

Act I, Scene III:  Boudicca and Prasutagus wear their finest woollen tunics with embroidered trim along sleeve, hem, and neckline edges. Boudicca’s brat is made of a much finer wool than we saw in Scene I which is soft blue or lavender in colour.  King Prasutagus wears a polished circlet or crown.  Boudicca wears a coronet of spring flowers over her braided hair.  Linet wears a tiara or circlet made of oak leaves and a silver necklace.

Act I, Scene IV: Gaius and Roman Bureaucrat wear togas over their tunics.

Act III, Scene I:  Gaius and Roman Bureaucrat both wear togas over their tunics.

Act III, Scene III:  Gaius wears full battle armour instead of his toga.

 

From Act II, Scene V forward Roman soldiers also carry shields.