Thursday, July 26, 2012

Thou knowest ...

Recently, I had the good fortune of discovering Sylvia Morris' excellent blog: The Shakespeare Blog, to which I subscribed immediately (and you should, too, if you love Shakespeare!) In admiration, I decided I would record Sylvia's 10 favorite speeches, which you will find here (Greatest Shakespeare Speeches?) I'm not following any particular order, but I thought that I would begin with Juliet's 'mask of night' speech. In the recording of Jaques' 'Seven Ages of Man' speech, I asked you to consider the roles we play in our lives (and how those roles change throughout our lives) and the young lover is one we all hope to be fortunate enough to play (or to have played) -- although we hope for a much happier ending, don't we?

I love to use this speech as an example of complex language: "the mask of night is on my face" is complex language for "it's dark". Juliet is saying, "you know it's dark, or you would see me blushing right now", but she doesn't. The poetry is as heightened as the circumstance; the language is complex. An example of simple language: Viola asks, "What country, friends, is this?" (1.2.1). There is nothing complex about that; we certainly don't need to grab our lexicons to decipher what Viola is saying.

The First Folio printing lists line 99 (897 in the Folio) as 'behaviour' rather than the truncated 'haviour' that often appears in modern editions, and I much prefer this syntax. I like the fact that the line becomes an Alexandrine (12 beats), that it's not tidy. There is nothing tidy about what Juliet is going through at this particular moment, and I think modern editors do actors a disservice (and audiences, too) by trying to make the language fit within the regularized structure of iambic pentameter. Things are moving at light speed. Juliet's just been caught professing her love by the very object of her affection. What young lover would be rational enough to simplify her explanation in such circumstances? I know I'm not alone in admitting that I certainly wouldn't be so composed or collected.

Thou know'st the mask of night is on my face,
Else would a maiden blush bepaint my cheek
For that which thou hast heard me speak to-night
Fain would I dwell on form, fain, fain deny
What I have spoke: but farewell compliment!
Dost thou love me? I know thou wilt say 'Ay,'
And I will take thy word: yet if thou swear'st,
Thou mayst prove false; at lovers' perjuries
Then say, Jove laughs. O gentle Romeo,
If thou dost love, pronounce it faithfully:
Or if thou think'st I am too quickly won,
I'll frown and be perverse an say thee nay,
So thou wilt woo; but else, not for the world.
In truth, fair Montague, I am too fond,
And therefore thou mayst think my 'havior light:
But trust me, gentleman, I'll prove more true
Than those that have more cunning to be strange.
I should have been more strange, I must confess,
But that thou overheard'st, ere I was ware,
My true love's passion: therefore pardon me,
And not impute this yielding to light love,
Which the dark night hath so discovered.

Friday, July 13, 2012

you never can be old ...

Last week I was celebrating a birthday with the fairest of my 'friends' and as I thought of how I might celebrate someone so dear to me, Sonnet 104 came to mind. The opening line always makes me think of birthday wishes ...

Monday, July 9, 2012

have I reason to be fond of grief?

The subject of grief is not one to be taken lightly.  In the face of grief, it seems that we can hardly find the words to express our loss, nor the words to comfort the bereaved. Often, we are met with cliches and the repetitive mantra of well-wishers hardly comforts as it should.

In Constance, Shakespeare offers us a glimpse of what it means to truly live with grief: to allow its presence into one's daily existence. I think this is one of the most extraordinary speeches ever written on the subject. In 1596, Shakespeare lost his young son, Hamnet, at age 11. We can imagine (or prefer not to) that a parent's loss of a child is perhaps one of the most profound forms of loss there is. Surely, it upsets the balance of what we believe to be the 'natural order' of things: parents should not bury their children. Even in the Sixteenth Century, when many children died before reaching adulthood, the loss must have been devastating. We do not know what the affect of Hamnet's death was upon Shakespeare, or upon his work. King John was likely to have been written in the mid 1590's, so it is unclear whether or not Constance's words echo Shakespeare's own sentiment about the loss of his son, although Bill Bryson argues this is the case. Undoubtedly, the presence of grief is so strong in this speech -- it is personified literally -- we can find ourselves swept up in the notion that this ought to be true.

Recently, I listened to the audio recording of Chris Cleave's Incendiary: an incredible look at the presence of grief in daily life. I'll tell anyone who'll listen how much I adore Cleave's writing; it haunts me and I felt all my breath expulse from my body, my chest heave, when I came to the line where the protagonist (a son-less mother and widow) states, "I'm going to write so you can look into my empty life and see what a human boy really is from the shape of the hole he leaves behind." She is writing to Osama bin Laden to implore him to "stop making boy-shaped holes in the world". I thought immediately of Constance, and I'm willing to admit that I spoke aloud in my car as much of this speech as I could remember. Then, I promptly replayed those passages to consider them again. I wonder if Chris Cleave considered this speech at all ...

I will offer you two very different readings of this speech, to help stir your imagination. In the first reading, I consider the fact that no one seems to really be listening to what Constance is saying; in essence, they dismiss her by commanding her to have patience, comfort (have you ever seen how someone in the heat of passion reacts to an outsider who says 'calm down'?). They reduce the complexity of her emotion to sheer madness. In the first reading, I offer a Constance who must make them understand that through her grief, her son lives still. Her grief keeps him alive, she relies upon it: she needs that grief or he'll fade away. In the second reading, I pay closer attention to Constance's lines (3.4.53-54):

For, being not mad but sensible of grief,
My reasonable part produces reason

In the second reading, I consider how Constance's appeals are being dismissed as being 'emotional' and see what will happen if Constance takes a different tactic in trying to get them to see her point. What if she tries to appeal to their sense of logic? If she can prove logically that her grief serves a purpose, perhaps they will stop dismissing her. If she can reason (she states she is capable of reason: literally, able to reason 'reason-able') then they will see that she "is not mad"; a statement she repeats four times in fifteen lines -- more if you consider other variations of the statement -- if she can switch from an argument steeped in pathos to one of logos, perhaps King Philip, Lewis, and Pandulph will understand what it is she wishes to impart.

Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;
Then, have I reason to be fond of grief?
Fare you well: had you such a loss as I,
I could give better comfort than you do.
I will not keep this form upon my head,
When there is such disorder in my wit.
O Lord! my boy, my Arthur, my fair son!
My life, my joy, my food, my all the world!
My widow-comfort, and my sorrows' cure!

Monday, July 2, 2012

All the world's a stage ...

Since I am looking to explore the idea that the blogosphere is a form of theatre, I thought that I would follow my last reading with Jaques' famous speech on the seven ages of man. As I look at this speech, I would like to consider how we role-play in life: how we become actors, or players if you will, in our own story. The idea that we adapt to our roles, our personas, based on where we are in our lives is of interest to me. We play different 'parts' even within the same 'age': student, lover, child, sibling, parent, employee, friend, leader. Shakespeare was not a stranger to this, nor were the Elizabethan players (and typesetters!) The typesetter (s) who set Shakespeare's First Folio in 1623 identified Lady Capulet's lines according to the 'role' she takes within each scene ("Wife", "Old Lady", "Capulet", "Lady", "Mother"). Maybe Shakespeare himself designated it that way, maybe Hemmings and Condell remembered it as such (you may recall that John Hemmings and Henry Condell were members of Shakespeare's company, The Lord Chamberlain's Men, later known as The King's Men, and were responsible for editing Shakespeare's First Folio 7 years after his death) or maybe the typesetter alone was responsible. We don't know. Does it matter? What we do know is that those titles reflect the relationship of that individual to the world around them, in this case the world of the play.

So as Jaques examines the seven ages of man, I invite you to consider your own relationship to your world, this current stage in your life. Are you the star in your own story?

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.