Rich’s Best Film of the Year for 2019: Parasite (no spoilers)

Park So-dam and Choi Woo-shik are in for some bad business.  

Don’t mistake me for any kind of devoted movie critic. Every year I miss dozens of deserving films, and subject myself to scads of garbage. That said, I do see enough flicks every year that I know from experience that the typical list of Best Picture nominees is a joke.  For example, this year why isn’t Just Mercy on the Best Picture list?  And while it was enjoyable enough, why is Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on that list?  

However, there is one movie that is on the Academy’s list and it might be the best thing I’ve seen all year: Parasite.  A Korean ‘thriller’ that defies being pigeonholed into any one genre.  Black comedy?  Thriller?  Horror?  Social satire?  Soap Opera? All of these and more.  A sophisticated take-down of social norms, a morality play, a seemingly cynical Tarrantino-esque blood sport with a gordian plot that would make Hitchcock jealous.  

I can’t recommend this film enough, but can’t write another word more without spoiling it.  Go see it or stream it!  

Happy Valentine’s Day from The Bard

vd-picture

For Valentine’s Day, I’d like to read my favorite love sonnet of all time.   Shakespeare’s masterpiece, Sonnet 116.

This is for Mary.  

116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Shakespeare Saturday – 21 January 2017

lady-macbeth

Today seems apropos for Shakespeare’s great speech about women’s empowerment–or lack thereof. 

It’s easy to cast Lady Macbeth as a supreme villainess, and that’s what so many scholars and directors have done over the centuries.  But think of when Shakespeare wrote the role of Lady Macbeth: women were property, not even allowed to act on stage–a boy had to speak Lady Macbeth’s lines.  But by the time of Macbeth, Shakespeare’s writing had matured, and he began to give us women’s roles that probably shocked some of his Elizabethan theatre-goers. 

And so we have Lady Macbeth, who first spoke on the stage of the Globe Theatre, but still speaks to us today:  She came to life in a universe where all power sat in the laps of men.  Hers was a profound desire for empowerment, and the only way she could express it was a yearning to unsex herself–that is, make her masculine.  Of course that is not how we’d prefer to think of it or express it today–but in truth, isn’t that what our world still forces women do?     

Lady Macbeth

…Come, you spirits

That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,

And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full

Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood.

Stop up the access and passage to remorse,

That no compunctious visitings of nature

Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between

The effect and it! Come to my woman’s breasts,

And take my milk for gall, you murd’ring ministers,

Wherever in your sightless substances

You wait on nature’s mischief. Come, thick night,

And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,

That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,

Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark

To cry “Hold, hold!”

–from Macbeth, Act I Scene v

The image is of Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth from the 2015 film version. 

Sunday Sonnet – 13 November 2016

sonnet-26

Shakespeare’s 26th Sonnet, written to the Fair Youth, is not numbered as one of his greatest, but I like it.  Its central metaphor of a vassal professing homage to his Lord is very medieval and feels very much part of the times—Elizabethan times, that is.  Social class was everything. This sonnet can also seem very traditional in poetic terms: the master-servant theme was common in Petrarchan love poetry.  Beyond that, though, this sonnet is pretty radical for Elizabethan poetry, like most of Shakespeare’s sonnets are.  It’s a male Poet writing to a male young man, after all. 

The other reason I like this sonnet is that it seems to offer a tantalizing clue about Shakespeare the man.  Who the devil was the Will the playwright, the player, the businessman, husband and father?  What was his day-to-day life like?  We barely know.  That hasn’t kept scholars, historians and students from wondering—and arguing.  One thread to pull at is the supposition that the sonnets are somehow autobiographical.  Even though I adhere to this theory—probably because I’m trying to write a book about The Bard’s life—a few Shakespearean scholars I really respect don’t necessarily buy into this. 

This sonnet seems to suggest the two lovers are physically separated:  ‘To thee I send this written embassage’ and ‘Till then not show my head…’   Hints of actual life events? 

Regardless, things are not going well between the two lovers, and the Poet is ‘wanting words to show’ how much he still loves the Young Man.  He professes his wit is poor, but of course we know that isn’t true.  Four centuries later we’re still poring over his verse.    

26

Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage
Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit,
To thee I send this written embassage,
To witness duty, not to show my wit:
Duty so great, which wit so poor as mine
May make seem bare, in wanting words to show it,
But that I hope some good conceit of thine
In thy soul’s thought, all naked, will bestow it;
Till whatsoever star that guides my moving
Points on me graciously with fair aspect
And puts apparel on my tatter’d loving,
To show me worthy of thy sweet respect:
Then may I dare to boast how I do love thee;
Till then not show my head where thou mayst prove me.

 

Happy Election Eve from William Shakespeare!

elizabeth_i_armada_portrait

As seemingly unprecedented and wild as this election season has been in the U.S., the perspective from the long arc of history tells us this has all happened before.  If you don’t believe me, you need go no further than my favorite oracle, William Shakespeare.  Many of his plays were about history and politics, and through his long career of playmaking, he created Kings and Queen, rakes and rogues, saints and saviors, all professing service to the state. 

In preparation for tomorrow’s Election Day, I’ve culled together a few choice quotes about politicians and politics.  Looking at all of them together, one might be tempted to say Shakespeare was pretty cynical and open-eyed about politics.  But not everything here is negative.  Take a look and see if you can match quotes to specific events and people from this past year. 

I am disgraced, impeached, and baffled here,

Pierced to the soul with slander’s venomed spear.

Richard II, Act 1 Scene 1

Woe to that land that’s governed by a child

Richard III, Act 2 Scene 3

Tis much when sceptres are in children’s hands,

But more when envy breeds unkind division:

There comes the ruin, there begins confusion.

Henry VI Part 1, Act 4 Scene 1

The commonwealth of Athens is become a forest of beasts.

Timon of Athens, Act IV, Scene 3

The caterpillars of the commonwealth,

Which I have sworn to weed and pluck away.

Richard II, Act 2 Scene 3

Why, look you, I am whipp’d and scourg’d with rods,

Nettled and stung with pismires[nettles], when I hear

Of this vile politician, Bolingbroke.

Henry IV Part 1, Act 1 Scene 3

Get thee glass eyes, and like a scurvy politician,

seem to see the things thou dost not.

King Lear, Act 4, Scene 6

That skull had a tongue in it and could sing once. How the knave jowls it to the ground, as if it were Cain’s jawbone, that did the first murder! It might be the pate of a politician, which this ass now o’erreaches, one that would circumvent God, might it not?

Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 1

When lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom,

the gentler gamester is the soonest winner

Henry V, Act 3 Scene 6

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 4

This image is of Elizabeth I, Shakespeare’s ruler, circa 1588.  This portrait is called ‘The Woburn Abbey’ portrait, possibly painted by George Gower.  The painting celebrates Elizabeth’s triumph over the Spanish Armada.  As you can see, she holds the whole globe of the Earth in her hand. 

Sunday Sonnet – 25 September 2016

shakespearean-sonnets

For today’s reading, I’ve taken a suggestion from my former college Shakespeare professor (thank you, Dr. Sommer) to talk a little bit about the form of the Sonnet. Don’t worry–I’ve tried to keep it simple and very, very basic, even though the sonnet form is crazy intricate. My little chat misses a thousand things, just scratching the surface.

I’d like to make one comment before letting my video do my work for me. The intricacies of the Elizabethan sonnet were more than just for fun, more than a Sudoku puzzle, more than just the pleasure of, say, solving the Sunday New York Times Crossword. All the crazy rules of the sonnet form together–and Shakespeare’s mastery over all those elements–have combined together to make Shakespeare’s sonnets so enduring.

Find a few brief section headers from my chat below.

Cathedral of the Written Word

Wherein I rant a bit why I’m so obsessed with Shakespeare’s sonnets.

14 lines with a specific rhyme scheme

A bit about the very specific rhyme scheme.

25-sept-14-lines

3 Quatrains, the Turn and a Couplet

The basic organization of the sonnet, which helps make each sonnet an ‘argument.’

25-sep-quatrains

Iambic Pentameter

This is all metered verse. Here I don’t even scratch the surface. But trust me, metered verse adds to its lyricism, and especially comes to play when this poetry is spoken aloud.

25-sep-iambic

Thank you to everyone today who watched my mini lecture.

Cheers,

Rich

Shakespearean Theatre in the 21st Century – A Tour of APT

When William Shakespeare’s troupe of actors, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, erected the Globe Theatre in 1599, did Will ever imagine his plays would still be performed four centuries later half a world away? Of course they are.  And here in Southern Wisconsin, we’re very lucky that one of the top professional Shakespearean acting companies in the world, American Players Theatre, calls Wisconsin its home.

This weekend I was lucky enough to tour all of the myriad backstage places and outbuildings of what amounts to a small city tucked away in the woods. American Players Theatre (APT), is a classical repertory theatre that performs Western stage classics. APT covers about 100 or so acres of forestland along the Wisconsin River, not far from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin. The APT campus houses two theatres–a gigantic outdoor venue that seats over a 1000, and a small intimate theatre for about 200. APT puts on about 8 shows per season, and typically 2 or 3 of those shows are Shakespearean.  

Putting on high quality professional classical theatre is no mean feat. Putting on 8 shows over the course of a season is tantamount to planning an invasion. Here are a few glimpses behind the scenes.

APT 01 - 1 (1)

Wisconsin River country on the edge of the Driftless region. This is a view of APT’s forestland from the summit of their ‘Up the Hill’ theatre. Three thespians founded this troupe back in 1980, when they discovered that the bowl of this hill created a natural acoustic amphitheater.  

APT 02 - 1

The ‘Up the Hill’ theatre. For 36 years this has been the heart and soul of APT. Most of the shows I’ve seen here through the years I’ve seen at night, under the stars. For matinees they spread out a parachute to shade the stage. Everything in the theatre–the seats, the sets, the lights–has to be rain-proof. But age has taken its toll, and after this season the whole Up the Hill theatre will be rebuilt, adding new rehearsal space, a better outdoor lobby, while preserving the natural aspects of this outdoor wonder.

APT 03 - 1

The actors use more than the stage, they run up and down the amphitheater aisles. At night the actors must skirt along these hidden forest pathways to make entrances from behind the audience: Lit only by blue lights, it can be treacherous–especially if you’re wearing heels or carrying a sword.

APT 04 - 1

One of the dressing rooms for the Up the Hill theatre. In the rebuild, these very old facilities will get replaced. But for now, this is what some world class actors use to get ready for their world class performances: I’m not exaggerating. APT has been written up in the New York Times, and its Artistic Directors travel to New York every year looking for talent.

APT 05 - 1

Another reason the Up the Hill section need rebuilding. APT’s campus has several rehearsal spaces, but this rickety old barn with screens for walls really needs an update. It’s in there they were probably rehearsing scenes for this year’s King Lear. I imagine it wasn’t that much different than what Will Shakespeare had to use.

APT 06 - 1

The view from backstage in the Up the Hill theatre. I can’t count the number of steps, switchbacks, turns, aisles and crooks I climbed over. These actors and the tech crews typically navigate all of this at night.

APT 07 - 1

Once finished with our Up the Hill tour, we hiked through the woods to APT’s other venue, the indoor Touchstone Theatre. It sits in the middle of the woods overlooking a wide swatch of restored prairie. This theatre is only about five years old, unlike its granddaddy up on the hill.

APT 08 - 1

The inside of the Touchstone has allowed APT to really expand it repertoire. They can put on much smaller plays, and it also allows APT to stretch their season into November–after the Up the Hill has been iced over.

APT 09 - 1

The Touchstone lobby. Though this is indoor, APT wanted to dovetail this theatre with its environment: wide windows letting in the light and gorgeous views of the forestland.

APT 10 - 1

The backside of the Touchstone shows just how world class it is: all of the environmental mechanicals reside outside of the building, allowing the company to maintain complete silence in the performance space, controlling every aspect of the environment in order to bring theatrical illusions to life.

APT 11 - 1

The scene shop. APT has two support buildings called Alpha and Bravo, and these house state-of-the-art rehearsal spaces, scene shops, paint shops, prop shops, costume shops, millenaries, laundries, offices and storage. Going through all of these spaces made me realize even more that the old Up the Hill theatre is really overdue for an upgrade.

APT 12 - 1 (1)

The costume shop. There are a million universes in this place.

APT 13 - 1

All of these skilled professionals work like hell to put on these shows, but they also have a sense of humor. Here’s mock up of an actual actor from Julius Caesar hanging from the wall of the prop shop, from a production of just a few years ago.

APT 14 - 1

The costume storage seems infinite. APT builds from scratch about a third of the costumes they need for a season. They lift from the prodigious collection for another third, and have to rent or buy the last third. They are also in the business of renting costumes to other theatres in the Midwest.

APT 15 - 1

Here is the grand old oak that inspired APT’s logo. She’s getting sick now, and not long for this world. But if you look to the right of this giant oak, you’ll see her successor has been growing for a few years now.   A great analogy for the company and its future.

Sunday Sonnet – 17 July 2016

My particular madness is the belief that Shakespeare’s sonnets are pertinent to our 21st century lives.  The other night I watched an actor read 40 of these sonnets, accompanied by two lutes and a recorder.  That actor gave me an idea.  Why can’t I do this?  I’m no trained Shakespearean actor and I don’t have a lute.  But I do believe Shakespeare wrote for all us, and wouldn’t mind a fool like me sharing what I love most.  Aloud. 

Let’s start with one of the early ‘Young Man’ Sonnets, Number 3.  As a young man, I was drawn to this one because of its sexual farming metaphor, and in particular to its great pun on husbandry. As an older man, I recognize the wisdom of its warning.   

3

Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest

Now is the time that face should form another;

Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,

Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother.

For where is she so fair whose uneared womb

Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?

Or who is he so fond will be the tomb

Of his self-love, to stop posterity?

Thou art thy mother’s glass and she in thee

Calls back the lovely April of her prime;

So thou through windows of thine age shalt see,

Despite of wrinkles, this thy golden time.

   But if thou live, remembered not to be,

   Die single and thine image dies with thee.

400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s Death

william-shakespeare

Shakespeare has become my religion.

Back in 1976, between my junior and senior years of high school, my family was uprooted to a new town because my father needed work. I was enrolled into a new high school at midsummer by a well-meaning principal who knew nothing about me and not much about his school’s curriculum. A mediocre student was thrown into Mrs. Kelley’s Honors English. Mrs. Kelly introduced me to two new couples: Romeo and Juliet, and the Macbeths. The epitome of Romantic Love dashed with a dagger and dram of poison. And the portrait of a happy marriage, mired in blood, that still inspires our entertainment industry today–thank you Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey.

In college, after I flunked out of Engineering, I gravitated back to where the long dead finger of Shakespeare had pointed me a couple years earlier: Theatre and Literature. In college I grew to love Shakespeare, ‘The Bard’, under the tutelage of some great minds: Doctors Paul and Sommer. Despite their best efforts, I graduated with a bachelor’s, but not much else. I would become no professor of literature, and no Kenneth Branagh.

As Shakespeare himself wrote, ‘with eyes severe and beard of formal cut’, I labored in all kinds of business, trying to find my way. Decades later, I’ve come back to the beginning. Beyond trying to write a novel about Shakespeare, I’ve grown to realize that Shakespeare has become my religion.  

He shapes and guides everything I write, promote and believe: Art, Love, Work, Daily Life, Politics, Society, Imagination and Hope. His works delve into what it means to be human, provide a guide of conduct, a code of ethics, all lessons to be learned, but presented lavishly in the most eloquent and beautiful language ever put to English.

  • What does human love mean and what is its importance? A seeming infinite list of plays, poems and characters explore this, but my favorite is Sonnet 116 (quoted at the end of this blog)
  • Romantic Love. True Love is not Romantic mush, but a meeting of minds, rooted in reality, nurtured with mutual respect, smart, tender but unmoving. See Beatrice and Benedict, from Much Ado About Nothing.
  • Open Love. Love between two people is not subject to anyone else’s bigoted restrictions. See The Sonnets. The (male) Poet and the Young Man; The Poet and the Dark Lady.
  • Women are the equal of Men. Shakespeare wrote in a society where women were considered property; yet by the end of his career what did he create? A long list of diverse and powerful women: Juliet, Beatrice, Lady Macbeth, Rosalind, Cordelia, Ophelia, Portia, Viola, Cleopatra just to name a few.
  • People are equal regardless of race. Elizabethans were violently and openly racist, and yet Shakespeare daringly created the tragic Othello.
  • Power corrupts. The examples seem infinite. Almost every History play teaches this.
  • The Divine Right of Kings. It’s a sham. This was especially tricky, since Shakespeare lived in a monarchy, and that Monarch, Elizabeth, liked Shakespeare’s plays. But his genius was that he could illustrate what may seem obvious to us in the most sly ways. And not all his History plays took the monarch down; in some the monarch succeeded, but that leader always exhibited what all good political leaders should embody: intelligence, grace, mercy, empathy, strength, wit and self sacrifice. This is the measure we should use today too.
  • War is vile. See any of his History plays, and most his Tragedies.
  • There’s not a lot religion in Shakespeare’s plays or poetry. By and large he avoided references to it or talking much about it. Perhaps a good practice to follow today in daily life and in our politics?
  • Life is Unfair. Love while you can, life is capricious. Shakespeare lived in plague times, and lost his own son, Hamnet, at age 11. Many of Shakespeare’s Histories and most of his Tragedies end with a stage strewn in blood. It’s a lesson.
  • Laughter is essential to life. His great Comedies and clowns seem almost infinite in their wit and joy.
  • Often the Fool is the Wisest. Certainly this is true in life, as was so often true in his plays. The best Fool? See King Lear.
  • Revenge is not the way to go. It’s better to forgive. See Hamlet.
  • Mental illness and suicide are things. See Ophelia and Hamlet. This was a particularly wild notion in Elizabethan times. But Shakespeare could see it, and was able to show it on stage.
  • Forgive, cast away your power and strive for grace. Prospero, from one of Shakespeare’s last plays.
  • Shakespeare’s plays and poetry are a treasure trove of words and phrases first used in English, many of which are still in use today, including but not limited to:
    • Brave New World
    • Break the ice
    • Cold comfort
    • Dead as a doornail
    • Eaten out of house and home
    • Faint-hearted
    • For goodness’ sake
    • Full circle
    • Good riddance
    • Heart of gold
    • Kill with kindness
    • Laughing stock
    • Love is blind
    • Milk of human kindness
    • My heart on my sleeve
    • One fell swoop
    • Wild goose chase

And don’t forget, Shakespeare invented the Knock-knock joke!

Though we celebrate the anniversary of his death today, 23 April is also traditionally considered Shakespeare’s birthday, the day calculated back from his day of christening.

Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare, and thank you for the immense contribution to life, language and love.

Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds  

Admit impediments. Love is not love  

Which alters when it alteration finds,  

Or bends with the remover to remove:  

O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;  

It is the star to every wandering bark,  

Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.  

Love ’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks  

Within his bending sickle’s compass come;

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,  

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.  

If this be error, and upon me prov’d,  

I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

 

 

Sunday Sonnet – 5 April 2015

Startford

When does Easter fall every year? The simplest explanation is that it’s always on the Sunday after the first Full Moon after the Spring Equinox, though this hasn’t always been the case. The point is that the Early Church Fathers wanted to approximate the timing of Easter to match the of year they imagined the first one occurred on. Anyhow, tying the lives of people to the cycles of Nature–that’s what today’s sonnet is all about: 

5

Those hours, that with gentle work did frame

The lovely gaze where every eye doth dwell,

Will play the tyrants to the very same

And that unfair which fairly doth excel;

For never-resting time leads summer on

To hideous winter, and confounds him there;

Sap checked with frost, and lusty leaves quite gone,

Beauty o’er-snowed and bareness every where:

Then were not summer’s distillation left,

A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass,

Beauty’s effect with beauty were bereft,

Nor it, nor no remembrance what it was:

   But flowers distilled, though they with winter meet,

   Leese but their show; their substance still lives sweet. 

I believe this sonnet is best enjoyed for its wonderful extended metaphor, and not for its lame argument. Its argument is that Poet’s beautiful Young Man should procreate in order to preserve the ‘summer’s distillation’ of his physical beauty so that in the face of hideous winter, something is left. But what’s really lovely is how Shakespeare ties in the progression of human life through the seasons and how they all relate to one another. Especially flowers, that wilt once winter comes, but remain memorable because of the perfume there were used to create: 

   But flowers distilled, though they with winter meet,

   Leese but their show; their substance still lives sweet. 

What I most like in this sonnet are the lines: ‘For never-resting time leads summer on / To hideous winter, and confounds him there.’ A wise warning to us all to cherish and embrace the ones you love, especially on a day like today. 

The image is from my visit a few years ago to Stratford-upon-Avon on a very spring-like rainy day. This is leading up to entrance of Holy Trinity Church, where William Shakespeare is buried.

Friday’s Maniacal Poe Quote – 06 February 2015

Poe last dag

Today I’m taking the unusual step of quoting an entire story; the tale Edgar A. Poe is more famous for: ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ (1843). At only 2210 words, it’s not much beyond the modern fad of flash fiction. This yarn–which I’m sure most of you’ve been forced to read in high school–is a triumph of tension, point of view and voice. A prime example of an unreliable narrator, who through his prose reveals his unreliability (I’m using the male pronoun here–but you might notice that no gender is ever assigned; the mad narrator could just as easily be a woman). It’s an imminently modern story, in that it features so many things so prized in cutting-edge modern fiction: it begins in the heat of the action, and it’s a story devoid of any padding. There’s no excess verbiage.   

Poe, for all his faults, was a visionary, and this story predates the direction fiction would take decades later–more than one hundred sixty years later. And it’s still a delicious delight today. 

The image of Poe is from what is believed to be the last daguerreotype of his life, possibly within a month of his death in 1849.

TRUE! –nervous –very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses –not destroyed –not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily –how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture –a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees –very gradually –I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded –with what caution –with what foresight –with what dissimulation I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it –oh so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly –very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man’s sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! would a madman have been so wise as this, And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously-oh, so cautiously –cautiously (for the hinges creaked) –I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights –every night just at midnight –but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he has passed the night. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.

Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the door. A watch’s minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers –of my sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think that there I was, opening the door, little by little, and he not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea; and perhaps he heard me; for he moved on the bed suddenly, as if startled. Now you may think that I drew back –but no. His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers,) and so I knew that he could not see the opening of the door, and I kept pushing it on steadily, steadily.

I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in bed, crying out –“Who’s there?”

I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed listening; –just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall.

Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief –oh, no! –it was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. I say I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart. I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise, when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been ever since growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not. He had been saying to himself –“It is nothing but the wind in the chimney –it is only a mouse crossing the floor,” or “It is merely a cricket which has made a single chirp.” Yes, he had been trying to comfort himself with these suppositions: but he had found all in vain. All in vain; because Death, in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim. And it was the mournful influence of the unperceived shadow that caused him to feel –although he neither saw nor heard –to feel the presence of my head within the room.

When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing him lie down, I resolved to open a little –a very, very little crevice in the lantern. So I opened it –you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily –until, at length a simple dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye.

It was open –wide, wide open –and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness –all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones; but I could see nothing else of the old man’s face or person: for I had directed the ray as if by instinct, precisely upon the damned spot.

And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the sense? –now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man’s heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.

But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon the eve. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man’s terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment! –do you mark me well I have told you that I am nervous: so I am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me –the sound would be heard by a neighbour! The old man’s hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room. He shrieked once –once only. In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But, for many minutes, the heart beat on with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vex me; it would not be heard through the wall. At length it ceased. The old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eve would trouble me no more.

If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.

I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye –not even his –could have detected any thing wrong. There was nothing to wash out –no stain of any kind –no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had caught all –ha! ha!

When I had made an end of these labors, it was four o’clock –still dark as midnight. As the bell sounded the hour, there came a knocking at the street door. I went down to open it with a light heart, –for what had I now to fear? There entered three men, who introduced themselves, with perfect suavity, as officers of the police. A shriek had been heard by a neighbour during the night; suspicion of foul play had been aroused; information had been lodged at the police office, and they (the officers) had been deputed to search the premises.

I smiled, –for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was absent in the country. I took my visitors all over the house. I bade them search –search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim.

The officers were satisfied. My manner had convinced them. I was singularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears: but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct: –It continued and became more distinct: I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definiteness –until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears.

No doubt I now grew very pale; –but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased –and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound –much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath –and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly –more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men –but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed –I raved –I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder –louder –louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! –no, no! They heard! –they suspected! –they knew! –they were making a mockery of my horror!-this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! and now –again! –hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!

“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! –tear up the planks! here, here! –It is the beating of his hideous heart!”

 

Happy Halloween from Edgar A. Poe!

Raven Poe

The Raven

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—

    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—

            Only this and nothing more.”

 

    Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;

And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.

    Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow

    From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—

For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—

            Nameless here for evermore.

 

    And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;

    So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating

    “’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—

Some late visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door;—

            This it is and nothing more.”

 

    Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,

“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;

    But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,

    And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,

That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—

            Darkness there and nothing more.

 

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,

Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;

    But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,

    And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”

This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—

            Merely this and nothing more.

 

    Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,

Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.

    “Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;

      Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—

Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—

            ’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

 

    Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,

In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;

    Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;

    But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—

Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—

            Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

 

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,

By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,

“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,

Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—

Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”

            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

 

    Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,

Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;

    For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being

    Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—

Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,

            With such name as “Nevermore.”

 

    But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only

That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.

    Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—

    Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—

On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”

            Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

 

    Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,

“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store

    Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster

    Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—

Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore

            Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”

 

    But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,

Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;

    Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking

    Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—

What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore

            Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

 

    This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing

To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;

    This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining

    On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,

But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,

            She shall press, ah, nevermore!

 

    Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer

Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.

    “Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee

    Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;

Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”

            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

 

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—

Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,

    Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—

    On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—

Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”

            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

 

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!

By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—

    Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,

    It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—

Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”

            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

 

    “Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—

“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!

    Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!

    Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!

Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”

            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

 

    And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting

On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;

    And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,

    And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor

            Shall be lifted—nevermore!

 

Cobbe Portrait of William Shakespeare

william-shakespeare

This gorgeously lush painting of an Elizabethan gentleman is believed by many to be the only authentic painting of William Shakespeare. As with most historical detritus concerning The Bard, it’s subject to controversy, and isn’t 100% authenticated. But there’s plenty of circumstantial evidence to suggest that this is a painting of a sitting William Shakespeare as he looked later in life, after having achieved his fame as a playwright and successful business owner.

Cobbe_portrait_of_Shakespeare

A few facts and suppositions:

  • Called ‘The Cobbe Portrait’ because the original (newly rediscovered in 2006) was confirmed by the Cobbe family as being owned by their ancestor, Charles Cobbe, Church of Ireland, Archbishop of Dublin, 1686 to 1765.
  • The portrait descended through the family along with a painting of Shakespeare’s patron, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southamption (and possibly the ‘Young Man’ of the Sonnets).

Henry_Wriothesley,_3rd_Earl_of_Southampton

  • The Latin inscription ‘Principum Amicitias!’ means ‘Alliances of Princes”, which could certainly describe Shakespeare, whose Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later, the King’s Men) played for both Queen Elizabeth and King James.
  • Scientific testing places the portrait’s creation sometime after 1595, and the collar on the gentleman is the style of the early 1600’s.

Sunday Sonnet – 12 March 2017

Sonnet 30 photo

I’m back from a long break, back to visiting these old friends, Shakespeare’s sonnets.  Perhaps it’s only appropriate we resume where we left off in the Sonnet sequence so many months ago, with this exquisite poem of remembrance and remorse, Sonnet 30. 

Number 30 is one of Shakespeare’s most beautiful, an elegiac mourning over lost friends, deeds left undone and love lost.  And yet, after enumerating all these regrets and losses, the Poet admits that when he thinks of the Young Man, he forgets his grief.  Though this verse is over 400 years old, it can still speak to us today.  How often have many of us nursed our regrets and griefs, only then to find joy in those friends and loved ones we still have with us? 

Part of the beauty of this Sonnet is in its skillful use of alliteration.  Listen for it as I read it. 

30

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanish’d sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.

 

Thankful for William Shakespeare – Thanksgiving Day 2016

rich-with-folio

On Tuesday of this week, I was fortunate enough to be able see one the surviving copies of Shakespeare’s ‘First Folio,’ which is on loan at our local museum from the Folger Shakespeare Library.  

Why is this book such a big deal?  Because, without it, eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays might very well have been lost, including such masterpieces as Macbeth, The Tempest, As You Like It, Comedy of Errors, Antony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night and The Winter’s Tale, among others. 

We have Shakespeare’s three great series of verse: two he published himself, and the Sonnets saw publication, without Shakespeare’s permission, in his lifetime.  But only a selection of his plays were published before his death.    

You see, in Elizabethan times, the notion of a playwright ‘owning’ the plays he wrote was not how we think of it today.  The acting company owned the play, not the author (the egoistical Ben Jonson being a notable exception).  Since Shakespeare himself was one of the owners of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (and after Elizabeth I’s death, The King’s Men), he was, legally speaking, one of the owners of the plays he wrote.  But he didn’t have sole control.  And so at least eighteen of his plays either never saw publication or, if they did, their releases have been lost through the capricious destruction of time.

folio-1st-page

Fortunately, in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death, two of Shakespeare’s fellow company members, John Heminges and Henry Condell, took it upon themselves to assemble thirty-six of Shakespeare’s plays.  We can’t read their minds from four centuries away, but certainly they had a sense of Will’s enduring greatness.  Because these former players took on this herculean task (assembling, typesetting and printing such a gigantic volume in the Jacobean era was a massive, labor-intensive and costly endeavor), they forever changed Western Art.  They preserved Shakespeare’s innovation, eloquence and moral truths for posterity. 

Consider just a fraction of what Shakespeare left us:

Psychology: Hamlet introduced the notion of manic depression into Western Art.  To this very day we still fight a society-wide prejudice against mental illness.  But The Bard was able to peer into the heart of that affliction. 

Women:  In a society that treated women little better than expensive cattle, Shakespeare was able, as his craft matured, see women as human beings fully endowed with hope, wit, grace and the desire to be equals with men:

  • Lady Macbeth— Macbeth – saved by the First Folio, a woman who yearns for the same power as a man
  • Rosalind – As You Like It – saved by the First Folio, a woman who teaches the men around her what it means to think and feel like a human
  • Viola – Twelfth Night – saved by the First Folio, more clever than any of the men around her, disguised yet the epitome of honesty
  • Cleopatra – Antony and Cleopatra – saved by the First Folio, tragically fully human
  • So many others in other plays and verses we do have outside of the First Folio; two of my favorites are Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing and the Dark Lady from The Sonnets.

The soliloquy:  Shakespeare invented the whole notion of a character in the imaginary world of the stage speaking directly to the audience—from the heart, uttering aloud the deepest secrets of consciousness.  He started it in Julius Caesar, and perfected it in Hamlet.  You know—‘To Be or Not to Be’.   This breaking down of the fourth wall, as it’s now called, is common practice today on our own TVs.  Think Keven Spacey from House of Cards

Race:  Shakespeare crossed over the hard and unremittent social barrier of racism.  Certainly Shakespeare was product of his time, and the Elizabethans were frightfully racist, but Shakespeare had the vision and daring to imagine characters like Othello and the Dark Lady of The Sonnets, fully-fleshed human beings.  Othello was actually published separately the year before The First Folio, but also included in that gigantic volume. 

Sex:  Breaking the barrier of sexual orientation:  Two-thirds of the Sonnets are a male poet writing to a Young man.   And in many of his plays—Twelfth Night, As You Like It, The Merchant of Venice—women see fit to disguise themselves as men in order to achieve their goals.  There is so much going on with meme.  

Language – words:  up to 1700 words in the English language first appear in Shakespeare’s works: Addiction, amazement, arouse, bedroom, blanket, bloodstained, champion, circumstantial, cold-blooded, dauntless, dishearten, drugged, epileptic, elbow, eyeball, frugal, gloomy, gossip, hobnob, hurried, impartial, jaded, laughable, lustrous, madcap, majestic, moonbeam, obscene, Olympian, premeditated, puking, rant, savagery, skim milk, swagger, torture, undress, vaulting, worthless, zany and so many others. 

Language – phrases:  He invented dozens of catch phrases we still use today:  

  • The game is afoot
  • Bated breath
  • Break the ice
  • Cold comfort
  • Dead as a doornail
  • Eaten me out of house and home
  • For goodness’ sake
  • Foregone conclusion
  • Good riddance
  • Heart of gold
  • Kill with kindness
  • Love is blind
  • Milk of human kindness
  • One fell swoop
  • Wild goose chase

Language – poetic:  The eloquence of his poetry and prose is unequaled.  Today we find Elizabethan English challenging to understand.  Still, four centuries later audiences flock to Shakespeare plays.   Why?  One of the main reasons, I believe, is because it’s so achingly beautiful.  Good actors work hard to bring Shakespearean English to life so that the modern ear can understand.  But the beauty and power of that language takes little effort: it carries itself on the tongue. 

Humanity:  Shakespeare wrote with an invisible hand.  That is, he created hundreds of characters who were utterly individual, infused with the stuff of unique human life.  It’s a miracle to contemplate that a single artist could do this.  This is another facet of what makes Shakespeare’s play so enduring.    

Moral Code:  Finally, we come to the moral center of his works.  Whether histories, comedies, tragedies, the so-called problem plays, or the poetry, Shakespeare’s characters–their struggles, their fates, their aspirations and failures–speak to those things that make us human: loss, lust, jealousy, laughter, grace, hope and the greatest power us poor humans have, love. Shakespeare wrote about the human capacity for love in more ways than any other artist we’ve ever had.  His are lessons for the ages. 

These are just a few reasons why Shakespeare is my religion. 

 

 

 

Happy Halloween from William Shakespeare!

halloween-2016

Halloween as we know it today didn’t exist in Shakespeare’s time.  Our dark and costumed celebration evolved from many sources, including the Celtic ‘Samhain’ and the ongoing cultural and religious clashes between the pagan practices of the British Isles and the invasion of Christianity.  And so plenty of end-of-harvest rituals with pagan origins were practiced in Elizabethan times, especially in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. 

Certainly Shakespeare was aware of these, for his plays contain many examples of pagan and Christian myths, all mashed up. Judging by the way Shakespeare could chill and terrify his audiences, could one be blamed if they thought Shakespeare invented this holiday?  Of course he didn’t, but The Bard knew how to mix myth, superstition, paganism, Christianity, monsters, ghosts and curses.  Here are four of some my favorite creepy speeches from Shakespeare, my way of wishing everyone a very Bardic Halloween.  Enjoy! 

Caliban, from The Tempest, Act 2, Scene 2:

All the infections that the sun sucks up

From bogs, fens, flats, on Prosper fall and make him

By inchmeal a disease! His spirits hear me

And yet I needs must curse. But they’ll nor pinch,

Fright me with urchin-shows, pitch me i’ th’ mire,

Nor lead me like a firebrand in the dark

Out of my way, unless he bid ’em. But

For every trifle are they set upon me,

Sometime like apes that mow and chatter at me,

And after bite me, then like hedgehogs which

Lie tumbling in my barefoot way and mount

Their pricks at my footfall. Sometime am I

All wound with adders who with cloven tongues

Do hiss me into madness.

 

Iago, from Othello, Act 2 Scene 3:

How am I then a villain

To counsel Cassio to this parallel course,

Directly to his good? Divinity of hell!

When devils will the blackest sins put on

They do suggest at first with heavenly shows

As I do now. For whiles this honest fool

Plies Desdemona to repair his fortune

And she for him pleads strongly to the Moor,

I’ll pour this pestilence into his ear:

 

The Ghost, from Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 5:

I am thy father’s spirit,

Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night,

And for the day confin’d to fast in fires,

Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature

Are burnt and purg’d away. But that I am forbid

To tell the secrets of my prison house,

I could a tale unfold whose lightest word

Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,

Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres…

 

Lady Macbeth, from Macbeth, Act 1 Scene 5:

Come, you spirits

That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,

And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full

Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood.

Stop up the access and passage to remorse,

That no compunctious visitings of nature

Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between

The effect and it! Come to my woman’s breasts,

And take my milk for gall, you murd’ring ministers,

Wherever in your sightless substances

You wait on nature’s mischief. Come, thick night,

And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,

That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,

Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark

To cry “Hold, hold!”

 

Sunday Sonnet – 23 October 2016

sonnet-24

In our modern era we love movies, books and sports games that deliver us stunning reversals at the very end. Well, Shakespeare was practicing this over 400 years ago, and his Sonnet 24 is a superb example of that.

Number 24 contains one of the most fully complete metaphors of all of the sonnets: the Poet’s love for the Young Man’s beauty has consumed him, so much so that the Poet becomes a veritable painting, filled in with that beautiful image. The Poet’s gaze–his gazing at the Young Man–is the painter. The Poet’s body is the frame of that painting. The Poet’s bosom itself houses the exquisite image of the Young Man.

The sonnet is lovely to read. And up until its last line, this verse seems to hew to the traditional Romantic poetry of Shakespeare’s time: mindless (but delicious) adulation of the subject, something most of the rest of Shakespeare’s sonnets either deride or mock.   But Shakespeare doesn’t disappoint. The final couplet sets it up, and the final phrase of the sonnet delivers it: ‘know not the heart.’ The painting in the Poet’s bosom reflects only a surface illusion; all this adulation has done nothing to capture the Young Man’s heart. It’s all really just a sham.

24

Mine eye hath play’d the painter and hath stell’d
Thy beauty’s form in table of my heart;
My body is the frame wherein ’tis held,
And perspective it is the painter’s art.
For through the painter must you see his skill,
To find where your true image pictured lies;
Which in my bosom’s shop is hanging still,
That hath his windows glazed with thine eyes.
Now see what good turns eyes for eyes have done:
Mine eyes have drawn thy shape, and thine for me
Are windows to my breast, where-through the sun
Delights to peep, to gaze therein on thee;
Yet eyes this cunning want to grace their art;
They draw but what they see, know not the heart.