shakespeare

Corpsey

call me big papa
I was looking at Lear for quotes about eyes for the eye thread and I was stopped in my tracks by the cruelty of this line:

REGAN Go thrust him out at gates, and let him smell
His way to Dover.


Yesterday evening, it being Shakey's birthday, I dutifully read Prospero's famous speech

You do look, my son, in a moved sort,
As if you were dismay'd: be cheerful, sir.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. Sir, I am vex'd;
Bear with my weakness; my, brain is troubled:
Be not disturb'd with my infirmity:
If you be pleased, retire into my cell
And there repose: a turn or two I'll walk,
To still my beating mind.


What occurred to me, frowning over this, is how difficult it is to read some Shakespeare due to overfamiliarity.

It's easy to miss the emotional modulation here - from "be cheerful sir" to a melancholy reflection on life's transience, to "my brain is troubled... a turn or two I'll walk, To still my beating heart".

But also, the words themselves are so familiar - "We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep". It's easy to pass over the poignancy of refering to life as "little". (Noticing now too that "rounded" might be related to "the great globe itself".
 

Corpsey

call me big papa
Also 'thin air' - a phrase you don't even think about when you use it, but how economical a way to suggest substancelessness.
 

Corpsey

call me big papa
I always loved this from Othello:

Soft you, a word or two before you go.
I have done the state some service, and they know't.
No more of that. I pray you, in your letters,
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am. Nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice. Then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely, but too well;
Of one not easily jealous, but, being wrought,
Perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand,
Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes,
Albeit unused to the melting mood,
Drops tears as fast as the Arabian trees
Their med'cinable gum. Set you down this.
And say besides that in Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and a turbaned Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by th' throat the circumcised dog
And smote him--thus. [He stabs himself.]
I would like you to explain in some detail why you have always loved this.
 

jenks

thread death
I would like you to explain in some detail why you have always loved this.
Hi - long day actually teaching Y7s Shakespeare so don't expect total lucidity at this point

so...this speech is the end of a bloody, gruesome and quite unpleasant play where all kinds of base and vile things are said and here the title character has hidden a dagger from his captors. he knows he is going to kill himself and he is trying to write his own epitaph - he is trying to explain to the authority what kind of man he thinks he is - he's not the wife killing ogre of racist imagination instead he is someone who stood up for Christians - slew the base Turk in Aleppo - of course he killed him for traducing the state, unconsciously reinforcing the violence that litters the play.

It is a self serving and piteous epitaph that, if taken on its own, might be persuasive but in the context of the play is shot through with irony - why say 'and no more of that' - he wants it acknowledged even when saying eh doesn't. Unlucky here also has overtones of unhappy - the two were related in Elizabethan times but there is that idea that Othello was 'unlucky' to be played by Iago so completely - but was it luck? Othello had that capability within him. What would it mean for these rich white Venetians to speak of Othello 'as I am.' ?

in simple terms it's the beauty of the iambic at work that allows for the appearance of normal conversational speech but it is heightened by the appeal to the exotic - the simple simile of 'The base Indian' which reminds us of the way Othello wooed Desdemona with his exotic tales of travel and danger. The use of the syntactic parallels in 'of one' used four times to create a heft of rhetorical weight in his summing up of himself. The use of the lovely assonance in 'whose subdued' and 'mood' followed by the alliterative 'm' in the 'melting' 'mood' and 'medicinal' all used to give this long low sonorous howl of loss that then is undercut but 'remember this' and the violence.

There is so much going on - from a plot point of view, from a character point of view (even in his death he doesn't know himself and thinks he can control a narrative he has never been in control of) from a pure poetical point of view but maybe most from a dramatic point of view - as a piece of script for an actor to deliver - the pauses/ full stops in the middle of lines, suggesting him having to stop, possibly break down before moving on.

hope this is kind of what you wanted.


Soft you, a word or two before you go.
I have done the state some service, and they know't.
No more of that. I pray you, in your letters,
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am. Nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice. Then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely, but too well;
Of one not easily jealous, but, being wrought,
Perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand,
Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes,
Albeit unused to the melting mood,
Drops tears as fast as the Arabian trees
Their med'cinable gum. Set you down this.
And say besides that in Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and a turbaned Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by th' throat the circumcised dog
And smote him--thus. [He stabs himself.]
 

Corpsey

call me big papa
That speech is one there's been a lot of arguments over, isn't there? You seem to be of the same opinion as T.S. Eliot

Him wot wrote

“I have always felt that I have never read a more terrible exposure of human weakness – of universal human weakness – than the last great speech of Othello.”
 

jenks

thread death
Thanks for all of those Corpsey (my Y7s would probably appreciate you more than they currently do me) - I think the thing is that too often we divorce the speech from the play - without the context Othello's speech would be very different indeed. And I think that's why it's worth remembering it is a script, a heard and played thing, not only a written down thing. A bit like sheet music given to performers to make real.
 

Corpsey

call me big papa
I think it's fair to say that being force-fed Shakespeare probably puts some kids off literature. And that there could be a wider range of authors being studied. And tbh, the first time Shakespeare 'stuck' at school for me was at A level, reading 'Hamlet'. Before then I probably thought he was boring, confusing, hopelessly ancient.

The 'he just wasn't very good' line isn't even laughable, because she doesn't go into it.

Saying all this I do think Bardolatry is an obstacle in the way of appreciating Shakespeare.
 

craner

Beast of Burden
Her argument seems to be that he's rubbish because his language is archaic twaddle which discriminates against people with dyslexia, and he's not relevant to the modern world.
 

luka

Well-known member
Staff member
I was in my mid/late 20s before I felt I had gleaned any pleasure from Shakespeare. I couldn't make head or tail of it before that.
 

Corpsey

call me big papa
Saying all this I do think Bardolatry is an obstacle in the way of appreciating Shakespeare.
'The remarkable thing about Shakespeare is that he is really very good - in spite of all the people who say he is very good.
Robert Graves
 

jenks

thread death
This is going to sound obvious but...it's really a lot to do with how it's taught. I did some work with the RSC - a project for schools with little or no drama teaching - and it really changed my outlook. Despite being the home of the Bard, they weren't reverent at all - cutting lines/scenes where necessary and really working on seeing the text as something to play with.

I also think which plays you study and when are also part of the problem - Much Ado may be a great play but all that witty 'banter' is really dead on the page in a classroom whereas 'I am in blood so far stepp'd (or steep'd, depending upon the version) that, should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o'er.' is something most young kids do know - the fuck it, I'm already in trouble I might as well continue. Most adults too...

I hate that culture of low expectations that kids don't need to know this stuff. People hogging all the cultural capital for themselves...
 

Corpsey

call me big papa
I've been listening to Hamlet very disjointedly all week.

Hamlet is the archetypal man who thinks too much. He seeks simplicity ceaselessly, but can't find it until death ("the rest is silence"). The toil of thought through and with language. Beauty itself a sort of fleeting simplicity, becoming complexity even as it unfurls itself. Eliot's description of the Chinese vase in Four Quartets.

Anyway, this strikes me as being a common plague round these parts. Overactive brains harried by thoughts seeking some saving simplicity. (But bored instantly by any such discovery.) Dantean circle. But perhaps it's everyone, stuck at least in the hamster wheel of desire and lack.

Hamlet is a well good play, though.
 
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