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Books

A tide in the affairs of men

The Ides of March had me looking up Julius Caesar, recalling my favourite lines from Shakespeare’s play.

There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat;
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

Sir John Gielgud delivers those lines with such feeling in this video. Those are stirring words, reminding us of the rise and fall in fortune, that unless we make best use of our opportunities, we will live to regret their loss.

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Books

Shakespeare’s birthday and St George’s Day

St George and dragon
St George and dragon

Google.co.uk is running this image’s day. It’s St George’s Day — and traditionally celebrated as Shakespeare’s birthday, too. The Writer’s Almanac reminds us why it’s celebrated as Shakespeare’s birthday:

Today we celebrate the birthday of William Shakespeare, born in Stratford-upon-Avon, England (1564 -1616). We don’t know his birthday for sure, but he was baptized on April 26th, and since infants were usually baptized about three days after their birth, his birthday is celebrated today.

Oxford Classics sticks to the facts and tweets

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Author Neil Gaiman has more fun, tweeting about Shakespeare’s birthday and St George’s Day.

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Books

I can hear music

I love the Beach Boys’ song, I Can Hear Music. The ardour of young love and the sweet harmony capture all that is beautiful in life. Yes, it’s just a teenage love song, but listen to the jangling guitars, insistent beat and plaintive voices. Isn’t that what life is all about: wishing and hoping and, if you are lucky, getting what you want?

Popular music perhaps most faithfully articulates our feelings, for it changes with every generation, and no two generations have ever seen eye to eye. I can’t stand rap music any more than the rappers have time for the Beach Boys and the Beatles. This evanescence is what makes popular music so appealing, for it mirrors our own lives. We know it’s going to fade away, just as we will, but that’s why it’s all the more dear to us, because we can identify with it.

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Books

Martin Amis on life and Kingsley Amis

Martin Amis describes seeing his father, Kingsley Amis in a dream in his autobiography, Experience. Published in 2000, five years after his father’s death, it’s one of the most intimate accounts of a father-and-son relationship that I have ever read.

He writes:

Why should I tell the story of my life?

I do it because my father is dead now, and I always knew I would have to commemorate him. He was a writer, and I am a writer; it feels like a duty to describe our case — a literary curiosity which is also just another instance of a father and a son.

He writes about his father explaining the mysteries of sex to him and his elder brother, Philip, when they were schoolboys and the conversations they had when he had grown up.

His father pops up even when he is writing about other things. He recalls the articles he published in the New Statesman following the death of the critic FR Leavis and calling them a “symposium”. A symposium originally meant a drinking party, he says and adds: 

And that is what Kingsley liked, above all things. Well, he probably liked adultery even better, in his manly noon, but the symposium was a far more durable and unambivalent pleasure — a love whose month was forever May.

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Books

Shakespeare’s bawdy

William Shakespeare was baptized on this day in 1564 and what a life he led before he died at the age of 52 on April 23, 1616. He explored love and sex in his plays with a detailed vividness that leaves Masters and Johnson looking pretty skimpy, writes Simon Callow in the Guardian.

The Elizabethans were as prurient as the stereotypical Victorians were prudish. They loved bawdy and double entendre — and Shakespeare had to entertain his audience.

Sexual desire is rampant in the opening lines of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. Theseus tells Hippolyta he is impatient about having to wait four more days for their wedding. She says the days will pass quickly. Look at the imagery they use.

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Books

Shakespeare: Much ado about love

It’s that day of the year when we remember William Shakespeare.

Here’s a link to the most famous scene from my wife’s favourite play —– Judi Dench as Lady Macbeth in the sleepwalking scene. But give me the romantic comedies any day. Boy meets, boy gets girl, and they live happily ever after.

Just watch Helen Mirren  playing Rosalind, my favourite Shakespearean heroine, in As You Like It. Fun-loving, high-spirited, she’s just like my wife (Rosalind, not Mirren — no, my wife isn’t Rosalind; Rosalind’s like my wife — ach, grammar!) 

Here’s the text of the scene — Act III, Scene II —- from The Oxford Shakespeare.

And here’s Emma Thompson in the last scene of Much Ado About Nothing. Now, that’s entertainment.

Categories
Books Poetry

On Julia’s Clothes and 99 other most popular poems

This must be one of the shortest, heavily anthologized poems in the English language. On Julia’s Clothes, by Robert Herrick, runs to only six lines. But, witty and playful, this 17th century poem is one of the 100 most anthologized poems in the English language, according to the Columbia Granger’s World of Poetry. Here are links to the top 100. But first…

On Julia’s Clothes
By Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

Whenas in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.

Next, when I cast mine eyes and see
That brave vibration each way free,
O how that glittering taketh me!


Roguish but charming, isn’t it?

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Books

Talk Like Shakespeare Day today

Dost thou think, because there’s something rotten in
the state of
the economy, there shall be no more cakes and ale? Fie, dismiss thy fears.
We shall revel today in wholesome mirth and laughter in fulsome praise of the
genius of Master Shakespeare. Sweet Bard of Avon, begetter of the finest verse
and plays, who was born today and made all the world his stage.

Out, damned
Spot, out, I say!
No walkies today. Leave thy master amongst his boon
companions sired by the most noble Shakespeare. Behold Hamlet, Prince of
Denmark; greetings, King Lear; welcome, noble Antony and Cleopatra, thy beauty
beyond compare. What sayst Othello, my lord? Remark the Scottish tragedy. Et tu, Brute? O Romeo, Romeo!
wherefore art thou
missing, Romeo?

All the world’s
a stage
, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and
their entrances.

Alack, such is life. Golden lads and girls all must, as chimney-sweepers, come to
dust.

But do thy
worst, old Time: despite thy wrong
, Shakespeare’s verse shall live ever
young. And his plays too. So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, so long live these
and these give life to thee, Master Shakespeare.

Thou shalt live and we’ll dwell on thy fabulous creations. What a piece of work
is man
, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, that he can create
works like these – prodigies of art emanating from the quill of the
extraordinary Will, the incomparable Bard of Avon!

It’s Talk
Like Shakespeare Day
today. Visit the website.

Here are more blog entries on “Talk Like Shakespeare” , continuously updated by Google Blog
Search.

And here’s “Talk like Shakespeare” on Twitter.

Categories
Books Poetry

Shakespeare in love: The youth and the Dark Lady of the Sonnets

Shakespeare’s sonnets are the greatest love poems in English literature, says The Times. And they are mostly homoerotic, says Bill Bryson in his book, Shakespeare.

That makes them all the more remarkable. For, let’s not forget, as late as 1960 Penguin Books was tried for obscenity when it published Lady Chatterley’s Lover in Britain.

Shakespeare’s sonnets, on the other hand, have been appearing in popular anthologies like Palgrave’s Golden Treasury since the 19th century. Book 1, containing poems selected by Palgrave himself in 1861, included Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day”) and Sonnet 73 (“That time of year thou mayst in me behold”). Both are addressed to a young man. No doubt they are beautiful poems. Sonnet 18 especially.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

The poet praises the incomparable beauty of the person he is addressing who, he says, will be immortalized by his verse. But he doesn’t say who he is speaking to — whether it’s a man or a woman.

He is equally vague in Sonnet 116, my favourite.


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.

Categories
Books

Shakespeare On The Double! The Bard in plain English

Shakespeare On The Double! Twelfth Night translated by Mary Ellen Snodgrass

The greatest English playwright in plain English at long last! Now I can understand every word written by the Bard as long as I have a copy of Shakespeare On The Double! in my hand.

Shakespeare On The Double! The unusual format of this paperback edition of Shakespeare’s plays makes him as easy to read as any current bestseller. Facing every page of the original text is another page which “translates” the text into modern English.

So on one page you have the original text:

If music be the food of love, play on…

On the facing page is the “translation”:

If love feeds on music, play more music.

I am quoting the opening words of Twelfth Night (play, synopsis) spoken by Duke Orsino and “translated by” Mary Ellen Snodgrass.

It may not sound like Shakespeare. But the translation is useful when you run into more complex passages less easy to understand.

There are passages whose meanings might have been perfectly clear to Shakespeare’s contemporaries but which have to be explained to us.

Take these words of Viola in Twelfth Night, for instance. She confesses her love for Duke Orsino to Olivia’s jester, Feste. But here is the rub. She is disguised as a young man – and neither the duke nor the jester suspects she is a woman. And yet her confession draws no response from the jester. He merely asks her to wait while he informs his mistress that she has brought a message from the duke.

It is a dramatic moment – a “young man” confessing his love for another man. But we may not catch the meaning in the original text:

CLOWN: Now, Jove, in his next commodity of hair
send thee a beard!

VIOLA: By my troth, I’ll tell thee, I’m almost sick
for one — (aside) though I would not have it grow on
my chin. Is thy lady within?

Snodgrass’ translation makes the meaning clear.

CLOWN: When God passes out hair, I hope he gives you a beard.

VIOLA: I confide to you that I am lovesick for a man. (VIOLA in private) But I don’t want hair on my chin. Is the Countess at home?

I have read Arden and other annotated editions which are useful for classroom studies, explaining words and phrases and allusions, putting Shakespeare in perspective.

But for simple enjoyment of his plays, Shakespeare On The Double! is hard to beat. The simple English translation is fun to read and makes one appreciate Shakespeare all the more. This could be a good companion to annotated editions for classroom studies as well.