terça-feira, novembro 24, 2015

Shakespeare and I: "Shakespeare's Language"


Oh boy, yes! The language is something like “I can't find the word or words. Dammit! Once and again!” In the beginning I spent all my time bogged down in footnotes, the textbook edition specified by my professor Vicky Hartnack (at the British Council in the 1980s) for being the 'best' edition to help with the language. It was as difficult to read as Chaucer. I might as well have read it in a foreign language I didn't know I had to look up each word. It was exhausting. I have enjoyed internet learning - I can read a synopsis for the sense of the play - go find a production online to view, use closed captions and hit rewind to re-watch and re-hear it.  Trying sometimes in lag-time to figure out what it could have been (brain knew, 'nope, that couldn't be right') and being a couple steps behind - exhausting in live lecture classrooms. I only wish I had had closed captions and rewind at that time.

English in Shakespeare's time, as I was taught, was a time of explosion in appreciation of English and the fun of words and double meanings - a craze for the language. If the language of Shakespeare has been so difficult for students I have always wondered how his own audiences were able to keep up with it - so fast, so full of meaning and wit. Did they appreciate the nuances as we (hope to) do today? He stands alone at the top of some mighty mount in the world of words for me, and has since I was 15. A complete works was the first book I ever bought to make my own when I was 16. I still have it - I'm in my 40s and he pops up in each decade of my life, it seems, to appreciate in different ways, and I was old for my age as a youngster but having experienced life events brings new ways to appreciate the lessons he teaches in a few terse words. Remarkable Poetry in prose. I have long said if I could only take two things if I were shipwrecked on an island, one is “The Complete Works of Shakespeare” and two - well, I can't remember the second, and I think it has varied over the years, but “The Complete Works" never has - today the second would be a lifetime of supply peanut M&Ms - assuming a supply of clean water 'comes' with the island! Sustains body and mind, chocolate with peanuts - and words to feed my mind. Eh! there ya go - It's life.

“Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds,
Toward Phoebus' lodging. Such a wagoner
As Phaeton would whip you to the west
And bring in cloudy night immediately.
Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night,
That runaways' eyes may wink, and Romeo
Leap to these arms, untalked of and unseen.
Lovers can see to do their amorous rites
By their own beauties, or, if love be blind,
It best agrees with night. Come, civil night,
Thou sober-suited matron, all in black,
And learn me how to lose a winning match
Played for a pair of stainless maidenhoods.
Hood my unmanned blood bating in my cheeks,
With thy black mantle, till strange love, grow bold,
Think true love acted simple modesty.
Come, night. Come, Romeo. Come, thou day in night,
For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night
Whiter than new snow upon a raven’s back.
Come, gentle night, come, loving, black-browed night,
Give me my Romeo. And when I shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
Oh, I have bought the mansion of a love,
But not possessed it, and though I am sold,
Not yet enjoyed. So tedious is this day
As is the night before some festival
To an impatient child that hath new robes
And may not wear them.”

This is my favorite speech from R&J; full of rich imagery and vivid poetry - as Juliet awaits her new husband, she urges night to fall quickly.  She pleads for the sun to set as if it were "fiery-footed steeds" and name-checks Phoebus and Phaeton (solar deities) from Greek mythology.  She says that night is best for maidens to engage in love-making so to hide her blushing cheeks. She compares night variously to a close curtain, a sober-suited matron, a black mantle, a raven's back, and describes it as loving and black-browed. And in perhaps the most vivid image - she wants Romeo cut up into little stars after she is dead, so that the night will outshine the "garish sun".

Romeo is portrayed as new white snow, day in night, and blinding stars - overpowering imagery for a young girl - she can see nothing else but him.
All this is contrast to her own imagery as a purchased, but as yet uninhabited mansion, or an impatient child who has new robes bought for a festival, but is not allowed to wear them yet.  She is earthly, while he is heavenly.
Her language is lofty and highly poetic, reflecting her own heightened emotional state, indicative of her youth and inexperience with feelings of love.

"I learn in this letter…"

I have chosen those first words as they are the ones which speak the most to me. This line has a melodious quality and rhythm which please my ears, in the same way as “The Sea is calm tonight” from ‘Dover Beach’ by Arnold does. I still cannot figure out the reason for this, but there are (opening) lines that sound just perfect and have the power to create some melancholy feeling or extreme happiness in me [happiness ensuing from observing something beautiful/artistic gratification]. That is the case of this one. There is something in it, though I can’t say exactly what.

The other reason why these words have such an appeal to me is because I love letters. As a child, when we had no email yet, I used to like sending them, posting them at the post office and receiving them. So you can only imagine how I cherish the idea of trusting a messenger with a letter to, say, someone I love. As a teenager, I would write letters to imaginary friends, and I would keep these in a pretty box. It is quite possible that Shakespeare would have liked emails, text messages, blogs, Twitter, etc. if he had been given the choice. And indeed, for daily business, I do appreciate the efficiency of those tools too. However, as far as poetry is concerned, there is, once again, something incomparable about a letter endowed with a peculiar fragrance and displaying a light yellow colour due to the years.

I am totally aware that instead of writing on Shakespeare and on the play which these words introduce, I write only for myself. But this is the sort of response that reading Shakespeare triggers in me. He impels me, which is not at all the case with some other authors, to reflect on my own likes and dislikes and to have the courage to put into words some indistinct feelings that I was too lazy to analyse before.

The multiplicity of perspectives that Shakespeare inspires, among other reasons, is why his plays have been performed for centuries. And hopefully will continue to be performed.


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