sábado, agosto 19, 2017

Chiastic Rhetorical Devices: “Shakespeare's Symmetries: The Mirrored Structure of Action in the Plays” by James E. Ryan



“MALVOLIO
M, O, A, I; this simulation is not as the former: and
yet, to crush this a little, it would bow to me, for
every one of these letters are in my name. Soft!
here follows prose.
Reads

'If this fall into thy hand, revolve. In my stars I
am above thee; but be not afraid of greatness: some
are born great, some achieve greatness, and some
have greatness thrust upon 'em. Thy Fates open
their hands; let thy blood and spirit embrace them;
and, to inure thyself to what thou art like to be,
cast thy humble slough and appear fresh. Be
opposite with a kinsman, surly with servants; let
thy tongue tang arguments of state; put thyself into
the trick of singularity: she thus advises thee
that sighs for thee. Remember who commended thy
yellow stockings, and wished to see thee ever
cross-gartered: I say, remember. Go to, thou art
made, if thou desirest to be so; if not, let me see
thee a steward still, the fellow of servants, and
not worthy to touch Fortune's fingers. Farewell.
She that would alter services with thee,
THE FORTUNATE-UNHAPPY.'
Daylight and champaign discovers not more: this is
open. I will be proud, I will read politic authors,
I will baffle Sir Toby, I will wash off gross
acquaintance, I will be point-devise the very man.
I do not now fool myself, to let imagination jade
me; for every reason excites to this, that my lady
loves me. She did commend my yellow stockings of
late, she did praise my leg being cross-gartered;
and in this she manifests herself to my love, and
with a kind of injunction drives me to these habits
of her liking. I thank my stars I am happy. I will
be strange, stout, in yellow stockings, and
cross-gartered, even with the swiftness of putting
on. Jove and my stars be praised! Here is yet a
postscript.
Reads

'Thou canst not choose but know who I am. If thou
entertainest my love, let it appear in thy smiling;
thy smiles become thee well; therefore in my
presence still smile, dear my sweet, I prithee.'
Jove, I thank thee: I will smile; I will do
everything that thou wilt have me.
Exit”

In “Twelfth Night” by William Shakespeare

“Chiasmus – a mirror pattern in which key elements are repeated in reverse order, either with or without an unrepeated central element (ABCBA or ABBA) – is a common organizing principle, employed both rhetorically and structurally. [..] the best-known episodes in Shakespeare’s plays, such as Malvolio’s tortured reading of Maria’s letter in ‘Twelfth Night’, are structurally emphasized in this way.”

In “Shakespeare's Symmetries” by James E. Ryan

Dear, darling Shakespeare! How long is it, how many times hath Phoebus' cart gone round Neptune's salt wash, since you gave us the bad news of your imminent demise? I have been seated here those many years, tearing, fearing, lest, at any moment I should receive the grim testimony of some ugly, unwanted newshound. But, of course, you can never die, dear heart! You have bequeathed us a canon of literary and televisual wisdom like no other, such as would take any man a lifetime to dissect and absorb. And I believe you are working on yet another volume of pretty words, of poetry. Hurry it along, Shakespeare, for I am keen to drink in thy paroles!   

Presumptuous of me, I know, but I think “Twelfth Night” was likely Shakespeare's own favourite and provides a fabulous counterpoint to “Hamlet”, which was written about the same time. I came to “Twelfth Night” late in life. I was reasonably familiar with about a dozen of the canon and decided to pick a new play and study it line by line. What a great exercise for gaining intimacy with the bard and coming firmly to grips with the language of the day, which holds one in good stead with all the plays. For me, the BBC version from about 1979, with the incomparable Robert Hardy as Sir Toby, is still the best. I urge anyone to read the play thoroughly then watch it, for it can be a bit tricky going in "cold." Even one of the actors from the recent film version said he had no idea what was going on. BTW, what turned me on to Twelfth Night was Judi Dench's affectionate allusion to it in “Shakespeare in Love”. And she should know, having played Viola onstage some years before. You can tell she loves it, too – right? Actually, Malvolio isn't the only outsider - Feste is, too. That status is commented on by others, notably Maria (unlike him, very much part of the household), and pointed up by his almost Chorus-like singing role. To my surprise, in none of the (upwards of fifteen) TNs that I've seen has he been portrayed as a disguised catholic priest, though the play, I think, gains in intensity from such a reading. Seen thus, the household is England in microcosm, its female head wooed unsuccessfully from abroad, and steering a pragmatic course between the two ideologies challenging it, embodied in Feste and Malvolio. Of course, Malvolio would hardly have lived on into the Protectorate. I wonder if Feste was ever caught and (as Maria warns him) hanged? You cannot commodify depth, unfortunately, otherwise everyone would be Shakespeare. Shakespeare's true genius is not in the intricacies of his language but in the emotions he conveys to us through his characters. It's a bit of a paraphrase of Bloom's 'Invention of the Human' argument, but ultimately, Shakespeare's language is not a genuine obstacle to that emotional connection.

This is the Shakespeare who is staged more than any other living artist annually - and, I suspect, makes far more than any other living writer per year? Shakespeare isn't just 'another playwright', he's the greatest practitioner of the English language bar none, eclipsing even Milton, Jonson, Marlowe, Webster... etc - a point that is proved by people who don't understand his works laughing helplessly when they go to see his plays. The language isn't that difficult to understand if you take the time with it, like all great things, a little work with it brings infinite rewards.

I once read the second half of Macbeth while blind drunk on a train. It was massively enjoyable. I was lost in the poetry. Thankfully I like it almost as much when sober. However, the point I'm failing to make is that without an excellent English teacher many eons ago I would not have read it at all. Like the chimney sweep point in the article she made it come alive. Thank you, Mrs. Hartnack.
The problem with the current tendency to simplify Shakespeare (at the RSC and the National, as well as more obviously at the globe) is that Shakespeare is nothing but language, spoken and acted out. Changing the language makes it less Shakespeare, and more like “Shakespeare Retold”, those nice films that recycled a few original lines along with the plots (which are mostly not original with Shakespeare). The key to understanding Shakespeare's language, if you don't know what all the words mean, is to hear and see it performed by actors who do understand it. You'll understand very well what's going on, even if you don't get every word. And the more you see and hear Shakespeare, the more his marvelously rich language adds meaning to the music. I think many people's problems with Shakespeare originate in excruciatingly dull reading in the classroom, without the context supplied by performance. It's meant to be seen in action, as well as comprehended through hearing. I had a Japanese friend who said she was so sorry for the English, because they had to readjust their language comprehension, which “furreners” like her didn't have to do when watching him in translation. The fact that he is so popular and so revered and analysed in so many countries and cultures tells us there's a heck of a lot more to him than the language.

Shakespeare remains relevant because his understanding of universals was profound, and his language remains piercingly fresh. Maybe what makes Shakespeare Shakespeare is the chiasmus or it’s the iambic pentameter maybe. Who knows? Who cares? He was a genius living at a time when the English language was still wonderfully malleable. It was an age in which the known world was expanding with the discovery of the Americas, when England was a centre of growing prosperity and technological advance - and the headiness of living in a country in such flux is palpable in the texts too. That Shakespeare was a brilliant literary innovator just isn't in doubt; you have only to read Spenser, Marlowe and Jonson to see it. They are all stupendous in different ways (I recently reread Jonson's The Alchemist and was astonished all over again), but the acuity of Shakespeare's phrases, the penetrating psychological insights in Macbeth, Lear and Hamlet, the sheer beauty and strangeness of the language and the thinking set him apart. Portuguese like me who love Shakespeare do so for the normal reasons: the vitality of the language, the brilliance of insights into human nature, and, very often, the tragic pull our natures bringing us to ruin. Thanks Mr. Ryan for giving me another take on interpreting Shakespeare. Celebrate the words, the symmetries, the parallelisms, the iambic pentameter, chiastic rhetorical devices, and whatnot. Celebrate that once there was a voice expressing the deepest fears, the greatest triumphs and the riddle of what it is to be human. Shakespeare is more important to Western culture than most of the parade of characters we see this year on our news screens. Alongside Michelangelo, Bach and Einstein the word genius can be used without fear of hyperbole.


3 comentários:

Book Stooge disse...

All I can say is "Thank God" that Shakespeare remains more important than the line of celebrities that seems never ending.

I am still figuring out how I am going to incorporate the books you lent me into my reading schedule. I am planning on having a "Shakespeare" collection on my kindle. But, do I put everything into it, or just parts? and how do I decide what order to read things? Not being a history buff, I have no idea of Henry V comes before or after Spotticus the 29th. One thing I have considered is using my paper "Complete Shakespeare" as a guide. Read the plays on my kindle, but use the paper work for the order.

Manuel Antão disse...

A few years ago I made a suggestion as to how read Shakespeare:

https://manuelaantao.blogspot.pt/p/my-shakespeare-library.html

I'd also suggest starting with the comedies, followed by the tragedies. You don't have to use a particular order.

Book Stooge disse...

Thanks for the link.