Archive for William Shakespeare

Sonnet No. 121

Posted in Literature with tags , on April 23, 2016 by telescoper

Oh, go on then. Here’s another post for the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. I’ve posted quite a few of Shakespeare’s sonnets over the years, and my book of them goes with me whenever I travel, so it seems appropriate to post another as a personal way of marking the quatercentenary. This is Sonnet 121, another in the “fair youth” sequence, although to some extent it stands apart from the verses preceding and following it.  It was apparently written about the time a mysterious scandal was circulating about the poet and it’s presumably a specific reaction to that. The message is basically that having a bad reputation  is even worse than actually being bad. The poet does not claim to be blameless, be argues that he is being insulted by those whose sins are far worse than his and who therefore have no right to criticise him. So he decides to reject hypocrisy and be himself no matter what people say. It’s a poem that will resonate for anyone who has been falsely, perhaps maliciously, accused of something they did not do.

‘Tis better to be vile, than vile esteemed,
When not to be, receives reproach of being,
And the just pleasure lost which is so deemed
Not by our feeling, but by others’ seeing:
For why should others’ false adulterate eyes
Give salutation to my sportive blood?
Or on my frailties why are frailer spies,
Which in their wills count bad what I think good?
No; — I am that I am, and they that level
At my abuses reckon up their own:
I may be straight, though they themselves be bevel;
By their rank thoughts my deeds must not be shown;
Unless this general evil they maintain,
All men are bad, and in their badness reign.

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Next! – The Complete Animated Shakespeare

Posted in Literature, Television with tags , , , on April 23, 2016 by telescoper

I’m sure most readers are aware that today is the 23rd April 2016, which is the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. Despite the fact that most modern scholars agree that many of Shakespeare’s plays were not actually written by Shakespeare, but by someone else who had the same name, it’s still a good excuse to celebrate the life and work of a towering figure in the world of literature and drama. I was trying to think I suddenly remembered this marvellous animated film I saw when it was first released over 20 years ago. I couldn’t remember the name so it took me a bit of time to find it, but I got there in the end. It’s by Aardman Animations (best known for the later Wallace and Gromit films) and it was part of a splendid series of animated shorts called Lip-synch commissioned by Channel 4 and broadcast in 1990. It’s hard to imagine Channel 4 doing anything this good nowadays.  This film, called Next,  is only 5 minutes long yet it manages to refer to every single one of Shakespeare’s plays by having the immortal bard himself do them all as an audition. It’s not only clever and visually appealing but also a lot of fun…



Sonnet No. 98

Posted in History, Poetry with tags , , , on April 5, 2016 by telescoper

It’s been a while since I posted any of Shakespeare’s sonnets. A brief mention on the radio this morning that William Shakespeare died 400 years ago this month convinced me to rectify that omission and, since it is April, I thought I’d put up this one, No. 98. As with the rest of the first 126 of these poems, it is addressed by the poet to a “fair youth”, i.e. from an older man to a younger one. These sonnets deal with such themes as love, beauty, mortality, absence and longing, framed by the affectionate relationship between two men of very different ages:

From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew.
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seemed it winter still, and you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.


The Tempest in Musick

Posted in Brighton, Literature, Music with tags , , , , , , , on May 17, 2014 by telescoper

I haven’t done a music review type of thing on this blog for some time, for the simple reason that I haven’t had the time to go to many live music events recently. However, this being Festival time in Brighton I felt I should make an extra-special effort to take a bit of time out to take in a bit of culture. All work and no play and all that.

Anyway, yesterday evening found me in the Concert Hall of the Brighton Dome for a performance entitled The Tempest in Musick by the New London Consort. The programme for the show featured all the music written for the 17th and early 18th century revivals of William Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest. That in itself tells an interesting story. In 1667, after the Restoration of the Monarchy, John Dryden and Willian Davenant put together an enlarged and adapted version of Shakespeare’s play with a host of new characters and numerous musical interludes and additions. This piece was later revised further  aa number of times, each including even more music, a process which culminated in a semi-operatic version compiled by Thomas Shadwell in 1674. As if Shakespeare’s original tale were not exotic enough, these new versions had extra devils, Tritons, and Nereids along with spectacular stage effects and costumes. London audiences clearly wanted to let their hair down after the severe restrictions on popular entertainment imposed by Puritans during the Protectorate. The Shadwell version was the top show in London for over fifty years: it ran from 1674 until 1728, until it was eventually replaced in popularity by The Beggar’s Opera.

In the concert we heard most if not all of the music that survives from the multiple revivals and revisions of the Tempest, written by various composers over the period 1667 to 1712, including a setting of “Dear pretty youth” by Henry Purcell dated to 1695. There were two different versions of the most famous song from the original play, Full Fathom Five, sung by Ariel:

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them — Ding-dong, bell

Of course the New London Consort play using period instruments, which gives me an excuse to post this again:


I’m not a fan of period instruments generally, but because of the historical interest in the music I thought I’d give it a go. I had grave misgivings when I saw that the musicians were to be directed by David Roblou from a harpsichord, but decided to grit my teeth and perservere instead of fleeing to the nearest pub.

As it happened, although it was good in parts, the concert basically just confirmed my prejudices. To start with, much of the music is very ordinary and the musicians for the most part failed to bring it to life. The strings, played without vibrato throughout and occasionally rather ragged to boot, didn’t produce much in the way of colour or dynamics; this way of playing also exposed their uncertain pitching. The recorders, a long way from the audience right at the back of the stage, found it difficult to project. They would have been much better off in a smaller venue, I think, especially because of the large gap between audience and stage left for standing customers (of whom there were very few). The dreaded harpsichord was barely audible too. Not that I’m complaining about that.

On the other hand there was some brilliant trumpet playing by Simon Munday on a period instrument. Also I think this is the first time I’ve ever heard a Serpent played and I really enjoyed hearing it. Apart from these highlights though I found the music rather undistinguished and the performance curiously flat.

The singing was much better: the three lovely female voices (Anna Dennis, Faye Newton and Penelope Appleyard) are worth mentioning and tenor Jorge Navarro-Colorado sang well and was a striking presence on stage during the occasional semi-staged pieces. I wasn’t that keen on any of the bass-baritones though.

I realise that there will probably be early music fans out there who would have loved last night’s performance. That’s fine of course. Les gouts et les couleurs ne se discutent pas.


When’s a Sonnet not a Sonnet? When it’s No. 126..

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on September 22, 2013 by telescoper

Every now and then I like to post one of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Of the entire collection of 154 this one, No. 126, is undoubtedly the strangest. It marks the end of the series of poems addressed to an unknown young man and is thought to have been given to the fair youth on his 27th birthday, marking the end of a relationship that lasted nine years. The following sonnets are addressed to another unknown person, but of the opposite Experts generally regard it as a kind of envoi, which is normally a short stanza at the end of a long poem, but in this case it is a poem in itself occurring at the end of a sequence. What’s strange about it is that it isn’t actually a sonnet at all. It consists of twelve lines rather than the usual fourteen, but the missing two lines are presented in most editions as two pairs of parentheses as shown below. Moreover, the rhyme scheme (consisting of six couplets) doesn’t fit with the pattern of the rest of the Sonnets, so even if he had filled in the two blanks at the end it would still have been an oddity.

So what was the reason for this curious verse? Perhaps Shakespeare deleted the final couplet because he felt the lines were somehow inappropriate? Perhaps he meant the fair youth to finish it himself, or issue an invitation to others to do likewise? Perhaps the poem is simply unfinished? Perhaps the poet wanted to demonstrate that the relationship with his beloved ended prematurely.

More likely than any of these interpretations, in my opinion, is that furnished by looking at the typical structure of a Shakespearean Sonnet. The last two lines usually express the poet’s consolation in the face of what has come before. Here there is none. It’s over. Read it in this light and I think it becomes even more moving to anyone who has experienced any kind of love and has had to face the fact that it is finally over.

O thou, my lovely boy, who in thy power
Dost hold Time’s fickle glass, his sickle, hour;
Who hast by waning grown, and therein show’st
Thy lovers withering, as thy sweet self grow’st.
If Nature, sovereign mistress over wrack,
As thou goest onwards, still will pluck thee back,
She keeps thee to this purpose, that her skill
May time disgrace and wretched minutes kill.
Yet fear her, O thou minion of her pleasure!
She may detain, but not still keep, her treasure:
Her audit (though delayed) answered must be,
And her quietus is to render thee.
(        )
(        )

Sonnet No. 6

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on January 21, 2013 by telescoper

Then let not winter’s ragged hand deface,
In thee thy summer, ere thou be distilled:
Make sweet some vial; treasure thou some place
With beauty’s treasure ere it be self-killed.
That use is not forbidden usury,
Which happies those that pay the willing loan;
That’s for thy self to breed another thee,
Or ten times happier, be it ten for one;
Ten times thy self were happier than thou art,
If ten of thine ten times refigured thee:
Then what could death do if thou shouldst depart,
Leaving thee living in posterity?
Be not self-willed, for thou art much too fair
To be death’s conquest and make worms thine heir.

Sonnet No. 6, by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Now is the Winter of our Discontent

Posted in Literature with tags , , on January 3, 2013 by telescoper