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All The World's A Stage - the Shakespeare thread

Discussion in 'Visual Arts' started by JozefK, Apr 23, 2016.

  1. Steve Minkin

    Steve Minkin Forum Resident

    Healdsburg CA

    This series opens with the rival poet sonnets, which run from 78 to 86, with the interruption of 81.

    Sonnet 78 – the beloved's beauty enhances the poetry of other poets,

    "Have added feathers to the learned's wing
    And given grace a double majesty."

    But this poet has no poetry but that which is inspired by you:

    "But thou art all my art . . ."

    This doubling of “art” is antanaclasis, a homonymic pun, the repetition of a word in different sense.

    The other poets have their art ornamented by the beloved's beauty, but this poet has no poetry at all without the beloved. Booth glosses the line as "the beloved's being and the speaker's art are one and the same."

    79 – Sonnet 53 envisions the beloved as the Platonic source of all beauty, Adonis and Helen were lesser imitations of him; in this sonnet, whatever graces the rival poet shows in his work derive from the beloved. Whatever virtue can be found in his work was taken from the subject in the first place. Booth points out the internal rhyme in the opening two lines: "alone did call" and "alone had all."

    80 – Booth writes: "This sonnet uses many words used elsewhere in sexual senses . . .; none of them is activated here, but their concentration gives the poem vague sexual overtones." The poet and his rival are ships on the great ocean that is the beloved. Shakespeare's boat is a "saucy bark, inferior far to his," and because it has a small draught it can exist in the shallows of the lover's favor; the rival's "tall" ship "upon your soundless deep doth ride . . ."

    81 is nine squared, a single sonnet break from the rival poet series, the last of 'the climacteric sonnets' (along with 43, 63, and 77, believed to be numerologically significant ages). The poet looks ahead to the day when both he and the lover are dead, he will be forgotten but the lover will live on the verse of the poet. The mannered humility of the previous rival poet sonnets are gone, now the poet promises the lover immortality in his verses. We may find ourselves actively identifying with the poet's readers of the future:

    " . . . eyes not yet created shall o'er-read;
    And tongues to be your being shall rehearse,
    When all the breathers of this world are dead;
    You still shall live, such virtue hath my pen,
    Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men."

    82 & 83 – On the theme of the artistry that the rival poet brings to his descriptions of the beloved, but because the subject's beauty is perfect, the elaborate praises have the effect of killing it. Shakespeare describes the beloved plainly, because his beauty needs no elaboration. The second of these poems seems to suggest that the lover mistook the poet's lack of extravagant praise as a slight, but the poet knows his restraint issues from the futility of using rhetoric to enhance the lover's true virtues.

    84 – Continues the theme of the previous sonnets in noting the futility of writing flowery poetry about that which is beyond comparison. And the praise the other poets lavish on the youth, and the praise the youth bestows on the other poet(s), cheapen the praises of both of them, and only encourages more false praise from the other poet.

    The first four lines are pregnant with suggestions but "ambiguous, complex, opaque and elusive all at the same time." ( from a good site for the sonnets: (Shakespeare's Sonnets )

    Booth suggests that the puzzling lines are a "stylistic palimpsest."

    85 – The rival poet poet writes so beautifully (words and perhaps calligraphy, too), that Shakespeare can only stand by tongue-tied:

    "I think good thoughts, whilst others write good words,
    And like unlettered clerk still cry 'Amen'"

    This recalls Richard II: "God save The King! Will no man say 'Amen'?/

    Am I then both priest and clerk? Well then, Amen."

    The rival speaks with his grand words, the poet shows his devotion wordlessly.

    86 – The last of the rival poet series, and Shakespeare tells the youth he is not blocked from writing by the rival's skill, or by the spirits of past great writers that visit the rival at night and inspire him to write better than the reach of human talent. None of that caused him to lose heart; but when the youth looked with favor on the rival's poem, "Then lacked I matter, that enfeebled mine." Oxford, like the playShakespeare notes I mentioned earlier, like Chapman as the rival poet, in part because Chapman claimed to have been inspired by Homer when he translated his works; Booth likes Chapman as the leading candidate "because he wrote both pompously and well."

    87 – Written as though the bond between the poet and the lover has already been broken, the poet was never worthy of him, and the whole affair was like a dream from which he has now awakened. The sonnet opens:

    "Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing,
    And like enough thou know'st thy estimate,"

    The Oxford edition notes "a sardonic edge here ('and don't you just know it')"

    88 – 89 -90 Three linked sonnets expanding on the theme of 87 (and 49), looking forward to the day when the youth will reject the poet, and the poet will take the lover's part, expanding upon all the poet's faults and assuming all the faults are his own, again taking the other's part against himself. 89 itemizes ways in which he will help the youth make him look bad.

    "For thee, against my self I'll vow debate,
    For I must ne'er love him whom thou dost hate."

    In 89 we have: "Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt," usually taken to mean, Announce a fault of mine and I will demonstrate it to make you look good, although a minority of scholars see evidence of Shakespeare's own infirmity in the line, and – more interestingly – Booth sees it as referring to the writing of poetry, " . . . metrically clumsy verses are called lame or said to halt . . . metric units are called feet."

    The closing couplet of 89 is: "For thee, against my self I'll vow debate,
    For I must ne'er love him whom thou dost hate."

    And 90 opens by expanding on those lines:

    "Then hate me when thou wilt; if ever, now"

    And begs the youth that when the time comes for him to be dumped, he should do it right away, not at the end of a string of minor rejections.

    "If thou wilt leave me, do not leave me last,
    When other petty griefs have done their spite,"

    91-92-93 Three linked sonnets on the theme of the love of the beloved being a greater treasure than anything else, and how that makes the poet vulnerable to having nothing if the beloved turns from him. In 92 the poet says he will die as soon as the beloved turns his affections away from him, so he can't be troubled by the youth's inconstancy, he'll die as soon as he is slighted. But then he wonders if he lover might be false to him without his knowing. Booth notes that 92 contains many words and themes found in Two Gentlemen of Verona. "Thou mayst be false, and yet I know it not." This could apply to the past, present or future – the speaker does not know if he already has, is currently being, or will in the future be betrayed.

    93 supposes that youth is false, and the poet must live "Like a deceived husband," because the youth's face will only show love, even if his heart is false; like Eve's apple, beautiful but evil.

    Booth calls 93 "a stylistic mirror of the speaker's indecision," constructed so the reader is constantly swinging between positive and negative responses. The poem opens "They that have power to hurt, and will do none . . .

    Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
    Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow;
    They rightly do inherit heaven's graces."

    Past interpretations tended to see this as praising a detached and cool personality, capable of moving others while remaining unmoved himself; but more recent scholarship has tended to see it in the context of the surrounding sonnets, as speaking of a split between the outward beauty of the youth and his fickleness.

    "Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds." = the poem's final line, proverbial, also appears word for word in the anonymous play "The Reign of King Edward the Third" (1596).

    95 – 96 – The poet warns the youth of the dangers to his reputation. The youth is so splendid that even reports of his bad behavior (sexual infidelities are suggested) are given a positive spin just by being associated with him, "beauty's veil doth cover every blot." The poet warns the beloved that misuse of his privilege will ruin him: "The hardest knife ill-used doth lose his edge." Lust is suggested earlier in the poem, so the final line has sexual suggestions, like this exchange in Hamlet:


    You are keen, my lord, you are keen.


    It would cost you a groaning to take off mine edge.

    96 expands on the idea that the youth's beauty transforms his wantonness to charm. The poet wonders how much success a wolf would have if he could look like a sheep (a wolf in sheep's clothing), as the lover looks like a beautiful and virtuous young man and could corrupt others with his power. The sonnet's final couplet is identical to 36, although with a somewhat different meaning.

    "But do not so, I love thee in such sort,
    As thou being mine, mine is thy good report."

    In 36, the emphasis is on the beloved not losing his virtue, in 96 the emphasis is on not deceiving other lovers – in both cases, the poet is so closely identified with the beloved it reflects on him, too.

    I have nine of our eleven readers' selections – still waiting on a couple.

  2. Steve Minkin

    Steve Minkin Forum Resident

    Healdsburg CA

    We're still looking at Wednesday, August 12, 6:00, for our Zoomed sonnets reading. I've received preferred selections from ten of you, one would like me to assign them sonnets, and one is still unaccounted for. I should have the reading order ready by Monday.

    "The combination of apparent simplicity and demonstrable difficulty is perhaps the commonest trait of the sonnets." Booth, notes to 107

    Sonnets 97-98-99 return to the theme of separation from the lover. It is not clear here if the separation is physical or an estrangement. In 97, the poet says the time away from the youth is like winter, although it had actually been during the summer and a fruitful fall. The poet recalls that he was away from the lover in the spring, but never marveled at the new blooms since all their beauty and fragrance was just a shadow of the youth's. 99 is the only fifteen line sonnet in the cycle, expanding on the floral themes of 98, itemizing the flowers and what they have stolen from the beloved.
    "The forward violet thus did I chide:
    Sweet thief, whence didst thou steal thy sweet that smells,
    If not from my love's breath?"

    The Folger edition notes that the poem is so similar to this sonnet by Henry Constable The First Decade. Sonnet IX. My Lady's presence makes the Roses red. Henry Constable (1562-1613). Diana. Seccombe and Arber, comps. 1904. Elizabethan Sonnets
    that it has been suggested that one is a reworking of the other (no one is quite sure which came first) or perhaps both were submissions to the same contest.

    100-101-102-103 all deal with the poet not writing about the lover, from whom he draws all inspiration. He regrets wasting his verse on 'base subjects' and appeals to his muse to speak to him of the beloved. The poet will survey his lover's face for any signs of aging, and if he finds any he will make men ridicule and despise the works of Time, and he resolves to outrun Time:
    "Give my love fame faster than Time wastes life;
    So thou prevent'st his scythe and crooked knife."
    101 has the poet berating himself for failing to continue to write about the lover.
    "Because he needs no praise, wilt thou be dumb?"
    And the poet cannot excuse his silence, because it up to him to
    "make him much outlive a gilded tomb,
    And to be praised of ages yet to be."

    102 argues that although he publicly broadcasts his love less than others, he loves more, and those who promote their love turn it into a commodity. Sometimes the poet keeps silent so as not to bore the lover, "sweets grown common lose their dear delight."

    103 opens "Alack, what poverty my Muse brings forth," and wonders what he could possibly add to the perfection that is the lover, any attempt to embellish the youth only mars him. ("Striving to better, oft we mar what's well." Lear)

    The Oxford edition notes that studies suggest that sonnets 104 – 126 were composed later than the other sonnets to the young man, based on comparing usage of 'early rare words' and 'late rare words.' (Sonnets 127 – 154 are almost all 'dark lady' sonnets, although he never once calls her a lady.)

    104 – Reflects on the three years that have passed since he first met the youth, who has not seemed to have aged although the poet knows he must have. His aging moves as imperceptibly as the dial hand on a sundial, which appears to stand still although we know it moves. Future generations should know that beauty's apex had passed before they were born.

    Booth notes the epizeuxis (repetition of a sound with no intervening sound) at the end of the second line: "For as you were when first your eye I eyed," and supposes it seemed more graceful in Shakespeare's time.

    105 – Booth calls this sonnet a "playful lesson in perversity."

    "Let not my love be call'd idolatry" is the ironic opening of an adoring sonnet, claiming it is not pagan idolatry but suggesting a Christian adoration that idolizes the youth. The poet argues that his devotion is to a single person, so it is not idolatry. The sonnet repeats the trinity of virtues the youth embodies – "Fair, kind and true" – and claims that although those virtues can be found in others, the youth is the first to embody all of them.

    In Elizabeth's time, idolatry was most commonly used to describe Catholic worship of saints, the Virgin Mary, relics, etc. Booth notes that although idolatry suggested polytheism, it does not follow as the poet suggests that all monotheisms (even those with embedded trinities) are orthodox.

    106 – The poet reads classic poems praising the beauty and virtue of knights and maids, and knows they were just prefiguring the coming of the beloved. They lacked the model of perfection that he was; today's writers have him to look upon, but lack the skill to describe him.

    107 – This sonnet is considered by many to be the most difficult in the cycle. It has also been the subject of intense scrutiny over the centuries since it seems to refer to contemporary events. Although there are no shortage of candidates, there has never been anything approaching a consensus on the subjects. Booth laments the fact that most scholars no longer question whether or not the events of the sonnet have correspondences in the history of the times, they move directly to the questions of what the references are and their dates. "There is a theory for almost every year from 1588 – 1609." The central event is an eclipse of the moon, which could be an allusion to the defeat of the Spanish Armada or any of a number of events related to Queen Elizabeth. The "sad augers" that have been disproved are possibly the predictions of disaster following the death of the queen and the coronation of James. At the end of the poem is a second event, the beloved youth seems to have been released from imprisonment, with at least two obvious candidates – the release of the Earl of Southampton (our leading candidate for The Youth) from The Tower in 1603 or the Earl of Pembroke from Fleet Street Prison in 1601. A rabbit hole of unconfirmable hypotheses.

    108 – The poet asks what can he say new about the beloved. He answers that although the has nothing new to add,
    " . . . like prayers divine,
    I must, each day say o'er the very same"
    so that the eternal love is renewed and made to seem as fresh as when love was new.

    109 argues that although the poet may have strayed during their absences, he was never "false of heart," and the lover's breast
    "is my home of love: if I have ranged,
    Like him that travels I return again,"
    The poet notes that, like a good traveler, he returns at just the right time. Booth finds this "Falstaff-like gall" in equating the travels of a journeyer with the promiscuous adventures of a untrue lover, the grossness of the argument enhanced by the capricious introduction of the virtue of punctuality into the discussion. The poet concludes his strained argument by declaring he would never leave the highest good, the beloved, for the worthless, which would be everything else.

    110 – The poet confesses his many infidelities to the lover, but says they have rejuvenated him and made him realize how inferior everybody else is compared to the beloved. So the poet is through with other lovers, and will now devote himself entirely to the lover. Curious doubling of words in the last line:
    "thy pure and most most loving breast."
    The "most most" is usually and aptly read as 'very very,' but Booth points out that the phrase can also be taken to mean that the lover is the "'most many-loving,' 'most promiscuous.'"

    111 – 112 The poet blames Fortune for his lot in life, probably referring to his life as a stage actor, and regrets that it reflects badly on the lover. Acting in the theater was considered a low calling, exposing oneself in public and to the common elements of society, and it was a employment that has left its "brand" upon him as plainly as "the dyer's hand." The references to the eisel (vinegar) cures may suggest a different grievance with fortune, perhaps a venereal disease. 112 opens by declaring that the poet's "vulgar scandal" is erased if the beloved looks favorably, with "love and pity," since his opinion is the only one that matters.
    "Your love and pity doth the impression fill
    Which vulgar scandal stamp'd upon my brow;
    For what care I who calls me well or ill,
    So you o'er-green my bad, my good allow?"
    "o'er-green" is the poet's coinage.

    Booth's notes on the sonnets contain four extended passages that apply to many sonnets embedded in the text, the first of which concludes his notes for 112. This concerns cruxes, which are literary passages that are so difficult or corrupted for one reason or another that the lines are impossible to determine or interpret, and this poem's lines 7, 8 and 14 all fall into that category. After exploring a variety of reasons why lines may become corrupted, Booth suggests that the three lines in question from 112 are markers left by Shakespeare in an unfinished or abandoned poem. As mentioned, Booth is big on "verbal side effects," word and thematic associations that may not be picked up consciously; he thinks the odd lines contain the words Shakespeare wanted to use, but that he couldn't successfully tie them into the overall theme of the poem.

    113 – 114 "Since I left you, mine eye is in my mind" opens 113, and the poet's eyesight is so blinded by thoughts of the beloved that he sees him in all things.
    " . . . replete with you,
    My most true mind thus makes mine eye untrue."

    114 wonders if these untruths of eyesight are not, in fact, a greater truth by alchemically transforming all shapes into the beloved. Maybe the eyesight is serving up to the poet what he likes best. But no, the poet knows the truth is that the eye is deceiving him. The closing lines imagine the poet's eyesight to be the chef, preparing a vision for the mind, and the official taster, prepared the see if the vision is poisoned. If it is, then a sin of the senses (eyesight) is a lesser sin than a sin of the mind.

    115 The poet admits that the lines he wrote in past years were lies, when he said he could not love the youth more. At the time, the poet feared the damage to love that time could bring. But he failed to realize that "Love is a babe" (Cupid) and time could also "give full growth to that which still doth grow."

    116 "Let me not to the marriage of true minds
    Admit impediments. Love is not love
    Which alters when it alteration finds"
    "This is the most universally admired of Shakespeare's sonnets," says Booth, in the opening to the second of the lengthy essays embedded in his notes, this one "On the special grandeur of the best sonnets." Booth writes that the more you think about the sonnet, the less there seems to be to it, and that one can demonstrate it is merely bombast – and yet one need only "reread the poem to be again moved by it and convinced of its greatness."
    The lines of the poem are "immediately clear," but much of their power comes from being "both simple and straightforward and simultaneously so complexly wondrous . . ."
    Note that the overall theme of the permanence of love is undercut by the admissions that 'rosy lips and cheeks' will fall victim to Time's sickle, and love itself has "brief hours and weeks."
    For Booth, the poem is valued not for its assertions of absolute love, but for its own power, so "certain o'er incertainty" (115). The poem's "triviality, irrelevancy, and baseness of the sexual innuendo" all contribute to the poem seeming "general, all-inclusive, absolute, grandly simplistic . . . both absolute and absolutely true."

    Here's Patrick Stewart reading the sonnet:

  3. Steve Minkin

    Steve Minkin Forum Resident

    Healdsburg CA
    Next to last batch!

    Sonnets 117 – 118 – 119 – 120 Although the tone of 117 is very different from 116 ("Let me not to the marriage of true minds . . ."), they share many words in common, including the rhyming words of the final couplets of both sonnets. 117 invites the lover to fault the poet for his infidelities, and the poet's defense is that he was testing the beloved's constancy.
    118 speaks of preventing "maladies unseen" by the then fashionable medical practice of purging: "We sicken to shun sickness when we purge . . ." And the poet's infidelities are like these medicinal purges. But the poet has learned he "brought medicine to a healthful state."
    Alchemy and Medicine were related studies in those times:


    119 regrets the poet's transgressions, but finds
    "That better is by evil still made better;
    And ruin'd love, when it is built anew,
    Grows fairer than at first, more strong, far greater."

    120 regrets the poet's wanderings but remembers how much he was hurt in the past by the infidelities of the lover. They have both hurt each other, understand the pain they have caused the other, and must forgive each other:
    "But that your trespass now becomes a fee;
    Mine ransoms yours, and yours must ransom me."

    121 The poet says he would rather be vile than be thought of as vile. Even legitimate pleasures are diminished if others perceive them as vile. And who are these vile people to spy on me and judge me? Unless they believe all men are evil and thrive through their evil.

    122 Back in sonnet 77, the poet gave the youth "tables" to be written in. This sonnet speaks of tables (a blank book or a tablet with erasable pages) that the lover gave to the poet. The poet no longer has the book, and tries to explain away why he hasn't kept it, saying that his memory hold so much more than he could have written in the tables, "To trust those tables that receive thee more," memory is a better way to remember his face. Also, keeping a written record would suggest the poet was forgetful.
    The poem is ambiguous as to whether or not the lover had already written in the book before giving it to the poet.
    Booth notes the contradiction between this poem's emphasis on the superiority of memory compared with the claims of durability and even immortality for the written word contained in so many other sonnets.

    123 Revisits the idea that there is nothing new under the sun, adding to it the notion that Time tries to trick us into thinking novelties are being created. "Our dates are brief," but the poet vows to remain true despite Time's scythe.

    124 Booth labels 124 "the most extreme example of Shakespeare's constructive vagueness." The obvious gloss is that the poet's love is not born of circumstances, and it is not affected by circumstances, it is eternal and beyond the politics and accidents of the world, "subject to Time's love or to Time's hate." But this is a dense poem not well served by a simple gloss, and Booth writes that even the best glosses on the poem's particulars "do very little to explain how it achieves its grandeur."

    125 finds the poet defending himself against charges by a "suborn'd informer"
    that his love for the youth is somehow tainted.

    126 is the farewell poem to the beloved youth, the only 12 line poem in the cycle, six rhymed couplets, the final two empty lines marked with parentheses in the 1609 Quarto (most likely the typesetter's marks, expecting the couplet to be supplied later). The lover is called a "lovely boy," a phrase Shakespeare uses only once elsewhere, to describe Titania's Indian boy that Oberon covets. Nature has kept the boy young, although his lovers around him all grow older. But the poet warns him that although Nature may delay his aging and death, they are inevitable. "Thou owest God a death," says Prince Hal.

    Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote in 1882 "There should be an essential reform in the printing of Shakespeare's sonnets. After sonnet CXXV should occur the words End of Part I. The couplet piece, numbered CXXVI, should be called Epilogue to Part I. Then, before CXXVII, should be printed Part II. After CLII should be put End of Part II - and the last two sonnets should be called Epilogue to Part II."

    With 127 we begin the Dark Lady of the Sonnets section, last in the quarto but the earliest to be written. 127 shares many words and themes with Berowne's speeches about Rosaline in LLL, IV, iii, 228 – 70. The poet writes than in the past black was not considered beautiful, but now that cosmetics can make any woman fair, black is becoming the new beauty fashion. In the influential 19th Century edition edited by former world chess champion Howard Staunton, the repetition of "eyes" in 9 & 10 is eliminated by substituting "brows" for the first "eye," a reasonable substitution since black brows are mentioned in LLL and elsewhere in the plays. Our editions will vary.

    128 sees the poet dazzled by the virginal (like a small harpsichord) playing of his dark mistress, and wishes to be the instrument so her fingers can run all over him.
    "I envy those jacks that nimble leap
    To kiss the tender inward of thy hand"
    Jacks are part of the virginal's mechanism to pluck the strings; also a fellow, a chap, a knave – the poet's rivals for her affections.
    Desiring to be the mistress's instrument or something else she lovingly handles was a common conceit of the time. Ben Jonson has his Fastidious Brisk envy his lover's viola de gamba, other writers wish to be their mistresses' lapdog, glove, or a glass of wine passing through her and eliminated as urine
    "Or that sweet wine which down her throat doth trickle,
    To kiss her lips, and lie next at her heart,
    Run through her veins, and pass by Pleasure's part!"
    Barnabe Barnes

    128 finishes with this not so subtly sexual couplet:
    "Since saucy jacks so happy are in this,
    Give them thy fingers, me thy lips to kiss."

    129 moves from the barely subtle sexual to the overt:
    "The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
    Is lust in action . . ."
    Anticipation of sex makes men "savage, extreme, rude, cruel," and yet
    "Enjoy'd no sooner but despised straight"
    The Folger edition prefaces the poem with: "This sonnet describes what Booth calls 'the life cycle of lust'—a moment of bliss preceded by madness and followed by despair."
    The couplet closes with the idea that everyone knows this but nobody avoids it.

    130 "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
    Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
    If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun"
    His mistress is the opposite of all the conventions of beauty, and yet is as beautiful as any overpraised woman.

    131 Some say the mistress is not beautiful enough to tyrannize a lover, and Petrarchian lovers were traditionally tyrannous – pitiless and controlling. But the mistress knows how beautiful she is, and how to use that to control men.
    "In nothing art thou black save in thy deeds"
    The "slander" of the last line is line 6:
    "Thy face hath not the power to make love groan"

    132 The poet loves the mistress's black eyes, which seem to be pitying him, and he urges her heart to join her eyes in feeling pity for him.

    133 – 134 As in 40-42, the poet's friend is now the poet's rival for the love of the mistress. In the earlier sonnets, the friend has stolen the mistress's affections; in these, the friend is hooked on the mistress harder than the poet, and the poet offers his heart up as ransom to release his friend from her tyranny. Many critics believe all these poems refer to the same mistress and friend and were written at the same time, the poems written for the youth and those written for the woman separated for the quarto edition. 134 expands on the use of financial contracts to describe the situation: forfeit, surety-like, bond, statute, usurer, sue, debtor . . . The poet's friend only got involved with the mistress to help him, he wrote a bond for the poet, and now the mistress has exacted usurer's fees on the friend and completely owns both him and the poet.

    "Sonnets 135 and 136 are festivals of verbal ingenuity in which much of the fun derives from the grotesque lengths the speaker goes to for a maximum number and concentration of puns on will." (Booth) The word "will" occurs twenty times in the two sonnets. The poet is pleading for a place among the mistress's many lovers, so many his addition will barely be noticed:
    "Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy 'Will,'
    And 'Will' to boot, and 'Will' in overplus . . .
    Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacious,
    Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine?
    . . . thou, being rich in 'Will,' add to thy 'Will'
    One will of mine, to make thy large 'Will' more . . ."

    136 continues the sport, adding 'full+fill' to the game with 'will.'
    "Thus far for love my love-suit, sweet, fulfil.
    'Will' will fulfil the treasure of thy love,
    Ay, fill it full with wills, and my will one. . .
    Make but my name thy love, and love that still,
    And then thou lovest me, for my name is 'Will.'"
    The poet seems to be responding to some rejection or distancing of him by the mistress.

    137 The poet berates his eye and heart for leading him to love a woman who is neither beautiful nor faithful.
    " . . . in the bay where all men ride . . .
    . . . the wide world's common place . . .
    In things right true my heart and eyes have erred,
    And to this false plague are they now transferr'd."

    138 "When my love swears that she is made of truth
    I do believe her, though I know she lies"
    She tells untruths, and she lies with men.
    He pretends he is naive enough to believe her lies so she will think he's a younger man, although she knows he's not.
    "O, love's best habit is in seeming trust," which is to say the pretense of mutual fidelity is the best dress for love.
    The poem finishes with another play on the two primary meanings of "lie":
    "Therefore I lie with her and she with me,
    And in our faults by lies we flatter'd be."

  4. Steve Minkin

    Steve Minkin Forum Resident

    Healdsburg CA
    Good morning!

    139 finds the poet unforgiving of the mistress, pleading with her not to flirt with others while he is there. The poet then changes his mind, and asks the mistress to kill him directly with her look.

    140 has the poet urging the mistress to tell him she loves him even though she doesn't or he will go mad, and if he goes mad he may write about her and tell the world of her wickedness. And the world is now so debased, he will be believed:
    "Now this ill-wresting world is grown so bad,
    Mad slanderers by mad ears believed be"

    In 141, the poet says he does not love the mistress with his eyes, which can see all her faults, or with his ears, or any of his "fives wits nor my five senses," none of which can "Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee."

    In 142 the poet accuses the mistress of withholding herself from him not out of chaste modesty but because she's too busy with all her other lovers. He advises her to show pity for him, because it may serve her well when the day comes when she is in need of pity.

    In 142 9-10, the poet chases the mistress who chases another lover. In 143 this image is redrawn as a housewife who is distracted from caring for her baby by a runaway chicken. She chases after the chicken while the baby cries out for her and chases her. The poet is the baby, who begs the mistress to
    " . . . turn back to me,
    And play the mother's part, kiss me, be kind."

    144 has the poet talking of good and bad angels, one gives comfort and the other despair, the fair-haired boy and the evil woman. The mistress is trying to woo the boy away from the poet, and turn him into a devil.

    145 is, according to Booth, "the slightest of sonnets." It alone is in tetrameter, all rhyming couplets, and is probably the earliest of all the poems. There is an apparent pun on Anne Hathaway:
    "'I hate' from hate away she threw,
    And saved my life, saying 'not you.'”
    Booth hears the pun "Anne saved my life" in the last line.
    The Folger edition questions whether her name was Hathaway – the marriage certificate has her once as Hathwey and once as Whateley.

    146 is a meditation on the soul and body, questioning why the poet spends so much time tending to the hungers of the body, and advises him to "Buy terms divine . . . Within be fed, without be rich no more."

    147-148-149-150 all deal with the vileness of his dark mistress
    Given the vitriol leveled at the mistress, one wonders who the poem were meant for. The mistress, the youth, the public . . . all make one uneasy. The author was a man who could create characters like Rosalind and Imogene and yet also leave his wife his second-best bed; who knows what he was actually like with women?

    147 – The poet's love for his mistress is like a disease. He has ignored the advice of his reason, so now his reason has left him, he is desperate, he is a madman.
    "Past cure I am, now reason is past care . . .
    For I have sworn thee fair and thought thee bright,
    Who art as black as hell, as dark as night."

    148 has the poet turning again to berate his lying eyes, eyes that tell him his mistress is beautiful although his own judgment and the rest of the world says she is not.
    " . . . how can Love's eye be true,
    That is so vex'd with watching and with tears?
    . . .
    O cunning Love! with tears thou keep'st me blind,
    Lest eyes well-seeing thy foul faults should find."

    149 The dark lady is called "cruel" in the opening line. The word is used eight times in the cycle, once to advise the youth not be cruel to himself, but never calling the youth cruel. Five of the eight usages are applied to the mistress.
    The poet again appeals to his lover for kindness and attention, pleading that he has proven himself to her, that he has turned on himself to please her.
    "Who hateth thee that I do call my friend?
    On whom frown'st thou that I do fawn upon?"
    The closing couplet is strong, but something of a non-sequitur. The poet is blind to her faults, but she likes lovers who can see her for what she is.
    "But, love, hate on, for now I know thy mind;
    Those that can see thou lovest, and I am blind."
    Note the "love, hate" oxymoron embedded in the next to last line, "love" being a vocative here.

    150 has the poet wondering where the mistress got her power from, the power to snare him, to make him think her beautiful, to make him love her more with every new reason to hate her. The fact that he is so under her power shows that he was meant for her, she should embrace him as her true follower.
    "If thy unworthiness raised love in me,
    More worthy I to be beloved of thee"

    151 is a poem saturated with sexual innuendo.
    " . . . thou betraying me, I do betray
    My nobler part to my gross body’s treason.
    My soul doth tell my body that he may
    Triumph in love; flesh stays no farther reason"
    The poet is proud of the mistress, content to be her "poor drudge," and
    "for whose dear love I rise and fall."
    Seymour-Smith describes the theme of poem as "involuntary lust" and writes of the last line, " . . . the point is, it is
    not a metaphor."

    152 finds the poet accusing the mistress of breaking her marriage vows by sleeping with him, but admits that he has broken twenty oaths. And some of the lies he tells himself and others which he had previously blamed on the mistress, he now blames on himself.

    The closing poems of the cycle, 153 -154, are based on a poem from Greek mythology, Cupid falls asleep and leaves his love-torch with the Nymphs. They try to cool it off by plunging it into a fountain, which heats up the fountain and creates a healing bath. The poet bathes there, but is not cured, saying his only cure is to bathe in his mistress's eyes.
    Hot baths and hot springs were prized as cures for venereal disease.

    154 retells the tale of Cupid and the Nymphs, concluding with:
    " . . . from Love’s fire took heat perpetual,
    Growing a bath and healthful remedy
    For men diseased; but I, my mistress’ thrall,
    Came there for cure, and this by that I prove:
    Love’s fire heats water; water cools not love."
    This echoes The Song of Songs:
    "Much water cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it . . ."

    Program for our reading to follow soon,

  5. Steve Minkin

    Steve Minkin Forum Resident

    Healdsburg CA

    Reading the sonnets turned out to be an excellent fit for the Zoom format -- an extended sequence of solo readings (rather than the complex dramatic interactions of a play) seems to work well for the grid of faces on the screen. So we'll work with this 'short form' approach while we're limited to Zoom readings, and indefinitely postpone our reading of Cymbeline until we can actually all be together again. Tonight's reading was a brisk 90 minutes, and the shorter session also seemed appropriate for the medium. We had eleven readers.

    Our 44 'pick of the litter' sonnets produced some moving readings, witty comments, and heartfelt appreciations. Even with the limitations of Zoom, it was one of our memorable sessions.

    For our next reading, perhaps mid-October, let's self-select favorite passages from the plays, the unread sonnets, or the longer poems. Let's keep our selections in the range of 90 – 120 lines. They can be one long section or several short bits. First come/first served for rights to read a passage, claims office is open now.
  6. Steve Minkin

    Steve Minkin Forum Resident

    Healdsburg CA
    Here's a link to a bizarre little short from MGM, 'Master Will Shakespeare,' (1936) directed by Jacques Tourneur, presented as a brief biopic but actually a promotion for the studio's upcoming release of Romeo and Juliet (Leslie Howard, Norma Shearer, John Barrymore, Basil Rathbone). Best of all is the story that Will was first hired to tend the horses at The Blackfriars, then as a prompter, and -- because his improvised prompts were better than the original text -- eventually as a playwright. It's a great story, made entirely out of whole cloth.

  7. Steve Minkin

    Steve Minkin Forum Resident

    Healdsburg CA


    Today is the 57th anniversary of the assassination of JFK. And I'm sure this group knows which two 20th Century literary figures also died on the same day.
    We're still on track to read Cymbeline on December 16, call for readers on December 2.

    Time to take a look at the Harold Bloom's uncomplimentary thoughts on Cymbeline.

    We noted earlier that the play has elicited a wide range of critical evaluation. Samuel Johnson found it a work of "unresisting imbecility, . . . faults too evident for detection, and too gross for aggravation." Lytton Strachey believed the play was proof that Shakespeare had grown bored with life, people, drama, everything but poetry. GB Shaw called it "stagey trash of the lowest melodramatic order."

    But Hazlitt and Keats loved the play, and it was one of the most popular of all the plays in the 19th Century. Swinburne called Imogen "the godhead of womanhood" and Arthur Quiller-Couch deemed her "the be-all and end-all of the play."

    Marjorie Garber and WH Auden have unique spins on the play.
    Garber finds the play 'altogether fabulous.' She concedes Bloom's point that the play is full of cliches, but argues that Shakespeare successfully embodies and expands upon literary and folk cliches, "turning away from mimesis, from the direct imitation of human action, toward epiphany and transcendence . . . " And Auden chooses his lecture on Cymbeline to dive into Aldous Huxley's interesting suggestion of a collection of 'late works' by certain artists -- Verdi's Falstaff, Beethoven's last quartets, Goya's late works, Shakespeare's late Romances . . . works in which the artist is advancing his own work artistically, in new ways, without regard for public or critical acclaim, and is more concerned with working out artistic problems for their own sake than in producing any effects."

    So, with those qualifiers and alternative evaluations of the play, let's look at Bloom's dimmer views on the play. "What was he [Shakespeare] trying to do for himself as a maker of plays by the heap of self-parodies that constitute Cymbeline?"
    "Authorial self-parody is a defense, one not at all easy to categorize. The Old Man and The Sea is Hemingway's Cymbeline, Faulkner has too many to list."
    He asks if Cymbeline is "a kind of zany romance, akin to the particularly effective erotic comedy in Twelfth Night? No one, at least since Swinburne, would consider Cymbeline a play as eminent as Twelfth Night, one of Shakespeare's twelve to fifteen or so masterworks . . ."
    Posthumous is "surely Shakespeare's most tiresome hero," who "joins the large company of Shakespearean husbands and lovers totally unworthy of their women."

    Bloom's most savage criticism is saved for Posthumous' bizarre dream sequence, wondering why "Shakespeare turned to doggerel here I do not know, but he certainly made it as bad as possible."
    First Brother.: When once he was mature for man,
    In Britain where was he
    That could stand up his parallel;
    Or fruitful object be
    In eye of Imogen, that best
    Could deem his dignity (V, iv)
    "That would go very well in my favorite anthology of bad verse, The Stuffed Owl, and has to be a parody of a parody."

    Bloom is not bothered by the "incongruities" that Johnson criticized -- he concedes that it is jarring "when Posthumous is exiled from ancient Britain to Renaissance Italy," but he thinks this is just Shakespeare flaunting his freedom.

    And Bloom never fails to give Imogene her due as a character whose inwardness and depth come alive, and she outgrows her play, like Hamlet, Falstaff, and Shylock. He writes that whenever Imogene speaks, "self-parody stops," and he cites this passage:
    O, for a horse with wings! Hear'st thou, Pisanio?
    He is at Milford-Haven: read, and tell me
    How far 'tis thither. If one of mean affairs
    May plod it in a week, why may not I
    Glide thither in a day? Then, true Pisanio,—
    Who long'st, like me, to see thy lord; who long'st,—
    let me bate,-but not like me—yet long'st,
    But in a fainter kind:—O, not like me;
    For mine's beyond beyond—say, and speak thick;
    Love's counsellor should fill the bores of hearing,
    To the smothering of the sense—how far it is
    To this same blessed Milford: and by the way
    Tell me how Wales was made so happy as
    To inherit such a haven: but first of all,
    How we may steal from hence, and for the gap
    That we shall make in time, from our hence-going
    And our return, to excuse: but first, how get hence:
    Why should excuse be born or e'er begot?
    We'll talk of that hereafter. Prithee, speak,
    How many score of miles may we well ride
    'Twixt hour and hour? (III, ii)
    And Bloom asks, "Who could hear this without loving the speaker?"

    Moving on from Bloom, the actress Harriet Walter notes that "Playing Imogene one spends a lot of time asleep." There's the bedroom scene with Iachimo emerging from the trunk while she sleeps, and the action that leads up to her waking from the drug to discover Cloten dressed as Posthumous.

    The play's final scene outdoes even Measure For Measure's wrap-up in the complexity and number of mysteries resolved. Harley Granville-Barker thinks "the elaborate finale with its eighteen surprises" is one of the play's best parts and Frank Kermode calls it a "twenty-four-fold denouement."

    JFK, Aldous Huxley and CS Lewis

    Good luck with your Thanksgivings, such as they are!
    Be well,
  8. Steve Minkin

    Steve Minkin Forum Resident

    Healdsburg CA

    Our intrepid band of ten braved a four-hour Zoom reading of Cymbeline well enough to thoroughly enjoy ourselves! It's a wild, sprawling, unlikely play, full of charming and likable characters. It's the third longest play (Hamlet and Coriolanus) and has the second most characters (37, Tony & Cleo has 54).

    So our next (and hopefully final) Zoom reading will be the shortest play in canon, Comedy of Errors, less than half as long as tonight's play!

    Since Rita's been doing three hours of Zoom on Wednesdays (teaching K-2), we'll move our next reading to another day. (Wednesday is usually my only night off but, until the dance halls reopen, every night is Wednesday.) So let's go with an easy date to remember – Monday, the Ides of March. (If that doesn't work for anybody who wants in, please let me know.)

    Ah, do not tear away thyself from me!
    For know, my love, as easy mayest thou fall
    A drop of water in the breaking gulf,
    And take unmingled that same drop again,
    Without addition or diminishing,
    As take from me thyself and not me too.

    Comedy of Errors, II, ii

    Be well,

    Eartha Kitt, Santa Baby:

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  9. NickySee

    NickySee To Mars or Bust!

    College Park, GA
    Bit of a wonky post. But it fits in well after Mr. Minkin's readings. It's a zoom discussion about the behind-the-scenes prep of professional Shakespeare productions with current and past Shakespeare Theater Company's directors. It posted earlier today.

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  10. NickySee

    NickySee To Mars or Bust!

    College Park, GA
    Love the set. Still enjoy streaming the series on Prime Video, too.
  11. NickySee

    NickySee To Mars or Bust!

    College Park, GA
    Finally getting around to The Hollow Crown series tonight. At its initial release I was turned off by the who Braveheart-CGI slickness but enough time has gone by (8 years) for me to overlook production value (like I do with the sometimes laughable late 70s/early 80s BBC studio productions) and simply enjoy the drama. :)
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  12. Steve Minkin

    Steve Minkin Forum Resident

    Healdsburg CA
    Hi, Nicky --
    For the same set of plays, The Henriad, don't miss Orson Welles' Chimes At Midnight (if you haven't already)! Welles was born to play Falstaff.
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  13. NickySee

    NickySee To Mars or Bust!

    College Park, GA
    Agreed. But there are aspects of the film that I don't like. Every director has to make Shakespeare's humor apparent to a contemporary audience. Welles has his actors laugh almost on top of the delivery (the inn scenes) where the bawdy jokes may not necessarily land. It's almost as if Welles assumes the audience knows the jokes and has his actors respond with the laugh track. Serious flaw to me but Welles', Gielgud's and (the actor playing) Hotspur's performances, the inscription, battle and royal castle scenes are great. :)

    And speaking of Falstaff I've jettisoned the Richard II start to the Hollow Crown Series for a great streaming copy of the second part, Henry IV.
    (Oh, I like Shakespeare at my fingertips or what's the point of The Web? :p )
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2021
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  14. Steve Minkin

    Steve Minkin Forum Resident

    Healdsburg CA
    Wells did so much with so little in that film. I noted in another post that Welles never had more than 180 extras working for him at any one time, the big scenes are extraordinary illusions as well as masterpieces of film and visual art. The Battle of Shrewsbury (you'll swear there are thousands of soldiers) and the brothel dance scene both sizzle with life and seem immense.

    The last movie you watched was...? (take five)
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  15. NickySee

    NickySee To Mars or Bust!

    College Park, GA
    Well, post-Kane/Ambersons that was the story of Welles' career, no? Nice write up. Other than the in-house humor aspect I think it's one of the best versions of Shakespeare on film, too. :)
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  16. NickySee

    NickySee To Mars or Bust!

    College Park, GA
    Christopher Plummer
    (December 13, 1929 – February 5, 2021)
    Saw him do Macbeth live on Broadway with Glenda Jackson some decades ago. His Hamlet remains my favorite on film.

    Hamlet At Elsinore
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  17. NickySee

    NickySee To Mars or Bust!

    College Park, GA
    Making my way through this 6 part mini-series, Will Shakespeare (1978). Interesting costume drama featuring Tim Curry as The Bard. The intrigue between Will, the Earl of South Hampton and “The Dark Lady of the Sonnets” is overplayed (and under-explored) but, overall, the series is a pretty diversion.

    Episode 4 The Loved Boy
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  18. Steve Minkin

    Steve Minkin Forum Resident

    Healdsburg CA
    First notes, Comedy of Errors


    We're still looking at Monday, March 22 for our Zoom reading of the briefest of Shakespeare's plays, The Comedy of Errors. We are all hopeful that this will be our last lockdown reading, and we will soon return to real life conviviality, wine, cider, cheese, desserts, stories and ideas.

    Although written on either end of Will's career, The Comedy of Errors and The Tempest share the compression of a single time and place. In Errors, the time is the day that begins when Egeon is condemned to die in one day unless he pays the fine. Some productions have a ticking clock on stage to mark Egeon's judgment – he is condemned in the opening scene, and reprieved in the final scene, and is essentially ignored in between. An unobtrusive frame story.

    We should have consistent texts on this one – the sole source is the First Folio, believed to be from Shakespeare's foul papers. Most editions combine the characters of Nell and Luce, some do not.

    In the opening scene, Egeon tells of the storm that wrecked his ship, and how his wife fastened the younger twin to "a small spare mast/ Such as seafaring men provide for storms." This is a jury-mast, and when it is used to replace a fallen main mast the ship is said to be "jury rigged." I had always assumed the phrase had something to do with the legal system, but this is much more consistent with usage.

    Ephesus is a mercantile city, lots of transactions in the play and an array of currencies that transcends time as well as space – guilders, marks, ducats, angels, pounds and pence!

    Another rare "Phoenix" sighting, this one explicit, the name of the house of Adriana and her Antipholus.

    In general, the confusions wind up with the hometown twins being abused and the visitors from Syracuse stumbling into good fortune.

    Antipholus of Syracuse is the only character who has soliloquies, and he and Adriana (his sister-in-law) are the characters in the play with agency and depth, foreshadowers of the complex characters of later plays. They also have two related and memorable speeches:


    He that commends me to mine own content
    Commends me to the thing I cannot get.
    I to the world am like a drop of water
    That in the ocean seeks another drop,
    Who, falling there to find his fellow forth,
    Unseen, inquisitive, confounds himself:
    So I, to find a mother and a brother,
    In quest of them, unhappy, lose myself.

    I, 2


    Ah, do not tear away thyself from me!
    For know, my love, as easy mayest thou fall
    A drop of water in the breaking gulf,
    And take unmingled that same drop again,
    Without addition or diminishing,
    As take from me thyself and not me too.

    II, 2

    At the close of the play, the Antipholuses are pretty nonchalant about having found each other, and are more concerned with Adriana and Luciana. The Dromios, however, are thrilled to have found each other and the play closes with them walking off hand in hand.

    I've only seen the BBC version, which is excellent. Would love to see The Boys From Syracuse!

    Be well,

    This is a sensationally good Guantanamera, 75 Cuban musicians from around the world:

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  19. Steve Minkin

    Steve Minkin Forum Resident

    Healdsburg CA

    I've heard no objections to the March 22 date for our Zoom reading of The Comedy of Errors; please let me know if you have a conflict.

    My CD of the Broadway revival recording of The Boys From Syracuse arrived yesterday, prompting me to search for a version of the musical on YouTube.
    And I came up with this production from the Stratford Festival (Canada) from 1986, later broadcast on television. Quite clever, silly, bawdy, and fun! And highlighted by an excellent Rodgers & Hart score, with songs including This Can't Be Love, Falling In Love With Love, and Sing For Your Supper Here's the show:

    The CD liner notes tell the story that Rodgers and Hart were thinking of classics that had been adapted to Broadway and realized that nobody had done Shakespeare yet. (This is 1938, pre-Kiss Me Kate and West Side Story.) Hart had a younger brother who was a comic actor, and there was another comic actor who looked so much like him they often confused people at auditions. So they figured if they adapted Errors, they would have their Dromios already cast! The original Broadway cast included Eddie Albert as Antipholus of Syracuse and Burl Ives as the Tailor's Apprentice.

    The characters of Luce and The Courtesan are hugely expanded in the musical. Martha Raye played Luce in the 1940 Hollywood version.

    Be well,

    Here's THE hot new line dance of the pandemic, a GLOBAL phenomenon
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  20. NickySee

    NickySee To Mars or Bust!

    College Park, GA
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  21. Steve Minkin

    Steve Minkin Forum Resident

    Healdsburg CA
    Fabulous performance by Ben Whishaw! I will watch it again, it's been a few years. Incredible play, one of the four lyrical plays he wrote following the reopening of the theaters after the plague (no doubt buoyed by the popularity of his poetry published and circulated during the plague) -- The Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Love's Labour Lost, and this one. Not a bad year or so.

    The great Broadway illustrator Al Hirshfeld produced this wonderful optical illusion for the playbill for The Boys From Syracuse, the two Dromios running into each other in the plaza:
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  22. NickySee

    NickySee To Mars or Bust!

    College Park, GA
    I found his brand of effete mannerism off-putting. If he had played it like more flamboyantly it might have been more fun to watch. Pomposity is obviously written in the character of Richard II but Whishaw adopted it to the point of inertia. The art design surrounding his "state" already had elements of stiff pageantry. His performance seldom broke out out of the storybook frame. Perhaps a second viewing is in order.
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  23. Scope J

    Scope J Senior Member

  24. NickySee

    NickySee To Mars or Bust!

    College Park, GA
  25. Steve Minkin

    Steve Minkin Forum Resident

    Healdsburg CA
    Interesting take, although as I said I loved the performance. I thought his preciousness and inertia were intrinsic to the role.
    Auden writes: "there is no suspense, Richard goes downhill. Bolingbroke uphill. . . Bolingbroke is passive . . . has kingdom thrust upon him. . . Richard has only literary gifts, and he is stupid. Hamlet has intellectual ones, and can see that what happens to him is universal. Richard sees only himself."

    Bloom writes: Richard is "a bad king and an interesting metaphysical poet, his two roles are antithetical, so that his kingship diminishes even as his poetry improves."
    I'll watch it again, see what I think this time. I have the David Tenant version, too; might make an interesting contrast.

    Here's a note I made when my group last read the play, referencing Bushy's lines, trying to cheer the loyalists by telling them to view their seemingly dire situation in a different light with this elegantly compressed description of anamorphosis:
    Like perspectives, which rightly gaz’d upon
    Show nothing but confusion; ey’d awry
    Distinguish form

    In Garber's lengthy essay on the play she illuminates a wonderful word from the world of art -- ANAMORPHOSIS – which is something that you CAN'T see when you're seeing everything else in the painting, but something you CAN see when you can't see anything else in the painting.

    Here's the most famous example of the technique, Holbein the Younger's painting "The Ambassadors," painted 62 years before Richard II was first staged:

    The bizarre shape in the middle is a skull (memento mori), which can only be seen from the extreme right edge of the painting, a few feet from the bottom.
    A brief videos from the National Gallery on Holbein's skull:

    "For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground
    And tell sad stories of the death of kings."

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