Friday, 20 January 2017

365 Days of Shakespeare.


I start on The Comedy of Errors, which is another play I do not know at all. To my absolute astonishment, on the very day that Donald Trump is inaugurated, I find that he is not the only one who has ever wanted to build a literal or metaphorical wall. In his first speech, Duke Solinus illustrates the fear of The Other, and the baleful consequences that can result.
            The other fascinating thing is that this is a perfect example of Freud’s idea of the narcissism of small differences. Since I am starting to think that Mr Trump is a Freudian case study, I find this very appropriate. Everything changes, and nothing changes.

Merchant of Syracuse, plead no more;
I am not partial to infringe our laws:
The enmity and discord which of late
Sprung from the rancorous outrage of your duke
To merchants, our well-dealing countrymen,
Who wanting guilders to redeem their lives
Have seal'd his rigorous statutes with their bloods,
Excludes all pity from our threatening looks.
For, since the mortal and intestine jars
'Twixt thy seditious countrymen and us,
It hath in solemn synods been decreed
Both by the Syracusians and ourselves,
To admit no traffic to our adverse towns Nay, more,
If any born at Ephesus be seen
At any Syracusian marts and fairs;
Again: if any Syracusian born
Come to the bay of Ephesus, he dies,
His goods confiscate to the duke's dispose,
Unless a thousand marks be levied,
To quit the penalty and to ransom him.
Thy substance, valued at the highest rate,
Cannot amount unto a hundred marks;
Therefore by law thou art condemned to die.

If I’m going to carry the Trumpian parallel to its nth degree, I’d say that the most telling line is ‘excludes all pity from our threatening looks’. Those of us who know the story of what Trump did in Aberdeenshire understand well that he does not do pity.

Right. Now I am a few scenes in and it is very, very silly, and very confusing. I think Shakespeare was having a real laugh with this one. I am having to frown and squint to keep up. But there is, as always, the raging beauty of the words. Here is Antipholus of

Sweet mistress--what your name is else, I know not,
Nor by what wonder you do hit of mine,
Less in your knowledge and your grace you show not
Than our earth's wonder, more than earth divine.
Teach me, dear creature, how to think and speak;
Lay open to my earthy-gross conceit,
Smother'd in errors, feeble, shallow, weak,
The folded meaning of your words' deceit.
Against my soul's pure truth why labour you
To make it wander in an unknown field?

My favourite line is – ‘the folded meaning of your words’ deceit’. It is the use of folding that makes it so perfect.


Stopping now, before my brain short-circuits. I see that I’m going to have to concentrate with this one. And it reminds me of what my friend the playwright and I shouted at each other with gaudy glee on the telephone the other day: the thing about Shakespeare, we bawled, is that he really, really does not give a fuck.

From weakness comes strength.


The astonishing thing about confessing to weakness is that it brings a renewed wash of strength. I still don’t really know how this happens.

I’m always banging on about human frailty, but the irrational voices that shout in my head tell me that I must not admit my own. Rationally, I know that all humans are flawed and frail, having midnight terrors and cracked plate three in the morning dark nights of the soul. Every one of my heroines and heroes has flaws. Of course they do, because they are human.

Yet that stupid shouty voice says: don’t tell them. Don’t say it out loud. Don’t startle the horses, don’t bore people to weeping, don’t make them lose the will to live. It’s so boring, say the shouty voices, who have always had too much gin. Sing another song, boys, says the voice that has been listening to Leonard Cohen; this one has grown old and bitter.

So even though I know it is irrational, I think: give them the good stuff. Plaster a smile on your face, pretend that you can do everything yourself, stuff down those doubts and fears and black presentiments of doom and do your bloody tap dance. You are not here to bore people to death with your crappy moments and your hopeless moments and your moments of utter failure. Throw your arms in the air and sing a show tune.

Yet every time I drive those irrational, garrulous voices from the room (usually by telling them there is another bottle next door) and look the hard truth straight in the whites of its eyes and admit it, I feel not only as if I have put my burden down, but as if I can stand up straight and carry on. People do not, as the shouty voices insist, run screaming from the room. They smile a little ruefully, and sigh a little regretfully, and nod their heads a little thoughtfully, and say the magic words. They don’t say: it will all be fine, or snap out of it, or of course you will find a way. They say: me too.

And then one is not a random individual, but part of the collective. Humans, like horses, are herd animals. Even someone as far along the introversion spectrum as I needs the power and reassurance of the group. No man is an island;  nor no woman either.

I hit the wall. I felt the terrible, snapping jaws of despair. I thought, for a moment, that I could not see a way through. I went into a defensive crouch. I hoped nobody would notice. And then I said the thing and the good humans said me too and then I rallied. I did not do this alone. Kind strangers said kind things and close friends gave words of wisdom and sweetness. I love to be alone. I crave solitude like a drunk craves whisky. But I must not fall into category error, my bête noire. Just because I like to be alone, that does not mean I have to do everything alone. Sometimes, I can hold out my hand and ask for help.


And you, the group, were magnificent. I feel humbled and thankful. 

Thursday, 19 January 2017

365 Days of Shakespeare.


I’ve been rather wrought low over the last couple of days, so I did not even read my Shakespeare. This was an act of folly, since he makes everything better.

I’m back now, coming to the end of As You Like It, and, as usual, Rosalind gets the dazzling lines. I think Shakespeare really loved her. She is one of the creations he had the most fun with.

Pray you, no more of this; 'tis like the howling
of Irish wolves against the moon.

With my writer’s hat on, I observe that it is the use of ‘Irish’ in that line which makes it dazzle and dance. If those wolves had been any old wolves, they would not have jumped off the page in the way they do. Sometimes, it is one word that makes all the difference.

Finally, Orlando, who is, if I am being very carping, a tiny bit under-written, gets a universal verity:
I sometimes do believe, and sometimes do not;
As those that fear they hope, and know they fear.

I’d completely forgotten what a good character Touchstone is. I love this little summation:
I have trod a measure; I have flattered
a lady; I have been politic with my friend, smooth
with mine enemy; I have undone three tailors; I have
had four quarrels, and like to have fought one.

I have undone three tailors! That is the shaft of absolute genius. Poor undone tailors, what did they ever do to deserve it?

And if the tailors were not enough, Touchstone really gets into his stride, like a champion racehorse coming into the home straight:

I did dislike the
cut of a certain courtier's beard: he sent me word,
if I said his beard was not cut well, he was in the
mind it was: this is called the Retort Courteous.
If I sent him word again 'it was not well cut,' he
would send me word, he cut it to please himself:
this is called the Quip Modest. If again 'it was
not well cut,' he disabled my judgment: this is
called the Reply Churlish. If again 'it was not
well cut,' he would answer, I spake not true: this
is called the Reproof Valiant. If again 'it was not
well cut,' he would say I lied: this is called the
Counter-cheque Quarrelsome: and so to the Lie
Circumstantial and the Lie Direct.

I can almost see Shakespeare as he wrote this, his face filled with glee, thinking: bugger it, I’m just going to have some fun.

Then of course they all get married and the cross duke stops being cross and the deposed duke is restored to his estate and all is joy and light. Everyone gets what they want. It is the happiest of happy endings, all tied up in a pretty bow, all done in the twinkling of an eye. And clever Rosalind gets the very last word:

It is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue;
but it is no more unhandsome than to see the lord
the prologue. If it be true that good wine needs
no bush, 'tis true that a good play needs no
epilogue; yet to good wine they do use good bushes,
and good plays prove the better by the help of good
epilogues. What a case am I in then, that am
neither a good epilogue nor cannot insinuate with
you in the behalf of a good play! I am not
furnished like a beggar, therefore to beg will not
become me: my way is to conjure you; and I'll begin
with the women. I charge you, O women, for the love
you bear to men, to like as much of this play as
please you: and I charge you, O men, for the love
you bear to women--as I perceive by your simpering,
none of you hates them--that between you and the
women the play may please. If I were a woman I
would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased
me, complexions that liked me and breaths that I
defied not: and, I am sure, as many as have good
beards or good faces or sweet breaths will, for my

kind offer, when I make curtsy, bid me farewell.

Say the thing.


I am very sad.

I was not going to tell you that. I wrote in 77 Ways that the best thing to do with sadness and fret and fear is to tell them all. Tell them to a friend or write them down or share them with the group. I know this. I wrote this. In some parts of that book I actually did research and empiricism and every damn thing, so I’m not just clicking my teeth. And I still swear that all the things in it got me through the melancholy year after my mother died. But what I did not write is: how to take your own advice.

I know what to do, I know what I should do, I understand the things that really work. And sometimes I don’t do them.

So instead of saying to my friend this morning ‘I feel sad’ I was rather quiet and when I did speak I did small talk. I never do small talk. I don’t even know how to do small talk. I think that may have been her clue. So she asked what was wrong and I burst into tears and said, in a very watery voice ‘I’ve hit the wall. I am in despair and I feel ashamed.’

Oh, there is a lovely cocktail for you.

This is not old heartbreak or sudden missing of the departed; this is an actual thing that is happening in the actual world and I have to do something about it and I’m not sure what. And this week I went slam into the wall and I tried to put my wonky smile on and do a tap dance so I would not frighten the horses but in the end it was too much for me so I ended up weeping in a frosty field.

Of course, the amazing thing was that it worked, the telling. It worked not just because my friend was wise and kind and empathetic, but because it was out. I was not slinking around in the shadows any more, pulling my hat over my eyes, hoping nobody would notice. I was not pretending that I can do every single buggery thing on my own. I was not singing I’m fine, I’m fine, I’M FINE when in fact I wanted to say I feel like I’m bleeding to death.

The thing is still the thing, and it’s bloody scary, and I’m going to have to draw on all my resources, but somehow, in the simple act of telling, it became human rather than monstrous.

Then, freed by revelation, I got on my sweet mare and we galloped up to the top of the long rise and went bravely into the high woods, where we have never been before. She put her head down and struck out like an explorer discovering the new world. Then our way was blocked by a fallen tree. It was a little tree, making a barrier of about a foot high. But I’m frightened of everything now so I decided it would be foolhardy to try and jump it out in this unknown terrain. So we found a way round and went on. On the way back, I said to her, ‘you know what, I’m sick of saying I can’t.’ So we jumped the tree. You may imagine the scenes of jubilee that followed. You brave horse, I told her, falling on her neck, stroking her mane, laughing into her ear; you clever mare, you brilliant girl.

As we got to the top of the long slope and started to make our way down, we stopped. It is there that the blue hills open like a promise and the land spreads out like a story and the Scottish light glimmers gold. The hills looked ravishing, the cows looked ravishing, the sheep looked ravishing. I have all this, I thought. Nobody can take this away from me. I looked and looked and looked. ‘You see,’ I said, out loud, to the dreaming mare, ‘if you are frightened all the time you miss all this.’ She nodded, because she knows that already.

And then we went home.


The thing is still the thing. But I’m thinking about the thing in a different way. Someone else knows about the thing. And perhaps I will be able to jump the tree, instead of having to find the shaming way round.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Remembering to listen.


I was talking to the farrier today about her horse. I adore the farrier and am genuinely interested in her horse and like always to hear the stories. But as I was out in the field with the dear red mare dozing as she got her feet done, I thought: listen.

I know about listening. I’ve written about listening. There’s a whole chapter in 77 Ways about listening. Yet sometimes I forget to listen. I get all excited and think about the thing I’m going to say next. My mind leaps about like a jumping bean and my voice rises to an inexplicable register and I can’t keep my hands still.

Stop, I said to myself. Hear what the farrier is saying.

So I stopped and I heard and that was better.

And when it was my time to speak I thought: what are the sort of things I love to hear about my own horses? A complete stranger made me almost fall over with joy the other day when he looked at the red mare and said: ‘She’s very gentle, isn’t she?’ That was like a Nobel Prize for me. A friend said this morning: ‘Oh, she is a brave girl.’ And sometimes people ask questions about her and I love that too. Say those things, I thought; say the things you would like to hear. Ask questions. Don’t just make blanket statements about what you think.

So I did that, and that was better too.

There are skills in life which seem so small and so obvious that the temptation is to think one knows how to do them. They are like the ABC. They are taken for granted and not considered. Today, I went back and considered. I think listening well and using empathy and not making everything about you are all tiny things that add to the sum total of human happiness. They spread a little brightness instead of adding to the dark. Take a deep breath, I tell myself, and count to ten. Remember how to do the obvious things well. 

Monday, 16 January 2017

365 Days of Shakespeare.


Very tired after a stupidly long day of extreme work, so I can’t say anything useful about As You Like It. I’m just going to copy my favourite passages of the day and leave you to enjoy them.

O coz, coz, coz, my pretty little coz, that thou
didst know how many fathom deep I am in love! But
it cannot be sounded: my affection hath an unknown
bottom, like the bay of Portugal.

O, I know where you are: nay, 'tis true: there was
never any thing so sudden but the fight of two rams
and Caesar's thrasonical brag of 'I came, saw, and
overcame:' for your brother and my sister no sooner
met but they looked, no sooner looked but they
loved, no sooner loved but they sighed, no sooner
sighed but they asked one another the reason, no
sooner knew the reason but they sought the remedy;
and in these degrees have they made a pair of stairs
to marriage which they will climb incontinent, or
else be incontinent before marriage: they are in
the very wrath of love and they will together; clubs
cannot part them.

Both these are from Rosalind. She really does get all the best lines.


There. I’m happy now.

In which I make no sense at all.


I have a new idea cooking in my head and it is so complicated and so vivid and so antic that I can’t think about anything else. I have to speak bits of it out loud to try and get them into some kind of order. I get to the end of the day and realise I have absolutely no idea what is going on in the world. Buckingham Palace could have been stormed for all I know; Donald Trump could have run away to the South Seas; the entire cabinet could have resigned over Brexit.

I have not eaten anything since breakfast and am not entirely sure what my name is.

I slightly wish that I could approach things in a reasonable manner. Tomorrow, I’m going to attempt to make a better timetable and stop for lunch and listen to the news and generally act as if I were not fifteen years old. My brain swells and throbs and all the voices in my head are shouting.

It’s such an odd job, I think, rather ruefully. I have six people who did not exist two days ago now living in my mind. I can see them and hear them and am already a little in love with them. I know their secret fears and their greatest desires. If this one works out, they will live with me for the next year or so, until I know them better than I know myself. I’m pleased they have arrived, but they’ve come in such a rush that it feels rather like having a new puppy: enchanting but absolutely exhausting.


At least, I suppose, they will not pee on the carpet. One must be grateful for the small mercies.

Friday, 13 January 2017

365 Days of Shakespeare.


My daily Shakespeare is a perfect antidote to the mean weather outside. There have not been the havoc-wreaking storms the voices on the wireless were warning about, but it is still very cold and bitter. Inside, there is the warmth and comfort of dancing prose.

This is easily my favourite speech of the day. It is Rosalind to Orlando. In true Shakespearean fashion, she has dressed up as a man and is now making the fooled Orlando pretend to woo her as if she were his adored Rosalind, even though he thinks her a rather saucy boy. He is gusting and sighing and saying he will die for love and she won’t have any of it:

No, faith, die by attorney. The poor world is
almost six thousand years old, and in all this time
there was not any man died in his own person,
videlicit, in a love-cause. Troilus had his brains
dashed out with a Grecian club; yet he did what he
could to die before, and he is one of the patterns
of love. Leander, he would have lived many a fair
year, though Hero had turned nun, if it had not been
for a hot midsummer night; for, good youth, he went
but forth to wash him in the Hellespont and being
taken with the cramp was drowned and the foolish
coroners of that age found it was 'Hero of Sestos.'
But these are all lies: men have died from time to
time and worms have eaten them, but not for love.


And here she is again, in rattling form:
Say 'a day,' without the 'ever.' No, no, Orlando;
men are April when they woo, December when they wed:
maids are May when they are maids, but the sky
changes when they are wives. I will be more jealous
of thee than a Barbary cock-pigeon over his hen,
more clamorous than a parrot against rain, more
new-fangled than an ape, more giddy in my desires
than a monkey: I will weep for nothing, like Diana
in the fountain, and I will do that when you are
disposed to be merry; I will laugh like a hyen, and
that when thou art inclined to sleep.


I especially love the clamorous parrot and the new-fangled ape. Why should an ape be new-fangled? We shall never know. 

The small things add up.


On the wireless, doomy voices predict a thundersnow apocalypse. In the quiet Scottish field there is a bit of wind and a flurry of blizzard and then the weather gives up, as if it can’t be bothered. The horses, stoical to the last, hunker down under their favourite weather tree and look slightly askance when we tell them it is time for breakfast. Eventually, they mosey on over, as if conferring a great favour.

I have a small helper with me. She thinks the horses are perfectly splendid. ‘Can I stroke her? Oh, she is soft. She is furry. She is dirty.’ (The little brown mare had been having a roll and the top part of her neck that was peeking out of the rug was covered in mud.) ‘She is hungry. She likes that food. Can I stroke her again?’

The mares are obviously highly trained, so I trust them around small people, but really it is more their good heartedness than my dedicated schooling that digs the trust deep. The red mare in particular is an absolute goof for children. She goes very still and blinks her eyes at them and exudes peace and pleasure.

So, despite the bitter wind, the day got off to a roaring start. I went back to my desk and got things done. I even tidied up the house a bit, which made me wonder whether I have been kidnapped by space aliens and replaced by a pod. I usually allow what I euphemistically call an artistic muddle to develop. (I am a creative; I have no time for bourgeois pursuits like dusting. This is my story and I am sticking to it.) Rather inspired by the order, I did serious productive work for the first time in three days. Lately, I’ve been spinning my wheels, staring at the screen and pretending to do something useful while my brain feels as if someone has thrown a sack over it. Today, I was able to see the words properly and do something with them.

Out in the world, Donald Trump grows more and more inexplicable. On grave news programmes, august security experts come on and talk about whether or not he went to bed with twenty prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room. They speak of this with as much thoughtful gravity as if they were discussing The Four Last Things. I suspect he did not and that this story is throwing sand in the eyes. The real story is about the money, not the sex, and the money is much, much more shocking.

In my small room, the world recedes and the small things obtain. The dogs dance about, enchanted by the snow; I make tomato soup; I think of my sweet little helper this morning and how much untrammelled joy she took in those dear mares. I think: if every day has one moment of pure delight in it, that is enough. Write it down, mark it, give it respect. I become a little hokey and a little hippy and a little goofy, in grave danger of tumbling into platitude. Do one nice thing for one person every day, I think, even if that thing is so tiny it would hardly leave a scratch on the wide world. Say yes, instead of no. The small things may be small, but they all add up. 

365 Days of Shakespeare.


As You Like It.

I had forgotten how much I love this play. Every line is pure joy.

Here are my favourites from today. They are all short and pithy and entirely delightful to my eyes:

O wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful
wonderful! and yet again wonderful, and after that,
out of all hooping!

I found him under a tree, like a dropped acorn.

I am he that is so love-shaked: I pray you tell me
your remedy.

Then there is this little exchange, which must be I think, where the expression ‘rhyme nor reason’ comes from:

ROSALIND
But are you so much in love as your rhymes speak?
ORLANDO
Neither rhyme nor reason can express how much.

I just looked up rhyme nor reason and in fact it was first used by John Russell in The Boke of Nurture in 1490. So Shakespeare gleefully pinched it and made it his own.

And then, to finish, there is an excellent goat joke. I’m not certain that there are many writers who manage to get goats and Ovid and the Goths into one sentence so effortlessly. I watch, as always, in awe and wonder:

I am here with thee and thy goats, as the most

capricious poet, honest Ovid, was among the Goths.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

The sun shines.


The wind drops, the sun comes out, the sky is blue. The fabled storm that is about to blow in feels like a distant rumour. The horses are dozy and soft and happy and the red mare gives me a canter of such grace and poise that I feel like crying with happiness. My friend and I stand in the feed shed filling haynets with the good hay and talk about life and unpredictable humans and small problems and the perspective police. This is the sort of conversation that makes me feel better about pretty much everything.

I go up to HorseBack and everyone is smiling and kind and I make some Marine jokes. It is always good to make a Marine joke to an actual Marine.

Someone said something very kind to me today. It was very simple sentence, but it meant the world to me. She said: ‘You do a lot for us.’ That was all. But it was like an unexpected present or a bunch of flowers. It made me think about how much humans need acknowledgement.

I’m a huge believer in the paying of compliments. It’s not very British and I have to fight against all my cultural instincts of reticence and not saying the thing. I believe in it so much that I wrote a whole chapter in Seventy-Seven Ways about the giving of compliments.

I do believe in them, but I thought this morning that it is the plain acknowledgement, the quiet tip of the hat, that has almost more power. It’s lovely to tell someone they are brilliant or dazzling or talented or clever, but I wonder whether it’s even more lovely to make a simple statement of ordinary fact. You showed up; you helped; you worked hard. I mean: the kind of unadorned statements that show somebody noticed. I mean the kind of sentences that do not need to be freighted with adjectives or hyperbole or gush, but act as little validations.

Everybody, I think, needs to have their passport stamped from time to time. Everybody needs to be seen. Everybody needs to know they are not taken for granted.


It worked for me, anyway. The grumpiness and scratchiness of the last two days fade into the background. Their work is done and they’ve got someone else to bother. The sun is shining, literally and metaphorically. The storm will come, in the night. But we’ll batten down the hatches and steady the buffs and ride it out.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

It can't be that bad.


‘Say something interesting,’ shout the voices in my head.
‘Hmm,’ says the writing voice, which has run out of ideas. ‘What kind of thing?’
‘You know,’ shout the furious voices, ‘something wise and true about life. A universal truth or something.’

I think and think and think. I can’t really find anything interesting. Today, I have nothing of interest in my brain whatsoever. The only thing I can come up with is that a job is much more fun if you do it with someone else. And this is only because my kind friend helped with the haynets this morning as the storm raged in and she was so funny that she turned a chore into a pleasure. Also, it’s not always true. Some jobs are more fun on your own. So I can’t even say that is a universal verity.

The winds have blown across the hills from the west and there are bitter flurries of snow. The horses hunker down with their usual stoicism and the dogs race around in keen delight. The dogs are tough boys and don’t give a damn about weather; the wilder the better for them.

I don’t like the winds. They make me jangly and I’m always thinking the internet is about to go down and what would I do if I did not have one more Trump outrage to read about and chunter over? (I’m still convinced he is doing all the lunatic things he is doing for a bet.) These are the dog days of January and I feel a bit fed up generally. When I sit down to work my brain does not dance and sing but feels as if it is wading through mud. My critical judgement is surly and blunted. I can’t tell what to keep and what to chuck. Is that a good sentence? Or not? Who can tell? I should be editing at a hundred miles an hour but instead I squint at the screen and think slow thoughts which don’t have much substance to them.


I’m getting better at the grumpy days as I get older. I used to see them as a mark of moral failure. How dare I feel out of sorts when there are people who don’t have shoes? Now I accept that I can’t do a tap dance every day. As long as I don’t take out the grumpiness on hapless bystanders, then it is perfectly allowed. All the same, the ruthlessly cheery voices in my head start chattering. You have a roof over your head, they say, with a sliver of reproach; and sweet horses and sweet dogs and a shed full of the good hay and heating that works and chicken soup simmering on the stove and the ability to type. So, say the chirpy voices, it can’t be that bad.

365 Days of Shakespeare.


I start As You Like It, an old friend. I nod my head happily as I read. 

One of the things I notice is how Shakespeare does not hang about. Once he has decided on a plot point, he gets the thing done. If they are to go into the Forest of Arden, into that forest they will go even if that rather dramatic event seems decided on the merest caprice of the cross duke. Never explain, never apologise.

And then, of course, there is one of my favourite bits in all of Shakespeare:

And this our life exempt from public haunt
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones and good in every thing.

I smile and smile and smile as I read it. Yes, that is a very, very old friend indeed.

It’s funny, when one stumbles upon the very famous passages. There are so many lovely ones that I could copy them all down. I won’t, because this would become longer than War and Peace. But there are some which caught the universal imagination and have lasted and lasted and lasted, so that four hundred years later schoolchildren can still recite them by heart. That is taken for granted, but if you think about it for a moment, it really is rather miraculous.

So here is the very, very famous:
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.


And this passage is not famous at all, but I love it and I rather identify with it. They should put it in the all self-help books:

Sir, I am a true labourer: I earn that I eat, get
that I wear, owe no man hate, envy no man's
happiness, glad of other men's good, content with my
harm, and the greatest of my pride is to see my ewes
graze and my lambs suck.


I was feeling quite grumpy before I started my daily reading, because it’s horrid bitter weather out there and the wind is blowing and blowing. Now I feel better. One can’t help but smile when in the company of such prose.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

365 Days of Shakespeare.

All's Well That Ends Well.

 On we go now, into the final furlong. And here’s something lovely –
'Twas a good lady, 'twas a good lady: we may pick a
thousand salads ere we light on such another herb.

I especially like ‘such another herb’.

Another perfect little gem:
I am now, sir, muddied in fortune's
mood, and smell somewhat strong of her strong
displeasure.

I think it is the use of muddied that makes that so perfect.


And there, I have finished. Well, it is a very silly play and ends abruptly and inexplicably as if Shakespeare suddenly grew bored and wanted to go down the pub. I can imagine him writing ‘Will this do?’ at the bottom of the final page. But even though the central characters are entirely unsatisfactory, the supporting cast are magnificent and they have all the best lines. There is a running joke about a drum which is tremendous and I adore the naughty Lords. There’s so much beauty in the language that I don’t mind that the plot makes no sense at all. Although I imagine that it might be one of the ones that is better read than seen. I'm awfully glad I have read it anyway, and it made me laugh quite a lot and raise my eyebrows and occasionally gasp. Plot: nul points. Everything else:  ten out of ten. 

Monday, 9 January 2017

365 Days of Shakespeare.


Of course it turns out that it won’t quite be 365 days of Shakespeare, because I took the weekend off to ride my horse and watch the racing. A year of Shakespeare, then, which is not too dusty.

Almost the moment I start reading, I find this glittering gem –

Lafeu:
Fare you well, my lord; and believe this
of me, there can be no kernel in this light nut; the
soul of this man is his clothes. Trust him not in
matter of heavy consequence; I have kept of them
tame, and know their natures. Farewell, monsieur:
I have spoken better of you than you have or will to
deserve at my hand; but we must do good against evil.

I think the insults in this play are very splendid indeed. The soul of this man is his clothes is a crusher indeed.

I absolutely love the Lords. This is the First Lord, with a tremendous universal truth:
The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and
ill together: our virtues would be proud, if our
faults whipped them not; and our crimes would
despair, if they were not cherished by our virtues.

And here is another roaringly good insult, this time from Parolles, who rather reminds me of Malvolio:
 I knew the young count to be
a dangerous and lascivious boy, who is a whale to
virginity and devours up all the fry it finds.

A whale to virginity, devouring up all the fry, is a conceit of absolute brilliance, although rather disgusting. I wonder whether Shakespeare sat in his room after he wrote that line and laughed and laughed. I think I might have done.

And one more magnificent, unbridled set of insults before I go, from Lafeu:

No, no, no, your son was misled with a snipt-taffeta
fellow there, whose villanous saffron would have
made all the unbaked and doughy youth of a nation in
his colour: your daughter-in-law had been alive at
this hour, and your son here at home, more advanced
by the king than by that red-tailed humble-bee I speak of.


I have absolutely no idea what a snipt-taffeta fellow is, but I know it cannot be good. And a red-tailed humble-bee sounds very dodgy indeed. I think Shakespeare had more fun that he could shake a stick at when he was writing this. I am certainly having a lot of fun reading it, although it is quite nonsensical in many ways. But that does not matter; one is carried along on a tide of language and brio.

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