Thursday, 5 January 2017

365 Days of Shakespeare.

I wasn't quite sure where to put my Shakespeare experiment. In the end, I've decided to add it as a bonus post rather than sticking it into the main blog. That way, anyone who is bored witless by the idea may exercise their right not to read it.

I missed yesterday because I was in a post-insomnia crash. So I started again today.

I am enjoying All’s Well That Ends Well very much. I haven’t read Shakespeare for a long time so I find I have to get my eye in. There are some speeches I have to read twice before I get the meaning of them. There are also the usual questions that the reading of an unfamiliar play brings. Why does Bertram despise Helena so much, and why does she love him so much? How is it that she cures the king so quickly and completely? Shakespeare is obviously entirely bored with the idea of this and wants it as a plot device, so the whole thing happens in a flash, offstage. One moment the king is dying and the next a slip of a girl has cured him completely. Why do the two lords Lafeu and Parolles loathe each other? And what on earth is the clown on about?

I think there is no answer to the last one. I’ve never really understood the clowns and fools in Shakespeare and I’m not sure that any modern entirely can. The jokes seem to be in-jokes for the 16th and 17th centuries, the kind of thing that audiences of the time would have absolutely got and which leaves the 21st century viewer vaguely uncertain and out of step.

What is lovely is that I don’t really care about the questions. The aesthetic pleasure is keen. Every so often I find a line which gives me as much pleasure as looking at a ravishing view or listening to a Bach suite.

These are the ones I chose for today:

It is like a barber’s chair that fits all buttocks,
the pin-buttock, the quatch-buttock, the brawn
buttock, or any buttock.

I love this because it is so naughty. I don’t usually like bawdy but I like this. Most of all, I really want to know what a quatch-buttock is. Or perhaps one should not ask.

Mort du vinagaigre! Is not this Helen?

I love this because I never knew that death of vinegar was an exclamation. I wonder whether it was in common use at the time, or whether Shakespeare was having fun with the language, or whether it was a wicked joke against the French.

The King:
...honours thrive,
When rather from our acts we them derive
than our foregoers.

I love this because it is a universal truth. Also, it seems that the king is a philosopher and a radical. For him to ascribe honour to one’s own actions rather than titles and position and wealth and lineage seems quite a surprising act, ahead of its time.

Go to, sir; you were beaten in Italy for picking a
kernel out of a pomegranate; you are a vagabond and
no true traveller; you are more saucy with lords
and honourable personages than the commission of your
birth and virtue gives you heraldry. You are not
worth another word, else I’d call you knave. I leave you.

I love everything about this speech. I love the kernel out of the pomegranate; I love the use of ‘saucy’ and ‘knave’; I love the rather mysterious picture of being beaten in Italy. I can’t tell whether that is actual or figurative.

My ten minutes stretched to twenty again, because I was having too much fun. I still have no idea how long this experiment will last or where it will take me, but it’s started off on a very happy note.


  1. You've got me interested to go back to Shakespeare myself. Not looked at him since A levels decades ago.

  2. I like films when not much happens, and what does, happens very slowly. Whilst I have much time for WS sonnets and lines,I conclude (perhaps mistakenly) that whole plays are just too blockbusterish for my constitution. Good luck with your project x

  3. Now I know you are my sister. I love Shakespeare inordinately, excessively, and some would say immoderately. I have recently been extremely wrapped up in him, and it makes me SO happy to hear you're reading him again!

    My all-time favorite: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark!

    P.S. Kenneth Branagh is the earthly god of Shakespeare, IMHO. His film version of Hamlet is perfection.


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