Category Archives: Shakespeare

spring fever (a lover and his lass)

 

 

 

 

 

 

springtime - Juniper Valley Park, May 2017.jpg

photograph by Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

 

song, “It was a Lover and his Lass” (performed by the Deller Consort)

 

 

 

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“It was a Lover and his Lass”

 

It was a lover and his lass,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
That o’er the green cornfield did pass,
In springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

Between the acres of the rye,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
Those pretty country folks would lie,
In springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

This carol they began that hour,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
How that a life was but a flower
In springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

And therefore take the present time,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
For love is crownèd with the prime
In springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

 

 

— William Shakespeare

from As You Like It

 

 

 

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Addendum:

 

 

 

 

Thomas Morley (1557 or 1558 – 1602) wrote “It was a Lover and his Lass.” The Deller version is good, but I actually prefer the version on a scratchy old LP of mine from the 1950’s. Side 2 of the LP, which I have posted here (above), consists of two songs by John Dowland — “I Saw My Lady Weep” and “Flow My Tears” — and four songs by Morley, including “It was a Lover and his Lass.” “It was a Lover and his Lass” occurs at a point a little over eight minutes into the LP.

The text of all the songs on the LP is posted here (Word document, below).

 

I saw my Lady weep

 

 

— Roger Smith

   February 2018

English and Shakespeare

 

 

 

as-you-lke-it-cover.jpg

William Shakespeare, “As You Like It”; paperback; Washington Square Press, 1960; note the price of 35 cents

 

 

I am extremely grateful that English is my native language.

In my humble opinion — it’s been said countless times — ’tis a glorious language.

So rich in its origins and vocabulary; the history and shades of meaning that so many of our words have.

The wonderful admixture of earthy, pithy Germanic words from the Anglo-Saxon and high flown, mellifluous Latinate ones, mostly from French, plus borrowings from so many tongues.

I have often said to myself, and to others, that I am grateful for having English as my native tongue if for no other reason than that I can read and appreciate Shakespeare in the original.

I first read Shakespeare, like most students, in high school. My first Shakespeare play was As You Like It — which I loved and have since retained a special affection for — followed by Hamlet.

There was some trepidation about reading the Bard. Would he be difficult?

I was pleasantly surprised to find that he was NOT difficult and was readily comprehensible and enjoyable. He was pleasurable to read and actually easy.

Shakespeare is, of course, admired the world over — in Russia and Japan, for example. But I would guess that foreign readers of him and the producers and consumers of foreign films and foreign stage productions in which his works are presented in translation are focusing on — are enjoying — the marvelous, intricate plots and the dramatic interest of, say, his tragedies without being able to be ravished by the marvelous language.

In watching English language films of Shakespeare, I have thought to myself, it is hard — in some respects — to go wrong. There is always the verbal richness.

It’s hard to conceive how some schools and publishers can embrace the idea of Shakespeare simplified and “translated” into 21st century English.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   September 2017

 

 

 

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There is something beautiful in a language where at the very beginning on a cold, rough shore, users were calling the ocean the “swan-road” and the “whale-road” and the word for poet was the word that became today’s “shaper.” It is amazing to see that even in times when human endeavor has been at its most self-destructive, the language has been able to flower and step forward.

 

— review of Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language by Seth Lerner, posted by a reader on Amazon.com

A Seventeenth Century Biographical Sketch of William Shakespeare

 

 

“William Shakespeare” by John Aubrey

 

Mr William Shakespeare

Mr William Shakespeare was born at Stratford-upon-Avon in the county of Warwick. His father was a butcher and I have been told heretofore by some of the neighbours that when he was a boy he exercised his father’s trade, but when he killed a calf he would doe it in a high style, and make a speech. There was at this time another butcher’s son in this town that was held not at all inferior to him for a natural wit, his acquaintance and coetanean, but died young.

This William, being inclined naturally to poetry and acting, came to London, I guess, about 18: and was an actor at one of the play-houses, and did act exceedingly well (now Ben Jonson was never a good actor, but an excellent instructor). He began early to make essays at dramatic poetry, which at that time was very low, and his plays took well.

He was a handsome, well shaped man: very good company, and of a very ready and pleasant smoot wit. The humour of … the constable in Midsomernight’s Dreame, he happened to take at Grendon in Bucks — I think it was Midsomer night that he happened to lye there — which is the road from London to Stratford, and there was living that constable about 1642, when I first came to Oxford: Mr Jodas Howe is of that parish, and knew him. Ben Jonson and he did gather humours of men daily where ever they came. One time as he was at the tavern at Stratford-super-Avon, one Combes, an old rich usurer, was to be buried, he makes there this extemporary epitaph:

Ten in the Hundred the Devill allowes,
But Combes will have twelve, he sweares and vowes:
If anyone askes who lies in this tombe,
‘Hoh!’ quoth the Devill, ’tis my John o Combe.

He was wont to go to his native country once a year. I think I have been told that he left 2 or 300 li. per annum there and thereabout to a sister. Vide: his epitaph in Dugdale’s Warwickshire.

I have heard Sir William Davenant and Mr Thomas Shadwell (who is counted the best comedian we have now) say that he had a most prodigious wit, and did admire his natural parts beyond all other dramatical writers. He was wont to say (Ben Jonson’s Undererwoods) that he ‘never blotted out a line in his life’; said Ben Jonson, ‘I wish he had blotted-out a thousand.’

His comedies will remain wit as long as the English tongue is understood, for that he handles mores hominum [the ways of mankind]. Now our present writers reflect so much upon particular persons and coxcombeities, that twenty years hence they will not be understood.

Though, as Ben Jonson says of him, that he had but little Latin and less Greek, he understood Latin pretty well, for he had been in his younger years a schoolmaster, in the country – this from Mr … Breston.

 

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This biographical sketch of Shakespeare was published in John Aubrey’s Brief Lives, a collection of short biographies written by Aubrey (1626–1697).

The version posted here, which is in slightly edited form, was been published in Ruth Scurr, John Aubrey, My Own Life.

 

— Roger W. Smith

     September 2016

ban “The Merchant of Venice”?

 

 

The following is my response to:

“The Merchant of Venice’ perpetuates vile stereotypes of Jews. So why do we still produce it?,” by Steve Frank, The Washington Post, July 28, 2016

https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/07/28/stop-producing-the-merchant-of-venice/

 

— Roger W. Smith

     July 2016

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Guess what? I don’t agree with the benighted author of this article.

Surprised?

I had lunch on Tuesday, July 26 with an emeritus professor with whom I have become friends due to common interests.

I think he may be Jewish, am not sure. His wife is Jewish and is very active in advocacy of Jewish causes.

He is an opera lover. One of his favorites is Wagner. He told me that he can’t get it out of his mind what a horrible person Wagner was in so many respects.

But he continues to listen to the operas, loves and admires them.

Sorry. You don’t ban Shakespeare.

You do not ban the poet and playwright who wrote such memorable lines as:

The pound of flesh which I demand of him

Is deerely bought, ’tis mine, and I will haue it.

The playwright who coined more words and phrases in our language than any other.

The peerless writer who cannot and will never be equaled in the realm of English literature.

The writer who, in the view of one eminent citric, Harold Bloom, “not only invented the [modern] English language, but also created human nature as we know it today.”

Prejudices and anti-Semitism notwithstanding, Shylock is a memorable character. It was Shakespeare who created him. Shakespeare, to whom we owe gratitude and reverence, notwithstanding what may have been his views.

We don’t approve, are horrified when fanatical Islamists destroy holy shrines on the grounds of enforcing their view of religious purity.

Shakespeare is an icon whose works must not be censored.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

     July 2016

 

 

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Addendum:

“The Merchant of Venice” is currently playing at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

Some other comments (responses to the op ed) published on the Washington Post website include the following, with which I agree.

 

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Let’s see: “Taming of the Shrew” for sexism, “Othello” for disparaging people of color/foreigners, all the history plays for rampant historical inaccuracy, “Romeo and Juliet” for romanticizing teenage suicide…. And that’s just for starters and just Shakespeare.

 

Well, gee, let’s just not produce anything set in any controversial time and portray it accurately. If we’re going to start assuming that people are, or have to remain, so ignorant of what they are seeing as to not be able to realize that the way people are speaking to each other is a historical bias and not a present-day way of speaking… then why bother teaching history or literature at all? If we’re going to start suggesting that by using the correct wording to portray how people spoke to each other at the time, that we’re creating hate… then you might as well start digging a really big pit to burn all the books and movies in because people have actually been trying to be more and more historically accurate over the years (the fools!).

 

It’s a play. It isn’t a documentary.

 

The author [Frank] seems in favor of the idea that the past should be judged purely by today’s standards and not in context. Maybe he should come up with a politically correct version of the Bible for example? Should be about half the size of any other Bible.

 

Why tilt at this little windmill when the mother ship of anti-Semitism is all around us? Read the Gospel of Matthew in the Bible and the Jews demanding that Jesus be killed and accepting the resulting curse on them and their children. That is obviously written by someone who was in a conflict with the then-current Jewish leadership, and was designed to stir animosity rather than to accurately portray events. Then there’s all the stuff about Pharisees. The Bible has surely been responsible for a heck of a lot more anti-Semitism than Shakespeare.

 

“The Merchant of Venice” does not perpetuate any stereotype of Jews. Audiences don’t stream out with hatred of Jews ignited in them nor even the seeds of hatred planted in their minds. Those few in the audience who are already anti-Semitic — and they are few in modern English speaking societies — are not going to get any more stoked up in their anti-Semitism. Those who are not, the majority, will simply enjoy a work by the greatest dramatist and poet of our culture with all its intricacies and observations about human nature.

 

Banning the play, simply to ameliorate the discomfort of those who would ban all discomforting speech on PC grounds, is to perpetuate intolerance for real. Watching the play is the lesser evil, by far.

 

“Merchant” is the latest casualty of that creeping disease called political correctness, which is busily tearing up the U.S. Constitution’s free-speech guarantee. We still have free speech — unless, of course, it offends somebody.

Lee Bollinger on diversity

 

“Diversity is not merely a desirable addition to a well-rounded education. It is as essential as the study of the Middle Ages, of international politics and of Shakespeare.”

 

— Lee Bollinger, President, Columbia University

 

 

http://www.newsweek.com/pro-diversity-essential-135143

 

 

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Columbia University president Lee Bollinger believes that diversity is essential to a liberal education. How essential he spelled out in the above oft quoted remark.

What a shame that Shakespeare didn’t think to write a play about it; that medieval theologians did not debate or write about it; that it does not tend to be a central issue in international relations or discussed by world leaders in summit meetings.

Just think, a student could be getting the benefits of Shakespeare’s undeniable “writing skills” (we must grant him that), for example; improve his or her vocabulary and diction while at the same time broadening horizons with respect to tolerance and understanding of “others” — of characters like Othello and Shylock, for example.

Shakespeare’s could have used his plays to impart hortatory lessons: racism in Othello, anti-Semitism in The Merchant of Venice, ageism in King Lear, sexism in The Taming of the Shrew, and so on. With an inventive mind like Shakespeare’s, the possibilities for politically correct instruction are huge.

Too bad Shakespeare never thought of it.

Does not speak well for Shakespeare. No wonder his status and desirability as an anchor in the curriculum (he used to be required reading in high schools) have been lowered a bit. Too bad he didn’t have the benefit of a twenty first century education. Come to think of it, he only attended grammar school! And, there was no diversity training then. So much the worse for the Bard and his benighted fellow students.

 

— Roger W. Smith

      August 27, 2016