poet, essayist, editor, teacher
In 2.2, Gloucester speaks near the end of the scene:“…all of us have cause/ To wail the dimming of our shining star;/ But none can cure their harms by wailing them.” Shakespeare often embeds wisdom statements that ring truly pragmatic in the words of his antagonists. King Edward IV was an idealist, enjoining and compelling the factions to make peace around his deathbed; those newly-healed alliances may not hold. Gloucester, ever the dissembler, is late to the gathering (his absence is noted); however, when he arrives, he speaks the right words. Upon consideration, though, it is clear that he is careful to use the word 'if' frequently. He says, for example, “Amongst this princely heap, if any here, / By false intelligence, or wrong surmise, hold me a foe….” It is clear that he has his own agenda to secure power for himself at all costs, going even further than fratricide and lechery, if needed. We get a hint of his irony when he says, later in the same speech, “I do not know that Englishman alive/ With whom my soul is any jot at odds”—he is, after all, the only one present who already knows that Clarence is dead. This wisdom statement transcends the context of the play, reminding me (us) that even though things may be both personally and communally bleak, and we all have cause to feel despair, no amount of hand-wringing and wailing will help the situation. I (we) must act, or succumb to the harms that threaten us. Will I be victorious? Not always. To wail, however, is ineffective (and even a little self-indulgent). It’s exhausting to have to suck it up, though—and to be reminded by such a one as Gloucester is both humbling and a goad to action. This feels particularly pertinent and immediate, given the state of things nationally, globally, environmentally, locally, personally, spiritually, physically…yes, the list is long, and gets longer every single day. It’s hard to choose what to focus on, what deserves attention and action. It all seems to need the involvement of people who give a damn. As I said, exhausting. But necessary. Tennyson speaks to this, as well, in “Ulysses” when he states: “…you and I are old; /Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;/ Death closes all: but something ere the end, / Some work of noble note, may yet be done, /Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods…It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:/ It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,/ And see the great Achilles, whom we knew. /Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho' /We are not now that strength which in old days/ Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are…”I am no Ulysses, but I feel that the struggle is not over, can’t be over, and I will not let the bastards win.
Tolstoy disliked Shakespeare. Or, more to the point, his works. Among other things, he thought the language overblown. How they’d achieved the status they had in the English-speaking world was to him a kind of mystery. Which came to mind while reading Scene II’s exchanges between Queen Elizabeth, the Duchess of York, and Clarence’s children. Arguably it’s just a twentieth century ear missing what was natural at one time, but “What stay had I but Edward? And he’s gone.”/ “What stay had we but Clarence? And he’s gone.”/ “What stays had I but they? And they are gone.” (Queen Elizabeth, Clarence’s children, and the Duchess of York, respectively); as well as “Was never widow had so dear a loss.” / “Were never orphans had so dear a loss!” / “Was never mother had so dear a loss.” (Queen Elizabeth, Clarence’s children, Duchess of York) sounded at first so stagey and slightly comic. And yet: after a second or two the economy of the language and explanation struck home. Just a few short lines of dialogue detail the different losses of the four characters and the differing perspectives on that loss each of them has (as well as offering a clear and pithy reminder how each of the characters is related). And then thinking of these multiple perspectives reminded me, rightly or otherwise, of a passage in Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend. In chapter 14 three characters meet: Venus, Wegg, and Boffin, although Wegg isn’t aware that Boffin is in the room, hiding. Wegg outlines to Venus his plan to blackmail Boffin. What struck me was just how many conversations and perspectives were actually on offer in the exchanges going on in that room. There’s the one Wegg thinks he’s having alone with Venus. There’s the one Venus is having with Wegg that he knows the hidden Boffin is also hearing. There’s the one Wegg doesn’t know he’s having with Boffin. And there’s the one Boffin hears in a way the other two can’t, because the plan Wegg outlines directly affects him. That’s at least four different conversations and perspectives, and you could probably parse out a few more. Which in their different perspectives, and in the economy of their presentation of what’s really a complex exchange, seemed similar to the York/Elizabeth/Children exchanges. Or did to me, anyway, regardless how tortured the logic of it seems.
Act 2: scene 1King Edward: "I prithee, peace. My soul is full of sorrow."Though I have only a short list of older words that I include in own general vocabulary, the word prithee or pray you has been with me for many years.It appeals to me as a gentle, yet formal way of greeting, setting a tone of rational, thoughtful conversation. Given the climate in this country, I too prithee peace and am full of sorrow. However, this greeting to Stanley when he asks that his servant's life be spared, sends the King into a spate of blaming everyone around him for not preventing his original order to execute Clarence. And after a lengthy catalogue of Clarence's virtues, he laments that none would plead for a stay of execution, and worries that God will have justice on Clarence's behalf, judging all who did not beg for mercy."Prithee peace" now seems hollow. I wonder if Edward's soul is indeed full of sorrow or is it full of genuine fear for his own final judgement.So much for peace and harmony.
Near the end of 2.2, when Buckingham tells Richard that he has some ideas about how to “part the Queen’s proud kindred from the Prince” (155), Richard declares, “My other self, my council’s consistory/My oracle, my prophet, my dear cousin,/I, as a chlld, will go by thy direction”(156-58). I really like the range of images in this line, from intimate self and cousin, to political meeting place, to pronouncer of fate and spiritual guide, to innocent child. It’s a tall order. Richard is, of course, delighted to have a henchman. Richard’s litany of praise is interesting—he describes Buckingham as being an essential part of himself, the very meeting place for his thoughts and ideas. Describing Buckingham as both oracle and prophet, though, elevates the mirror imagery to another level. Oracles and prophets speak the truth, typically—people respected them because they offered wisdom and guidance. Those things are twisted here because the only truth that matters is the one that Richard defines. Buckingham is valuable because he reflects all of what Richard wants to hear. The most curious part of the line is when Richard says that he will follow Buckingham’s lead, as though he were a child, which suggests some innocent “follow the leader.” But Richard says that only because Buckingham will lead him where he already plans to go. I also like how this line reinforces Richard’s narcissism—to praise Buckingham as reflecting all of these facets of himself is ultimately another way to praise himself, again.It’s hard not to think of the world we live in when I read these lines, whether on a personal or political scale. On our Facebook feeds, we see what Facebook thinks best reflects what we want to see—the more we click, the more similar things will come before us. It takes a lot of effort to create a balance of information, to see things that we might not seek out. On a political level, in this country, it seems clear that those in power choose others who are their mirrors in one way or another—they believe the same things, ignore the same things, value the same things, and reject the same things. Either way, it creates such narrowness of vision.
The line I chose was "Deep, hollow, treacherous, and full of guile."On the surface, this is a concise description of the soulless politician . . . Gloucester, in the play; any number of Republicans, in our contemporary life. And I expect I was drawn, first, by that connection. But afterward, as I reread the line, I realized that what I really love about it is the rhetorical cadence. I'll try to write it out as this imperfect soundscape: beat, beat-sigh, beat-sigh-sigh [pause], sigh, beat-sigh-beat. There is no way to read that line aloud quickly. Try it for yourself. It forces solemnity into the voice, a kind of cathedral patience. And as an ear-poet--a person who hears a line's syllables, stresses, and cadences before she knows what word she's looking for--I'm drawn to those kinds of sonic pressures in other people's work. They don't have to be fancy; in fact, fancy can make me itch. They just need to be inexorable. And that's what this line is.
Carlene and Laura: it's interesting to me that you both took my assignment (to choose a "line") as an opportunity to choose a sentence rather than a poetic line. That makes sense, given that this is a play and "line" is drama argot for a character's speech. In my head, though, I was thinking of the poetic notion--the single line. And so this disconnect is leading me to consider, even beyond your extremely eloquent conversations, the more general question of what makes a play a play, a poem a poem? And how does Shakespeare manage to do both?David: That conversation among the two children and their grandmother was like reading an Ivy Compton-Burnett novel. I couldn't get over how similar the sounds of those Shakespearean voices were to the voices of ICB's Edwardian characters.Ruth: I am so happy that "prithee" is a word in your life. My similar word is "anon." I love it so much.
Dawn, anon is another of my well-used words.
Well, Dawn, I did start with a line, but I was drawn to the statement (and it's still not all of it!)--I was initially sucked in by "To wail the dimming of our shining star" but then I really needed the "all of us have cause"--I like the fraught quality of the metrics (all single syllable words) followed by more single syllables, broken up by dimming/shining. It made me feel both sad and compelled.
Carlene: I'm really intrigued by your notion of the "wisdom statement," especially given that this play seems to be overlapping our current political situation in some very unsettling ways. I recently read a history of the Wars of the Roses in which Edward appears as less wise and good than he (mostly) appears to be here. That, in itself, complicates the whole idea of the "wisdom statement" in my mind. Shakespeare's Edward is not an exact stand-in for the historical Edward but rather a chance for S. to delineate some notions of, among other things, honor and the lack thereof.David:Tolstoy may have disliked Shakespeare but he loved Dickens. So the fact that you mention "Our Mutual Friend" here gives me great happiness. But beyond that, I'm really compelled by the way you zero in on dialogue here: how what is said is also a way to hide what is not said. That's a brilliancy that all three of these writers share.Laura: Your description of the Buckingham-Gloucester mirror evokes the evil that is the Trump rally, in which the bloated pontificator bloats his bloated audience. So much feeding and reflecting and imitating and swelling to conjure a kind of giant pustule. Buckingham becomes evil even before he does anything evil, just because Gloucester constructs this complicated food chain between the two.Ruth: I like that you zeroed in on Edward's soft weak underbelly: his lack of charity. In other scenes (such as the one that Carlene references) he seems like a more honorable character. Here, not so much. Leave it to Shakespeare to give us one false hero after another.
ahhh...that "false hero" motif runs deep in Shakespeare...I think he was spot-on about that: people tend to follow the glittery, glib, self-aggrandizing fools, don't they? Or we tend to pin our hopes to all-too-human people, and then feel personally let down when the curtain is drawn aside.
Act 2, scene 2 Queen Elizabeth: "What stay had I but Edward?"This line, spoken first by Elizabeth and then repeated by Clarence's children and the Duchess, struck a sympathetic chord in me. Its simply stated expression of grief, revealing their deep sense of vulnerability and perhaps even resignation to a new, chaotic reality that threatens them, rings true. There are times when grief needs to speak, but the words are generally few. When fresh, however, it often prefers a shared presence in silence (Dorset?!). In the perilous time these characters find themselves, My hope is they can become a trusted resource for each other. I have to add here almost as an aside: I find it a relief to have a few more sympathetic characters besides Anne. There's one more thing that also stood out for me in this line. It was the unfamiliar use of "stay" as meaning "support." My curiosity thus piqued got me looking into its etymology and finding among the many fascinating cognates one eye catching gem. It's one that today only survives in Spanish and Portuguese but is still a major workhorse: the verb "estar", "to be" (a temporary state or position; from the Latin "stare", "to stand"). The beauty I find in these two distance cousins is, should Elizabeth, or Clarance's children, or the Duchess, or even anyone today on or under our media radar continue to struggle for an answer to "What stay have I?", that they may already have a supporter very close by, and perhaps even within, to help them stand and affirm, "I am here."
Daniel, I am so delighted to have this etymological background on "stay"--the sense of temporary pause/temporary support is profoundly relevant to its use in the line you chose. I, too, share your relief in finding some other characters to sympathize with, though I suspect, like Edward himself, they may be undependable in the long run . . . one might say: be another version of the notion of temporary.
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