BB: Short Poems, Sonnets 1-5

Artwork – Stephanie E.M. Coleman

In our first ever Short Poems podcast, Daniel, Maya Pankalla and I discuss Shakespeare’s Sonnets 1 through 5.

(Bonus maple syrup fun facts from David Kandestin)

Listen to the podcast here.

Every week we cap off our recording with a sonnet. In this episode of the Bard Brawl, we gather some of them up and discuss the first five of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Join us as we take you through them and add our many voices to 400+ years of debate: just who are these things supposed to be addressed to? Are they even supposed to go together? Why should we care?

Sonnet 1 (Episode: Coriolanus, Act I, Read by: Stephanie E.M. Coleman)

Stephanie E.M. Coleman reading Sonnet 1

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory:
But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed’st thy light’st flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.
Thou that art now the world’s fresh ornament
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content
And, tender churl, makest waste in niggarding.
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee.

Argument: We want beautiful creatures to reproduce so that when they age they leave behind a fresh, young replacement to carry on the legacy. But you’re so enamoured with yourself that you’ll end up denying us an offspring. If you keep this up, you’ll burn up all of your beauty by keeping it for yourself to look at.

Sonnet 2 (Episode: Coriolanus, Act II, Read by: Melissa Myers)

When fourty winters shall besiege thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,
Thy youth’s proud livery, so gazed on now,
Will be a tatter’d weed, of small worth held:
Then being ask’d where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days,
To say, within thine own deep-sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserved thy beauty’s use,
If thou couldst answer ‘This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count and make my old excuse,’
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel’st it cold.

Argument: When you’re old (apparently 40 meant something different then than now) your beauty will be a thing of the past. If anyone asks you where you’re beauty’s gone you’ll have nothing to say unless you have a child with whom to leave your beauty in trust. In this way you’ll still feel young even if you’re old.

Sonnet 3 (Episode: Coriolanus, Act III, Read by: Esther Viragh)

Esther Viragh reading Sonnet 3

Look in thy glass, and tell the face thou viewest
Now is the time that face should form another;
Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,
Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother.
For where is she so fair whose unear’d womb
Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?
Or who is he so fond will be the tomb
Of his self-love, to stop posterity?
Thou art thy mother’s glass, and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime:
So thou through windows of thine age shall see
Despite of wrinkles this thy golden time.
But if thou live, remember’d not to be,
Die single, and thine image dies with thee.

Argument: Tell your reflection that now is the time to sire another copy of yourself in the flesh. By keeping to your reflection you rob mothers of sons and daughters. After all, you are your mother’s reflection and she re-lives her youth through yours. If you don’t have any children whose looks will be the memory of yours, you’ll die alone and forgotten. (Weren’t these supposed to be about love or something?…)

Sonnet 4 (Episode: Coriolanus, Act IV, Read by: Virginie Tremblay)

Virginie Tremblay reading Sonnet 4

Unthrifty loveliness, why dost thou spend
Upon thyself thy beauty’s legacy?
Nature’s bequest gives nothing but doth lend,
And being frank she lends to those are free.
Then, beauteous niggard, why dost thou abuse
The bounteous largess given thee to give?
Profitless usurer, why dost thou use
So great a sum of sums, yet canst not live?
For having traffic with thyself alone,
Thou of thyself thy sweet self dost deceive.
Then how, when nature calls thee to be gone,
What acceptable audit canst thou leave?
Thy unused beauty must be tomb’d with thee,
Which, used, lives th’ executor to be.

Argument: Why do you store up your wealth of beauty? Nature doesn’t give out gifts but rather lends them. You should give back freely of what nature has given you. What account of your fortune can you give if you hoard your beauty? It will just be buried along with you, no one will remember you and you will have nothing to show for it. (Compare this sonnet with the character of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice who is accused of hoarding both his money and his daughter.)

Sonnet 5 (Episode: Merchant of Venice, The Speeches, Read by: Kayla Cross)

Kayla Cross reading Sonnet 5

Those hours, that with gentle work did frame
The lovely gaze where every eye doth dwell,
Will play the tyrants to the very same
And that unfair which fairly doth excel:
For never-resting time leads summer on
To hideous winter and confounds him there;
Sap cheque’d with frost and lusty leaves quite gone,
Beauty o’ersnow’d and bareness every where:
Then, were not summer’s distillation left,
A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass,
Beauty’s effect with beauty were bereft,
Nor it nor no remembrance what it was:
But flowers distill’d though they with winter meet,
Leese but their show; their substance still lives sweet.

Argument: Just as the passage of time turned you from a boy into a man, it will keep passing until you reach your winter years and eventually die. Then, if you haven’t distilled your beautiful essence while it was still time, it will be snowed over and lost forever. But, if you pass your beauty on to another it will survive even though you won’t.

Next week the Brawlers begin a new play. Which one will it be? You’ll have to listen to find out!

(Podcast recorded and edited by Daniel J. Rowe, Show notes by Eric Jean)

The brawlers for this week are Daniel J. Rowe, Eric Jean and Sonneteer Maya Pankalla

BB: Coriolanus, Act I

(Podcast recorded and edited by Daniel J. Rowe, Show notes by Eric Jean)

For our second play we dive into the Tragedy of Coriolanus.

Listen to the podcast here.

Bard Brawlers: Andre Simoneau, David Wheaton, Stephanie E.M. Coleman, Eric Jean and Daniel J. Rowe

The first act of Coriolanus is a whirlwind of action and conflict. Scene 1 opens on a mob of hungry Roman citizens who have decided to take by force the food which has been denied them by the patricians. Menenius arrives on the scene and manages to talk them down but soon after Caius Martius (Coriolanus) shows up and he and the citizens exchange insults. (A Brawler favourite, from the mouth of Coriolanus: “What’s the matter, you dissentious rogues, / That, rubbing the poor itch of your opinion, /Make yourselves scabs?”) We learn that a neighbouring city has plans to attack Rome. Martius invites the mob to join the army and earn their corn through service to the state. We also learn that another mob, elsewhere in the city, laid down their arms in exchange for the right to elect five representatives of the common people to government, the tribunes, a concession which Martius finds deplorable. The scene closes with the tribunes Sicinius and Brutus talking about Coriolanus’ prideful nature.

Scene 2 quickly jumps to the Volscian camp. Aufidius hears about the impending Roman counter-attack and vows to fight Martius in single combat until one of them kills the other.

Scene 3 is a domestic scene in which we find Volumnia and Virgilia sewing in Martius’ home. Volumnis extols the virtues of her son. She mocks her daughter-in-law for not taking enough pride in her husband’s military service to Rome and for being overly concerned for his safety. Virgilia’s friend Valeria shows up and tells them that Martius and the others are off to war against Aufidius and the Volscians. Volumnia is happy about the news, Virgilia is not.

Scenes 4 through 10 describe the action-packed battle for the city of Corioli. (Some editions write Corioles.)  By the end of scene 4, Martius is cut off from the rest of the army and locked inside the city with Titus lartius and his men. With the help Martius’ individual efforts, the Romans take the city and Martius leaves Lartius behind (in scene 5 and scene 7) to occupy the town while he rushes to Cominius’ aid. A message reaches Cominius in scene 6 which claims that Martius has been killed but Martius then appears on stage covered in blood (most of it’s Volscian blood of course because Martius is such a badass) and he joins Cominius’ forces. In scene 8 Martius and Aufidius finally square off but they are interrupted by Aufidius’ men who interfere in their duel. Scene 9 opens with the retreat of the Volscian forces. For his role in the fighting, Cominius rewards Caius Martius with an extra share of the spoils and with the surname ‘Coriolanus.’ Coriolanus accepts the title but turns down the loot. Finally, Aufidius vows to kill Coriolanus by any means necessary in scene 10.

As Daniel mentioned on the air, part of the challenge of understanding the relationships and the political stakes within the play comes from our lack of familiarity with Roman titles and customs. (This is in addition to Shakespeare’s own occasional misunderstandings.) To help you map out who’s who in Coriolanus, here’s a short list of some of the titles referred to in the play:

  • Consul: This is a rather complicated title, but in the play it stands for the highest political appointment in Rome. Consulships were granted by election of the people of Rome – patricians and citizens had to give their assent.
  • Patrician: The patricians are the nobility and leaders of Rome, thought to be the descendants of the Roman Republic, foudned following the exile of the Tarquin kings who used to occupy Rome.
  • Citizen or plebeians: These, for the purposes of this play anyhow, are the common, free people of Rome.
  • Tribune: An official elected by the plebeians. It is illegal to threaten them with harm and they have the right to pass judgement on individuals on behalf of the common people of Rome.
  • Aediles: They traditionally guarded and maintained public buildings. In Coriolanus they serve primarily as the plebeians’ police force (They  show up later in the play)

This episode from Roman history occurs at the very dawn of the Republic, less than a generation after the last king gets booted out of Rome (We’re told that Coriolanus fought in that war, in fact, as a teenager). This is important because it helps to explain both Coriolanus’ sometimes unsympathetic disregard for the common people but also the people’s fear of Coriolanus’ authority. Also good to keep in mind: at this point in history, Rome has not yet embarked on its conquest of Italy and the city’s fate is still very much uncertain.

To wrap up, here’s a short list of some of the characters appearing in this (wild!) first act of Coriolanus:

  • Menenius Agrippa: An old patrician and friend of Coriolanus who tries to keep the peace and curb the excesses of Coriolanus’ character.
  • Caius MartiusCoriolanus:” A skilled Roman war hero who makes a better soldier than a politician. He dislikes the common people for their inconstancy.
  • Volumnia: Coriolanus’ mother who pushes her son towards fame and political power.
  • Virgilia: Coriolanus’ young wife.
  • Valeria: one of Virgilia’s friends.
  • Cominius and Titus Lartius: Roman generals under whom Coriolanus serves during the attack on Corioli.
  • Junius Brutus and Sicinius Velutus: These are the newly elected tribunes of the people. They have made it their task to oppose Coriolanus’ rise to power which they see as dangerous for the common people of Rome.
  • Tullus Aufidius: The general of the Volscian army and Coriolanus’ chief military rival.

If you’re looking for a good movie adaption of Coriolanus, check out Ralph Fiennes’s recent adaptation. (While Fiennes does a really good Coriolanus, prepare to get blown away by Vanessa Redgrave as Volumnia. Outstanding.)

Anyhow, hope you enjoy listening to Coriolanus as much as we do!

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