BB: Short Poems, Sonnets 18-23

Artwork - Leigh MacRae
Artwork – Leigh MacRae

Welcome Brawlers to another episode of the Bard Brawl!

Next week, pirates. But before we get to that, we’re back with another one of our sonnets podcasts. In this recording, we pick up where we left off with sonnets 18-23.

Listen to or download the podcast.

You’ll remember that sonnets 1-17 were the so-called Procreation sonnets because they were trying to convince a young man to have kids. Seems that didn’t go so well, either because the young man didn’t follow his advice or because the poet decided that human lives are too fleeting.

This means that the sonnets are still being addressed to the same young, at least until we get further along into the sonnet sequence and Shakespeare starts writing about a mysterious (but hot) dark lady who is somehow involved with both men.

I guess that if you want to immortalise someone for all time, nothing does it better than poetry, right?

It’s kind of ironic that no one knows for sure who the hell these sonnets are actually addressed to.

Sonnet 18 (Episode: King Lear, Act V, Read by: Leigh Macrae)

Leigh Macrae
Leigh MacRae

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee

Argument: The totally predictable thing to do would be to compare to a summer’s day and point out how you’re just as awesome. But actually, that doesn’t work because you are even better than summer could ever be. Here’s what’s wrong with summer: it’s too hot, the winds are too violent and it’s too short. Luckily, thanks to the awesome power of poetry, that won’t happen to your summer (as long as people keep reading these poems).

Sonnet 19: (Episode: King Lear, Act I, Ready by: Kayla Cross)

Kayla Cross
Kayla Cross

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,
And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood;
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleets,
And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed Time,
To the wide world and all her fading sweets;
But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:
O, carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow,
Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen;
Him in thy course untainted do allow
For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men.
Yet, do thy worst, old Time: despite thy wrong,
My love shall in my verse ever live young.

Argument: Here’s the deal, Time: feel free to make the lion old, to make the tiger lose his teeth, to kill off the phoenix and everything else in the world. Go ahead and ruin everything. But, Keeps your hands of my beloved! Don’t you dare spoil a single one of their features. In the end though, joke’s on you: they’ll be young forever because I have encased them in poetic carbonite.

Sonnet 20: (Episode: Taming of the Shrew, Act II, Ready by: Melissa Myers)

Melissa Myers
Melissa Myers

A woman’s face with Nature’s own hand painted
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion;
A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women’s fashion;
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue, all ‘hues’ in his controlling,
Much steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick’d thee out for women’s pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.

Argument: You have a beautiful woman’s face and a tender woman’s heart – but none of those unpredictable mood swings. You’re also way more faithful and not easily attracted by each passing hottie. In fact, whatever you look at is made better because of it. Both man and women want (to be) you. You were clearly intended to be woman but Nature was so enamoured with your that she decided to give you a penis. So women can use your for sex all they want so long as I can have your love.

Sonnet 21: (Episode: Henry VI part 1, Act II, Read by: Esther Viragh)

Esther Viragh
Esther Viragh

So is it not with me as with that Muse
Stirr’d by a painted beauty to his verse,
Who heaven itself for ornament doth use
And every fair with his fair doth rehearse
Making a couplement of proud compare,
With sun and moon, with earth and sea’s rich gems,
With April’s first-born flowers, and all things rare
That heaven’s air in this huge rondure hems.
O’ let me, true in love, but truly write,
And then believe me, my love is as fair
As any mother’s child, though not so bright
As those gold candles fix’d in heaven’s air:
Let them say more than like of hearsay well;
I will not praise that purpose not to sell.

Argument: These other poets see a person with way too much Botox and then pretend like they’re more beautiful than all of the wonders of nature. I’m not going to do that. I’m just going to be honest with you and tell you that my love is very beautiful but there’s no way they (or anyone else) are as beautiful as the stars. Since I’m not trying to impress you or trying to sell you anything, I’m not going to insult your intelligence by feeding you a load of BS.

Sonnet 22: (Episode: Henry IV part 1, Act IV, Read by: Maya Pankalla. And episode: Talking About the Weather…, Read by: Hannah Dorozio)

Maya Pankalla
Maya Pankalla

My glass shall not persuade me I am old,
So long as youth and thou are of one date;
But when in thee time’s furrows I behold,
Then look I death my days should expiate.
For all that beauty that doth cover thee
Is but the seemly raiment of my heart,
Which in thy breast doth live, as thine in me:
How can I then be elder than thou art?
O, therefore, love, be of thyself so wary
As I, not for myself, but for thee will;
Bearing thy heart, which I will keep so chary
As tender nurse her babe from faring ill.
Presume not on thy heart when mine is slain;
Thou gavest me thine, not to give back again.

Argument: I don’t care what my mirror says, I won’t be old as long as you remain young. Once I do see that you are old, then I’ll be ready for my grave. Really though, you look so good and young because I’ve got my ‘love delusion’ goggles on. Until I take them off, there’s no way we’ll be old. So, take care of yourself for my sake. I’ll take care of your heart carefully but don’t expect to ever get it back: it’s mine now, no take-backs.

Sonnet 23: (Episode: Taming of the Shrew, Act I, Read by: Stephanie E.M. Coleman)

Stephanie E.M. Coleman reading Sonnet 1
Stephanie E.M. Coleman 

As an unperfect actor on the stage
Who with his fear is put besides his part,
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
Whose strength’s abundance weakens his own heart.
So I, for fear of trust, forget to say
The perfect ceremony of love’s rite,
And in mine own love’s strength seem to decay,
O’ercharged with burden of mine own love’s might.
O, let my books be then the eloquence
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,
Who plead for love and look for recompense
More than that tongue that more hath more express’d.
O, learn to read what silent love hath writ:
To hear with eyes belongs to love’s fine wit.

Argument: I know I sound like a blubbering idiot when we’re together but I swear it’s just that my love for you is so strong that it overwhelms me and I just can’t speak. Kind of like and actor who forgets his lines because they’re nervous or like someone who is so too pissed for words. Instead, I hope that you will read these poems and let them speak for me. Wouldn’t that be an impressive trick – letting your eyes ‘hear’ what a have to say?

Fair warning Brawlers: things are liable to get a little weird next week.

But it probably won’t be any worse than your last family gathering where your drunk uncle hit on your girlfriend before spending the rest of the night trying to kill one of your second cousins

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BB: Taming of the Shrew, Act II

This is the Bard Brawl and we’re back – post-nuptuals – with act II of Shakespeare early Italian-style comedy, The Taming of the Shrew.

Listen to the podcast – here.

Download the podcast.

Bard Brawlers are clockwise Andre Simoneau, Eric Jean, Miki Laval, Stephanie E.M. Coleman, and Jay Reid. Not pictured Daniel J. Rowe and David Wheaton

By the end of act I, Bianca’s three suitors – Gremio, Lucentio and Hortensio – have called a temporary truce to their wooing war in order to help Petruchio win and marry Kate. Not out of the goodness of their hearts, of course, but because Bianca’s father Baptista won’t let any of them have his youngest daughter until he manages to marry off the older one, Kate.

The only scene in act II starts with a cat fight: Bianca asks Kate to get married ASAP so Bianca can marry one of her three suitors. When Kate asks her who her favourite one is, Bianca assumes that Kate must be jealous of her. Kate doesn’t like that and she strikes her and stars running after her. Their father shows up and breaks up the fight. As he’s busy feeling sorry for himself, Petruchio arrives and declares that’s he’s looking to hook up with Kate. To show his seriousness, he offers his friend Hortensio – disguised as the music teacher Licio – to tutor Baptista’s daughters. The Gremio shows up and offers Lucentio (disguised as Cambio the language teacher) as his tutor.

Petruchio and Baptista then work out the financial details of the wedding. Baptista’s happy to agree to let Petruchio marry Kate provided he can win her over. Petruchio says “no problem, I got this.” While they talk, Hortensio comes back on stage wearing a broken lute. Seems that Kate didn’t like his fingering lesson. This just gets Petruchio excited. Baptista calls Kate over to meet Petruchio and leaves them alone. Petruchio and Kate get into a pretty intense battle of wits. By the end of it, Petruchio tells Kate they’re getting married.

Baptista and the others return. Petruchio says that Kate has agreed to marry him. Kate protests but Petruchio just says that she’s just pretending to be upset not to break character. The wedding is arranged for Sunday. Gremio and Tranio (as Lucentio) waste no time and now make their case to Baptista as to who should get Bianca. Hortensio drops out of the race early but Tranio (as Lucentio) and Gremio get into a bidding war. The old man loses and Baptista agrees to have Bianca marry ‘Luciento’ (who is actually Tranio in disguise at this point). There is one condition however: Lucentio’s father Vincentio will have to agree to all of the promises ‘Lucentio’ has just made.

Everyone still with me? Good.

Unlike both Merchant of Venice and Coriolanus, where the primary source text adapted by Shakespeare is pretty clear, that’s not really the case with The Taming of the Shrew. The most likely scenario is that Shakespeare adapted the Christopher Sly episode and the Kate and Petruchio storyline from popular folk tales. (Apparently, ‘shrew taming’ stories were pretty popular back in the day.) In the case of The Taming of the Shrew, the only source text which most people seem to agree on is an Italian play called I Suppositi. It was translated into English by George Gascoigne as Supposes (first staged in 1566, published in 1574) and it’s the basis of the Bianca and Lucentio plotline.

I tried to find us some online versions but I haven’t been able to get my hands on it. If you do find them online, leave us a comment and we’ll add some links! That means you’ll have to take my word for this but the main difference between Gascoigne’s The Supposes and Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is this: in Shakespeare, the whole point of the deceptions and of Petruchio’s actions (we’ll talk about those next week) is to get married; in The Supposes, the whole point is to get laid. The play is important less as a plot and much more as an indication of the type of comedic tradition that Shakespeare inherited in the 1590s.

Taming of the Shrew, for all of the ways in which it’s different from the rest of Shakespeare’s other comedies, does mark the first step in Shakespeare’s ongoing investigation of the purpose and usefulness of comedy. In the older play, the story ends once the guy gets the girl. It’s all in good fun. It’s entertainment. In Shakespeare, getting the girl is only half of the problem. While it’s still good fun, there’s generally something at stake which is more than a quick fling.

If you read through Shakespeare’s comedies in order, you’ll notice a trend: as he ages and matures, he leaves more and more of the funny antics, penis jokes and slapstick humour out of it and he increases the seriousness of what’s at stake. (If you want to test that out, I suggest you subscribe to The Bard Brawl!)

Here’s what Italo Calvino has to say:

The weightless gravity […] reappears in the age of Cervantes and Shakespeare: it is that special connection between melancholy and humor[:] As melancholy is sadness that has taken on lightness, so humor is comedy that has lost its bodily weight (a dimension of human carnality that nonetheless constitutes the greatness of Boccaccio and Rabelais). It casts doubt on the self, on the world, and on the whole network of relationships that are at stake. Melancholy and humor, inextricably intermingled, characterize the accents of the Prince of Denmark, accents we have learned to recognize in nearly all of Shakespeare’s plays on the lips of so many avatars of Hamlet. (Italo Calvino’s Six memos for the Next Millennium, p. 19)

I love this quote. One of my favourites.

I mentioned in my previous post that Taming of the Shrew is one of Shakespeare’s first plays. It’s sensibilities are still a far cry from a Hamlet or a Twelfth Night but it marks one of Shakespeare’s first real efforts to make comedy serious, to use it not only to entertain but to teach… though what the lesson is exactly, I’m not sure.

Go here if you’re interested in a short rundown of some the possible sources for Taming of the Shrew.

Artwork - Leigh Macrae
Artwork – Leigh Macrae

Bonus Sonnet 20 read by Melissa Myers.

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


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