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. ColemanĀ 

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

Stay in touch, Brawlers!

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BB: Henry VI Part 1, Act II

Season’s greetings from snowed-in Montreal, and welcome Brawlers to this second episode of Henry VI, part 1!

Artwork - Stephanie E.M. Coleman
Artwork – Stephanie E.M. Coleman

Listen to the podcast – here

The action picks up where we left off at the end of our last show. As we start act II, the English army is gathered outside of Orleans, having just been driven off by Joan of Arc and the Dauphin’s forces. They accuse the French forces of consorting with witches and demons but believe that if they place their trust in God, their next attack will be successful. Talbot orders a coordinated attack from multiple fronts. His night attack catches the French forces unawares. They accuse Joan la Pucelle of delivering only temporary gains but she berates them for their lack of patience as they run off to gather their forces for battle.

Thanks to their surprise attack, the English rout the French by the start of scene 2. However, Talbot calls off the chase in order to secure his forces’ hold on the city. As the English commanders discuss preparation for Salisbury’s funeral, a messenger arrives with an invitation from the Countess of Auvergne. She wishes to set her eyes on the man who fills the French with such terror. While chivalry compels him to accept her invitation, he whispers something to one of his captains which suggests he suspects some sort of trap.

Sure enough, our suspicions our confirmed at the very start of scene 3 when the Countess speaks of a plot which will make her as famous as Tomryris: Tomyris had the Persian Emperor Cyrus beheaded (and then stuck it in a wineskin filled with blood). When Talbot arrives, the Countess of Auvergne is surprised to discover that he’s a dwarf of a man, not the awe-inspiring Hercules or Hector she imagined. insulted by his hostess, Talbot makes to leave but she informs him that he is now her prisoner. However, Talbot blows in his horn and a bunch of his soldiers show up, ready to fight. She apologizes and offers to treat them as honoured guests.

The play finally shifts back to England in act II, scene 4. This is possibly the most famous scene of this play and marks the ‘official’ start of the War of the Roses, where the two camps are formalized. Richard Plantagenet, the Earl of Somerset, and a few other lords are consulting with some lawyers at the Temple-Garden in London. (The Temple-Garden was the center for the study of law in London at that time.) Each – Plantagenet (Yorkist) and Somerset (Lancastrian) is essentially pleading their case to with the lawyers there as to which of them has the greater right to the throne. As the lawyers seem unable (or unwilling) pronounce a clear judgement, they take matters into their own hands. Plantagenet asks that any who believe his interpretation of the law (that he should be king) should show their allegiance by plucking a white rose out of one of the rose bushes in the garden. In response, Somerset asks that any who would support his claim to the throne should pick a red rose instead. Vernon, one of the lawyers, tries to prevent an escalation by having them swear that they two claimants will let the majority carry the day but their contest quickly devolves into threats of violence. In particular the grounds of their disagreement is this: Richard Plantagenet feels that he has the stronger case because his line is closer to the throne; however, Somerset points out that Plantagenet’s father, the Earl of Cambridge, was executed for treason and stripped of all of his titles. In the end, they both vow to gather their forces and fight it out.

We follow Richard Plantagenet as he makes his way to the Tower of London, in act II, scene 5, where he is to visit with his dying uncle. We are introduced to the character of Mortimer, who appears only in this scene. (For those of you who have read Henry VI part 1, this is the same Mortimer who betrays the Lancastrian King Henry IV and joins with the rebels.) Despite having only the one scene in the play, he is a very important character: it is through Mortimer’s death-bed confessions that Plantagenet learns exactly how closely related to the throne he is. As Richard II had no sons, Mortimer was next in line to inherit the throne at his death. However, Richard II was deposed by the man who would become Henry IV. Mortimer declares Richard Plantagenet his closest heir which makes him the next rightful heir. Mortimer then dies.

The rose plucking scene in this act is a true work of genius.

This is a history play. We expect a certain degree of fidelity to the history on which it’s based. The siege of Orleans, Joan of Arc, Winchester and Gloucester’s feud, Mortimer’s long imprisonment in the tower: these all happened. Sure, Shakespeare compresses the action in the play (they didn’t happen in the two hours or so which it takes to stage the two first acts of the play) but the basics and the timeline remain more or less intact. Shakespeare also goes to great lengths to show how the wars in France are connected to and undermined by the division at home. It’s a convincing if accelerated chronicle of the events which gave England the shape it has to this day.

What makes this rose picking scene amazing, however, is that it never happened!

Before this play, the title The War of the Roses was applied to the prolonged and ongoing conflict which defined Henry VI’s reign because the two main houses involved sported roses in their family heraldry. Shakespeare’s stroke of brilliance was taking these iconic emblems and transforming them into literal markers of allegiance. That done, he can let his poetic imagination loose on all of the possibilities imagining these emblems as real roses makes available.

The play doesn’t provide us with any stage direction to this effect, but I can just imagine how striking it would have been to have these two factions take shape: Plantagenet picks a white rose and places it in one of his button holes. Somerset responds by taking a red rose and doing the same. From that point forward, there can be no undecided nobles, no neutral players. No one can remain indifferent and even the lawyers are forced to pick sides. (Vernon and the nameless lawyer, incidentally, pick white roses.) England and its aristocracy is split down the middle.

With the simple act of picking flowers the battle lines are drawn and the players and their loyalties displayed for everyone to see.

Shakespeare not only manages to dramatize what is essentially a legal dispute, he gives the audience all of the information it needs to understand the basic nature of the rift: one side claims their decent from the line of kings which was overthrown by Henry VI’s ancestor Henry Bolingbroke, the other disavows that claims based on the fact that the ancestor through which the other claims descent was hanged as a traitor. In about 130 lines Shakespeare shows us the teams, their reasons for fighting, how we’ll recognise them, and a taste of how bad things are likely to get.

Not to mention, the scene contains some absolute gems in the exchanges between Richard Plantagenet and Somerset, many of which revolve around the figure of these literal roses: thorns, cankers, white cheeks turning red, white roses stained red with the blood of the vanquished, the purity of white as absence of colour. Here’s just a short sample:

Here in my scabbard, meditating that / Shall dye your white rose [of York] in a bloody red.
Meantime your cheeks do counterfeit our roses; / For pale they look with fear, as witnessing / The truth on our side.
No, Plantagenet, ‘Tis not for fear but anger that thy cheeks / Blush for pure shame to counterfeit our [red Lancastrian] roses, / And yet thy tongue will not confess thy error.

Now that’s good stuff, even by Shakespearean standards.

Next week: Act III where we will be reunited with our old friends Winchester and Gloucester!

You won’t want to miss it!

Our bonus sonnet – sonnet 21 – is read this week by Sonneteer Esther Viragh.

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

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