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 IV

In our tenth episode, we return to our regularly scheduled program with act IV of Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Coriolanus.

Listen to the podcast here.

Act III ends with Coriolanus turning his back on Rome. In act IV, scene 1 he takes his leave of his friends and family. Coriolanus predicts that the people of Rome will miss him when he’s gone and Rome is once again threatened. Of course, he doesn’t say that he’ll be the one to lead the troops to its doors!

Act IV, scene 2 is another short scene. The tribunes of the people, having successfully banished Coriolanus from Rome, dismiss their mob. They spot Volumnia and Menenius and try to avoid them but Coriolanus’ mother makes straight for them and gives them a piece of her mind before they beat a hasty retreat.

The next scene recaps some of the information we already know: Coriolanus has been banished from Rome and the divided people of Rome are ripe for the picking. Is this for the benefit of some of the people in the audience who maybe haven’t been paying attention? Or is this just Shakespeare’s way of explaining how the Volsces know what’s going on in Rome?

Coriolanus’ wanderings have led him through the gates of Antium, right to Tullus Aufidius’ house. In act IV, scene 4, he approaches in disguise and in act IV, scene 5 makes his presence known to the servants of the household. Thinking he’ some vagrant, they refuse him access to the house. After beating one of the servants, Aufidus comes to investigate. He doesn’t recognize Coriolanus at first, who slowly reveals his face to Aufidius. Throughout the scene Tullus Aufidius keeps asking him for his name until at last Coriolanus identifies himself as the conqueror of Corioles. He explains how he has been betrayed by his city and offers up either his life or his service to Tullus Aufidius. Tullus Aufidius welcomes him with open arms and offers him half of his forces to exact his revenge and crush Rome beneath his boot for the Volsces. In one of the few funny moments of the play, Aufidius’ servants suddenly all claim to have known that Coriolanus was not some bum but a noble person.

We return to Rome for scene 6. Brutus and Sicinius are busy gloating to Menenius about how much betters things are now that Coriolanus is gone. However, while they are vaunting the great peace Coriolanus’ exile has brought to Rome, messengers arrive with some grim news: Coriolanus and Tullus Aufidius have joined forces and are heading for Rome. Ooops. Menenius and Cominius make it clear that this is all the tribunes’ fault but the tribunes try to quiet the people by suggesting that this is something the patricians have made up. The tribunes follow the patricians to the Capitol to confirm the news.

Act IV ends with a short scene involving Tullus Aufidius and one of his lieutenants. Seems that Coriolanus is more popular with the troops than Aufidius anticipated. The Lieutenant suggests that if Aufidius doesn’t do something soon, he’ll be eclipsed by Coriolanus’ legend. Aufidius realizes that he can’t do anything yet or they might not succeed in the campaign against Rome but hints that Coriolanus’ pride will give him the leverage he needs to get rid of him once their war is done.

One of the most interesting scenes in this act is the initial encounter between Coriolanus and Tullus Aufidius. As I mentioned above, when Coriolanus first arrives at Tullus Aufidius’ doorstep, Aufidius does not recognize him. He asks him several times to name himself but Coriolanus appears to say nothing at first. When he is not recognized, he starts dropping hints, suggesting that his name is “unmusical to the Volscians’ ears, / And harsh in sound to thine.” Aufidius doesn’t get the hint and while he seems to recognize some noble quality in Coriolanus, he asks him again for his name. Coriolanus again delays and tells him to “Prepare thy brow to frown.” He still doesn’t recognize him and at last Coriolanus reveals himself in a lengthy speech in which he reveals his entire recent history and his desire for vengeance. But why play this revelation game at all?

Coriolanus is the name he was given after he (almost) single-handedly conquered Corioles. Cominius will later, in the epic act V, describe how Coriolanus refuses to answer to ‘Coriolanus.’ After all, how can he still consider himself Coriolanus when he’s now fighting on the same side as the people who, not too long ago, he conquered? For Coriolanus, names represent action, and his past actions are his identity. When he’s exiled from Rome, his name ‘Coriolanus’ loses its meaning and by extension, so does the man called ‘Coriolanus:’ he becomes “a kind of nothing, titleless” who refuses all names. Coriolanus’ logic is simple but brutal: what is left for this juggernaut of war when his titles and history have been rendered obsolete, or when he has been displaced by ungrateful politicians? To forge himself a new name in the ashes of Rome.

As always, we’re looking forward your comments!

Welcoming Virginie Tremblay to our sonnet readers this podcast. Enjoy number 4

Also, you should visit Stephanie’s website here to see some of her awesome art!

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

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