Posts tagged with "shakespeare" - Faerye Net 2010-11-27T15:25:15+00:00 Felicity Shoulders Reluctant romantics 2010-11-27T15:25:15+00:00 2011-03-09T20:23:19+00:00 <p>At the beginning of the &#8220;Much Ado About Nothing&#8221; production in the BBC&#8217;s <em><a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-00794051289025'>Shakespeare Retold</a></em>, the credits roll over events several years before the action of the play. Beatrice is preparing for a big date; Benedick is preparing&#8230;to skip town for a big job.</p> <p>Now, some of you may realize this isn&#8217;t countertextual: it&#8217;s a spinning out of one line:<br /> <blockquote><span class="caps">DON</span> <span class="caps">PEDRO</span>: Come, lady, come; you have lost the heart of<br /> Signior Benedick.</p> <p><span class="caps">BEATRICE</span>: Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile; and I gave<br /> him use for it, a double heart for his single one:<br /> marry, once before he won it of me with false dice,<br /> therefore your grace may well say I have lost it.</blockquote></p> <p>I could go on at some length about the casting of this production &#8212; Damian Lewis as Benedick, <strong>be still my heart</strong>; and Sarah Parish, the pretty, witty Beatrice with the motile face. But I&#8217;m here to talk about the introduction and one shot in particular where Beatrice scatters red rose petals over her bed, then looks at them, goes off screen, and comes back with a dustbuster to remove them. With her expressive face, you see the whole thought process play out.</p> <p>I love this moment. It crystallizes something very important: Beatrice is a reluctant romantic. She is a romantic, or she never would have thought of the petals: but once deployed they strike her as too much, too obvious, too vulnerable, too earnest. Too romantic.</p> <p>I can sympathize. I don&#8217;t know what scholar put forward the idea of the romance cult, but I first read about it in Ernest Becker&#8217;s <em><a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9780684832401'>The Denial of Death</a></em>. Basically, the idea is that as the power of the Church has declined in post-Medieval Europe (and the European-inflected West) the place of Christianity has been supplied by worldly romance. Sure, the Western world is still chock-full of Christians, but Christianity can no longer safely be assumed to be a universal constant. Stories told in the Renaissance and later depend on different universal truths and aspirations, a different transcendant happiness: romantic love. Love, moreover, that transforms and elevates, that is itself a destiny and purpose. True Love with One person, Forever.</p> <p>It&#8217;s natural, perhaps, that this world order should have its cynics, just as the religious one did. But most of us &#8212; not all, I note &#8212; do crave companionship, and the idea of a lasting partnership that will fix us and save us from ourselves has been programmed in from an early age. Even those of us who believe more in density than in destiny often have a yearning heart.</p> <p>And so, for us, there are the reluctant romantics, the bickering lovers, the banterers and sarcastics. Beatrices and Benedicks, Hans and Leias: characters who are strong and self-reliant, resistant perhaps to the vulnerability of love or belief in it, characters who demonstrate with every barbed word and cynical protest that they will not go gently into the sunset. It&#8217;s become an overused device itself, but done right, it still enchants. In the process of convincing their doubting hearts, they convince ours too.</p> One of my favorite quotes, Number Two (Shakespeare edition) 2010-08-18T23:01:43+00:00 2010-08-18T23:10:29+00:00 <p>In <a href="" target="links"><em>King Lear</em>, Act II, scene 4</a>, you can find one of my favorite quotable morsels of Shakespeare. A friend of mine recently blogged <a href="" target="links">about truncations of Shakespeare that change the meaning</a>, so I&#8217;ve been wondering if my delight in this little line is a similar sin. In the interests of full disclosure, I&#8217;ll put the full text of the speech, with my favorite bit in bold. I&#8217;m keeping my delight, though. I can&#8217;t help it.</p> <blockquote> <p><em>[Having found his follower in the stocks, Lear is now also shorn of his retinue by his daughters.]</em></p> <p><span class="caps">KING</span> <span class="caps">LEAR</span>:<br /> O, reason not the need: our basest beggars<br /> Are in the poorest thing superfluous:<br /> Allow not nature more than nature needs,<br /> Man&#8217;s life&#8217;s as cheap as beast&#8217;s: thou art a lady;<br /> If only to go warm were gorgeous,<br /> Why, nature needs not what thou gorgeous wear&#8217;st,<br /> Which scarcely keeps thee warm. But, for true need,&#8212;<br /> You heavens, give me that patience, patience I need!<br /> You see me here, you gods, a poor old man,<br /> As full of grief as age; wretched in both!<br /> If it be you that stir these daughters&#8217; hearts<br /> Against their father, fool me not so much<br /> To bear it tamely; touch me with noble anger,<br /> And let not women&#8217;s weapons, water-drops,<br /> Stain my man&#8217;s cheeks! No, you unnatural hags,<br /> I will have such revenges on you both,<br /> That all the world shall&#8212;<strong>I will do such things,&#8212;<br /> What they are, yet I know not: but they shall be<br /> The terrors of the earth.</strong> You think I&#8217;ll weep<br /> No, I&#8217;ll not weep:<br /> I have full cause of weeping; but this heart<br /> Shall break into a hundred thousand flaws,<br /> Or ere I&#8217;ll weep. O fool, I shall go mad!</p> </blockquote> <p>Even in context, the bold line is, I&#8217;d maintain, funny. I snicker when I hear it said onstage. It&#8217;s also very unfunny &#8212; Lear has, after all, lost his power and is now losing his faculties. That&#8217;s terrifying and, for those lucky enough to grow old, inevitable. The form of the speech underlines this reading: it starts out rhetorically perfect and personally sharp &#8211; the stab at his daughters&#8217; necklines is great. But by this point in the speech he can no longer name his threats. And of course, if he could, he would have no power to carry them out. His inability to name his revenge may be part of his failing mental powers, but also perhaps a realization or reflection of his relinquished secular powers.</p> <p>For the audience, who are not failing monarchs, these words still have resonance: this is an all too familiar sensation &#8211; that feeling of being so angry that any coherent expression of it is beyond you. &#8220;You heavens, give me that patience, patience I need!&#8221; he says, in the first break in his fluency. That feeling is, if not universal, then incredibly accessible. That gives it a rueful humor, makes it a little sweet amidst all this bitterness.</p> <p>I can&#8217;t help but also think of it as a rather writerly shorthand. &#8220;[Insert awful threats here]&#8221;, if you will. The truly fanciful might imagine Shakespeare running out of polemical gas here, scribbling a placeholder, then realizing how perfectly that would work in Lear&#8217;s fury.</p> <p>And lastly, of course, it&#8217;s just damn funny. Because believe me, when I finally think of what I&#8217;m going to do, it&#8217;ll be awesome. It shall be <em>the terror of the earth.</em></p>