Happy Birthday, Will Shakespeare

There once was a playwright named Will

Whose spelling was practically Nil.

Whether Shaksper or Shakspere

Or Shakspe or Shakespeare,

Sweet Will paid his bill with a Quill.

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Learning to Paddle

In Antony and Cleopatra, as they confront the army of Antony and Octavian, Brutus says to Cassius:

 

There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
 
I was thinking tonight that I seem to have missed the tide in my affairs (if there was one), and now  I need to learn to paddle.
 
Then it occurred to me that the tide and paddling could describe what has become my writing process. There is the tide in which things pour out onto the page, glorious and messy and all over the place. Then there is the paddling, stroke by stroke, where I figure out where I am going and once in a long while actually get there.
 
Brutus was defeated by Antony at the battle of Philippi. So maybe there is something to be said for paddling. 
 
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Anne Hathaway Remembers

They say that he was good,

but I don’t know.

I never left this town in all my life.

It was he came back to me.

What he left behind I cannot say.

He could talk.

Oh Lord, could he be sweet.

No sweeter man drew breath,

that I am sure. Young he was,

and quiet, when we met.

Handfasted in the spring of ’82,

Wed by winter, child inside,

Susanna, then the twins,

then he was gone.

And so it was,

twenty year with letters,

only words, words and words

to live on, words to dream on,

and I did, each night

hid safe beneath me in

our second best bed.

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The Historian and the Bard

I was reading Plutarch's description of  Cleopatra's barge this morning, which reminded me of one of my favorite passages from Shakespeare. So, in honor of the Bard's birthday, I thought I would contrast them.

First, Plutarch, from the Life of Antony:

She received several letters, both from Antony and from his friends, to summon her, but she took no account of these orders; and at last, as if in mockery of them, she came sailing up the river Cydnus, in a barge with gilded stern and outspread sails of purple, while oars of silver beat time to the music of flutes and fifes and harps. She herself lay all along under a canopy of cloth of gold, dressed as Venus in a picture, and beautiful young boys, like painted Cupids, stood on each side to fan her. Her maids were dressed like sea nymphs and graces, some steering at the rudder, some working at the ropes. The perfumes diffused themselves from the vessel to the shore, which was covered with multitudes, part following the galley up the river on either bank, part running out of the city to see the sight.

 

Now Shakespeare, from Antony and Cleopatra:

Enobarbus: I will tell you.

The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne,

Burned on the water: the poop was beaten gold;

Purple the sails, and so perfumed that

The winds were lovesick with them; the oars were silver,

Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made

The water which they beat to follow faster,

As amorous of their strokes. For her own person,

It beggar’d all description: she did lie

In her pavilion, cloth-of-gold of tissue,

O’erpicturing that Venus where we see

The fancy outwork nature: on each side her

Stood pretty dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids,

With divers-colour’d fans, whose wind did seem

To glow the delicate cheeks which they did cool,

And what they undid did.

 

Agrippa: O, rare for Antony.

 

Enobarbus: Her gentlewomen, like the Nereides,

So many mermaids, tended her i’ th’ eyes,

And made their bends adornings. At the helm

A seeming mermaid steers: the silken tackle

Swell with the touches of those flower-soft hands

That yarely frame the office. From the barge

A strange invisible perfume hits the sense

Of the adjacent wharfs. The city cast

Her people out upon her; and Antony,

Enthroned i’ th’ marketplace, did sit alone,

Whistling to th’ air; which, but for vacancy,

Had gone to gaze on Cleopatra too,

And made a gap in nature.

 

Agrippa: Rare Egyptian!

 

Enobarbus: Upon her landing, Antony sent to her,

Invited her to supper. She replied

It should be better he became her guest;

Which she entreated. Our courteous Antony,

Whom ne’er the word of “No” woman heard speak,

Being barbered ten times o’er, goes to the feast,

And for his ordinary, pays his heart

For what his eyes eat only.

 

Agrippa: Royal wench!

She made great Caesar lay his sword to bed;

He plowed her, and she cropped.

 

Enobarbus: I saw her once

Hop forty paces through the public street;

And having lost her breath, she spoke, and panted,

That she did make defect perfection,

And, breathless, pow’r breathe forth.

 

Maecenas: Now Antony must leave her utterly.

 

Enobarbus: Never; He will not:

Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale

Her infinite variety. Other women cloy

The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry

Where most she satisfies; for vilest things

Become themselves in her, that the holy priests

Bless her when she is riggish.

 

 

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