Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Will Shakespeare’s 450th

Here's my contribution to Will Shakespeare’s 450th birthday.

            Sonnet 29

When in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
       For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
       That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Had I chosen one speech to read, it would be Macbeth: full of sound and fury and signifying nothing. But there's a perfection in a sonnet that you don't find, can't find, in a play.   When I studied Shakespeare at Cambridge we didn't pay much attention to the sonnets, at least I didn't. For example it was only yesterday in Wikipedia that I discovered the word volta (turn). It seems this usually occurs in the ninth line. In this sonnet the volta is “Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising”. It's where the poem turns from anxiety to resolution. It's not an easy line to get right and I don't think I've achieved it. In fact I've discovered that reading a Shakespeare sonnet aloud is a good deal harder than I thought.

If you want to hear how it ought to be done, listen to the sublime Judi Dench reciting (impromptu apparently) "Let me not to the marriage of true minds". But on the Bard’s birthday we must each bring our own tribute, flatfooted though it may be.