Rhymes with …

Excellent article in today's Guardian by Ruth Padel on poetic form: 'Italian poets invented the sonnet, but their counterparts today do not get protested at as, last month at Ledbury, Jo Shapcott, Sean O'Brien and I did (the Poetry Society's president, vice-president and chair, respectively), on the grounds that the society supports the wrong sort of poetry: poetry that does not rhyme.'

… the real rallying flag for the rhyme police is end rhyme in a rhyming scheme. This battle, though, was fought over 400 years ago by cutting-edge practitioners whose blank verse (begun in English around 1540 following Italy's versi sciolti da rima, "verse freed from rhyme", developed roughly 1530) was blazing out of the language.

In 1602, Thomas Campion attacked "the unaptnesse of Rime in Poesie". Bad poets, he said, "rime a man to death". The "popularitie of Rime creates as many Poets as a hot summer flies". Rhyme should be used "sparingly, lest it offend the eare with tedious affectation".

Samuel Daniel wrote furiously back "proving", he said, "that Rhyme is the fittest harmonie of words that comportes with our Language". Campion, this traitor to rhyme, has called "our measures grosse, vulgare, barbarous". If it be so, Daniel snarled sarcastically, "we have lost much labour to no purpose". Ben Jonson weighed in with a satirical poem, "A Fit of Rime against Rime", accusing rhyme of "Wresting words from their true calling, / Propping verse for fear of falling"; of "Jointing syllables, drowning letters, / Fastening vowels as with fetters".

The nub of Campion's protest was laziness and banality. It is fatally easy to rhyme badly. If you rhyme, it had better be fresh, better be good. Otherwise it doesn't just spoil your poem, it betrays rhyme itself.

Milton was against it. Rhyme acts on poets as "a constraint to express many things otherwise, and for the most part worse, than else they would have exprest them". Paradise Lost does not end-rhyme, nor much Tennyson, Wordsworth's Prelude and Excursion, or most of Shakespeare's plays. "As soon as lazy thou" (Jonson says to "rime") "wert known / All good poetry hence was flown."

It was an important quarrel, then, which TS Eliot said produced some of England's greatest poetry.

Additional reason for reading her whole article: what connects John Masefield, Thomas Traherne (probably), Robert Frost, Edward Thomas, John Drinkwater, Eleanor Farjeon, W H Auden and Thomas Mann's daughter, Erika? Ledbury.

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A gazillion bloggers, small audiences, reading … Shakespeare

I do like David Weinberger, here being interviewed at Rebecca's Pocket:

How much traffic do you get?
I genuinely do not track it. I don't have the slightest idea. I don't have any meters in place and I never ever check my Technorati ranking or any of the others. I couldn't give you a guess reliable within several orders of magnitude.

Why don't you track it?
In small part on principle. In main part for pragmatic reasons. I would be affected by the numbers either way, and neither effect would be helpful. If I were a bigger person, I wouldn't care. But I do. So I don't check.

What principle?
That we shouldn't be writing blogs in order to gain a mass market. And we shouldn't be evaluating blogs and bloggers by how many people read them.

Why shouldn't we?
Because I'd like to see the broadcast strategy get a real alternative not just in who the stars are but in the star system entirely.

What alternative do you envision?
What we have: a gazillion bloggers, almost all of whom are writing for a small group of readers. …

How does your offline input contribute to your blogging?
A lot of our culture is in books that are either not online or too hard to read online. … Offline works often provide the impetus for a post — for example, it's hard for me to get through an issue of The Boston Globe without a mental list of things I really ought to blog about. But, by the time I get to my computer — a 15 second walk — I've usually forgotten all of them, which is a good thing. We get to take long walks through offline books. I find that that's good for maintaining and expanding the ol' context.

Whose writing do you particularly admire?
… I will say that that Shakespeare guy has a way with a phrase.

Why do you blog?
I blog because I tried it out and liked it. I like it because it gets me into conversations and it builds friendships. I like it because I like writing. I like it because it stimulates me so much that I jump out of bed in the morning to get started. Also, I have some obsessive-compulsive tendencies.

How has your weblog changed your life?
Blogging has made me fat. I used to exercise in the morning. Now I blog. It's connected me to people I care about. I'm over-stimulated intellectually. There's too much to read, think about, and write about.

The star system challenged — word-smithery as acts of honesty where we're so used to the emperor's clothes and other lies.

And much more besides: eg, 'For me, a community is a group of people who care about one another more than they have to'.

As for that Shakespeare guy, these lines have been much in my head this week:

How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?

Sonnet 65

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Words, words, words

Well … offers deep levels of information on Hamlet and related works for scholars, students, theater practitioners, and fans. The site, a continuing work in process, already allows users to

Compare early Hamlet editions from the First Quarto (Q1, 1603), Second Quarto (Q2, 1605), First Players' Quarto (Q6, 1676) and First Folio (F1, 1623)
Build a Shakespeare concordance
Survey textual notes in editions from Q2 to the present
Compare commentary notes from the eighteenth to the twentieth century by clicking on a line number
See Hamlet facsimiles
Explore Global essays on Hamlet around the world
and much more!

Via an essay by Gregory M Lamb, 'How the Web changes your reading habits', who comments:

When completed, the site will help visitors comb through several editions of the play, along with 300 years of commentaries by a slew of scholars. Readers can click to commentaries linked to each line of text in the nearly 3,500-line play. The idea is that some day, anyone wanting to study Hamlet will find nearly all the known scholarship brought together in a cohesive way that printed books cannot. Even that effort only scratches the surface of what's possible, some researchers say. Since people are still largely reading the way they always have, they ask, why not use technology to make reading itself more efficient?

Lamb reports on Dr. Chi, of the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in California ('birthplace of technologies such as laser printing, Ethernet, the graphical user interface, and ubiquitous computing'), who is working on ScentHighlights: 

The reading experience online "should be better than on paper," Chi says. He's part of a group at PARC developing what it calls ScentHighlights, which uses artificial intelligence to go beyond highlighting your search words in a text. It also highlights whole sections of text it determines you should pay special attention to, as well as other words or phrases that it predicts you'll be interested in. "Techniques like ScentHighlights are offering the kind of reading that's above and beyond what paper can offer," Chi says. … the software could help students, academics, and business people quickly extract specific information from other written material. ScentHighlights gets its name from a theory that proposes that people forage for information much in the same way that animals forage in the wild. "Certain plants emit a scent in order to attract birds and bees to come to them," Chi says. ScentHighlights uncovers the "scent" that bits of information give off and attract readers to it.

Then there's BuddyBuzz, 'a project of a small group within the Stanford Persuasive Technology Laboratory, (which) flashes text to the viewer a word at a time. BuddyBuzz is based on a reading technique called RSVP (Rapid Serial Visual Presentation) that's been around since the 1970s, says Matt Markovich, editor in chief of BuddyBuzz ( Using it, people can learn to read with good comprehension up to 1,000 words per minute, Mr. Markovich says. … Users who sign up can download news from Reuters and CNET, a technology news website, and postings from several popular Internet bloggers. More content is on the way, Markovich says. Users can also feed their own texts into the website and have them sent to their mobile phone, or offer their content to other BuddyBuzz users.' My italics: something to try out for teaching.

The Merchant of Venice

In the LRB, Frank Kermode responds to Michael Radford's film of The Merchant of Venice, starring Pacino as Shylock:

This movie version of the play will just about do. It has most of the virtues and most of the faults endemic to such ventures, but it exposes the latter less grossly than some. As Shylock Pacino succeeds as any good, experienced actor should, and Jeremy Irons is appallingly sad as Antonio, just as he promises to be in the opening line of the play. He cannot understand why he is so sad but the film all too insistently offers a complete explanation. Joseph Fiennes as Bassanio shows us why the Christians in this play are, on the whole, such an unlikeable lot. Lynn Collins as Portia looks as good as she ought to, and redeems some tiresome moments in the early scenes by being startlingly good and grave in the trial scene. Since the piece is set in Venice there is a lot of photography, and some of the results are indeed beautiful. The movie runs for 131 minutes and feels longer, partly no doubt because quite often nothing strictly relevant is actually happening – and certainly not because it includes boring quantities of Shakespeare’s text. …

Shylock is despised and hated but even when most intransigent not credible as a monster, and to give Pacino his due, he plays him as a human being, increasingly vicious as his wrongs accumulate, totally lacking the sentiment of mercy, but always true to his culture and its eloquent exponent. On the other side we notice that no one, not even Jessica, thinks that he has been unfairly treated. Like a great many other Jews of the period he is forced to convert, but this is treated as a punishment, not an occasion for rejoicing, despite the prevalent belief that the Jews must be converted before there could be a second coming. This gentile callousness is as hard to condone as the inherited monstrosities of their anti-semitic mythology.

Prejudice is powerful on both sides, but the Christians are shown to have God on their side when Antonio’s venture succeeds and the ships, mysteriously saved, come in loaded, while Shylock, for seeking an illegal form of interest, is ruined. Yet he is the greater performer, his part so well written that even the cinema cannot seriously reduce or explain it. What neither the cinema nor the stage explains is why the play is so shadowed by unease and unhappiness, even though all seems to go right: the villain is punished and the dissolute boy gets the rich girl and they all meet again at Belmont – such a blissful place, especially in the movie – only to celebrate their happiness by discussing infidelity and experiencing, like the play itself, a nameless sadness under the inaudible harmonies of the stars.

Shakespeare quartos from the British Library

The British Library is putting online 93 high-resolution digitised copies of 21 of Shakespeare's plays. The texts date from Shakespeare's lifetime and are pamphlet editions of plays prepared to be sold after performances had finished. The printed works show how the text evolved and cast doubt on the idea of definitive versions of his plays.

'The quartos were cheaply produced and would have been available for as little as sixpence,' said Moira Goff, Head of British Collections 1501-1800 at the British Library. ... The texts of the plays are thought to be the closest versions to the way that the plays were actually written and performed. 'Given that Shakespeare left no manuscripts behind, the quartos are as close as we are able to get to what he actually wrote,' said Ms Goff. 'They take us behind the First Folio and different quarto versions of the plays provide clues to Shakespeare's own revisions of his works.'

The quarto editions are thought to be Shakespeare's working drafts, copies for rehearsals or records of versions remembered by actors. Quartos were not produced in large numbers because they were not very popular or profitable. Many pages have contemporary annotations. Many of the quartos featured in the online collection are from collections amassed by King George III and 18th century actor David Garrick. The different versions of plays show that some of the most famous lines in the Shakespearean canon changed from one performance to another. For instance Hamlet's famous line: 'To be, or not to be, that is the question' appears in a quarto from 1605. However in an earlier edition produced in 1603 it is written as: 'To be, or not to be, I there's the point'. ... Accompanying the online collection is background material, essays by Shakespearean scholars, commentaries, images and sound clips. Tools on the site allow scholars to compare different versions of the same play to track textual changes. BBC News

British Library:

On this site you will find the British Library’s 93 copies of the 21 plays by Shakespeare printed in quarto before the theatres were closed in 1642.
  • Hamlet

  • Henry IV Part 1

  • Henry IV Part 2

  • Henry V

  • Henry VI Parts 2&3

  • Henry VI Part 3

  • King Lear

  • Love's Labour's Lost

  • The Merchant of Venice

  • The Merry Wives of Windsor

  • A Midsummer Night's Dream

  • Much Ado About Nothing

  • Othello

  • Pericles

  • Richard II

  • Richard III

  • Romeo and Juliet

  • The Taming of the Shrew

  • Titus Andronicus

  • Troilus and Cressida

  • The Two Noble Kinsman

  • Adès: The Tempest

    Thomas Adès

    Alerted by a friend who heard the première of Thomas Adès' new opera last week, we're off to catch it this Wednesday. (This performance will be broadcast live on Radio 3. ) The ROH production, conducted by Adès, has received warm reviews:

    It promises to be a score that will repay repeated hearings, for the orchestral layers beneath the voices are equally rich. There are shifting gauzes of muted strings, and rivulets of woodwind underpinning nearly everything, just as there are moments in all three acts which are by any standards sheerly, heartstoppingly beautiful; passages in which the music seems to be mined from an unfathomable depth of feeling. The Guardian

    Photo: Tristram Kenton

    A Telegraph article on Adès ('As Thomas Adès prepares to unveil his new opera, The Tempest, Ivan Hewett wonders whether the composer will succumb to the pressures and expectations that proved such a burden for similarly gifted British composers in the past') can be read here (may require free registration).

    Shakespeare and Southampton

    Back in April, 2002, Anthony Holden, writing in The Observer, introduced the wider world to an Elizabethan portrait, owned by the Cobbe family, believed to be of Lady Norton, daughter of the Bishop of Winton.

    Then came the day, only a few years ago, when Alastair Laing, the National Trust's adviser on art and sculpture, told Cobbe he believed the portrait was not of a woman, but of a young man apparently dressed as a woman. Cobbe was intrigued. As he researched his family history for a recent exhibition of its treasures at Kenwood House in London, under the auspices of English Heritage, he wondered who this effeminate young man might be. In the process, he discovered previously unknown connections between his own family and the Wriothesleys, Earls of Southampton, dating back to Elizabethan times and beyond. But it was not until earlier this year, he says, after the Kenwood exhibition had closed, that 'the penny finally dropped. Suddenly I realised that the face reminded me of pictures I had seen during my research into my family's history. "My God," I thought, "could this be the third Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare's patron and, perhaps, his lover?"'


    Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton (1573–1624), was painted on a number of occasions. Here is a detail of a particularly well-known portrait:


    Jonathan Bate has some reflections on these portraits and the Sonnets.

    Does Office wisdom eclipse the Bard?


    The words of The Office's David Brent and Star Wars villain Darth Vader are better-known than those of Wordsworth and Shakespeare, according to research. Some 34% of 25 to 44-year-olds knew the quote 'Accept that some days you are the pigeon, and some days you are the statue' came from comic creation Brent. And 71% of the same group knew the source of a statement from Darth Vader. Just one in 10 identified lines written by William Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde ... Only 9% knew the words 'I can resist everything except temptation' came from Wilde. And 10% correctly said the Shakespearean quote 'Now is the winter of our discontent' came from Richard III. BBC News

    Want to take the test? Click here.

    So is Brent the new bard?

    Remember that age and treachery will always triumph over youth and ability.

    Brevity is the soul of wit.

    Eagles may soar high but weasels don't get sucked into jet engines.

    The course of true love never did run smooth.

    Never do today that which will become someone else's responsibility tomorrow.

    All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players.

    If your boss is getting you down, look at him through the prongs of a fork and imagine him in jail.

    How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child!

    If at first you don't succeed, remove all evidence you ever tried.

    Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.

    You have to be 100 per cent behind someone before you can stab them in the back.


    Some notes on and views of this enigmatic figure of such importance to Antony and Cleopatra. (Also available here as a PDF file. Requires Acrobat Reader; can then be saved to your computer.)

    Furthermore, he dealt very friendly and courteously with Domitius, and against Cleopatra’s mind. For, he being sick of an ague when he went and took a little boat to go unto Caesar’s camp, Antonius was very sorry for it, but yet he sent after him all his carriage, train and men; and the same Domitius, as though he gave him to understand that he repented his open treason, he died immediately after.
    Shakespeare’s Plutarch, ed. T. J. .B. Spencer (Penguin), Thomas North’s translation (1579)

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