Yesterday I listened to one of the Shakespeare Unlimited podcasts from the Folger Shakespeare Library called Shakespeare and Solace. The hosts asked people to send in their favorite lines from Shakespeare, the ones that they return to over and over. Derek Jacobi recited Sonnet 30, which is quite dark and rather appropriate for this time. It’s easy to pick out, at the surface level, some of the things we are dealing with, but it’s the whole sonnet that offers a timeless description of loss and regret and the consolations of love that come from friends and family.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unus’d to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
And moan th’ expense of many a vanish’d sight;
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor’d, and sorrows end.
My own favorite Shakespeare quotes come from Richard II, the play about the failed king who is overthrown by Henry Bolingbroke, the future Henry IV. The writing is beautiful throughout the play, but I love the line “For heaven’s sake let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings” spoken by Richard at a low point in his fortunes. I’m sure it’s hard to appreciate out of context, but I love the rhythm of it as well as how well it characterizes Richard’s state of mind. This is the play that also has those wonderful lines “This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,” spoken by John of Gaunt; to my mind one of the most beautiful lines in literature about the love of home.
In an earlier post, I wrote about authors who have used folktales and myths in their fiction. The ongoing Hogarth Shakespeare Series, (a Penguin Random House project), asks well-known authors to re-write Shakespeare’s plays for our times. Eight books have been published in the series. I’ve read several and while you don’t have to be familiar with the original play, it’s fun to see what the authors have done with Shakespeare’s characters and plots. Margaret Atwood’s novel Hag-Seed based on The Tempest; Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl based on Taming of the Shrew; and Jeannette Winterson’s The Gap of Time based on The Winter’s Tale were all great fun to read.
I too love the lines “This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.” I can imagine Winston Churchill saying something similar during the war.
I can remember reading Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day, also based on Shakespeare’s Tempest, which I enjoyed. The titles you suggested sound interesting as well.
Thank you for the reminder of this beautiful sonnet. I read them all years ago and will go back and re-read them. I am loving these posts from you. And thank you for the beautiful quotes from Richard II. Chat tomorrow on zoom- Liz
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