Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Shakespeare knew it

How much more would Shakespeare have written if he had a typewriter? Thirty-seven, extant, credited plays, and the other poetry, of verbally dense work are studded with a myriad of gems. There are so many famous quotations, and beyond that many important insights of thought that are overlooked in the vast bounty.

In this one sentence, that has not been memorised by millions, Shakespeare destroys a baseline argument of the busheviks and the condoners of torture:
PORTIA: Ay, but I fear you speak upon the rack,
Where men enforced do speak anything. — The Merchant of Venice III. ii. 33-4.
Perhaps, every person literate in english should be familiar with about a dozen plays of Shakespeare. He is meant to be read out loud. Film adaptations of his plays are not all that common, but some of them are excellent, and can be viewed while having the text near by.

Some versions can compare to each other, film to film, film to print, and less at hand--live version to film, print or another live performance. As You Like It was filmed in 1936 and 2006. Elisabeth Bergner and Bryce Dallas Howard played Rosalind. Leon Quartermaine and Kevin Kline played Jacques. Bergner was a european german, and even though, she clearly pronounced each word, one could hear the teutonic tone from a distance, while Howard was brilliant and quite fetching. Quartermaine spoke the seven ages of man speech, in, virtually, the same tone, emotion and rhythm as I did off the page. It was almost unison, i was vainly impressed. Kline played the role far more lackadaisical.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1935 was a delight, and one highlight was the hilarity of James Cagney as Bottom turning into an ass. Kline played the part in 1999. There are several fine, and great, actors appeared on film in Shakespeare. The wonderful part is, that, one can see the performances again and again. Richard Burton’s live performances on stage are not so recoverable for another look and listen. Film on disc is a great service.

But, back to the rack, the elizabethan english employed the rack and other forms of torture, and Shakespeare was fully aware. He had relatives tortured and killed. He himself was occasionally imperiled. Come Rack! Come Rope! (1912), a novel by Robert Hugh Benson, was written concerning that late elizabethan and early stuart time. Men could be broken to say anything true, imagined or fantastic; or for the pleasure of the torturers.

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