Tuesday, February 28, 2006
If he were only a little more cynical, he'd be "Berounic."
Today's "Writer's Almanac" featured Montaigne, of whom Florio's 1603 (?) translation, with its latent skepticism about human affairs, was a big hit.
Monday, February 27, 2006
Notes: It may be Berowne or it may be Biron. Spellings shift their shapes with Mr. Shakesper. Perhaps Costard is Custard. If we whip him, does that make him a fool?
A full dish of fool for all of you,
Pronunciation of Berowne: Hell, I don't even know how it is spelled. Cambridge, New Cambridge, Hardin Craig, Norton all spell it Biron. Riverside, Signet, and Bevington (interestingly, in that Bevington is really the fourth edition of Hardin Craig) go with Berowne. I can't find any comment on this in textual notes.
David Bevington, in exploring topical hypotheses that the plot is drawn from the "Elizabethan contemporary scene," poking fun at literary figures such as John Florio [Florio, by the way, comes up as the "real" Shakespeare in the authorship heresies], Thomas Nashe, Gabriel Harvey, Sir Walter Ralegh, and George Chapman, also notes currency of some of the names: Navarre (Henry of Navarre, King Henry IV of France), Dumaine (De Mayenne, brother of the Catholic Guise) and "Berowne" (Biron, Henry IV's general). Bevington dismisses any topical meaning in this, but to me it suggests Shakespeare's custom of choosing "foreign" names -- we are pretty sure he never met an Antipholus in Stratford.
Randall wondered who the fool is. I didn't focus very carefully on them. Like Randall, I remember in both the stage productions waiting for Armado to get off the stage so we could get back to the Princess and the bookmen. In reading, I find Armado more pleasant, if only for the set up of "remuneration" I mentioned last time, and Holofernes has that one touching moment when he condemns the bookmen's abuse with "this is not generous, not gentle, not humble." Dull caught my attention early as a malapropist, which makes him an early draft for Dogberry among others, but this trait seems lost later in the play. I like Moth because he sees through the pedantry and pomposity of the other fools: "They have been at a great feast of languages, and stolen the scraps" (V.i.36). Am I pushing too hard to think forward to the Boy in Henry IV who sees through Falstaff and Pistol (and, pathetically, is killed by the French in Henry V). There is another Moth in Midsummer but he is one of Titania's fairies offering his services to Bottom. Costard has promise, but he is inconsistent. He has slept with Jacquenetta (is that Touchstone?), he can't read or reckon (Peter, the illiterate servant in Romeo?) so he mixes up the two letters, he is cast as Pompion the Great (Bottom or, maybe, Snout in Midsummer?).
I guess I would take Don Adriano de Armado as most interesting, but partially because he 1) anticipates Angelo, Claudio, Isabella in Measure for Measure -- seizes Costard in the name of the law, then transgresses to the same passion, and 2) surrenders to Jacquenetta in anticipation of the courtiers' collapse before the gaze of the ladies of France. Cyrus Hoy said "It is the glory of love to subdue men," and we get the low/high comedy of Armado in The Nine Worthies comparing his fall to Sampson, Soloman, and Heracles. If our discussion goes on, I may read the play again to keep in mind these "drafts" of comic characters in the later plays. The Princess, the smartest of characters, gives us the overview:
"That sport best pleases that doth [least] know how.
Where zeal strives to content, and the contents
Dies in the zeal of that which it presents.
Their form confounded makes most form in mirth,
When great things laboring perish in their birth." (V.ii.516-21)
Lady Townley, in Etherege's Man of Mode, has a similar comment on the uses of fools to enliven superior society: "'Tis good to have an universal taste; we should love wit, but for variety be able to divert ourselves with the extravagancies of those who want it" (III.ii.151-54). As to pedantry, Medley in the same Etherege play, notes "Many a fool had been lost to the world had their indulgent parents wisely bestowed neither learning nor good breeding on 'em" (I.i.434-36).
Unresolved ending? I've spoken to the love endings. But what about the unresolved political question of the Princess's territorial claims to Aquitane? I think I've got the answer. You see, young Fortinbras will march an army across Navarre...
Gil (I really do know how to spell "forswear," and I know Navarre does not "forswear the world" in the first act of Love's Labor's Lost)
I have declaimed against Love's Labor's Lost for its lack of plot; Gil found plot in "the dramatic tension in the noble plot," in their "journey from the artificial to the natural." I like this characterization. Anne Barton in the Riverside Shakespeare substitutes "reality" for "nature" in her argument that the men in the play must "learn something that the women have known all along: how to accomodate speech to facts and to emotional realities, as opposed to using it as a means of evasion, idle amusement, or unthinking cruelty" (177). She concludes "the gradual revelation of ... why the women must reject their suitors and demand a resolution outside the limits of comedy, is the main business of Love's Labor's Lost: in fact, its plot" (175). (Just because Love's Labor's Lost has lost the name of "action" doesn't mean it's not there, I guess.)
Both these subtle plots, Gil's movement from artificiality to nature or Barton's movement from "fatally self-indulgent," shallow, untrustworthy wit to reality, satisfy my need for a sense of motion in the narrative. And while Love's Labor's Lost may not follow a conventional (was it conventional in 1594, Ernst?) comic chaos-to-order structure, I notice a number of characteristics which indicate a more formal attention to plot. For one, we have peripeteia, or reversal of fortune. Here, it comes at the end of the play rather than at the the beginning or middle when the men -- convinced that all their word play and heartfelt sonnets will get them their Jills, every man Jack of them -- discover that their hopes will go unrealized for a least a year. Certainty to uncertainty: reversal of fortune.
Second we have a mild form of anagnorisis, or the recognition of something unknown. I think this begins with the Princess's balloon-puncturing:
"We have received your letters, full of love;
Your favors, the ambassadors of love;
And in our maiden council rated them
At courtship, pleasant jest, and courtesy,
As bombast (!) and as lining to the time.
But more devout than this in our respects
Have we not been, and therefore met your loves
In their own fashion, like a merriment." (Signet, 5.2.778-785)
Reading this I was surprised. At no time in the previous 5.1 acts and scenes did I get the impression that the men weren't sincere. They may be artificial and out of touch with Nature, but they seem to truly believe they are in love. Why else would we get Berowne berating himself: "What? I love? I sue? I seek a wife? ... Go to, it is a plague / That Cupid will impose for my neglect / Of his almighty dreadful little might" (3.1.191, 203-205). The Princess's "we didn't take you seriously" statement then divides the world into self-indulgent wit and serious wooing. And it is at this point that the men begin to see the difference.
I would point to Rosaline's further articulation of the difference:
"A jest's prosperity lies in the ear
Of him that hears it, never in the tongue
Of him that makes it." (5.2.862-864)
The men's wit has been entirely self-indulgent, jokes that leap off their tongues with hands in the air squealing "me, me, look at me!" Rosaline proves that wit should serve a purpose that is more self-less. And this is a revelation, even to Berowne who has earlier backed up the Princess's criticism of Ferdinand:
"That sport best pleases that doth least know how,
Where zeal strives to content, and the contents
Dies in the zeal of that which it presents." (5.2.515-517)
(This is also something of an irony, given the intricately rhetorical and often frivolous nature of the play in which these broader points about humor are made.) Rosaline's task for Berowne insists that he fully come to know something he has not -- the role of comedy in a suffering world. She sends him away not only for a year secluded from her but to a hospital to,
"... visit the speechless sick and still converse
With groaning wretches; and your task shall be
With all the fierce endeavor of your wit
To enforce the pained impotent to smile." (5.2.853-855)
I think I've seen the sequel; it's called Patch Adams. Robin Williams is a lousy Berowne. Anyway, in keeping with Drs. Findlay and Barton's interpretations, the things unknown here are internal. The men do not know either themselves (which they will come to know, as Gil points out, "through the medium of love") or the proper balance of their artifice and the world's reality. But by the end of Act V with both peripeteia and anagnorisis in evidence, Love's Labor's Lost has satisfied Aristotle's expectation for comic mimesis. And once again, as with Comedy of Errors, we have a Shakespeare play that in the midst of frivolity peers more deeply into the well of human nature than one might have expected.
I deposited three farthings in the pedantry bank for the three big words I used here. THERE's your remuneration.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
But Randall's question about structure gave me focus. I said in my earlier reactions, I didn't find much plot, and the early vow to forswear the world in favor of study is doomed so quickly that it leeches out any resistance drama. But there is a dramatic tension in the noble plot. We, the audience, know that Navarre and his bookmen have made a foolish and unnatural vow, but they don't know. Their oath is artificial, pretentious, mannered, affected, self-deceptive (oh, where is my thesaurus when I need it?). Of course, it gives way immediately to necessity, but it takes four more acts for them to discover they must learn who they are, not from study of "knowledge" but from discovery of self through the medium of love.
Berowne is the truth sayer, yet he is also the leader in the theatre of wit that delays discovering their true natures. And the ladies of France play along, even play better. The announcement of the death of the King of France brings the games to an end, "the scene begins to cloud" (V.ii.721), and the boys are sent off to do a real year-and-a-day of ascetic penance -- "Jack hath not Jill" -- which violates the comic convention of happy endings. But it is the right ending, in that Navarre and his men have completed their journey from artificial to natural. There is nothing in the play to assure the four men will survive their quest toward love. If they fail now, it is because we are all subject to human limitations, and the human comedy -- happily -- revels in the infirmity of human purpose. Rather than happily ever after, our natural lives show, if I remember Cyrus Hoy, the discrepancy between the ideal and the reality, between the intention and the deed. Spring and winter. The cuckoo and the owl. Marriage (and cuckoldry) and death (but greasy Joan keeling the pot)
The opening ("hot house") edict, using the language of all-out war against the senses -- "That war against your own affections/ And the huge army of the worlds desires" (I.i.9-10) -- is suspect because Navarre is partly motivated by fame ("we'll have higher Board scores!!"). Poor Longaville even sees study as a sort of low-carb diet: "Fat paunches have lean pates; and dainty bits/ Make rich the ribs, but bankrout quite the wits"(I.i.26-27). Immediately, Berowne articulates the case for nature: "O, these are barren tasks, too hard to keep,/ Not to see ladies, study, fast, not sleep" (I.i.47-48). (Keep your eye on "barren" until the song that ends the play balances fecund Spring with deadly Winter.) But he goes along to get along ("I swore in jest") , but not before he articulates the key truth: "[I] like of each thing that in season grows/ [But] you...climb o'er the house to unlock the little gate" (I.i.107-09).
There is no need to satisfy my wish to see the fellows staying up drinking too much coffee and studying Spenser's Shepherd's Calendar (yeah, I went to grad school). The-edict-is-read-the-ladies-arrive [sic-I would type those statements one on top of the other if I could]. "Necessity will make us all forsworn.../ for every man with his affects is born,/ Not by might mast'red, but by special grace"(I.i.149, 151-52). You want necessity of "seasons"? Costard ignores the edict and has bonked Jaquenetta, recognizing the unassailable logic that his superiors lack: "It is the manner of a man to speak to a woman...Such is the simplicity of man to hearken after the flesh"(I.i.210, 217). I'd like to go back to the unreasonable laws we spoke of in The Comedy of Errors and will see again in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Navarre's edict is a law against Nature. It takes the whole play to rebalance.
Coincidentally, I am reading Karen Armstrong's Through the Narrow Gate about her pre-Vatican Two training as a nun, and the denial of everything natural -- mind, love, sleep, speech, culture -- puts me in mind of John McCain's Vietnamese prison experience, but it also has an eerie gloss on the program of self-denial Navarre is proposing. But we soon get the absurd. Navarre, to keep the letter of his oath, necessarily admits the embassy from France, but pitches a tent for the Princess and her train in a meadow, where the deer/dear and the antelope play, outside the palace. "Oh, what fools," quoth Puck.
Berowne falls in love with Rosaline, "O, and I, forsooth, in love!" (III.i.174), and in a play stuffed with comic catalogues of language, spins out a marvelous series of parallels for Cupid's whipping boy. But what do you gentlemen do with his description of Rosaline as "Among three to love the worst of all,/ A whitely [not, note, the conventional "fair"] wanton with a velvet brow,/ With two pitch-balls stuck in her face for eyes;/ Ay, and, by heaven, one that will do the deed/ Though Argus were her eunuch and her guard"(III.i.195-99)? A Dark Lady?! Or ugly? Certainly promiscuous. Is this Shakespeare of the Sonnets? Or does it show that the witty and wittily insightful Berowne is even more than the others subject to the forces of nature just as Costard is?
We might combine to "direct" Act IV, scene iii, with Berowne up the tree. Wonderful dramatic irony as we see the gentlemen reading (artificial) love poems, until Longaville exposes Dumain, then Navarre expose Longaville, and Berowne climbs down to expose Navarre, then here comes Costard with Berowne's love poem -- all forsworn. At last, Navarre asks good Berowne to prove "our loving lawful" and the response, "To fast, to study, and to see no woman--/ Flat treason 'gainst the kingly state of youth" (IV.iii. 288-89) leads to what I think is the key to the play, "Let us once lose our oaths to find ourselves, / Or else we lose ourselves to keep our oaths"(IV.iii.358-59).
We still have to get by the Muscovites, but that seems to me to be but a play within a play. No, it does not prove the men forsworn again. The ladies switch favors and wear masks. The men pay court to the favors (re: assumptions and therefore mistaken identity), thus to the wrong mistresses. I have used an observation by Parolles, of All's Well That Ends Well, "Who cannot be crush'd with a plot?" on much Restoration Comedy, where it is easy to trick a person who is innocent of necessary information, and that happens to the "Muscovites." (For me, it also illuminates how the innocent Othello can so easily be duped by the calculating Iago -- innocence is vulnerable). The plot against the Muscovites lets the bright and witty ladies even the score -- for having to sleep in that tent? -- "There's no such sport as sport by sport o'erthrown" (V.ii.153).
More telling about the gentlemen's characters is how nasty they are to the "rude mechanicals" trying to put on the pageant of the Nine Worthies. They are still trying to display their superiority, "to dash [the entertainment] like a Christmas comedy," having failed at ascetic study and love poetry. "We are shame proof," says Berowne. Well, they shouldn't be, this late in the play, and Holofernes correctly rebukes their jeering: "This is not generous, not gentle, not humble" (V.ii.629). The movement from artifice to nature and grace is not quite complete. Bring on the Cuckoo and the Owl.
Post Script: I note that I have read Love's Labor's Lost twice before, but not since 1978 when I was reading Comedy with Cyrus Hoy in Rochester. I remember seeing two productions, one as a teen in the '50s in, I think, Newcastle, England. It showcased young Michael Redgrave as Berowne. It certainly had traveled up from London, but I don't remember whether it was an Old Vic company or not. I have no program for it. There was a notable Peter Brook production about this time, and maybe this was it. I vividly remember Armado tipping Costard a three-farthing piece to deliver a letter to Jaquenetta. "There is remuneration" (III.i.131). Costard thinks the coin itself is called a "remuneration," and indignantly goes on and on like a waitress with only a 5% tip. Later Berowne gives Costard a shilling as "guerdon" (reward) for carrying another letter to Rosaline, and Costard waxes ecstatic at the economic superiority of a "gardon" over a "remuneration." He still, being illiterate, misdelivers the two letters, a part of the plot that does not seem to go very far. But note that my seventeen-year-old mind, faced with Love's Labor's Lost, retained this comic bit for more than forty years. My sister, eight weeks after brain surgery, is still in the hospital, and I was talking with her about this first encounter with the word "remuneration." She replied that her first encounter with it was in LaPorte, Texas, when a gym teacher told her she did not teach for the remuneration, but for the joy of physical activity. At that point, I knew my sister would recover completely.
The other production I saw about five years ago at the Denver Center Theatre. They used a young cast, none of their war horse actors, and the production was very pretty, all pastel costumes on a set that had a tree for Berowne to climb and a pond to dunk someone in. The lines were very well spoke. I began to forget it before the curtain call was over.
Sorry, this didn't argue as much about structure as I hoped.
Saturday, February 18, 2006
But stay! O spite!
But mark, poor knight,
What dreadful dole is here!
Eyes, do you see?
How can it be?
O dainty duck! O dear!
--Just written out a little differently. All Shakespeare's way of playing with the sing-songy pattern of some of the plays he must have seen as a kid. I think the wonderful Cambises is written in fourteeners, but I have packed my copy.
First, thanks to Ernst, whose opening really focused my reading of Love's Labor's Lost in ways that I would certainly have missed, and not just for the little side trip to the corner of Lyly and Euphues, but for the contentions that Love's Labor's Lost is self-mocking and mature and exists for "exuberant playing" with language and rhetorical style. (You'll have to give me a few more sentences though, Ernst, on the "'fourteeners' of mid-century drama," because I know not to what you refer.)
A word about maturity. When I left Carleton, I felt I'd gotten pretty good at this writing thing. I got a job as a theater critic, paid by the inch in some circles, so I learned to use a few big words, though not as big as "euphuism" and "stochiomythic." I also spent a few weeks sitting in the dining nook of my first post-college apartment, banging away at a 35-pound typewriter, trying my hand at a few short stories. I was certainly no Shakespeare; what marked this period of my writing "career" is how absolutely derivative it was. Everything I wrote was, consciously or not, an imitation of my collegiate reading. My fiction, minimalist to a fault, could have been mistaken for Raymond Carver. And my criticism owed enough to Kenneth Tynan that I should've taken out a loan to pay him off.
Thus it was with some sense of familiarity that I read Love's Labor's Lost, a play in which the entire subject matter seems academic, inspired by a different sort of world than the other plays, an interior one of books and fellow playwrights and technique. Given the attention to Latin, the scene after scene of word-play for word-play's sake at the expense of any plot, and the imitation of his contemporaries' rhetorical stylings all seem to be the work of someone fresh out of King Edward VI Grammar School or the Stratford Free School, report card sticking out of his doublet reflecting an "A" in Latin. Even the aristocratic language, while ostensibly focused on love and beautifully wrought, is about wit rather than wit in the service of a character's passion.
Look at Berowne's soliloquy in 3.1, in which he frets about his new subservience to Cupid:
"This whimpled, whining, purblind, wayward boy,
This senior-junior, giant-dwarf, Dan Cupid,
Regent of love-rhymes, lord of folded arms,
Th' anointed sovereign of sighs and groans,
Leige of all loiterers and malcontents,
Dread prince of plackets, king of codpieces,
Sole imperator and great general
Of trotting paritors -- O my little heart! --
And I to be a corporal of his field,
And wear his colors like a tumbler's hoop!" (3.1.181-190)
I count nine (9!) appositives, roiled by rampant alliteration and love-struck Romeo-esque oxymoron.
(As an aside, I agree with Gil that Berowne's reputation for wit seems far greater than his actual practice of it, or at least the display of his wit is inconsistent. Take for example his description of the lovely Rosaline: "A whitely wanton with a velvet brow, / With two pitch balls stuck in her face for eyes" (3.1.198-199). "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun," indeed!)
The sheer quantity of rhetorical flourish here calls attention more to itself than to Berowne's struggle with love. And Berowne is far from the only character to demonstrate wit through the stacking of synonymic words and phrases. Why isn't this just verbal mugging? Do we take pleasure in the lack of restraint, in the ostentatiousness of the wit that serves only itself rather than character or theme? I enjoyed the talent, but found a certain lack of balance throughout the play. Gil mentions Shakespeare's short-changing of the men's "attempt to practice [their] oath" which would have established more of the moral consequences of their being so easily forsworn; instead the breaking of their oaths becomes the object of more wit until finally the Princess's reprimand grounds it at the end.
In addition we have an imbalanced panoply of comic characters: Armado, Moth, Costard, Dull, Holoferness, Nathaniel, Boyet. Each is the sort of character that Shakespeare later builds scenes around, like Dogberry or Touchstone or Belch/Aguecheek/Feste or the gravedigger in Hamlet. In Love's Labor's Lost, such scenes are constructed but they detract from each other; it's just seven clowns trying to squeeze into a tiny car. Five seem okay, but there we are midway through Act IV when Shakespeare stuffs in two more -- one whose humor is based on pedantry and one who provides the pedant's straight man, replete with lackluster puns and pretentious verbiage (Nathaniel's favorite word is "scurrility") -- and, for me, the wheels fall off. I can't tell you the sense of relief I felt reading this play when I got to scenes involving Navarre and the Princess. They were the only ones that seemed to move forward.
Yes, it may be misguided to blame a play that clearly seeks to explore the various shades of wit because it doesn't do something else. But if the play is about wit, what is it saying? Puck teaches us that wit makes fools of fools. Feste teaches us that wit may have roots in sadness ("the rain it raineth every day"). Love's Labor's Lost teaches us that wit is like a rhetorical chess match in which a Ruy Lopez opening results in two nights of tedious verbal banter between a Spaniard and his man, a French defense turns every comment into a bawdy pun (In Love's Labor's Lost, Shylock's rhetorical question "If you prick us, do we not bleed?" would become a joke about loss of virginity), and a Petrov's defense gets us four guys dressed up as Muscovites with bad accents. At times I yearned for the guioco piano.
PS: One last note on Berowne. I enjoyed Gil's pun on the UPS ad, "What can Berowne do for you?" As for pronunciation, though, I've been going with "Beh-RONE" as opposed to "Brown." I think the two syllables are borne out by Berowne himself, when he says pentametrically, "My eyes are then no eyes, nor I Berowne" (4.3.231), a lovely line by the way, given the assonance of "no eyes" and "nor I."
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Erisichthon, a wealthy farmer, jealous of honors paid to Ceres by her nymphs, destroys a tree sacred to the goddess; and in so doing, kills another nymph of Ceres, Tidelia, who has found protection in that shape from the pursuit of a satyr. Ceres in revenge commissions Famine to prey on the offender, who is speedily reduced by his insatiable hunger to poverty, and sells his daughter, Protea, to the merchant. Her appeal to Neptune enables her to elude her purchaser in the form of a fisherman, and, by a second transformation to the likeness of Ulysses, rescues her lover and father's benefactor, Petulius, from the dangerous fascinations of a siren.
Meantime, Ceres’ three nymphs, Nisa, Celia and Celia, to whose information the farmer owed his punishment, have themselves incurred the displeasure of Cupid "by disdainful treatment" of three admiring foresters, and at the latters’ request the god transforms them respectfully into a rock, a rose, and a bird. Ceres’ petition for their release is used by Cupid to extort from her the pardon of Erisichthon, whose daughter’s faithful love has given her a claim on his protection. The nymphs recover their shape on condition of their acceptance of the amorous foresters, and the wedding feast is held at Erisichthon’s house.
Lyly: Sapho and Phao (l582-4?)
I. Venus and Cupid take Phao by ferry toward Syracuse where she is going to shoot Sapho. Trachinus (pro-courtly life) and Pandion (anti-courtly life) discuss as the latter prepares return to the university. Criticus (a courtier) and Molus (a scholar) compare the two worlds. Court ladies talk.
II. Phao rests in Sybilla’s cave and (in some lovely language) hears her warnings about being too hung up on one’s own beauty and not willing to commit oneself to love. Sapho and Phao see one another and are stricken. She hires him to as a page. Various pages kid one another about it. Sybilla tells Phao (lovesick) to be artful in his wooing Sapho.
III. Discussion of Sapho's melancholy sickness. Molus and Oryticus again argue with one another. Sapho lies writhing in agony in bed . . . much clever talk. She wants Phao to come and help cure (comfort) her. Phao visits Sapho and they talk in double-meaning terms. Venus comes and says she will instruct Phao.
IV. Venus tells Sapho she will help her, although the latter despairs because Phao (disguised) seems so low as far as class in concerned. Problems: Venus herself is in love with Phao. Cupid advises her to get new arrows for him from Vulcan. He will shoot Phao with inconstancy, and Sapho with disdain, and then Venus can have Phao. Sapho and her maidens talk about dreams. Venus gets the arrows she wants from Vulcan.
V. Venus commands Cupid to shoot Sapho and Phao. Sapho persuades Cupid to counter his mother’s wishes and to shoot Phao in such a way that the latter starts to rave against Venus. This is all after he has shot Sapho and made her indifferent. Sapho will put Cupid to better things. Talking to Sybilla, Phao resolves to be positive and make the best of his fate.
MIDAS — A Sloppily Scanned Write-Up
Argument.—Bacchus, in return for the hospitality of Midas, king of Phrygia, offers to grant him anything he may desire. Eristus advises him to ask his mistress; Martins, the sovereignty of the world, but Midas prefers the advice of a third councillor Mellacrites, and asks that his touch may turn everything to gold. A brief exercise of this power, which operates on his food, wine, and raiment, reduces him to beg to be released from it. By the god’s advice he bathes in the Pactolus, and transfers to its waters the fatal gift. A mood of sullen discontent follows (iv. i, p. 141, v. 3, p. 159).
As he is hunting in a wood on Mount Tmolus he comes upon the gods Pan and Apollo about to engage in a musical competition, of which the Nymphs are to be umpires. Associated with them in this function Midas decides for Pan, and his crass judgement is punished by Apollo with asses’ ears. For a time he contrives to conceal them beneath a tiara; but the Nymphs have spread the news of his disgrace, and, the words "Midas the king hath asses’ ears," spoken by shepherds, are reproduced by some reeds as they wave in the wind. This prodigy is reported to the king by his discreet and affectionate daughter Sophronia, by whose advice he seeks Apollo's oracle at Delphi. There on his acknowledgement of folly and profession of repentance the curse is removed, and he returns to Phrygia vowing to relinquish those designs of conquest, especially against the heroic islanders of Lesbos, but ill-success in which has supplied the undercurrent of his thoughts throughout the play.
Comic relief is sought in the relations between some Court pages and the royal barber Motto, who, robbed by them of the golden beard he has cut from Midas' chin, recovers it by curing one’s toothache but is afterwards entrapped into treasonable utterance of the secret of the asses’ ears, and compelled to surrender the beard as the price of their silence.
Sources and Allegory — There remains as Lyly’s sole source Ovid’s Metamorphoses, xi, which he closely follows. The only differences are that in Ovid Bacchus is under obligation for a service rendered to Silenus rather than to himself; that in Ovid no motive for Midas’ desire of gold is suggested, while Lyly supplies one in the thirst for conquest -- that after ridding himself of the fatal gift Midas betakes himself to a rural life, represented in Lyly by his hunting expedition; that in the contest between Pan and Apollo, though Nymphs are present, it is Tmolus, the Genius of the mountain, who acts as umpire and whose decision is gratuitously contravened by Midas; that it is Midas’ barber, alone cognizant of the ears, who whispers the secret into a hole he digs in the ground, afterwards filling in (he soil, above which reeds spring up to repeat his words when stirred by the wind; and finally that Ovid mentions no expedition of Midas to Delphi, and no remission of the punishment, nor is any such recorded by Hyginus, whose 191st Fable relates both incidents, with the omission of the barber and the reeds.
Lyly, then, has added the comic elements of the Pages and Pipenetta and the Huntsman, and the contest between the former and the barber for the possession of the golden beard. He has added, too, the characters of Midas' daughter and her ladies, and of Midas' three councillors; and has credited Midas with ambitious designs on the territories of his neighbours, particularly on the island of Lesbos. Dilke was the first to observe that in this respect the play is intended as a satire on Philip II of Spain, representing "the produce of his mines in S. America, by his desire to turn everything about him into gold; and the defeat of the Armada by the fruitless attempts of Midas to subdue the Island of Lesbos."
Hatpin in "Oberon's Vision" (Shakespeare Soc. 1843), offers the following conjectural key:
- Midas, king of Phrygia = Philip of Spain
- Isles north of Phrygia = British Isles
- Lesbos = England,Getulia, Lycaonia
- Sola = Portugal, the Netherlands, and other countries cruelly tyrannized over by Phillip
- Bacchus (the presiding deity of India) = the Genius of the Indies
- The golden gift = the influx of precious metals into Spain
- Pactolus (with golden sands) = the Tagus
- The contest in music = the controversy of the Reformation
- Tmolus = (probably) Trent
- Pan = papal Supremacy
- Apollo (the antagonistic principle) = Protestant Sovereignty
- Syrinx = the Roman Catholic Faith.
- Daphne = the Protestant Faith.
- Motto (who betrays the ears of Midas) = Anthonio Perez, Philip's secretary, banished for betraying secrets.
- Sophronia (daughter and successor of Midas) = Isabella, Philip's daughter, to whom, on her marrying the Archduke Albert, he resigned the sovereignty of the Netherlands
- Martins = the Dukes of Medina Sidonia and D'Alva
- Mellicrates = Ruy Gomez de Libra
Probably most people will think that Halpin carries the allegory somewhat further than the author intended: especially we may note that Philip's decision for Catholicism as against Protestantism can hardly be represented as a secret that Midas long conceals from his daughter and his councillors, a concealment for which, indeed, there is no adequate dramatic motive, seeing that his punishment is soon declared. But there can be little doubt about the identification of Martins, whose "counsell hath shed as much bloud as would make another sea," with the pitiless Alva; and the play abounds in allusions to Phillip’s covetousness, treachery and tyranny, and to current events such as the bloodshed in the Netherlands, p. 130, the defeat of the Armada, p. 131, the expedition of Drake and Norreys.
Date — Obviously the play is written after the defeat of the Armada in 1588, and before its entry in the Stationers’ Register on Oct. 4, 1591. The allusion to Drake and Norreys' expedition to Portugal (Act iv, sc. 4, p. 149) ("suffers the enemies to bid us good morrowe at our owne doors") which sailed April 18, 1589 and returned in the middle of July, enables us to bring the upward limit down to May of that year; while a passage in Harvey’s Advertisement to Rapp-Hatchst, which forms the second Book of Pierces Supererogation, and is dated "At Trinitie Hall: the ninth of Nouember, 1589," supplies us with the downward limit.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
I will start on Love's Labor's Lost by sending some opening reactions of my own, then in a separate discussion, I will think about Ernst's insights and some of Randall's questions:
The dedication to the study of virtue, with which Love's Labor's Lost begins, is identical to the brief, then forgotten, declaration which Lucentio makes at the beginning of Shrew. It is couched in poetry so luxuriant that it could earn the label "hot house" which I usually reserve for Serapion's opening lines in John Dryden's All for Love. Then, again, the heady theorizing which one gets at the beginning is the way The Misanthrope opens. Such a structure works against plot, or at least against dramatic artifice presenting audience with mystery or tension.
Still as soon as the King and his men swear against love, feast, and sleep, against the nature of youth, they are comically doomed because denial of Dionysus (I may be remembering one of my mentors, Cyrus Hoy) or Carnival (I'm probably thinking of Leo Salinger here) is a challenge to the comic gods. Like Lucentio's vow, it is given over so fast the audience does not see the struggle or the suspense. So, as much of the rest of the plot insists on the dilemma of the wits forsworn, referred to again and again, it is a pity the attempt to practice the oath gets so little space. We noted relative to Egeon's death sentence in The Comedy of Errors that Shakespeare comedy often begins with the most serious of laws or vows--Hermia's doom in A Midsummer Night's Dream or Olivia's excessive period of mourning in Twelfth Night are other examples--and the rejection by young men of wine, women, song, sleep, and, did I mention, women is a violation of Natural Law. At least Berowne states the natural argument: the three years abstinence is inappropriate to the season of youth. [Mike and Randall--beware assigning this scene, in that it will give your students some pretty good quotations against study itself.]
Once the ladies arrive, the play becomes instead a play about wit. Shakespeare satirizes the affected elegance of Lyly, as Ernst notes [I have not read Euphues since I was in grad school, and it only remains in my head from a lifetime of trying to keep euphuism--'affectedly periphrastic'--separate from euphemism--'less distasteful substitution'], and of Sydney and Marlowe here. Certainly there is a plethora of word wit, great contests and double examples. Armado's "mint of phrases" new fashioned in his brain; Costard's rustic simplicity which tries puns "in the manner and form following" (he laid Jaquenetta on the form (bench) in the manor, then followed her into the park), but later simply simple (Pompion the Big (V.ii.502)--we ought not to resist a joint publication about classical roots for Charles Shultz's Great Pumpkin); Nathaniel and Holofernes's dispute in Latin; and Moth's twisting language in formal debate to prove his master a goose and an ass.
Verbal wit, consciously explored and focused, provides more exercise than archery or dancing among the gentles, from Boyet, Rosalind and Maria on pricking deer to girls' debates on fair and light to Berowne's reputation, much talked of, seldom demonstrated, as wit. [Hard to resist asking 'what can Berowne do for you?'] Unlike Restoration comedies of manners, there is little action in this play. It is all talk, and without action the social energy of wit seems disengaged. I don't find that Shakespeare follows through consistently on this panoply of comic characters, and I will probably come back to this when I focus on Ernst's and Randall's starters. What becomes of Dull, the malapropist? Maybe a glance at Holofernes as farce???
The play ends, consciously, in trial "remote from all the pleasures of the world." Berowne gets the appropriate last words: "Our wooing doth not end like an old play;/ Jack hath not Gill. These ladies' courtesy/ Might well have made our sport a comedy." Because the play begins with the rich, unnatural vow of youth against life ("Not to see ladies, study, fast, not sleep")--self-denial for self-denial sake--the trial at the end, sacrifice for love, seems like an appropriate, if not happy ending. However, the happy-ending convention of comedy usually represents a new order, and such a new order of being worthy for marriage is established over the silly vows that cause discord at the play's beginning. Yet there is a second trial put to Berowne by Rosaline. He must not only keep his oath of love, he must, in a twelvemonth in a hospital, rid himself of wit. That quality in a social world, which raises Dorimant (Man of Mode) or Mirabelle (The Way of the World) above the rest, here is a quality the witty ladies would suppress, in their romantic world.
Happy ending? The implication is, of course, that the Princess will fulfill her year of social/natural mourning, unlike Twelfth Night's Olivia, whose seven-year vow of mourning is an offense against nature, and the boys from Navarre will pass their trials, but there is no guarantee. They haven't given any evidence of talent for oath keeping, and Berowne goes off, redefining his challenge as "I'll jest a twelvemonth in a hospital," truer to "his eye begets occasion for his wit,/ For every object that the one doth catch/ The other turns to a mirth-moving jest" (II.i.69-71) than to Rosaline's "A jest's prosperity lies in the ear/ Of him that hears it, never in the tongue/ Of him that makes it" (V.ii.861-63).
Sunday, February 12, 2006
In terms of the larger plot, which has relatively limited relationship to the spoofing and joking, I think those two scenes are both lovely and central. I would be happy to have individuals take individual sections of Love's Labor's Lost and plumb them for influences, jokes and side references--since these are so dense. I feel most of this play is not really representative of "early" or "developing" Shakespeare. So the play's context and relationship to the theatrical and literary/social world of its time strike me as the best mine to dig in. I know this goes against the notion of hitting each play afresh, but there you have it.
I appreciate Randall's extra work and like his third and fifth questions best. I had been determined to show you a bit of what Lyly was like, and may still be able to do so.
While we await Ernst's opening remarks, I thought I'd toss out a few of the questions I am left with after finishing Love's Labor's Lost.
1) What accounts for its structure? After a steady diet of Romeo, Macbeth, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, and Othello, I cannot quite discern the hand that shaped those plays in the arrangement of acts and scenes in this play. Heck, new characters trot onto the stage in Act IV, scene ii!
2) Is this all Shakespeare? Any discussion of Pericles includes caveats about which parts Shakespeare wrote and which he didn't. Reading the lines of Berowne, Navarre, the Princess and her ladies, I find it easy to hear echoes of other, familiar, Shakespearean characters. Armado, Moth, Holoferness, and Nathaniel seem out-of-tune with other comic figures, rude and otherwise, that I'm familiar with. Where, then is the specifically Shakespearean in these characters?
3) Who's this Lyly guy, and is he being mocked or imitated? I spent the week reading a bit on Lyly and Euphusim and Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit, yet I still feel unclear about which character -- Moth? Armado? Holoferness? -- most reflects Lylian style (sources that I read differ on which characters Shakespeare meant to embody the style). So, is there a solid close reading out there that illuminates both Lyly and his connection to a passage in this play? Then, why would Shakespeare expend such vast amounts of space in this play on this particular imitative endeavor?
4) Shakespeare's works are compelling for the note of complexity introduced so often -- Malvolio in Twelfth Night, the judgment of Shylock in Merchant, Winter's Tale. But of all of Shakespeare's comedies I have seen, this is the only one that does not end with marriages or unifications, so what are we to make of the colossal "if" presented at the end of Love's Labor's Lost? Jack hath not Jill ... unless. And why doesn't any other play end with a similar lack of clear resolution?
5) Who is the fool? Love's Labor's Lost is full of comic characters, many of whom are clearly foolish. Yet it seems to lack a Feste or Puck character, a fool whose wit rises above. Is it Moth? Is it Berowne? Does this play lack a balance of comedy found in other plays?
Wednesday, February 1, 2006
No one is certain regarding when it was written. Some think it may first have been written as early as the late 80’s and subsequently revised several times, but it has a breadth of sophistication and gentle self-mockery that feel more mature than that. Annals of English Drama guesses at 1595. To my not-very-sophisticated ear it sounds entirely like something written (or re-written) for its performance before the Queen in 1597.
Love’s Labor's Lost contains next to no physical action; it is all talk, and delightful talk at that—if you are not under time pressure while reading it. It is the stuff of child players (whose ability to memorize such swaths of not-wholly-logic-connected language always amaze me), and a clear example of a confident Shakespeare out-Lylying John Lyly, but in a generally gracious way. Some would see it as an attack on the intellectuals of the day, but it seems to me to be no more than an exuberant playing with their various concerns and styles. Satire, as Bevington suggests in his introduction, would probably not play well with the Queen.
It is comic in form, but I’m not sure form is very important here. Its ending, which I find quite moving, does give every jack his Jill, but with provisos and an option for continuing self-improvement over the following year. This is an almost Rosalind-like freeing of the spirit for further maturation. In Lyly’s plays, the Elizabeth-like queen would end the play untouched and the other characters would re-adjust their sights and resolve their loves neatly. There is no such queen here (and the resolution is touchingly tentative), and toward the end the characters are fully aware of their mortality. Life is like that—a matter of delight, playfulness, invention, and sadness. None can be denied; all must be acknowledged.
I found Anne Barton’s introduction in The Riverside Shakespeare a good one. And anyone reading the play can’t help but notice ties to other Shakespeare works of the period. The play with melancholics (this is a relatively early instance of the word “malcontent,” the subject of my dissertation [the first dramatic use of which comes with Lyly, albeit in a punning way—“If you’re a male-content, then I am a female-content”]) relates to or foreshadows Jaques, Don John, Orsino (compare Armado [I.2.118]), and Hamlet. There is a “Dark Lady”—Rosaline. There are sonnet spoofs a-plenty—none much better than Orlando’s. The play-preparation is full of Midsummer Night's Dream echoes, and Berowne’s attack on fey, overly flowery courtiers (of which group Boyet is relatively likeable member) is something one sees throughout Shakespeare’s plays. There is philosophy regarding the proper aristocratic approach to commoner players (Berowne, 5.2.211) reflective of Theseus. There is Lyly all over the place and, in the presentation of the variously-numbered “Worthies” a lovely example of the “fourteeners” of mid-century dramas.
What to do? If I were teaching this play, I might begin by asking for lists: of the most audacious puns and verbal high jinks, of the various writers and styles imitated, of the differences between clever men and clever women, of the play’s many “commonplaces” (a Gilbert invention, which my students never understand until I tell them that a “Commonplace” is a little truth—about the world, about life—that one can pull out of its context, read to someone totally unfamiliar with that context, and have him/her understand it), of the Shakespeare echoes/foreshadowings (I don’t think one can treat this play fairly without its larger contexts). And, of course, from you in particular, I would like to learn about various productions. I have never seen one; it strikes me as a very challenging directing/cutting job. The only production I have ever seen was an opera version written by the late Alfred Loeffler of the Music Department here. It was a lovely thing, with a melancholy, late-in-the show chorale suggesting the autumnal feelings of the final scene that I especially remember. It never got further than a student production; too bad.