Sunday, March 22, 2009

Shakespeare - Trivia

Ernst writes:

Trivia 1: There has been a certain amount of ado lately about a portrait that might be of Shakespeare, the so-called "Cobbe Portrait." It is an amazingly well-haired picture for a man who must have been going bald. At first it was thought to be from the first decade of the 1600s, which led me to write the following silly letter to the Times (not published, of course):

To the Editor:

Around 1601, the dramatist Thomas Dekker wrote a play called "Satiromastix," which was designed to make fun of the rather self-important Ben Jonson. Its plot contains a likable but silly young suitor for the Widow Minever, a suitor named Sir Adam Prickshaft. Sir Adam, whose last name clearly references "shake spear," is bald. His competition with another fully-haired suitor boils down to a contest between two sonnets—one in praise of baldness, one in praise of full-headedness.

Not only is the bald Sir Adam a friendly reference to the Shakespeare, the playwright/actor himself might well have acted the role in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men production of the play.

Clearly Shakespeare was bald at an early age. If he managed to re-hair himself in time for the Cobbe portrait, he was a scientific genius as well as a poetic one.

Trivia 2: I mentioned that I have been helping a friend with a play he has written about Giordano Bruno (who followed Copernicus and asserted the vast size of the universe--no concentric spheres centered on the earth and holding sun, moon, and "fixed stars"). In the play, Bruno, in England in 1593, meets with Shakespeare and Sir Philip Sidney (a stretch, but remotely possible and dramatically useful). He recites for them a sonnet, but the only version of it my friend or I could find was a prose translation. The play’s dialogue has to do some brief contorting to account for this fact. So I took the prose, which is quite complicated, and turned it into a sonnet, hoping that would make it clearer—to the extent that both the actors and the audience could grasp it more easily. I’d value your opinions as to whether I’ve come close to achieving that.

Original (free-verse) form:

Thou art my delight and the warmth of my heart.
Thou makest me without fear of fate or of death.
Thou brakest the chains and bars
Whence few come forth free.
Seasons, years, months, days, and hours,
The children and weapons of time and that court
Where neither steel nor treasures avail
Have secured me from the fury of the foe.
Henceforth I spread confident wings to space.
I fear no barrier of crystal or of glass,
I cleave the heavens and soar to the infinite.
And while I rise from my own globe to others
And penetrate ever further through the eternal field,
That which others saw from afar, I leave behind me.

ESR Version (Italian Sonnet, more easily understood):

Thou art my full delight, warmth of my heart
Thou mak’st me fear nor fate nor grisly death
Thou break’st the chains and bars that stifle breath,
The prisons from which few men e’er depart:
The years, months, days, the seasons’ tedious hours,
Time’s progeny and weapons, and that Court
Where neither steel nor gold give true support
Or save me from the grim foe’s cruel powers.

Henceforth, I spread my wings and fly toward space,
I fear no crystal dome to stop my flight;
I cleave the heav’ns to view th’infinite’s face
And, as I rise above our sphere, delight
To pierce yet further realms of God’s good grace
And see earth’s earth-bound bounds from greater height.


1 comment:

The Nolan said...

Per the Bruno play, note that in 1593 Bruno was already in prison in Venice. As for Bruno meeting Phlip Sidney during his stay in London from 1583-1585, that connection is anything but speculation. It's a fact that Bruno and Sidney were friends. As for Shakespeare knowing about Bruno's work, there can be no doubt this was the case. Historians agree that Bruno is the model for the Shakespearean characters Prospero in The Tempest and Berowne in Love's Labour Lost. Moreover, Bruno was widely admired in dramatic circles for his highly inventive and incendiary play, The Torch Bearer, which Moliere used as the inspiration for dozens of his plot ideas. It's hard to imagine Shakespeare failed to explore Bruno's work at such a young, impressionable age. Did Shakespeare meet Bruno in person? It's certainly conceivable, if not likely, even if they only met in passing. Bruno and Shakespearean scholars have long noted the former's apparent influence on the Bard, although a definitive study has yet to be published.