po·e·sy n. pl. po·e·sies 1. Poetical works; poetry. 2. The art or practice of composing poems. 3. The inspiration involved in composing poetry. [Middle English poesie, from Old French, from Latin posis, from Greek poisis, from poiein, to create; see kwei-2 in Indo-European roots.]

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

April 23 – Shakespeare's Birthday

 [Reposted -- original April 22, 2006]


Happy Birthday William Shakespeare *April 23, 1564 - April 23, 1616

*The actual date of his birth is not known -- this is deemed close based on the April 26th date on his baptismal certificate.

Shakespeare's pithy (I love that word!) phrases are so pervasive we often don't realize that many common sayings, as well as book, movie, even song titles, were first found in his works until we happen to read him.

I'm by no means a Shakespeare scholar. I remember almost nothing about the first play I studied -- The Merchant of Venice, back in junior high school. For me, coming to appreciate him was an evolution of sorts. (I saw more movies of his plays than read them.)

So I have nothing new to offer about the Bard, only my own experiences with his works.

When I was in high school I memorized the first 8 lines of the Friends, Romans, countrymen speech from Julius Caesar and have over the years often tested my memory by repeating them to myself. I still know them all these years later.

Here is Mark Antony's clever speech made at Caesar's funeral:

Julius Caesar
Act 3, Scene 2,

Mark Antony:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him;
The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interréd with their bones,
So let it be with Caesar…. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answered it….
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest,
(For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all; all honourable men)
Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral….
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man….
He hath brought many captives home to Rome,
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then to mourn for him?
O judgement! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason…. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

I will never forget an episode of Gilligan's Island where the castaways performed a musical version of Hamlet. It was, to borrow a famous advertising word, priceless. I can still "hear" them sing Neither a borrower nor a lender be to the Toreador Song from the opera Carmen. That speech follows:
Polonius, a pompous old windbag, offers advice to his son Laertes, leaving for Paris.

Act 1 scene 3

Lord Polonius:

Yet here, Laertes! aboard, aboard, for shame!
The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
And you are stay'd for. There; my blessing with thee!
And these few precepts in thy memory
See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch'd, unfledged comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
Bear't that the opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!

And a pair of favorite sonnets:

Sonnet 60: Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crowned,
Crookèd eclipses 'gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth,
And delves the parallels in beauty's brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature's truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow.
And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
Praising thy worth despite his cruel hand.

Sonnet 29: When in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes

When, in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

– Cat