Saturday, February 10, 2007


Over the last week quite a few posts I have read and conversations I have had have had reference to Sonnet No. 18. You know, the one everyone knows (well, they should).

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date.

Honestly, I don't read much poetry. And I haven't even read a lot of Shakespeare's sonnets. Just a few. But god. Such great beauty. Despite the over exposure.

In the movie Venus, Peter O'Toole recites the sonnet 18. You simply have to hear him. (Link via Shoefiend). The man needs to get his Oscar. He really does. I've said it before; I really do want him to win this year. And yeah, he knows all the sonnets. All 156 of them. In the interview O'Toole says that the sonnets are his "life companion", finding them "endlessly informing, endlessly beautiful..." I have spent the last year or so reading up Shakespeare’s plays and now I want to go out and read up all the sonnets.

I also found myself nodding along in agreement to what he said about Shakespeare’s plays ... " that there are twelve plays or so that are sublime and matchless and the rest are, in my money, rhetorical and boring..." When it comes to literature I don't think anything matches Shakespeare’s tragedies in their language, the examination of human faults or even just the emotions you feel while reading the plays. The grief you feel at the end of King Lear. Or the exasperation while reading Hamlet. Or the numbness at the blood bath at the end of Macbeth. But then there are also plays like Titus Andronicus and Troilus and Cressida that left me completely under whelmed.

Saw Laurence Olivier’s Richard III this week. It was a bit difficult not to think of Ian McKellen’s take on the play, especially for the first twenty minutes or so, but Olivier had me hooked after a while. His Richard was interesting - a huge (prosthetic) nose, a high nasal voice and only a slight limp. There’s no point comparing the performances by Olivier and McKellen. They are both excellent - and very different.

The DVD also had a one hour BBC interview with Olivier about his life, career and his take on some of his most famous Shakespeare roles (Hamlet, Macbeth, Richard, Henry and Othello). It was very interesting and informative. It was amusing to hear Olivier dissing Titus saying the role was painful because it demanded perpetual moaning. How he felt Othello’s greatest fault was his self deception and how tiresome it was "blacking up" for the role (how politically incorrect would it be to say something like that now??). Or how Macbeth can be played well only once you have reached a certain age and lived life.

I think that’s true for most art. Age and experience brings richness and nuance. Youth might have innocence on its side but it’s also a tad bland. Old might not be gold, but it has its advantages. And then some old things are timeless.
Look at Shakespeare. Whether it’s reading the Bard or watching a good adaptation of one of his plays being acted out. One of life’s greatest pleasures.


airy voices said...

I couldn't access the link you put up on my blog. Was it the Peter O'Toole thing? And I'm love with the man for simply knowing all 156 of em. "Nothing in the English language compares with his sonnets." Agreed. And I love the one he recites at the end. I thought it was the FUNNIEST thing EVER when I first read it.

I love:
"And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks."

I have an urge to stand up and clap.

airy voices said...

And I just noticed how many times I used the word "love" in the last comment. I blame hallmark and the endless advertising for the "perfect compilation of love songs" on every damn channel.

Szerelem said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Szerelem said...

Yep it's the same link. And isn't he fabulous?? We should go to the library and get a copy of The Lion in Winter for you to see. I adore him in that - such a great film.
I didn't know the sonnet he recites but it's so funny! And I loved the 'bubum bubum bubum...' sound he made when he forgot the last couplet....mid term break will most definetely be spent reading the Sonnets.
And don't be to harsh on yourself - you used 'love' only thrice :D
Makes me glad I have no TV and thus no V day crap to put with...

Falstaff said...

The real challenge, of course, is Lear. By the time you get to be old enough to play Lear right, you don't have the energy left to play him.

Disagree about the plays. I would invert the ratios. There are probably some 5 or 6 that I find genuinely tedious. Most of the rest are richly rewarding. Yes, including Titus Andronicus (though not including Troilus and Cressida).

hedonistic hobo said...

thank you. too many people say this about shakespeare in hushed whispers......
some of his stuff is underwhelming. period. but when he delights, he enthralls. no?
how're you bebe?

Szerelem said...

Falstaff: Ah, Lear. It's no surprise actors wait to get old to play that part is it? Ian McKellan will be playing Lear this summer at Stratford. What I would pay to see that. I think he likened it to the acting equivalent of climbing Everest.

About the plays, I think there are flashes of pure brilliance and genius in almost every play. (Well most are just brilliant) It's just that some didn't work for me in total. I wouldn't put the number as low as O'Toole, but not as high as you. I don't even know if I have the right to say that though, I still have a few (around five or six, I think) to read.

hobo: I don't think anything compares to Shakespeare at his best. Nothing even comes close. Even the most underwhelming stuff can't take away from his fabulousness :)
Am good. And how are you?

MockTurtle said...

Well the Sheikh was a commercial writer after all, so he had to work on a deadline just like the rest of us. Anne Hathaway would have whacked him with her broom if he had said to her "Well, I can't complete this Troilus and Cressida act until inspiration strikes."
BTW, did you hear about this?

Szerelem said...

I saw the funniest clip on youtube (with Rowan Atkinson an hugh laurie) about Shakespeare which basically says the same thing you are saying
And NO I did not know about Mr. Fiennes and his mid air antics!!!! First the Romanian woman and now this!! Its the mid life crises I tell you. Though Id rather he just wore weird clothes like Jeremy Irons.

Aishwarya said...

I find this dislike of Titus Andronicus most upsetting. It is a magnificent play.

Szerelem said...

What can I say? I just didnt like it very much. In my defence, it was one of the first Shakespeare plays I read. Maybe I should read it again...

Aishwarya said...

*grin* I read it after reading a whole bunch o revenge tragedies (they are quite comically bad- have you read any?) and the relevant sections of Metamorphoses, and I've always seen it as an example of Shakespeare taking the piss out of the genre. I mean - Marcus's speech when he finds mutilated Lavinia! It's pure genius.

Szerelem said...

I haven't really read any of the revenge traedies or the the Metamorphoses...someone did tell me that Titus is very similar in genre to The Spanish Tragedy (?)
I personally found Titus terribly violent and gory. Some of the speeches are brilliant of course.
And since you mentioned Marcus's speech...oh dear lord, that second act!!! It is SO disturbing.
I am not sure whether I would want to see the play acted out!

Aishwarya said...

I had to do a project on the revenge tragedy last year so I ended up reading lots of them. A personal favourite is the scene in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore where one character rushes onstage with his sister's heart skewered on his sword. Also, I had to read delightful essays with titles like "The Aesthetics of Mutilation".Ah, literature.

Szerelem said...

'Tis Pity She's a Whore. Wow...I just had to google that!! It sounds terribly amusing....I think I must read it.