Monday, September 07, 2020

Henry V: "though we seemed dead, we did but sleep"

A connection between 2 Henry IV 4.3 and Henry V 3.6, which I don't recall noticing before.

Starting at 3.6.115:

MONTJOY: You know me by my habit.
KING HARRY: Well then, I know thee. What shall I know of thee?
MONTJOY: My master's mind.
KING HARRY: Unfold it.
MONTJOY: Thus says my King: 'Say thou to Harry of England, though we seemed dead, we did but sleep. Advantage is a better soldier than rashness. [...]'

I'm thinking this might hit Henry rather hard, since he mistook his own sleeping father for dead in 2 Henry IV 4.3. When his father awakens to find himself alone, sans crown, he demands to know why Harry walked off with it.  Harry's initial response, "I never thought to hear you speak again," is not well-received; Henry IV replies "Thy wish was father, Harry, to that thought. / I stay too long by thee, I weary thee." and continues in this vein for another 40+ lines.  Harry kneels and moves his father to reassess the situation with a humble and apparently heart-felt speech.

Friday, August 14, 2020

The Road Not Taken

For present purposes, let's say I left The Firm at a phase when associates are expected to start working harder and longer to take a shot at becoming a partner.  But what I knew for sure was that I wanted to be working shorter hours – and that I had no interest in owning a law firm. 

I've never regretted this decision.  

In today's Carolyn Hax column, I get a glimpse of what my life could have been like had I forged ahead on the traditional path: 

I recently resigned from my position as a partner at a law firm where I have worked for many years. I killed myself to make partner but once I made it, I began to realize that it just wasn’t worth it. I’m so burnt out that I’m not even looking for another position at this point in time; I want to take the next six months or so to recover. My husband is ecstatic about my decision since he’s seen what this job has been doing to me but everyone else in my life is questioning my decision[.]

The main difference is that I would have burned out completely alone.   

Sunday, August 09, 2020

OED Visualizer Tool

Just learned about this cool new tool, and a nifty idea for using it, from Idiosophy:

"A research team at the Oxford English Dictionary has released a visualization engine for text analysis. This is fun: give it a text (up to 500 words, for the moment) and it will make a graph showing how common the word is in English (vertical axis), the year the word entered the English language (horizontal axis), the frequency of each word in the sample (size of the circle), and the language group from which we got the word (color).
This can be used for lots of things. We can test (for example) J.R.R. Tolkien’s success at excluding any word from later than 1600 from his prose."

Here's what I got from running some descriptions of Orthanc (taken from with citations omitted):

The purple dots are "tower" (circa 1000) and "ent" (circa 1900) - I think we can discount the visualizer's categorization of the latter.

The yellow dots are "pier", "cut" (verb), "wrap" (verb), and "tall."

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Misquoted Prophecies in Macbeth

I've become very aware of characters in The Lord of the Rings misremembering others' words, so I was interested to see that Macbeth likewise misquotes two of the prophecies he receives.

When you look at it, the Second Apparition's prophecy is a two-parter; it consists of some really bad advice (here in italics) followed by a "true" but highly misleading statement of the future (here in bold):

Be bloody, bold and resolute; laugh to scorn
The power of man, for none of woman born
Shall harm Macbeth.
In essence, the bad advice is based on the intended misunderstanding of the true statement.

Here's what Macbeth remembers:

The spirits that know
All mortal consequences have pronounced me thus:
"Fear not, Macbeth; no man that's born of woman
Shall e'er have power upon thee."

He's got the gist, I suppose, but he's shortened it and he doesn't remember the rhyme (scorn/born).  The apparition speaks of "harm" (coming from any source, since "none" is gender-neutral); he remembers "power" (and apparently worries specifically about a "man" having power upon him).  So his remembered protection is both broader (a prediction that others will not have even the power to hurt him) and narrower (as it's restricted to men, rather than everyone).  Though perhaps he's saving the rhyme for his encounter with Young Siward: "Thou wast born of woman. / But swords I smile at, weapons laugh to scorn, / Brandished by man that's of a woman born." (5.7.11-13)

Likewise, the Third Apparition says:

Be lion-mettled, proud; and take no care
Who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are:
Macbeth shall never vanquished be until
Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill
Shall come against him.

And Macbeth again shortens it and loses the rhymes; he quotes it as 
"Fear not, till Birnam wood 
Do come to Dunsinane

I would note that he's also substantially shortened each line this time; he's turned the Third Apparition's iambic pentameter into iambic trimeter.

Did you say all? O hell-kite! All?

The scene where Macduff learns of the slaughter of his wife and children is absolutely heartbreaking.  But to me, there's always a question about how to read Ross's lines when he first responds to Macduff's inquiry.  The words are true enough, from a certain point of view, but they are surely intended to deceive – at least to put off the revelation.  So: Is Ross breezily cheerful, almost cavalier, as if nothing is wrong?  Does he speak heavily, solemnly?  Is there something about his manner that belies his words, something that alerts us and makes Macduff a little uneasy?  Here's the dialogue:

MALCOLM: What's the newest grief?
ROSS: That of an hour's age doth hiss the speaker:
Each minute teems a new one. 
MACDUFF:  How does my wife?
ROSS: Why, well.
MACDUFF: And all my children?
ROSS: Well too.
MACDUFF: The tyrant has not battered at their peace?
ROSS: No, they were well at peace when I did leave 'em.  
MACDUFF: Be not a niggard of your speech: how goes 't? 
(Macbeth 4.3.174-180)

Ross then goes on to describe how things are going generally (no longer focusing on Macduff's family).  So one reading is that the Macduff is satisfied about his family and has changed the subject. 

One thing I noticed on this re-reading that Ross's words here actually hearken back to something Macbeth said seven scenes earlier: 

MACBETH: ... Duncan is in his grave; 
After life's fitful fever he sleeps well; 
Treason has done his worst: nor steel, nor poison,
Malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing, 
Can touch him further. 

This is clearly the same sense in which Ross is speaking.  Of course it's not an unusual sentiment, then or now, to say that someone who died is "at peace" – but it is not, I believe, customary to say this to someone who isn't aware that the person in question has died. 

Now I suppose the lines in 4.3 can be played for dramatic irony, to heighten the horror of the subsequent revelation by delaying it and giving false hope; but it's a bit thorny if we are trying for some naturalism in the scene and not making Ross a complete monster.  

After watching Ben Crystal's syllable-conscious pacing in 2.2, it occurred to me that these short lines might not necessarily follow each other immediately; we could have pauses – even quite long ones – to fill out one or more 10-syllable lines.  And that opens some interesting possibilities for the actors' faces and body language to do a lot of important work.

MALCOLM: What's the newest grief?  [5 syllables, following on immediately for a complete line]
ROSS: That of an hour's age doth hiss the speaker: [10 syllables, with "hour" as monosyllable]
Each minute teems a new one.  [6 syllables]
MACDUFF:  How does my wife? [4 syllables, following on immediately for a complete line]
ROSS: Why, well. [2 syllables]
MACDUFF: And all my children? [5 syllables]
ROSS: Well too. [2 syllables]
MACDUFF: The tyrant has not battered at their peace? [10 syllables]
ROSS: No, they were well at peace when I did leave 'em.  [10 syllables, if we ]
MACDUFF: Be not a niggard of your speech: how goes 't? [10 syllables]

So, looking at the syllable count, we can see that even if we concatenate the three bold lines, we only get 9 syllables – an incomplete line.  But we don't have to concatenate them, do we?  Again, we could string them out and fill out the 10-syllable lines with pauses.

Here is one possibility:

Each minute teems a new one. / How does my wife? 
[beat] [beat] [beat] Why, well. / And all my children?
[beat] [beat] [beat] [beat] [beat] [beat] [beat] [beat] Well too.
The tyrant has not battered at their peace?
No, they were well at peace when I did leave 'em. 
Be not a niggard of your speech: how goes 't? 

In this reading, Ross takes a 3-beat pause to figure out what to say about Macduff's wife, realizing the enormity of he doesn't know.  Ross may look very pained, knowing what is to come.  Macduff notices, and immediately asks about his kids. This is even harder to answer, as it is cruel to withhold or disclose the truth.  Perhaps Ross's eyes well up during an 8-beat pause; perhaps he is visibly working to control his voice and expression.  Now, in these conditions, Macduff knows something's up, so he immediately asks two follow-up questions, both focused on his family – though Ross deliberately misinterprets the second question as a general one about the situation in Scotland to stall for time.  This works, because Ross then has a short back-and-forth with Malcolm about the general cause (4.3.181-91) before revealing there is an unspeakable grief in store to be disclosed.  Again, if the actor playing Ross has allowed these long pauses to occur, and has given cues in body language and expression, it makes sense that Macduff immediately pounces on this, and his own exchange with Ross suggests his increasing certainty that it will go straight to the heart, culminating in "Hum! I guess at it" (4.3.203).  And now, only now, does Ross disclose it.

There are lots of other possibilities, of course, if we're inserting pauses.  For example, we can give Macduff some time to process the strangeness of the two answers he's just received and frame his next question:

Each minute teems a new one. / How does my wife? 
[beat] [beat] [beat] Why, well. / And all my children?
[beat] [beat] [beat] [beat] [beat] Well too. [beat] [beat] [beat] 
The tyrant has not battered at their peace?
No, they were well at peace when I did leave 'em. 
Be not a niggard of your speech: how goes 't? 

So this is all speculative, of course, but I like the way it opens up the text.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

The Wages of Sin?

Curiously, in the opening and closing scenes of King Lear, there is mention of the begetting of Edmund.  It is passed off as a joke, initially, but becomes quite bitter by the end.

In 1.1, Gloucester says to Kent (re Edmund, who is present):
Though this knave came something
saucily to the world before he was sent for, yet was
his mother fair, there was good sport at his making
and the whoreson must be acknowledged.
I would note this is structured as prose (not iambic pentameter) and is uttered in Edmund's presence, without any regard for the young man's feelings.

Then in 5.3, Edgar says to Edmund (re Gloucester, who is absent/dead):
The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices
Make instruments to plague us.
The dark and vicious place where thee he got
Cost him his eyes
Here, we have iambic pentameter interspersed with significantly shorter lines.  I find it natural to read both of the short lines with just two stresses, though the first one could – and perhaps should – be read as iambic trimeter, to make the final line all the more jarring: Cost him his eyes.

* * *

Side Note: I don't think Edmund ever claims that he'd have been what he is had he been begotten (or at least born) in wedlock, but he does disclaim any astral influence, noting "I should have been that I am, had the maidenliest star in the firmament twinkled on my bastardizing" (1.2).

As the Stung Are of the Adder

Every now and then, as I'm pushing through these texts for the Shakespeare-in-a-year project, I slow down and savor the rhythm, counting the beats of each line.  That sometimes brings out some interesting qualities, particularly when you think about how it needs to be spoken.

So in King Lear 5.1, I noticed this speech of Edmund:

To both these sisters have I sworn my love,
Each jealous of the other as the stung
Are of the adder.

The syllables in bold are the stresses of iambic pentameter; but for the meaning to shine through clearly, I think there's also a slight emphasis on the underlined words. 

And what that does is highlight a certain resonance between the word "other" and "adder" (in my American English, using the IPA, I might render them as  äðɘr / ædɘr).  

These lines initially work on an intuitive level, because the natural impression of the image is that Edmund is the adder who has stung both sisters (true enough), and they are both "jealous" of each other in OED's sense 4: Troubled by the belief, suspicion, or fear that the good which one desires to gain or keep for oneself has been or may be diverted to another; resentful towards another on account of known or suspected rivalry.  

But when we look more closely at the simile, it's a bit perplexing.  Are the stung "jealous" of the adder?  In what sense might that be true?  It must mean mistrustful.  (And indeed that is meaning 5b in the OED: †b. Doubtful, mistrustful. Obsolete.)

So the word "jealous" is working in at least two senses here (within and without the simile).

While the literal and figurative meanings of "adder" seem more obvious, here are the most plausible relevant senses the OED gives us in the relevant time-frame:
 1. b. figurative. A treacherous, deceitful, malicious, or pernicious person or thing (also as a term of abuse); the type of envy or treachery. (OE—2006)
 2. a. The common or northern viper, Vipera berus, a small, venomous Eurasian snake found widely in northern and central Europe, having a characteristic dark zigzag line down the back. More fully European adder.  Adder is the historical and popular name, originally carrying connotations (as the ideas of darting and stinging) not associated with the name viper.  (OE—1995)
So I'd say the potential "adders" are three-fold: 
  • Within the simile: Each sister is mistrustful of the other, just as those who have been stung/bitten (by an adder) are mistrustful of the adder (literal sense 2a).  For purposes of the simile, the adder does not map onto any of the characters; it has to be a generic, literal adder for the simile to function.
  • Each sister sees the other as an adder (figurative sense 1b; poisonous/malicious and potentially fatal to the hoped-for union with Edmund);
  • Edmund is the adder (figurative sense 1b) who has "stung" (cold-bloodedly poisoned/betrayed) each sister with false promises of love.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Pericles: Marina's Extreme Virtue

In Act IV, Marina's extraordinary goodness and innocence allows her to convert johns to to the paths of virtue when she's put to work in a brothel.  Bearing that in mind, I think there may possibly be a playful riff on Chaucer when Marina's artistic skills are first described.   

Let's start with Gower's description of Marina's upbringing in Tharsus.  Turns out she's really, really good at weaving and sewing, and music:
to th'lute
She sung, and made the night-bird mute
That still records with moan
(Pericles 4.25-27).  So the night-birds were singing away until the beauty of her own voice silenced them.  My Arden Shakespeare glosses "still records with moan" as "always sings dolefully" – but surely there are other possible reasons for moaning at night-time, aren't there?

Why, yes, there are.  So let's turn now to the Canterbury Tales.  The General Prologue opens with a description of the gentle, fecund period of spring.  Chaucer passes from the quickening of flowers and crops to close observation of the animal kingdom, noting spring is a time when
smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages)
(9-11).  That is, the effect of spring on little birds is they're singing and mating like mad all night.  Of course in Chaucer this is all a build-up to the punchline, that spring is when humans likewise experience an irresistible urge: the urge to go on pilgrimages! 

So where Marina's grace allows her to silence the night-birds and their moan, we can see that working on two levels, the literal (she's musically gifted) and the bawdy (foreshadowing her effect on her would-be customers at the brothel).  And her purity is such that all the stirrings of spring would doubtless only spur her to greater holiness.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Trumpkin's Alliterative Exclamations: A Collection

From Prince Caspian:
  1. Beards and bedsteads! (332) - trochaic 
  2. Horns and halibuts! (345) - mixed (troche + dactyl) 
  3. Bulbs and bolsters! (346) - trochaic 
  4. Whistles and whirligigs! (347) - dactylic 
  5. Soup and celery! (357) - mixed 
  6. Thimbles and thunderstorms! (360) - dactylic 
  7. Lobsters and lollipops! (361) - dactylic 
  8. Giants and junipers! (365) - dactylic 
  9. Tubs and tortoiseshells! (372) - mixed 
  10. Bottles and battledores... (377) - dactylic 
  11. ...bilge and beanstalks... (383) - trochaic 
  12. Cobbles and kettledrums! (384) (in thought) - dactylic 
  13. Wraiths and wreckage! (385) - trochaic 
  14. Weights and water-bottles! (395) - trochaic 
  15. Crows and crockery! (403) - mixed 
And, in loving mockery by an owl in The Silver Chair: Crabs and crumpets! (574)

I didn't notice much connection between the exclamation and the surrounding passage, with one rather significant exception.  When Aslan confronts Trumpkin, we get: 'Wraiths and wreckage!' gasped Trumpkkin in the ghost of a voice.  So here we have alliteration both on the R sound and also on the hard G, and then the two alliterative pairs are connected semantically, if you will, with wraith and ghost.  I think this emphasizes the devastation Trumpkin experiences in encountering the very Lion in which he disbelieved.  One might say this is the last gasp of his former Aslan-free life; his disbelief has been wrecked on the body of Aslan, and if the smug skepticism at the center of his being has been killed, there may be nothing left of it but a ghost or wraith.


C.S. Lewis. The Chronicles of Narnia. 1st American ed, HarperCollinsPublishers, 2001.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Rule of Three

Just noticed something cool in C.S. Lewis's use of triads to bring readers around to a viewpoint they might otherwise resist.

Here's one from Prince Caspian (p. 355), where the approach is essentially point, counterpoint, and deeper truth:
'Pah!' said Nikabrik. 'A renegade Dwarf. A half-and-halfer! Shall I pass my sword through its throat?' 
'Be quiet, Nikabrik,' said Trumpkin. 'The creature can't help its ancestry.' 
'This is my greatest friend and the saviour of my life,' said Caspian. 'And anyone who doesn't like his company may leave my army at once.'
And another from The Silver Chair (p. 608), when Jill, Eustace, and Puddleglum realize they've been eating a Talking Stag and we're led further up and further in (so to speak) to a fully Narnian perspective:
This discovery didn't have exactly the same effect on all of them.  Jill, who was new to that world, was sorry for the poor stag and thought it rotten of the giants to have killed him.  Scrubb, who had been in that world before and had at least one Talking Beast as his dear friend, felt horrified; as you might feel about a murder.  But Puddleglum, who was Narnian born, was sick and faint, and felt as you would feel if you found you had eaten a baby.  
Only Puddleglum's comment is provided verbatim.  It's followed by: "And gradually even Jill came to see it from his point of view."

C.S. Lewis.  The Chronicles of Narnia. 1st American ed, HarperCollinsPublishers, 2001.