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Why don’t people talk like Shakespeare anymore?

This is not rhetorical, it is a serious question.

Perhaps it is my recent foray back into the world of the famous Bard of Avon, however, I find myself tiring more each day of the laziness of the modern English language. Setting aside, if you’ll give me leave to, the most officious examples of text speak and abbreviations which shorten not only single words but even phrases into meaningless, mismatched letters, you are still left with a laziness in popular culture which turns my stomach at times.

I am not going to go into a lengthy diatribe here. I am sure my readers will agree with me in any case. However, I would like to give a few examples below, taken from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and ask you to let me know which you would rather read and/or hear.

The following is taken from The Tempest, Act 1, Scene 2:

Original Text:

FERDINAND

So they are.

My spirits, as in a dream, are all bound up.

My father’s loss, the weakness which I feel,

The wrack of all my friends, nor this man’s threats,

To whom I am subdued, are but light to me,

Might I but through my prison once a day

Behold this maid. All corners else o’ th’ earth

Let liberty make use of. Space enough

Have I in such a prison.

Modern Text:

FERDINAND

That’s true, they are. My strength is all gone, as if in a dream. The death of my father, my physical weakness, the loss of all my friends, the threats of this man who’s taken me prisoner – all that would be easy for me to take, if only I could look through my prison windows once a day and see this girl. I don’t need any more freedom than that. A prison like that would give me enough liberty. (1)

Now, please, be honest with me. Who in their right mind wouldn’t swoon to hear their beloved say “All corners else o’ th’ earth let liberty make use of. Space enough have I in such a prison.”? Certainly Ferdinand’s meaning is better portrayed through Shakespeare’s language than our own modern tongue.

I do not think I need to look far to find others who agree that, regarding the language of love, Shakespeare comes top of the class.

However, looking to the other end of the spectrum, even Shakespeare’s insults are far superior. Again, this is not something which only I have noticed. There’s an entire website dedicated to the lost art of Elizabethan insults. He does have a certain knack for coarse language.

Take the following, from The Tempest, Act 1, Scene 1:

Original Text:

SEBASTIAN

A pox o’ your throat, you bawling, blasphemous, incharitable dog!

Modern Text:

SEBASTIAN

Oh, go to hell, you loud-mouthed bastard! (3)

The above, I am happy to admit, is one of my favourite ever of Shakespeare’s insults. Please tell me whether you’d rather hear the original or the modern text. I mean to say – think of the imagination involved! It’s so much better than just telling someone to go to hell. We’ve lost all imagination in our modern insults, which is very sad. If you’re looking for a sure-fire way to double the value of your insults, use language and phrasing which your enemy is bound to misunderstand, thereby insulting their intelligence as well.

And for my final example, please find one of the most well-known scenes from The Tempest, from Act 4, Scene 1:

Original Text:

PROSPERO

(to FERDINAND)

You do look, my son, in a moved sort,

As if you were dismayed. Be cheerful, sir.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,

As I foretold you, were all spirits and

Are melted into air, into thin air.

And like the baseless fabric of this vision,

The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,

The solemn temples, the great globe itself—

Yea, all which it inherit—shall dissolve,

And like this insubstantial pageant faded,

Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff

As dreams are made on, and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep. Sir, I am vexed.

Bear with my weakness. My old brain is troubled.

Be not disturbed with my infirmity.

If you be pleased, retire into my cell

And there repose. A turn or two I’ll walk

To still my beating mind.

Modern Text:

PROSPERO

(to FERDINAND)

You look like something’s bothering you. Cheer up. Our music-and-dance spectacle is over. These actors were all spirits, as I told you, and they’ve all melted into thin air. And just like the whole empty and ungrounded vision you’ve seen, with its towers topped with clouds, its gorgeous palaces, solemn temples, the world itself—and everyone living in it—which will dissolve just as this illusory pageant has dissolved, leaving not even a wisp of cloud behind. We are all made of dreams, and our life stretches from sleep before birth to sleep after death. Sir, I’m upset. Please put up with my weakness. My old brain is troubled. Don’t be disturbed by my illness. If you like, you can rest a while in my room. I’ll go for a short walk to calm down my feverish mind. (4) 

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” Oh, the desperate realisation that life is too short has never sounded quite so beautiful. Such poetry relives the starkness of the epiphany and brings comfort to the listener. It loses all of its poetry and much of its kindness in a modern telling.

So, what is the verdict? Do you agree with me that there is something lost with the passing of well-phrased English both in written and spoken word? We’ll have a vote in the comments, shall we? Original Vs Modern.

I hope not to bore you too thoroughly over the next few days with all of my Shakespeare posts, but I make no guarantees. If you haven’t dusted off your Complete Works recently, do yourself a favour and get stuck in. If it’s  been since your school years since you’ve attempted to read Shakespeare then give it another chance, it is infinitely more enjoyable when you can enjoy the works without a teacher or a professor shoving their particular interpretation down your throat.

However, and this is a point I cannot stress strongly enough, forget about reading Shakespeare entirely. Go and SEE Shakespeare. Immediately. Although, I do feel I should warn you, a poor performance can put you off for life. Avoid too modern tellings, as discussed above, they detract immeasurably from the intent.

Refrences:

(1) No Fear Shakespeare – The Tempest, Page 56

(2) Shakespearean Insults Generator

(3) No Fear Shakespeare – The Tempest, Page 6

(4) No Fear Shakespeare – The Tempest, Page 158

(5) The post title is from The Tempest, Act 1, Scene 2 as spoken by Ariel. Although you may know them from T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland.

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In preparation for our upcoming Road Trip Adventure I have started reading travel books.

At the moment I’m 111 pages into William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways: A Journey Into America.

The foreword:

On the old highway maps of America, the main routes were red and the back roads blue. Now even the colors are changing. But in those brevities just before dawn and a little after dusk – times neither day nor night – the old roads return to the sky some of its color. Then, in truth, they carry a mysterious cast of blue, and it’s that time when the pull of the blue highway is strongest, when the open road is a beckoning, a strangeness, a place where a man can lose himself.

If that paragraph doesn’t make you want to pick up a copy of the book then I am afraid the rest of my post will bore you. So far I am in love. Blue Highways is fascinating and informative and, at times, painful, but also irresistible.

Would you like further incentive?

Page 33

While I ate buttermilk pie, [Thurmond] Watts served as disc jockey of Nameless, Tennessee. “Here’s ‘Mountain Rose.'” It was one of those moments that you know at the time will stay with you to the grave; the sweet pie, the gaunt man playing the old music, the coals in the stove glowing orange, the scent of kerosene and hot bread. “Here’s ‘Evening Rhapsody.'” The music was so heavily romantic we both laughed. I thought: It is for this I have come.

Page 70

“Nothin’ in that water but water. Be comin’ up from four hundred feet, gettin’ cleaned all the way down and all the way back up. Natural wells used to be all over here, but them new, drilled wells dried up the othern. But this one, he be too deep.” The man closed the trunk and helped his wife into the car. “Government man come round and say he’d drill a well by the house. I tole him all we’d do with it was flush a water toilet, and we got no water toilet. I says ‘How that water gone get up to me?’ He say with a lectric pump. I says ‘We drinks water what come up of his own mind.'”

When I went back for more, the water pressure shifted, answering some change in the aquifer deep below. I wondered how old the water was, how long it had taken to get down and back up. I’ve never drunk glacier water from snows that fell a thousand years ago, but I couldn’t imagine it being any better than the South Carolina water what come up of his own mind.

I have been swept in. I couldn’t put this book down if I wanted to. I bought it from Amazon second-hand and it shipped to me from America but I guarantee it’s going right back over the ocean with me in May.

William Least Heat-Moon’s circular route around the country shares not one location with our own planned journey, although we do cross his path twice. Regardless, I think I will find this an indispensable accompaniment to our trip – if only to remind me what we should be doing. We are not taking the old blue highways – we simply don’t have the time, but that doesn’t mean we have to lose sight of the real experience. We may not stop and have dinner with strangers in a small town called Nameless, but the idea of it should still be there.

As I said, I am only on page 111. I will let you know when I get to the end and what my views are then.

xo
A

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diversion

I am re-reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road again and as this is an all-consuming task I leave you with the following diversion:

The 2011 Tournament of Books – Long List

Have you read any of these titles? I am proud to say I have read two!

xo
A

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I should have known before I started… Given my lukewarm feelings about The Time Traveller’s Wife I should have passed right by this title in the bookstore. However, having always been a complete sucker for a novel with as good a title as this, and as fascinatingly beautiful a cover, I bought it.

My first mistake.

While reasonably well written this novel pretty much lacks any other redeeming qualities. The story is far-fetched and absurd to the brink of pointlessness. The setting is beautiful but flat. Every character, main or otherwise, is painfully stupid. None of them elicit the intended curiosity or sympathy. Julia, the most worthy character, is so horribly cruel that I couldn’t imagine feeling anything towards her other than annoyance. In fact, the only character I cared for at all throughout the entire 496 pages was a little white kitten.

I nearly gave up the book as a bad job three-quarters of the way through having (successfully) guessed the rest of the tale, however it sat on my bedside table mocking me, so I finished it. In my opinion The Time Traveller’s Wife was trite, obvious and far too long, but at least its characters were likable and the storyline was interesting enough to make me wish I’d thought of it first. Her Fearful Symmetry, however, was simply boring, unrealistic and a waste of my time.

My apologies to Ms Niffenegger. I do like her. Perhaps one day she can give one of my novels a pathetically scathing review. Until then I just hope she concentrates on making her next work even the tiniest bit believable.

xo
A

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This year I have been a busy little reader, although most of what I have read is either something I’ve read many times before (The Borrowers by Mary Norton) or something I don’t feel is worth recommending (The Sisterhood by Emily Barr), so I am WAY behind on updating the On Books section of this site.

By way of an apology I am going to go ahead and list the recommendable books that I’ve read so far this year in their own post before adding them to that page. I hope you enjoy what I have to say and I hope that you are inspired to read some of the titles.

(First I want to say that my “first few books of 2010” prediction was WAY off. I have completed two of the titles I listed [one of which was very disappointing!], but not the other five. Woops!)

If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor

My full review HERE. After reading only the first few lines of this debut novel by Jon McGregor, not only did I want to lock myself in a room until I finished it, I knew that as soon as I did I would want to start it all over again. A breathtaking masterpiece. Still my favourite of 2010.

 The Book of Nightmares by Galway Kinnell

 By far and without a doubt my absolute favourite book of poetry, ever. Kinnell is an unparalleled master of his craft and this astonishing book-length poem is phenomenally good. A bit gruesome, yes; Kinnell expresses with a fierce imagery the brutality, anguish and horror of 20th century history and yet there is tenderness here, a lyrical beauty rarely found on this Earth.

My favourite section is number seven, entitled “Little Sleep’s-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight” and written for his daughter, Maud. There is such an intensity of love on these pages it will leave you breathless. Kinnell is a genius.

The full text of this book is available HERE, although I only give you the link knowing if you read the text there your next step will be to purchase the book so you may read it over, and over, and over again.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

This is an exquisitely wrought tale of heartbreak, fear and confusion following the lives of African-American maids working in white households in Mississippi in the 1960’s. Moving and unforgettable.

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

I found this difficult to get into though I am very glad I stuck it out. Harsh and uncompromising yet wholesome and uplifting.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Oh, my! Did I ever love this book. Beautifully written; an unflinching account of life in a travelling circus during The Great Depression. Be warned – if accounts of cruelty to animals upset you to any great degree you should stay away. You’ll be missing out, though.

Tinkers by Paul Harding

Stark and haunting. Unbelievably well written. Harding’s descriptive power is incredible – you are able to feel the snow and taste the oranges. When he describes dirt you feel as though you should go wash your hands. More than deserving of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore

I loved this even though I found it difficult to continue at times. A revelation near the end left me reeling for days.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

The Pulitzer Prize winner for 2008. I have to admit that some of the history bored me, but I dislike history in general so that was unavoidable. Oscar stole my heart.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

A collection of short stories all relating to the central character, an abrupt woman named Olive. It’s a love/hate relationship with Olive, but in the end you adore her. It leaves you with a great deal of unanswered questions. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2009.

Up next? Well, I am still working on The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I recently bought The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver and Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger, so those are high on the list.

The book I am taking with me on holiday is The Princess Bride by William Goldman because it is light and heart-warming and something I have read (many times) before.

Happy Reading!
xo
A

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sad news

The poet Edwin Morgan died today at the age of 90.

I had never heard of Edwin Morgan until 2002 when he collaborated with the band Idlewild on the final track of their album The Remote Part. The song is titled “In Remote Part/Scottish Fiction” and Edwin Morgan wrote and recorded his poem “Scottish Fiction”  for use on the track. The poem below is copyright the author and taken from HERE.

Scottish Fiction

It isn’t in the mirror
It isn’t on the page
It’s a red-hearted vibration
Pushing through the walls
Of dark imagination
Finding no equation
There’s a Red Road rage
But it’s not road rage
It’s asylum seekers engulfed by a grudge
Scottish friction
Scottish fiction

It isn’t in the castle
It isn’t in the mist
It’s a calling of the waters
As they break to show
The new Black Death
With reactors aglow
Do you think your security
Can keep you in purity
You will not shake us off above or below
Scottish friction
Scottish fiction

I have been a fan ever since, especially after moving to Scotland. His contributions to Scottish literature are immeasurable and he will be sorely missed by many friends and fans.

A Gull

A seagull stood on my window-ledge today,
said nothing, but had a good look inside.
That was a cold inspection I can tell you!
North winds, icebergs, flash of salt
crashed through the glass without a sound.
He shifted from leg to leg, swivelled his head.
There was not a fish in the house–only me.
Did he smell my flesh, that white one? Did he think
I would soon open the window and scatter bread?
Calculation in those eyes is quick.
`I tell you, my chick, there is food everywhere.’
He eyed my furniture, my plants, an apple.
Perhaps he was a mutation, a supergull.
Perhaps he was, instead, a visitation
which only used that tight firm forward body
to bring the waste and dread of open waters,
foundered voyages, matchless predators,
into a dry room. I knew nothing.
I moved; I moved an arm. When the thing saw
the shadow of that, it suddenly flapped,
scuttered claws along the sill, and was off,
silent still. Who would be next for those eyes,
I wondered, and were they ready, and in order?

And below, my favourite Edwin Morgan poem.

The Loch Ness Monster’s Song

Sssnnnwhuffffll?
Hnwhuffl hhnnwfl hnfl hfl?
Gdroblboblhobngbl gbl gl g g g g glbgl.
Drublhaflablhaflubhafgabhaflhafl fl fl –
gm grawwwww grf grawf awfgm graw gm.
Hovoplodok – doplodovok – plovodokot – doplodokosh?
Splgraw fok fok splgrafhatchgabrlgabrl fok splfok!
Zgra kra gka fok!
Grof grawff gahf?
Gombl mbl bl –
blm plm,
blm plm,
blm plm,
blp

Listen to Edwin Morgan read “The Loch Ness Monster’s Song” HERE. It’s absolutely wonderful.

Both above poems are copyright the author and were taken from The Poetry Archive.

xo
A

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A book review:

Have you ever read a book you couldn’t finish fast enough? Not because it was boring you or because it wasn’t what you were expecting, but because it was wholly compelling?

After reading only the first few lines of If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, the debut novel by Jon McGregor, not only did I want to lock myself in a room until I finished it, I knew that as soon as I did I would want to start it all over again.

I was not disappointed.

Owing, perhaps, more to poetry than prose, McGregor’s masterpiece draws you in from page one, and believe me when I say there is no turning back.

There is nothing here which is extraordinary excepting, of course, the breathtakingly ordinary – the fullness of each character is portrayed in an instant, a flashbulb only, revealing secrets, longings and regrets in stark contrast – all set into the context of a lovely summers’ day.

If I may borrow from a review written at the front of the book; McGregor has the startling ability to remind his readers of the infinity in a grain of sand.

Would I recommend this novel? Yes, to anyone who will listen. Will I read it again? I have already started.

He says my daughter, and all the love he has is wrapped up in the tone of his voice when he says those two words, he says my daughter you must always look with both of your eyes and listen with both of your ears. He says this is a very big world and there are many many things you could miss if you are not careful. He says there are remarkable things all the time, right in front of us, but our eyes have like the clouds over the sun and our lives are paler and poorer if we do not see them for what they are.

He says, if nobody speaks of remarkable things, how can they be called remarkable? (239)

I know it is only February, but this may be my book of the year.

So, to remarkable things.

xo

A

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