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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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block

I am suffering from a bad case of block.

I have writer’s block. Badly.

I also have reader’s block. Very badly.

I can already tell that I am not going to come close to my goal of an average of a book a week this year. I know this because I have only read one book this year and that was a re-read. I have book shelves half-filled with unread books and every evening before bed I go into the office, turn on the light and stand, barefoot, until my toes go numb with cold trying to find a title I actually feel like reading. I have started six or seven books this year but have no desire to finish any of them.

I would ask you all for some suggestions but I probably wouldn’t read them. What I will take are suggestions on how to get past my reader’s/writer’s block.

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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christmas stories

Well, we’ve talked about the songs, now I want to talk about the stories. What are your favourite Christmas stories? Are you a die-hard “Night Before Christmas” fanatic? Is yours the sort of family who leaves cheese out on Christmas Eve as a gift for Santa Mouse?

While I am both of those things, I have to say that none of those stories comes close to being my favourite Christmas tale.

We had the Reader’s Digest Christmas Book in our home and I loved the stories found within. There were heartwarming tales, devoted stories and adventures. My favourite was, and remains still, the Raymond MacDonald Alden story, “Why the Chimes Rang”.

I found the whole text available for free online at The Baldwin Project, and have simply transposed the text here for your enjoyment.

Why the Chimes Rang
by Raymond MacDonald Alden

There was once, in a far-away country where few people have ever traveled, a wonderful church. It stood on a high hill in the midst of a great city; and every Sunday, as well as on sacred days like Christmas, thousands of people climbed the hill to its great archways, looking like lines of ants all moving in the same direction.

When you came to the building itself, you found stone columns and dark passages, and a grand entrance leading to the main room of the church. This room was so long that one standing at the doorway could scarcely see to the other end, where the choir stood by the marble altar. In the farthest corner was the organ; and this organ was so loud that sometimes when it played, the people for miles around would close their shutters and prepare for a great thunderstorm. Altogether, no such church as this was ever seen before, especially when it was lighted up for some festival, and crowded with people, young and old.

But the strangest thing about the whole building was the wonderful chime of bells. At one corner of the church was a great gray tower, with ivy growing over it as far up as one could see. I say as far as one could see, because the tower was quite great enough to fit the great church, and it rose so far into the sky that it was only in very fair weather that any one claimed to be able to see the top. Even then one could not be certain that it was in sight. Up, and up, and up climbed the stones and the ivy; and, as the men who built the church had been dead for hundreds of years, every one had forgotten how high the tower was supposed to be.

Now all the people knew that at the top of the tower was a chime of Christmas bells. They had hung there ever since the church had been built, and were the most beautiful bells in the world. Some thought it was because a great musician had cast them and arranged them in their place; others said it was because of the great height, which reached up where the air was clearest and purest: however that might be, no one who had ever heard the chimes denied that they were the sweetest in the world. Some described them as sounding like angels far up in the sky; others, as sounding like strange winds singing through the trees.

But the fact was that no one had heard them for years and years. There was an old man living not far from the church, who said that his mother had spoken of hearing them when she was a little girl, and he was the only one who was sure of as much as that. They were Christmas chimes, you see, and were not meant to be played by men or on common days. It was the custom on Christmas Eve for all the people to bring to the church their offerings to the Christ-child; and when the greatest and best offering was laid on the altar, there used to come sounding through the music of the choir the Christmas chimes far up in the tower. Some said that the wind rang them, and others that they were so high that the angels could set them swinging. But for many long years they had never been heard.

It was said that people had been growing less careful of their gifts for the Christ-child, and that no offering was brought, great enough to deserve the music of the chimes. Every Christmas Eve the rich people still crowded to the altar, each one trying to bring some better gift than any other, without giving anything that he wanted for himself, and the church was crowded with those who thought that perhaps the wonderful bells might be heard again. But although the service was splendid, and the offerings plenty, only the roar of the wind could be heard, far up in the stone tower.

Now, a number of miles from the city, in a little country village, where nothing could be seen of the great church but glimpses of the tower when the weather was fine, lived a boy named Pedro, and his little brother. They knew very little about the Christmas chimes, but they had heard of the service in the church on Christmas Eve, and had a secret plan, which they had often talked over when by themselves, to go to see the beautiful celebration.

“Nobody can guess, Little Brother,” Pedro would say, “all the fine things there are to see and hear; and I have even heard it said that the Christ-child sometimes comes down to bless the service. What if we could see Him?”

The day before Christmas was bitterly cold, with a few lonely snowflakes flying in the air, and a hard white crust on the ground. Sure enough, Pedro and Little Brother were able to slip quietly away early in the afternoon; and although the walking was hard in the frosty air, before nightfall they had trudged so far, hand in hand, that they saw the lights of the big city just ahead of them. Indeed, they were about to enter one of the great gates in the wall that surrounded it, when they saw something dark on the snow near their path, and stepped aside to look at it.

It was a poor woman, who had fallen just outside the city, too sick and tired to get in where she might have found shelter. The soft snow made of a drift a sort of pillow for her, and she would soon be so sound asleep, in the wintry air, that no one could ever waken her again. All this Pedro saw in a moment, and he knelt down beside her and tried to rouse her, even tugging at her arm a little, as though he would have tried to carry her away. He turned her face toward him, so that he could rub some of the snow on it, and when he had looked at her silently a moment he stood up again, and said:

“It’s no use, Little Brother. You will have to go on alone.”

“Alone?” cried Little Brother. “And you not see the Christmas festival?”

“No,” said Pedro, and he could not keep back a bit of a choking sound in his throat. “See this poor woman. Her face looks like the Madonna in the chapel window, and she will freeze to death if nobody cares for her. Every one has gone to the church now, but when you come back you can bring some one to help her. I will rub her to keep her from freezing, and perhaps get her to eat the bun that is left in my pocket.”

“But I can not bear to leave you, and go on alone,” said Little Brother.

“Both of us need not miss the service,” said Pedro, “and it had better be I than you. You can easily find your way to the church; and you must see and hear everything twice, Little Brother—once for you and once for me. I am sure the Christ-child must know how I should love to come with you and worship Him; and oh! if you get a chance, Little Brother, to slip up to the altar without getting in any one’s way, take this little silver piece of mine, and lay it down for my offering, when no one is looking. Do not forget where you have left me, and forgive me for not going with you.”

In this way he hurried Little Brother off to the city, and winked hard to keep back the tears, as he heard the crunching footsteps sounding farther and farther away in the twilight. It was pretty hard to lose the music and splendor of the Christmas celebration that he had been planning for so long, and spend the time instead in that lonely place in the snow.

The great church was a wonderful place that night. Every one said that it had never looked so bright and beautiful before. When the organ played and the thousands of people sang, the walls shook with the sound, and little Pedro, away outside the city wall, felt the earth tremble around him.

At the close of the service came the procession with the offerings to be laid on the altar. Rich men and great men marched proudly up to lay down their gifts to the Christ-child. Some brought wonderful jewels, some baskets of gold so heavy that they could scarcely carry them down the aisle. A great writer laid down a book that he had been making for years and years. And last of all walked the king of the country, hoping with all the rest to win for himself the chime of the Christmas bells. There went a great murmur through the church, as the people saw the king take from his head the royal crown, all set with precious stones, and lay it gleaming on the altar, as his offering to the holy Child. “Surely,” every one said, “we shall hear the bells now, for nothing like this has ever happened before.”

But still only the cold old wind was heard in the tower, and the people shook their heads; and some of them said, as they had before, that they never really believed the story of the chimes, and doubted if they ever rang at all.

The procession was over, and the choir began the closing hymn. Suddenly the organist stopped playing as though he had been shot, and every one looked at the old minister, who was standing by the altar, holding up his hand for silence. Not a sound could be heard from any one in the church, but as all the people strained their ears to listen, there came softly, but distinctly, swinging through the air, the sound of the chimes in the tower. So far away, and yet so clear the music seemed—so much sweeter were the notes than anything that had been heard before, rising and falling away up there in the sky, that the people in the church sat for a moment as still as though something held each of them by the shoulders. Then they all stood up together and stared straight at the altar, to see what great gift had awakened the long-silent bells.

But all that the nearest of them saw was the childish figure of Little Brother, who had crept softly down the aisle when no one was looking, and had laid Pedro’s little piece of silver on the altar.

That is my favourite Christmas story. For whatever reason it has stayed with me all of these years. I think it has an excellent message, don’t you? Even if you aren’t religious, the story can be stripped down to a good moral either way.

Do you have a favourite Christmas story? Or a winter story of another religion? Please share!

xo
A

***All text copyright the author, Raymond MacDonald Alden, and taken word-for-word from The Baldwin Project.

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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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