Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Spontaneous Poetics - 39 (Reading List 10) (Shakespeare and Webster)





[The Shepherd (1886) - Edward Frederick Brewtnall ( 1846-1902)]

AG: I wanted to get on to.. having run through all this (reading list)..to go back slower, just in case people don't know a couple of the Shakespeare songs. From "Love's Labour's Lost", there's one poem, a "Song", that combines song with absolute precise detail, which is, I think, a model for any kind of poetry, whether free verse or formed, formalistic.. - [Allen begins reading - "When Isciles hang by the wall, And Dicke the Shepheard blows his nail.."] - It's just "And Dicke the Shepheard blows his nail" [Allen imitates somebody blowing on their chilled fingers] - it's winter, he's blowing  on his nails. It took me years to realize it was that simple. (I didn't know) what that nail was he was  blowing. I thought it was a nail in the barn door or something.

Student: It's fingernails.


AG:  Yeah, it's fingernails. Did anybody ever have trouble with that line, besides me, or is that just my nightmare? [Allen surveys the room] - One person.


Student: I think that's what you said the last time..


AG: Yeah, well. it was... (So) you all know "Full fathom five".


Students: Read it anyway.


AG: Does anybody not know it? - [looks around] - One German visitor - From "The Tempest" [Allen reads in its entirety "Full Fathom Five" from "The Tempest"] - There's an odd, swift..


Student: Allen?


AG: Yeah.


Student; It just occurred to me when I heard you read that that that's.. except for the difference in line-length, that could be the same melody as the "Call for the robin-redbreast .." in  (his contemporary), (John) Webster. Do you know that one?


AG: (T.S.) Eliot quoted it ["Or with his nails he'll dig it up again" -  in the opening section of The Waste Land] - It's probably in here - "For with his claws, he'll dig him up again.." - Do you remember? [the quote, as Eliot himself notes, is from Webster's "The White Devil"


Student: There's a first line where...


AG: Well, I'll get Webster, I'll find it.. (here), page 272... (So) what are your favorite early songs (or poems)?


Student: The ones in The Tempest. (And) of course, the Orphelia..


AG: Yeah. We have it. Wanna read it? Why don't you read that?


Student: Sure. I like Webster's songs a lot, too.


[Another] Student: Could you read Orphelia's song? Do you know Orphelia's song?


Student; Yeah. Not by heart. Oh. [looks through his books] - This is a song, let's see, from "The Duchess of Malfi". This is a song by a contemporary of Shakespeare's named John Webster, and it's interesting because he belongs to that first generation, (like) Shakespeare does, that came into blank verse as a kind of improvement in the art of the theatre. When blank verse was introduced into the theatre, it was like the introduction of Cinemascope into film today. Before that, the plays had been written in these very awkward couplet-rhyming line-lengths that were very difficult to memorize and didn't sound anything like natural speech. So when blank verse was bought in, it was, like, a great improvement in the theatre and allowed this whole impetus, this whole blossoming of Elizabethan theatre to take place. (Christopher) Marlowe is the one who mastered the mighty line, or blank verse, and then Shakespeare's was the next generation to pick up on that. And in that generation with Shakespeare were some other absolutely incredible poets, like John Webster. The difference between a man like Webster and Shakespeare was not only in the metric, it was in the subject-matter, and the scope of their mind. Webster is just as perfect as Shakespeare. It's just that the scope of his intentions in theatre is narrower. The songs, then, are usually rhymed and go back like a jewel. In a sense, they're not only songs, but they're almost like a reflection of the early (earlier) rhyming verse. They're almost like you're hearing something in the past and you're hearing a little jewel, set in a perfect ornament. And Webster specialized very much in the macabre, and especially in the violent, and in the macabre aspect in the violent. And his songs reflect that, and they're very beautiful but they reflect the rest of what's happening in his plays. Shakespeare's songs are almost set like little perfect glittering diamonds in the fields of his plays, and Webster's are more of a part of the play, in a way. [Student reads John Webster's "Call for the robin-redbreast  and the wren" - "Call for the robin-redbreast and the wren,/ Since o'er shady groves they hover..."] - You hear the temper of Webster in these, whereas Shakespeare's sometimes almost like Agathon, where they're talking about Agathon's Songs, or as you hear about Euripedes. Sometimes the song is not essential to the context, I mean, it's not essential in the context of the play.


AG: They could be put in or pulled out.


Student: Oh yeah, you could take Shakespeare's songs out. This has a life of its own as a poem, but it has to do intensely with the mood of the play. I'll read it again so you can hear it [Student re-reads "Call For The Robin Redbreast And The Wren" in its entirety] - "Call for the robin redbreast and the wren,/ Since o'er shady groves they hover,/And with leaves and flowers do cover/ The friendless bodies of unburied men./ Call unto his funeral dole/ The ant, the field mouse and the mole,/ To rear him hillocks that shall keep him warm,/ And when gay tombs are robbed, sustain no harm/ But keep the wolf far thence, that's foe to men/ For with his nails he'll dig them up again" - Dracula movies next!


AG: We have ten minutes


Student: Why don't you read some more Shakespeare. That was really good.


AG: Well there are several things... Dana (Naone) (sic) brought in something that we've been talking about, a song that was recorded by Pentangle?


Dana Naone: No, this is Ray Fisher


AG: And what is the song?


Dana Naone: A traditional Scottish ballad called "Mill O'Tifty's Annie", and it's sort of rare, in that it's not very common, but it's very classical in that it's got the Scottish sort of drama in it.


AG: It's right on there and it's easy to get at. Okay, it's just that we had mentioned, during the previous classes, that some of the ancient ballads were picked up by modern pop groups, and I thought...


Dana Naone: This is relatively..


AG: ..since there's only ten minutes left, I wanted to get that in, and then I'll go back to Shakespeare.


Student: Sure


AG:  And Nashe, I want to do  (Thomas) Nashe.. (but, since) she (Dana) went to all the trouble to bring it in..


Dana Naone: It's in the English, but (with) a Scottish dialect, so it might be difficult to understand some of the words. "Mither" (for example) is "Mother", ""fither" is "father", "brither" is "brother", "new" is "now", "say" is "so", "tay" is "two".. So you can  pick it up just by following it. [Dana then performs, in its entirety, a version of the ballad "Mill O'Tifty's Annie"].


AG: I couldn't...       [tape ends here - then resumes]


Student: What's the name of the album (this comes from)


Dana Naone: Ray Fisher - "The Bonnie Birdy" - and the song is called "Mill O'Tifty's Annie"




AG: Okay. It's time to quit. I have one last song I want to sing. From Thomas Nashe. I've used this poem in my class before, but I'd just like to end this particular (class) on it because I think it's the most perfect song sung in English. I don't know what the tune is, so I'll just have to make it up as I go along [Allen sings, along with harmonium accompaniment, "Song (In Time of Pestilence") - "Brightnesse falls from the ayre....] - Okay. 8.30. Time for the Visiting Poet's Class. We'll zap right into it.  [class, and tape, ends here]. 

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