Monday, December 12, 2005

Dragons of the Night

David, at Memo From the Fringes likes to set aside time each winter to re-read some part of Dostoyevsky.

I prefer Shakespeare. One year I read it all, though the experience was ultimately fatiguing and self-defeating. This year I thought I would tackle the late Romances - Pericles, A Winter's Tale, Cymbeline and The Tempest. Perhaps I could toss in The Merchant of Venice, and A Midsummer Night's Dream… which I take to be Romances, mostly. Maybe Measure For Measure due to its verse affinities with Cymbeline.

I began with Cymbeline, after watching the DVD of the BBC version available at the library.

The BBC version is perhaps as good as could be. For, as a play, Cymbeline is a mess - filled with every Shakespearean contrivance of coincidence and improbable artifice; misdirected letters, sleeping potions, perfect disguises (two shepherd boys can't tell a girl when they are handling one…as neither can her father or her husband) and a misidentified body. The only thing missing was a shipwreck…I think - the story line is so confusing I may have missed one.

Also a fairly un-Shakepearean intervention by interacting ghosts and gods.

And sadly Shakespeare in his late play seems to have regressed to the approach of, say, the first cycle of Chronicles…with more speeches and asides than natural dialogue or soliloquy. Still… the Blank Verse is as fluent as any Shakespeare crafted (some say his best) and can still dazzle in its brilliance.

“Swift, swift, you dragons of the night, that dawning
May bare the raven's eye! I lodge in fear;
Though this a heavenly angel, hell is here.
(Clock strikes)
One, two, three: time, time!”

Here is the most popular site for Shakespeare's canonical plays: for disputed plays, the sonnets, the narratives and miscellaneous poetry you have to look elsewhere. The editing seems pretty solid, with relatively few typos or formatting errors.



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