Friday, 23 January 2015

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare.

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare is believed to have been written between 1590 and 1591 and first published in about 1594. It is his second play and his second comedy following The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1589-92).

Be warned: I discuss the ending in this post. I don't feel I can do anything but!

It's one of Shakespeare's play-within-a-plays: it opens with a prank - a local 'tinker' (the definition of which is "a person who makes a living by travelling from place to place mending pans and other metal utensils") named Christopher Spy is found intoxicated by a Lord. He and his men convince Spy that he too is a Lord, and has wrongly believed himself to be a tinker for many years. They put on a play for his amusement, and the play is, of course, The Taming of the Shrew.

It is one of Shakespeare's bleaker comedies. It's set in Padua, Italy, and tells the story of sisters Katherina (the 'shrew') and Bianca and their suitors Lucentio, Gremio and Hortensio (Bianca's) and Petruchio (Katherina's). Their names give an indication of their personalities: Katherina is derived from Katherine, which, among other things, may derive from the goddess Hecate (the name of one of the three witches in Macbeth, 1606), and also from the Greek word "αικια" meaning "torture". Tellingly, 'Katherine' may also come from the Greek 'Hekaterine' (‘Εκατερινη'), itself derived from 'hekateros' ('εκατερος') meaning "each of the two". Bianca, meanwhile, is a derivative of the name 'Blanche' meaning "white" and "fair".

Elizabeth Taylor as Katherina, 1967.
Baptista Minola, the father of Katherina and Bianca, has declared that no one may court Bianca,  the younger sister, until Katherina is married. The rub is that Katherina is virtually unmarriageable  owing to her vicious temper and sharp tongue. Lucentio, Gremio and Hortensio attempt to overcome to situation by disguising themselves to get close to her, and other general trickery, but they realise that they must get Katherina married off in order to solve their problems. Enter Petruchio, an old friend of Hortensio, who wishes to marry a rich woman. They decide Petruchio must marry Katherina, and he sets out to "tame the shrew". 

In Elizabethan times a common and much enjoyed sport was hunting with falcons. The way to tame falcons was particularly cruel: one would deny them sleep (this is one of the kinder methods), starve them, and engage in a 'battle of wits' which, if successful, will subdue and tame the falcon. This was Petruchio's method of subduing Katherina:

My falcon now is sharp and passing empty.
And till she stoop she must not be full-gorg'd,
For then she never looks upon her lure.
Another way I have to man my haggard,
To make her come, and know her keeper's call,
That is, to watch her, as we watch these kites
That bate and beat, and will not be obedient.
She eat no meat to-day, nor none shall eat;
Last night she slept not, nor to-night she shall not;
As with the meat, some undeserved fault
I'll find about the making of the bed;
And here I'll fling the pillow, there the bolster,
This way the coverlet, another way the sheets;
Ay, and amid this hurly I intend
That all is done in reverend care of her-
And, in conclusion, she shall watch all night;
And if she chance to nod I'll rail and brawl
And with the clamour keep her still awake.
This is a way to kill a wife with kindness,
And thus I'll curb her mad and headstrong humour.
He that knows better how to tame a shrew,
Now let him speak; 'tis charity to show.
Latham's Falconry by Simon Latham (1615).
Easy to discern Petruchio's character from this vile speech. And he is successful: he wears Katherina down and the play, in my eyes, climaxes in the disappointing stage direction of Act V Scene II:
She obeys.
And thus marks the death of Katherina's fighting spirit.

The Shrew Katherina by Edward Robert Hughes (1898).
It's a well-written play, and has some of the finest comic speeches and exchanges and for that I enjoyed it. But with my modern eyes it's an uncomfortable play. Katherina is highly spirited and exceptionally witty, a sharp and able equal to Petruchio in the war of words. But how much more fun would it have been if Petruchio had have been defeated! That said, there are interpretations that suggest Katherina's speech about the importance of submission is meant ironically - if so, how good it would be to see a sequel to The Taming of the Shrew! Is it meant ironically? Could Katherina ever truly be tamed? Ah, that is the question.

In short (and there is much more to discuss than what I've written about here) it's an awkward play beginning with a rather harsh joke on Christopher Spy and ending with Katherina's submission and Petruchio getting patted on the back for his success. Humiliation, whether it be the joke played on Spy or the treatment of Katherina drives this play on. And yet I recommend it - it's one of William Shakespeare's major works, for a start, and the themes of the role of women, marriage, and money make for a fascinating read. I hope one day I'll see it performed - I'll at least try to get a hold of the 1967 film starring Elizabeth Taylor as Katherina and Richard Burton as Petruchio.

Finally, some illustrations. These are by Byam Shaw and were published in 1902 by G. Bell.

I read this for the fourth week of the Deal Me in Challenge: next week - Émile Zola's Death by Advertising.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Troilus and Criseyde by Geoffrey Chaucer.

Chaucer reciting Troilus and Criseyde,
15th Century.
My Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer Challenge is now in full swing, and I decided to read Troilus and Criseyde (1382-86) for Fanda's Literary Movements Challenge. I said of The Romaunt of the Rose that is was a particularly difficult book: Troilus and Criseyde is far harder, and was a far more arduous read. I began Troilus at the beginning of the month and then decided first to read Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida (1602) to help me out a little. And help it did, so that was a good move, and I managed to finish Chaucer's Troilus on Tuesday. If The Canterbury Tales (1386-94) is a collection of short stories in verse, then Troilus and Criseyde is his greatest 'single' work. It's about 8, 239 lines and 1, 177 stanzas (apart from The Canterbury Tales this is , his longest poem, the second longest, The Romaunt of the Rose, is 7, 692 lines) and is about equally divided into five books.

In my post on Shakespeare's Troilus I wrote about the root of the tales, and this bears repeating here - Chaucer was inspired by Boccaccio's Il Filostrato (1335-40), which itself was derived from Benoît de Sainte-Maure's Roman de Troie (1155-60). All of these ultimately were inspired by Homer's Iliad (1260-40 B.C.).

It's set during the mythical Trojan War (generally dated to be in the second millennium BC) and tells the story of Troilus and Criseyde (a widow), whose relationship is largely at the mercy of the gods.

Book I

A manuscript of Troilus and Criseyde from 1513.
The first book is addressed to Tisiphone:
Thesiphone, thow help me for t'endite
Thise woful vers, that wepen as I write.
Tisiphone (Τισιφόνη) is one of the Furies who punishes crimes of murder.

In this section, a soothsayer, Cachas (Criseyde's father), predicts the fall of Troy and he leaves the city to join the Greeks. Meanwhile, Troilus, a Trojan soldier openly mocks Love in a temple. He is punished by the God of Love -
At which the God of Love gan loken rowe
Right for despit, and shop for to ben wroken.
He kidde anon his bowe nas naught broken;
For seodenly he hitte atte fulle -
And yet as proud a pekok kan he pulle.
"This fierse and proude knyght" is struck and he falls in love with Criseyde, who is now left with her uncle Pandarus who tells Troilus he will help the lovers unite.

Book II

The second book is addressed to Clio (Κλειώ), the muse of history:
O lady myn, that called art Cleo,
Thow be my speed fro this forth, and my Muse,
To ryme wel this book til I have do...
In it, Pandarus tells Criseyde of Troilus' love for her, and urges her to take pity on the young knight. She ponders on the matter, and sees Troilus pass,
So lik a man of armes and a knyght
He was to see, fulfilled of heigh prowesse,
For bothe he hadde a body and a myght
To don that thing, as wel as hardynesse;
And ek to seen hym in his gere hym dresse,
So fressh, so yong, so weldly semed he,
It was an heven upon hym for to see.
She continues to consider the matter, falls asleep, and dreams of a white eagle:
And as she slep, anonright tho hire mette
How than an egle, fethered whit as bon,
Under hire brest his longe clawes sette,
And out hire herte he rente, and that anon,
And dide his herte into hire brest to gon -
Of which she nought agross, ne nothyng smerte -
And forth he fleigh, with herte left for herte.
Meanwhile Pandarus continues to help Troilus write to Criseyde, which leads to them exchanging letters. When she still shows hesitation in meeting Troilus, Pandarus arranges a meeting for the two at the house of Deiphobus, the brother of Troilus. Once there Troilus, under the guidance of Pandarus, pretends to be ill and Criseyde goes to him.

Book III
Troilus and Crisede: Liber Secundus 
by William Morris.

Book III is addressed to Venus, the goddess of Love:
O sonnes kief, O Joves doughter deere,
Plesance of love, O goodly debonaire,
In gentil hertes ay redy to repaire!
O veray cause of heele and of gladnesse,
Iheryed be thy myght and thi goodnesse!
In Book III Troilus declares his love for Criseyde, but she says very little, so Pandarus once again schemes to bring the two together and plans a dinner on the night a great storm is expected. She reassures Troilus of her affection to him, and she weeps. Troilus, over emotional, faints, and Pandarus takes the opportunity to push Criseyde into bed with him. They have sex, and in the morning part, with Troilus' love deepended.

Book IV

The fourth book is addressed to Mars, the god of war, and the Erinyes - the three furies of vengeance:

O ye Herynes, Nyghts doughtren thre,
That endeles compleignen evere in pyne,
Megera, Alete, and ek Thesiphone,
Thow cruel Mars ek, fader to Quyryne,
This ilke ferthe book me helpeth fyne,
So that the losse of lyf and love yfeere
Of Troilus be fully shewed heere.
Book IV shows how Calchas (the father of Criseyde) persuades the Trojans to exchange Antenor, a prisoner of war, for his daughter. Troilus, guided by Pandarus (who previously suggested that Troilus finds a new lover), tries to persuade to elope but she refuses believing it to be impractical. She assures him that she will return to her father but run away ten days later. Troilus leaves her with a great sense of foreboding:
The day gan rise, and Troilus hym cladde,
And rewfullich his lady gan byholde,
As he that felte dethes cares colde,
And to hire grace he gan hym recomaunde,
Wher hym was wo, this holde I no demaunde. 
Book V
A manuscript of Troilus and Criseyde from 1513.

Book V is addressed to the Fates:
Aprochen gan the fatal destinee
That Joves hath in disposicioun,
And to yow, angry Parcas, sustren three,
Committeth, to don execucioun;
For which Criseyde moste out of the toun,
And Troilus shal dwelle forth in pyne
Til Lachesis his threed no lenger twyne.
In this the final book three years have gone by since Troilus first saw Criseyde in the temple. Now she is in the Greek camp and she meets Diomede who encourages her to forget about the Trojans, telling her of his confidence that they will win the battle. They fall in love and she does not return to Troilus. Having dreamt about her he writes to her, and she responds in vague, distracted terms. He suspects her infidelity which is confirmed on finding Diomede's coat with a brooch he, Troilus, had given Criseyde. On finding it, he curses Fortune, still in love with her, and he later dies in battle. 

Chaucer concludes, dedicating his tragedy to John Gower (author of Mirour de l'Omme, Vox Clamantis, and Confessio Amantis) and Ralph Stroode (author of Logica and Consequentiae), contemporaries of Chaucer, and prays that we may all be worthy of Christ's mercy:
O moral Gower, this book I directe 
To thee, and to the philosophical Strode, 
To vouchen sauf, ther nede is, to corecte, 
Of your benignitees and zeles gode. 
And to that sothfast Crist, that starf on rode, 
With al myn herte of mercy ever I preye; 
And to the lord right thus I speke and seye:  
Thou oon, and two, and three, eterne on-lyve, 
That regnest ay in three and two and oon, 
Uncircumscript, and al mayst circumscryve, 
Us from visible and invisible foon 
Defende; and to thy mercy, everichoon, 
So make us, Iesus, for thy grace digne, 
For love of mayde and moder thyn benigne! Amen.
It is a sad and complex tale that shows a lot more sympathy for Criseyde than Shakespeare did. She is more thoughtful and more fearful, and Chaucer portrays a love more innocent and less cynical. And the tragedy - that this, ultimately, was caused by the God of Love's punishment of Troilus and Pandarus' meddling, which is down to his regret of his own bad luck in love. Had Troilus been less cynical in the very beginning he might have lived, but because of his actions he learned of the power and might of Love. 

As I said at the beginning, this was an intensely difficult read! From reading Chaucer these past few months I'm more attune to Medieval English, but even so the length and breadth of this huge tale left me out of breath at times. I think I may need a dose of Victorian Literature before I contemplate my next bout of Chaucer!

To finish, some illustrations: these are four of the illustrations by Warwick Goble and were published by Macmillan in 1912.

Further Reading

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Daphnis and Chloe by Longus.

Daphnis and Chloe (Δάφνις καὶ Χλόη) is a short 3rd Century Greek novel written by Longus (Λόγγος), an author who lived in the island of Lesbos, where Daphnis and Chloe is set. Aside from that, virtually nothing else is known about Longus.

Fortunately, this little book survived! I found a copy by chance a year or so ago in Barter Books - a Penguin edition translated by Paul Turner - and bit on the back seduced me into buying it:
If this book were an oak-tree we could simply carve on it the words: 'Daphnis loves Chloe. What more can be said about a Greek novel which became the prototype of every pastoral romance? In his charming account of the adventures and perplexities of two young foundling shepherds, Longus gave the world a tale of rustic innocence which many writers have emulated but few have come near. Gracefully, mockingly, gently, Longus traces the onset of passion in his young lovers with an insight which looks modern to those who think the world began last year.
Map of Lesbos by Giacomo Franco (1597).
It's a very simple tale divided into four parts. In the beginning, both Daphnis and Chloe have been abandoned: Daphnis is looked after by goats, and has with him "a little cloak dyed with genuine purple, a golden brooch, and a dagger with an ivory hilt". Two years later, Chloe is found with sheep, "a girdle woven with gold thread, a pair of gilded sandals, and some anklets of solid gold". They are both taken in by separate families in Lesbos, Daphnis grows to be a goat herder, and Chloe a shepherd. They fall in love, and suffer various trials and tribulations, and enjoy the pleasures that love brings.

In the Prologue, Longus writes,
After gazing admiringly at the many scenes [a painting in Lesbos], all of a romantic nature, I was seized by a longing to write a verbal equivalent to the painting. So I found someone to explain the picture to me, and composed a work in four volumes as an offering to Love and the Nymphs and Pan, and as a source of pleasure for the human race - something to heal the sick and comfort the afflicted, to refresh the memory of those who have been in love and educate those who have not. For no one has ever escaped Love altogether, and no one ever will, so long as beauty exists and eyes can see. 
Titian's Three Ages of Man (1512),
perhaps depicting a scene from Daphnis and Chloe
Daphnis and Chloe is a mixture of comedy and pathos; it's gentle, sweet, and though short is beautifully slow-paced - it's a relaxing read that lulls rather than excites for the main part (though it has it's moments), and I enjoyed reading about these innocent young lovers (let it be said the reader, at times, is made to feel a great deal less innocent than Daphnis and Chloe).

What I really loved about this novel was the sense of yearning it provoked; it came close, in fact, to one of my favourite pieces of poetry 'The Golden Age' from Ovid's Metamorphoses. The landscape and lifestyle is so idyllic and beautiful with far less complications: back then, one could really deal with the matter in hand! This is not to say there aren't any complications in Daphnis and Chloe, there are - pirates, for one, but rather the complications are relevant. Love, happiness, and well-being are the focus in the way that today they are not. In fact I'd say one can learn a lot from this novel about our own times.

The seasons mark their development, both individually and as a pair, and the vivid descriptions of sceneries anchors this wonderful novel in nature. This is a new favourite: I do love pastoral tales. Gods and goddesses are still present, however they do not take as active a role as earlier Ancient Greek prose and poems.

On a final note: Daphnis and Chloe have inspired many artists - here are some of my favourites -

Paysage avec Daphnis et Chloé (detail) by François-Louis Français (1872)..
The Wooing of Daphnis by Arthur Lemon (1881).
Illustration for Daphnis and Chloe by Konstantin Somov (1930).
Further Reading

Monday, 19 January 2015

Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy.

Thomas Hardy by
William Stang (1893).
Two on a Tower is Thomas Hardy's ninth published novel, published in 1882, and is categorised as one of his "Romance and Fantasies" (the others in this category being A Pair of Blue Eyes, 1873, The Trumpet-Major, 1880, A Group of Noble Dames, 1891, and The Well-Beloved, 1892). It is one of his minor novels, though in 2012 it was published as part of the Penguin English Library collection (one hundred books, seven of which are by Hardy).

It is, in short, a tale of "star-crossed lovers" and quotes on it's title page a verse from Love's Horoscope by Richard Crawshaw (a 17th Century poet):
Ah my Heart, her eyes and shee,
Have taught thee new Astrologie.
How e're Loves native houres were set,
What ever starry Synod met,
'Tis in the mercy of her eye,
If poore Love shall live or dye.
It is a novel I very much enjoyed, and is very "Hardy", but I must say I think he rather took liberties at times with plot developments. It's about Lady Constantine and Swithin St Cleeve, our two star-crossed lovers, and takes place against, to quote Hardy from the Preface, a "stupendous background of the stellar universe". Swithin St Cleeve is a budding astronomer and a working class man aged about 18 in the start of the novel. Lady Constantine is a religious woman, upper class, unhappily married and effectively deserted, and ten years Swithin's senior. From the very start there is a clash of science and religion, class, and age, yet the two fall in love. Society, it goes without saying, does not look on kindly and the two are forced to keep their love secret, with disastrous consequences.

The Burritt / Huntington Map of the Stars
& Constellations of the 

Northern Hemisphere, 1856.
The inspiration for Thomas Hardy's Two on a Tower was, among other things, observing Tebbut's Comet in June 1881. Stars, of course, are linked to fate and have signified such in literature since the dawn of time! A comet signifies destruction and doom, and in Hardy's novel initially this comet appears to do quite the opposite, it saves Swithin from a very bleak depression, however it marks the beginning of the lovers' downfall. Though I enjoyed this book very much, it isn't the most subtle of Hardy's works, and as I've already said Hardy took some liberties with a plot that felt rather rushed at times and consequently comes across as a little too sensationalist for my tastes. Nevertheless, the stars are seductive and Hardy's powers of description are very much present in this short novel, which may have been improved had it have been longer than its 300 pages: the pace was, I found, a little too fast.

'The Wessex of the Novels' by H. Macbeth Raeburn, from the 1895 edition of Two in a Tower.

Charborough Tower.
Two on a Tower is, like most (if not all) of Hardy's novels set in Wessex. Wessex was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom up until the early 10th century and was made up of the most of south west England, which include what are now Hampshire, Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon, Berkshire, and Dorset, where he lived for the most part of his life. And it is in Dorset where Two on a Tower is set. The tower of the title, where Swithin studied the stars, is set near the home of Lady Constantine, which is called in the novel 'Welland House'. In real life this is Charborough House in Dorset, which also has a tower, Charborough Tower, a Grade II listed building dating back to 1790. It's situated near Wimborne, once the home of Hardy.

It was a great read, in short, and I'm happy I've finally got to it. I have a rather odd and frustrating relationship with Hardy: I've read four of his novels so far, Jude the Obscure, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, The Mayor of Casterbridge, and The Return of the Native: the first two books I loved very much, the last two I hated. Nevertheless I do find him an intriguing author,  I do judge Two on a Tower to be a personal reading success, and I've especially enjoyed his poetry. I think, in the next few years, I'll revisit the books I've already read, but first I have a short of list of his novels I'd like to get to. I do think some of the best descriptions in Victorian literature belong to Hardy.

Further Reading

Friday, 16 January 2015

Anelida and Arcite by Geoffrey Chaucer.

16th Century portrait
of Chaucer.
Anelida and Arcite manuscript.
Anelida and Arcite by Geoffrey Chaucer was written around about the late 1370s and is one of his shorter poems: too long to be classed along with the "short poems" (such as An ABC, The Complaint of Chaucer to his purse, etc.), but not as long as The House of Fame,  The Book of the Duchess, and The Parliament of Fowls (and certainly not as long as The Romaunt of the Rose or Troilus and Criseyde). It is a relatively brief 357 lines, and was inspired by Boccaccio's Teseida (Teseida delle Nozze d’Emilia, 1340-41) and Statius' Thebaid (Thebais, 1st Century AD).
It begins with this invocation:
Thou ferse god of armes, Mars the rede,
That in the frosty contre called Trace,
Within thy grisly temple ful of drede
Honoured art as patroun of that place;
With thy Bellona, Pallas, ful of grace,
Be present and my song contynue and guye;
At my begynnyng thus to the I creye.
Next, an invocation of the muses to help him write his tale:
Be favorable eke, thou Polymya,
On Parnaso that with thy sustres glade,
By Elycon, not fer Cirrea,
Singest with vois memorial in the shade,
Under the laurer which that may not fade,
And do that I my ship to haven wynne.
First followe I Stace, and after him Corynne.
This is not one of Chaucer's dream-visions but a tale of Anelida, the Queen of Armenia,  and her suitor, "False Arcite" from Thebes, Greece, and it's full of anger and fury from the moment he invokes Mars, the god of war, Bellona, the goddess of war, Pallas, meaning Athena, also associated with war. Polymya is Polyhymmia, the muse of sacred song, Parnaso (Parnassus), Elycon (Helicon), and Cirrea (Cirra) refer to the home of the muses, and Stace and Corynne refer to Statius, author of Thebaid (mentioned above) and Corinna, an ancient Greek poet: only the outlines of her poems The Daughters of Minyas and The Shuttle Maidens survive (nevertheless she did, it is said, win a poetry competition against Pindar).

He goes on to tell of Queen Anelida's desertion: her grief, torment, and disturbed mind at this deception and betrayal:
She wepith, waileth, swowneth pitously;
To grounde ded she falleth as a ston;
Craumpyssheth her lymes crokedly;
She speketh as her wit were al agon;
Other colour then asshen hath she noon;
Non other word speketh she, moche or lyte,
But "Merci, cruel herte myn, Arcite!"
Oh, poor Anelida! Truly this is a moving tale. And, sadly, it is unfinished: for whatever reason Chaucer left Anelida in the Temple of Mars. Scholars have tried to imagine how the poem may have finished, and I like best Michael Cherniss' suggestion that the poem would have turned into a dream vision. It is, because of it's abrupt ending, a frustrating poem, but all the same I did enjoy it very much.

For those interested, you can read Chaucer's Anelida and Arcite online here, and also Elizabeth Barrett Browing's translation, Queen Annelida and False Arcite, here.

I read this for the third week of the Deal Me In 2015 Challenge. Next up - the Jack of Diamonds, which is The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare.
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