Shakespeare’s Betters: An Exchange

Doug Quixote May 25, 2012 at 5:26 am

How good are your powers of comprehension? Try this :

How old is the author?

Against my love shall be as I am now
With Time’s injurious hand crushed and o’erworn,
When hours have drained his blood and filled his brow
With lines and wrinkles, when his youthful morn
Hath travelled on to age’s steepy night,
And all those beauties whereof now he’s king
Are vanishing, or vanished out of sight,
Stealing away the treasure of his spring:
For such a time do I now fortify
Against confounding age’s cruel knife,
That he shall never cut from memory
My sweet love’s beauty, though my lover’s life.
His beauty shall in these black lines be seen,
And they shall live, and he in them still green.

Is the author aged 28 or thereabouts? Or is he perhaps nearer to 42 – remember always that life expectancy in 1592 was about 40 years at birth, although an aristocrat once he had reached 21 could be expected to live to 65 or thereabouts. [Expectations of Life by H.O. Lancaster (1990) ]

Is the loved one 9 years younger, or 23 years younger?

The answers are thought provoking, are they not?

…..After you have looked at that one, (Sonnet 63) look at Sonnet 20 :

A woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted,
Hast thou the master mistress of my passion,
A woman’s gentle heart but not acquainted
With shifting change as is false women’s fashion,
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling:
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth,
A man in hue all hues in his controlling,
Which steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created,
Till nature as she wrought thee fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she pricked thee out for women’s pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.

‘Shakespeare’ was besotted!

There is more of the same, scattered throughout the first 70 sonnets, in particular; and thinly disguised in ‘Venus and Adonis’ the poem that first established his reputation.
Besotted with Wriothesley, Henry the W.H. of the dedication of the sonnets.

The same Henry Wriothesley who was Earl of Southampton, and being born in 1573 was 23 years younger than Edward De Vere (btw the man from Stratford was born in 1564)

Well? Was the author 9 years older than the object of his affections?

Or was he 23 years older?

Jeremy Dixon May 25, 2012 at 8:29 pm

Fair play to The Crucible, its a fine work and all that; but it was made not begotten – circuitry not flesh with messy bits dangling everywhere which is the fascination of Shakespeare….don’t know Cloudstreet…..Guys and Dolls isn’t even a good comedy, it just has a few good songs.

I can’t see the point of comparing Malory’s or More’s prose with Shakespeare’s; Shakespeare’s range is so much greater. I reckon Shakespeare could do a pretty creditable pastiche or the other two but not vice-versa…

A bit different when it comes to Donne…..a matter of taste there I guess.

By all means lets not worship Shakespeare, or anyone……but look, nearly 400 years after Will’s death my 16yo daughter, whose other cultural tastes run to classic punk and the like, has ventured out alone on a cold wet Melbourne winter dark to spend some of our scarce resources on watching an amateur production of Twelfth Night; rather a silly play if you stop to think about it and actually even if you don’t….there is something different in kind about his work…

allthumbs May 25, 2012 at 8:45 pm

Yes, well I must say I find Shakespeare’s comedy difficult and unfunny, although my favourite line in all of pShakespeare is up on the battlements of Elsinore in the cold biting air, Horatio is challenged by Bernardo,and asked if it is him and he replies “a piece of him”. That to me sounds so modern, such a correct and spontaneous response, so human, witty.
I know Will wasn’t the first, but then again Harold Bloom thinks he was the first to make characters change and grow and almost suprise themselves with their own lines during their time upon the stage, and such psychological representation Shakespeare truly pioneered.
This radical Bob Ellis is quite intriguing, nothing as good as Cloudstreet, can’t say one way or the other, haven’t read it yet.

Jeremy Dixon May 25, 2012 at 10:36 pm

It is a startlingly modern-sounding line isn’t it, allthumbs…
As to humour….. I was shocked to watch “Life of Brian” lately and find it much less funny than I recalled….even the Biggus Dickus scene, which I had thought the funniest scene on film or anything….I think it is in the nature of comedy that it doesn’t age too well.

But, say, Orlando’s exasperation with Jacques in ‘As You Like It’, isn’t it still funny? Doesn’t Falstaff still have genuinely funny lines?

allthumbs May 25, 2012 at 11:26 pm

Well JD in some of the plotting of the Comedies there is much of Carry On, the cross dressing, the mistaken identities and Jaques can quickly succumb to Hattie Jaques.

Horatio is definetly a funny guy, “you might have rhymed” or “half a share” after the mousetrap play, more Bing Crosby than Bob Hope.

Falstaff funny, no not for me. Falstaff is a fat geezer who may know or not know that he is no longer just a figure of fun, but a receptacle for the barely veiled contempt of the future killing machine Henry V. Banish plump Jack and you banish the world are the words Falstaff might have written in his suicide note. He is supposed to be full of life like a Rabelaisian novel, alone he is one dark night away from deliberately drinking himself to death.

Bernard Manning would have been a great Falstaff or Jackie Gleason could have done it, a has been Minnesota Fats.

No way De Vere could have written “a piece of him”. No way.

Bob Ellis Saturday 26th May 9.22 am

Astounded you don’t esteem Guys and Dolls; it’s clear you have never seen it on the stage, with all the Marlon Brando self-indulgences cut out of it. I have seen various stage performances of it about forty times and regard it as the crown jewel of the musical theatre, much as The Band Wagon is of the musical film and Modern Times of the silent film comedy.

Life Of Brian beats the crap out of A Comedy Of Errors, the most relentless loud failure since — or before — It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. A lot of the Falstaff scenes work, but not the ones where he is gulled into telling bigger and bigger lies. The Merry Wives Of Windsor works well always on stage, though on the page it is indifferent. The scene where Falstaff and Hal play the King and Hal, and then turn-about, Hal and the King, is one of the greatest in Shakespeare, ending in Hal’s ominous ‘I do. I will.’ The scenes where Falstaff has fun with the names of recruited soldiers — Snot, Fart, Bumface, and so on — is way below Carry On standard and hard to bear.

Frank Wilson was the best Falstaff I have seen, with Anthony Quayle on BBC a close second. Emrys James at the RSC in 1968 achieved the remarkable double of a good Othello and a great Falstaff. I always thought Peckinpah should have filmed the Henry IV condensation (one Bell and Wherret used in 1978) but it is in fact the tavern scenes and the Gad’s Hill robbery-farce that make it impossible to believe.

I once performed the Orlando-Jacques scene with Gore Vidal in a coffee shop in Double Bay and it worked very well -’Sir, we must be better strangers,’ Gore said, and he kept his word. A witness, Bob Carr, will attest to this.

Carr thinks my Oxfordist leanings bizarre but Doug Quixote is very persuasive, and the pendulum is moving his way.

And so it goes.

Leave a comment ?


  1. Well, dead right Bob that I haven’t seen a stage production of Guys and Dolls; I’m glad to hear that it works better live, and that there is less of the Brando part. But I’ve agreed that it has good songs, and I’m guessing that in a live production the songs dominate. Or maybe you could remind me of some of its witty dialogue or humorous moments?

    A lot more could be done with Runyon. I read somewhere that he died with the regret that he had squandered his talent buy suppressing his political interest, you can maybe see it lurking under the surface in some of his Broadway stories, he did work for Hearst after all.

    But whatever truth there may be, in that view, or not, his stories work because of the comic contrast between the darkness of the world he describes and the studious flippancy of the manner in which it is described. The flippancy with which he refers to a death by bullet wounds works as comedy if you can at least imagine what a death by bullet wounds must be like. Harry the Horse is only funny if he is also frightening…..and this is where Guys and Dolls, the movie, sure, really didn’t work for me.

    • Fuck you. The movie has nothing to do with it. Most of the Simpsons’ gangster subplots are based on it. One of the funniest lines in world history is in it. ‘But, Big Julie, these dice have no spots on them!’ ‘Don’t worry! I remember where the spots formerly were!’

      Fuck you. Get out my life. You’re an ignoramus. It’s like me saying ‘I only saw the Sam Worthington Macbeth and the play’s no good at all.’

      It’s a house rule. Do not judge what you haven’t seen.

      Banned for a month.

      • As for the Simpson gangster subplots based on Guys and Dolls, please satisfy my curiosity before I slink off out of your cyber-life weeping for what could have been, and so on and so forth….

        Which subplots? name 8, oh all right name 2. There is of course a Simpson’s subplot based on Goodfellas (the movie version) but Goodfellas was a darkly funny movie about gangsters. Like Runyon’s stories, the good ones anyway.

        The thing about ‘Guys and Dolls’ the movie (why does Breakfast at Tiffanies pass suddenly though my mind at this point, the book of course not the [snicker] movie) anyway the thing about the movie is that there are no real gangsters in it. Fat Tony is a more believable gangster than anyone in the movie. Maybe the stage plays are truer to the taste of Runyon, or some of them, given you have 40 productions to choose from. But I’m guessing not, the conventions of big-stage musical comedy being what they are, because its audience is what it is.

        So I’m a bit puzzled how a Fat Tony sub-plot could be based on Guys and Dolls. A reference maybe. Of course I haven’t seen every episode of the Simpsons.

        Now the thing about the blank dice, yeah yeah its funny. Its Simpsons funny not Runyon funny. (Is that the line borrowed for some Fat Tony story?) The difference is instructive. The Runyon joke is effective because it could happen and maybe did, maybe Runyon saw it happen. Rusty Charlie throws the dice in his hat and claims to have made (from memory) a ten which wins him the bet. Everyone in the crap game is frightened of him so they pay up without asking to see the dice; and as he walks out the door to deathly silence Jew Louie pipes up “Charlie, do you make it the hard way?” which as Runyon explains means with double 5. The hard men all laugh.

        But blank dice? No-one would carry blank dice around with them, it is just farce, and that takes out the imminence of murder which is the spring of Runyon’s humour.

        Now, turn back to Shakespeare’s comedy where this began: you favourably compare Guys and Dolls with Shakespeare’s comedy. Certainly Shakespeare or his collaborator could write vapid nonsense….but where his comedy had shadows he let those shadows be dark; the survivors of Falstaff’s company went to the end of town to beg through life remember, a note of sombre realism to frame the comedy. The gangsters in Guys and Dolls (the movie of course) are funny because they are muppet gangsters; Shakepeares highwayman is funny but not a muppet, and neither are Runyon’s characters.

        Very likely one could make something to put beside Shakespeare from the Runyon stories but Guys and Dolls the movie is not it and I dare you to tell me that any of your 40 stage productions was. Details please. Oh yes and the Simpsons sub-plots.

        • So you believe a girl would dress up as a boy and woo a woman on on behalf of the man she us in love with do you.

          I too have read the Runyon stories and believes the stage show honours them.

          Don’t judge what you haven’t seen.

          Banned for two months after June 1.

  2. And fuck you right back, Bob, and your 40 big-stage productions. And I was never in your life.

    But your blog has provided some entertainment in a slack moment of my life, thanks for that.

    Modern Times is tedious and pretentious; while we are on the subject. Needs a few good songs.

    The “no spots on” joke would be funnier perhaps to anyone not familiar with Runyon. Runyons joke, of which that was an adaption not to say dumbing down, was “Charlie, do you make it the hard way?” from Blood Pressure. If you were familiar with the Broadway stories I suppose you would mention that (and your copy of More Than Somewhat autographed by George Raft or whoever) so I suppose you haven’t got round to it. For the price of a ticket to a big stage production you could get the complete Broadway stories and a bottle of decent whisky to read them with so when the forty-first Guys and Dolls production comes your way I suggest you do that instead.

    May you grow in wisdom. (Abandoning the risible De Vere theory would be a sign of that!)

    • Have read the Runyon stories. Like them hugely. Don’t believe you’ve seen Modern Times. Not the least pretentious. Does any of this readership think that? Please write in.

      Runyon’s short stories as good as Wodehouse’s: like his an ‘adventure in language’; or, as Waugh also said, ‘an Eden in whuch there has been no aboriginal calamity’.

      Do not, do NOT judge what you have nit see.

      Banned for three months, beginning June 1.

      • Of course I’ve seen Modern Times and I was yawning half way through it like most of the rest of the audience. Worthy, has its moments. Way too long. And of course pretentious. Charlie Chaplin was a slapstick master and all that but that is not enough to sustain a movie on that scale and it was hubris on Chaplin’s part to imagine it could…..”M Hulot’s Holiday is much better” as you would put it…certainly it is much funnier.

        Haven’t seen the Kid or City Lights etc.

        If you have actually read the Runyon stories and still rate ‘Guys and Dolls’ up with Shakespeare then your judgement is in question; you have said (foolishly) that one cannot live well without Shakespeare but there is more than one way to be without him.

        What is that exchange from “A Fish Called Wanda” again?
        A You’re an ape.
        B Apes don’t read Nietzsche
        A Yes they do, B, they just don’t understand him.

        Yeah yeah never mind Shakespeare, you have to be original about him, I get that. It is your take on Runyon that worries me. There has been no aboriginal calamity in Runyons world? Jesus wept. You haven’t read them you’ve just looked at the words. Or at Waugh’s words maybe. Of course the stories themselves are flawed by their hackneyed plots, their merit lies precisely in the depth and horror of the aboriginal calamity which is their background. Read “Sense of Humor”….’again’. In your case it seems you should be careful of judging what you have seen. Or what Waugh has seen.

        There has very likely been no aboriginal calamity in “Guys and Dolls”, you’ve seen it staged 40 times after all so you should know. I got that from the movie. That is my point Bob. That it is why it is an expensive and even entertaining after dinner mint. Shakespeare at his worst and most trivial is more than that, and even so is Runyon. But I will enjoy watching you argue the contrary; with no guilt at all now you have called me a liar.

        Dunno about Wodehouse….I’m inclined to think that Orwell let him off too lightly. Funny of course. (Which reminds me, this thing about Labour right calling people “Comrade” that derives from Psmith’s cynical use of the term? I’ve always wondered.)

        Hah. Don’t die a fool.

  3. A correction : the Stratford man was born in 1564.

    (That is, he was only 9 years older than Southampton.)

  4. It seems quite clear from the sonnets that ‘Shakespeare’ was bisexual. And that would never do, and had to be glossed over, ignored suppressed by the homophobic world of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

    And that is the real conspiracy: that ‘Shakespeare’ was the solid upright citizen William Shaksper of Stratford, who never put a foot wrong (or any other appendage, in any direction - right wrong or indifferent!)

    Curiouser and curiouser, as another nom de plumed author said.

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