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January 17, 2007

Wednesday is Poetry Day: Shakespeare

My first exposure to Shakespeare was in the soundtrack to Hair when I was but a wee lad. The liner notes to one song said it was, "...absolutely beautiful. It was written by Shakespeare," if I recall correctly and at the time I thought it was just poetic license, that Misters Rado, Ragni, and MacDermot were comparing their work to Shakespeare. Boy, was I surprised when I found out they weren't kidding.

Of course, they farted around with the Bard's words, splitting Hamlet's speech and putting the last half first. Can't quite figure out why, but they did and it's fucked me up ever since. Whenever I see it performed, I think the speech is backwards.

I still think it's a beautiful speech, even if it does take place as Hamlet is deep into (faking) his madness. And while it technically may be prose, it reads as poetry.

What a Piece of Work is Man
(Hamlet, Act II, Scene II)

...I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my
mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed, it goes so
heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth,
seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the
air, look you, this brave o'erhanging firmament, this majestical
roof fretted with golden fire,—why, it appears no other thing
to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a
piece of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in
faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in
action how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god! the
beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what
is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me; no, nor woman
neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.

(On a related note, the British Library has put it's collection of Shakespeare on line...or, as the Library puts it, "On this site you will find the British Library’s 93 copies of the 21 plays by William Shakespeare printed in quarto before the theatres were closed in 1642." Cool, eh? You can find them here.)

Posted by Victor, Jan. 17, 2007 | TrackBack (0)
Rubric: Poetry


Just heard part of an interview with Peter O'Toole who says he has memorized approx 150 Shakespeare sonnets.

Posted by: will on Jan. 17, 2007

"while it technically may be prose, it reads as poetry"

I'm calling it poetry.

Posted by: annika on Jan. 17, 2007

Awesome. An excellent description of severe clinical depression, too.

Posted by: Joules on Jan. 17, 2007