SHAKESPEARE ALOUD

Two Gents Act 2, Scene 1 – Houses of Parliament, UK

 

A very interesting scene in three parts.  Sadly what’s not interesting is this video – me screaming over traffic – is about all you’ll see in the above.  Except, of course, Big Bad Oliver Cromwell perched above our proceedings – with the imposing and impressive Houses of Parliament as a backdrop.  This is the first scene filmed back in London.

What’s clear is that much of these segments are going to make this project look like a stunt and not anything artistic.  To be honest, I had feared this and really all that means I have more work to do.  In order to uncover the musicality in a scene, on any level that has to do with the words, I need to speak them out loud and spend time with them, not hawk them to Beefeaters and double-decker buses.  So the video is the stunt part and this blog entry can serve for discussion.

 

 

THE SCENE

We’re back in Speed land and so we move directly into a scherzo.   Speed is just talking circles all around poor confused Valentine, who’s been caught up in a coy jest Silvia is playing, presumably to snare his affections.

The opening 15 lines are an opening volley – Speed outwitting Valentine.

Speed then launches into one of the many Shakespeare List speeches.  He’ll do this all the way through to Timon of Athens.  Speeches where characters rattle off lists of things (such as the list of insults Kent hurls at Oswald in King Lear) are perfect examples of musical prose.  Prose of course operates on its own rules as far as musiclarity is concerned.  But, and this is where the bonding agents between math and music can be more visible, prose is often about patterns and clusters.  Lists are the most obvious form of a repeating pattern.

VALENTINE

Why, how know you that I am in love?

SPEED

Mary, by these special marks: first, you have learned, like Sir Proteus, to wreathe your arms, like a malcontent; to relish a love-song, like a robin redbreast; to walk alone, like one that had the pestilence; to sigh, like a schoolboy that had lost his ABC; to weep, like a young wrench that had buried her grandma; to fast, like one that takes diet; to watch, like one that fears robbing; to speak puling, like a beggar at Hallowmas.  You were wont, when you laughed, to crow like a cock; when you walked, to walk like one of the lions; when you fasted, it was presently after dinner; when you looked sadly, it was for want of money.  And now you are metamorphosed with a mistress, that when I look on you, I can hardly think you my master.

Tell me there isn’t music in that.  Each of the two major lists builds on each other.  The lily pads here are ‘wreathe, relish, walk, sigh, weep, fast, watch, speak.’  Then the great line ‘You were wont, when you laughed, to crow like a cock’ and Shakespeare is all but begging you to relish in that.  Then the next list that ends in another memorable line: ‘And now you are metamorphosed with a mistress.’ Remember this is the first big word of the play, introduced in the first scene.  The M’s drive the point home that metamorphosis in this world is caused by women.

Valentine and Sylvia then interact for the first time in the play, a 40 line scene with so much adolescent hormonal energy the audience should be able to smell it, and Speed can’t stand it.  Valentine is hopelessly led by the nose by Sylvia’s letter writing ploy, and the verse here is only notable for Sylvia’s evasions and sharp, spontaneous, thought/status shifts.  However, it is not a prose scene – they are attempting to treat each other with great respect, and so the verse with its angularities still beats the tempo.

We then go back into prose for the final 35 lines or so.  And what are interesting here, other than the drop into the much more informal prose rhythms, are two speeches of Speed where he starts riffing in iambic heptameter – that’s 14 beats a line.  It’s far more obvious in the second speech:

152 For often have you write to her, and she, in modesty

153 Or else for want of idle time, could not again reply,

154 Or fearing else some messenger that might her mind discover,

155 Herself hath taught her love himself to write unto her lover.

This flow and cadence of the verse should really be applied to the former speech, because that tell-tale rhythm – more nursery rhyme than ‘Shakespeare’ – is in the DNA of these lines:

125 O jest unseen, inscrutable, invisible

126 As a nose on a man’s face, or a weathercock on a steeple!

127 My master sues to her, and she hath taught her suitor,

128 He being her pupil, to become her tutor.

129 O excellent device, was there ever heard a better?

130 That my master, being scribe, to himself should write the letter?

Obviously it rights itself by the end.  But for example in line 26, with that heptameter in the brain, both ‘man’s’ and ‘face’ can get the time of a whole foot – the downbeat of the next foot is a rest – ‘weath’ of ‘weathercock’ will be the fifth foot – ‘cock’ is 6 and ‘steep’ is seven.  But again, this is nowhere near an exact science.  But it may help the prosody, ahem, the musiclarity of this passage.

Speed continues to speak the most opaque but intriguing language of the play.

Music as metaphor:

SPEED

18 to relish a love-song, like a robin redbreast.

 

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