This is the last scene of the first play, and it feels good! Great to wrap up the four countries this play has graced in our cycle with Lenox, MA, just a half-mile from Shakespeare & Company where I’ve spent my summers all decade. It was a mostly uneventful taping. A gentlemen came to sit down and eat his lunch at the next bench. When I was over he confessed he had been sent there by his neighbors, who called him to find out what the hell was going on. The old Lenox Mobile station – the only gas station in the center of town, was apparently the big center of debate at the town hall that day. I learned the owners of the station (who I know and are lovely), are trying to get permits to have a mini-mart there. Doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. That morning apparently there were many cameras. My taping in front of the station, I convinced him, was a complete coincidence. Good story!
Let’s look at this scene – this is the trouble maker in the play. WS has been doing an incredible job spinning this one out so far. It’s been a witty, occasionally thin but always engaging meditation on love and friendship, and on young people. Cast in a different light, it could be a quasi-Vivaldi exercise for a group of young artists needing fresh pieces to cut their teeth before they go out into the real world. And then we get to this scene, and debates over how to solve the messy situation Shakespeare creates will go in the DISCUSSION section. It’s a bit too gnarly to debate while we’re tracking Shakespeare’s musiclarity and music metaphors.
1 How use doth breed a habit in a man!
How true, Valentine, how true. This starts a gorgeous speech – so underrated in the canon. Let’s reprint it all here.
2 This shadowy desert, unfrequented woods,
3 I better brook than flourishing peopled towns.
4 Here can I sit alone, unseen of any,
5 And to the nightingale’s complaining notes
6 Tune my distresses and record my woes.
7 O thou that dost inhabit in my breast,
8 Leave not the mansion so long tenantless,
9 Lest, growing ruinous, the building fall
10 And leave no memory of what it was.
This is not a man tortured by his fate. This is a man, metrically speaking, at home in his plight and stable, however deeply contemplative. It says a lot about Valentine. The verse is mostly iambic with a few triplets, and one great musical example in lines 5/6 that definitely go on the list. Line 2 may seem at first to indicate metric irregularity, and it’s true that ‘shadowy’ doesn’t do a great job of following the iambs. But lest the actor take the usual advice and make much of the irregularity, I’ll note that ‘shadowy’ really functions as a triplet, or a dactyl, one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed ones. What this does is indicate the better stress of ‘unfrequented,’ which for my ears is ‘unfrequented.’ This choice is more in line with several things, from his state of mind to his nobility, and though the opposite of the more common word ‘frequently,’ I think in this case it’s worth it.
Proteus comes in and has a great example of musiclarity, in this instance assonance that helps tell the story of his frustration:
20 (Though you respect not aught your servant doth).
“not aught’ is fraught. Another example:
23 Vouchsafe me for my meed but one fair look
After ‘vouchsafe’ it’s a monosyllabic line, that can be wielded to bolster his case for how very simple his request ultimately is (to him).
Check out this gnarly passage of Silvia’s:
33 Had I been seized by a hungry lion
34 I would have been a breakfast to the beast
35 Rather than have false Proteus rescue me.
Couple things here – the subjunctive case may throw us for a loop. First of all, it’s ‘seizéd,’ secondly, the ‘would’ in line 35 means a lot more than we would normally weigh the word with. ‘Would’ really functions as ‘would rather,’ meaning the actor has to really load that syllable (and it is a second syllable – the first stress of the line – as a help). Then all the ‘b’s’ follow – ‘been, breakfast, beast,’ to drive her point home. Lastly, ‘false’ in line 35 plays as a whole foot of poetry – two beats – in one, to emphasize the thought. It is a 10 line phrase, but because it starts with a trochee and ends up iambic, something has to absorb the slack. ‘False Proteus’ should be a pleasurable way to do so for the actor.
Still on Silvia, a dozen lines later:
47 For whose dear sake thou didst then rend thy faith
48 Into a thousand oaths, and all those oaths
It’s a brilliant explosion from a monosyllabic line into a much different multi-syllabic word (‘thousand’), and as such is a great union between thought and text.
Then we have the sticky passage of the attempted rape, the swooning, the revealing of Julia’s disguise, which is all ready for you on the Two Gents Discussion page to take a crack at.
Here’s another example of a trochee supporting the thought, this time the Duke’s:
140 Know then, I here forget all former griefs,
Cancel all grudge, repeal thee home again,
Plead a new state in thy unrivalled merit,
Both ‘cancel’ and ‘plead a’ function as irregular trochees starting a line, and these stresses can really bolster the actor as he makes his case for what he’s going to do. After all, he’s going to break the law, or bend it rather, for Valentine. Maybe this gives him great joy? Who knows, but Shakespeare has broken the verse to point up this thought shift of the Duke’s. Still the Duke, this time with another musical mention:
158 Come, let us go. We will include all jars
With triumphs, mirth and rare solemnity.
It bears mentioning that ‘jars’ are conflicts, also musical discords (as in ‘jarring’), while ‘triumphs’ were pageants, which probably means a kind of parading, likely to music.
The last line of the play is “One feast, one house, one mutual happiness.” Very interesting for those (like Marjorie Garber) who comment on Proteus and Valentine being two halves of the same person. Not only are both couples individually fused through marriage, but the two couples can also become one. Just takes the whole bromance thing one intimate step further…