According to the Times of London, Dominic Dromgoole, the artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe theatre there, is scoring some good press for himself and his theatre by offering to a grateful public his opinion of where Shakespeare screwed up, claiming that the even more eminent Shakespearean director, Sir Peter Hall, agrees with him. “Peter’s take was that Shakespeare would wake up, bleary-eyed and hungover, think, ‘Oh f*** do I have to?’, then settle down with quill and paper. ‘Where was I?’ he’d groan, then start scratching uncomfortably away, trying to revive the magic of the day before.” It sounds plausible, I guess — until you read the examples of allegedly bad writing on which this charming portrait of the English national bard is based.
Here’s one. When, in The Tempest, Prospero warns Ferdinand for the second time to respect his daughter Miranda’s virginity until they are married, the young man answers: “I warrant you sir;/ The white cold virgin snow upon my heart/Abates the ardour of my liver.”
Here’s another. Lady Macbeth attempts to embolden Macbeth to the murder of Duncan, which he has agreed to perform but is now having second thoughts about, by saying: “I have given suck, and know/ How tender ‘tis to love the babe that milks me:/ I would, while it was smiling in my face,/ Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums,/ And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you/ Have done to this.”
Well, people differ. There’s no accounting for tastes. And all that. So far from being examples of bad writing, these strike me being as among the more memorable and even haunting lines in all of Shakespeare. Maybe I just don’t know bad writing when I see it. But let’s notice something else about them. Both passages tell us something about the view of honor held by Shakespeare and his times — something vital. Can it be no more than coincidental that honor, even more than religion, is the very thing about the Elizabethan era that the class of modern-day Britons from which Mr. Dromgoole has emerged understand the least about?p>The first of these quotations is, as I say, a repetition in different words of the same assurance given by Ferdinand to Prospero a few lines earlier. Just as, in Act I, Prospero repeatedly accuses Miranda of not listening to his account of their history as a way of calling attention to the connection between the story and her duty to him — this isn’t just a story but a definition of who she is, by relation to her father — so here he is repeating to Ferdinand his earlier warning of nature’s curse upon unchastity as a reminder of his duty to his father-in-law as well as his wife. br> /p> blockquote> em>If thou dost break her virgin-knot before br> All sanctimonious ceremonies may br> With full and holy rite be minister’d, br> No sweet aspersion shall the heavens let fall br> To make this contract grow: but barren hate, br> Sour-eyed disdain and discord shall bestrew br> The union of your bed with weeds so loathly
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