“Poetry leaves its own skeleton hanging in the air/like Buddha Shakespeare Rimbaud”
( – from Allen Ginsberg’s 1974 poem, “Manifesto” )
“Shakespeare left his breath for us to hear his Cadence…” (Allen Ginsberg – from 1980, “Meditation and Poetry”)
April 23, 1564 and 1616
– born (so they imagine) and dying on the same day.
Today’s therefore a very special day – the 400th anniversary of the death of the great Bard,
We’ve saluted Shakespeare on the Allen Ginsberg Project before. Five years ago – here, and, more recently here, but today we thought to begin the transcription of a lecture Allen gave at Naropa in 1980, (his contribution to the “Rotating Shakespeare” classes) – on Shakespeare’s late play, The Tempest
“I have also been reading Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The irony of neglected and forgotten misunderstandings and complacencies returning like ghosts to wreak vengeance”
(Allen Ginsberg to Jack Kerouac, 1949)
Allen Ginsberg, poet, Allen Ginsberg, pedagogue
As Josh Jones in Open Culture has accurately observed:
“Ginsberg’s method of teaching is unlike anyone else’s. He’s not interested in exegesis so much as an open conversation – with the text, with his students, and with any ephemera that strikes his interest. It’s almost a kind of divination by which (he) teases out the “messages” Shakespeare’s play sends through the ages, working with the rhythmic and syntactical oddities of individual lines instead of grand, abstract interpretative frameworks.”
Or as he himself puts it: “What we’re doing is I’m going over little hot-spots, little delicacies of the language. I’m not reviewing the philosophy of the play so much but just..”
Josh Jones gives fair warning. The tape begins “with a great deal of futzing around about different editions, which can seem a little tedious to an impatient listener. Give in to the urge to fast-forward, though, and you’ll miss diamond-like bits of wisdom that emerge from Ginsberg’s discursive exploration of mimutae.”
Ginsberg’s methodology according to Jones? – He “doesn’t drive towards a point as much as arrive at it circuitously, as by the chance operations of his meditative mind.”
[The tape begins in media res] – AG: …Check out the text itself. If you turn to Act 2 Scene 2 – just to correct the text.. Do you have the Harrison text ?
Student: No, Pelican
AG: Who edited that?
Student:.Alfred Harbage..Northrop Frye.. Do you have yours?
AG: Yeah, just the Pelican.
AG: Just as a general word of advice for some ideal future. The ideal text to get is..the Penguin texts, volume-by-volume, to the extent that you can ever find them (I think they’re out of print) but there is a Penguin text by Harrison, (what’s his first name? .. G.B.Harrison maybe? – [Editorial note – George Bagshawe Harrison]). It is, I am told, the closest to the original Folio and pays more respect to the actual arrangement of the lines for speaking as determined in the editions printed in Shakespeare’s day, and as represented in the Folios –
[to Student] -Do you know anything about the Harrison text of Shakespeare? Penguin?
Student: Yes, it’s old…
AG: Yeah, well, they’re out of print now, I think. A friend of mine who did an edition of Shakespeare said that the most interesting text to find is the Harrison, because, since (Alexander) Pope and others, (Alexander) Pope and (John) Dryden and others, messed with the Shakespeare’s texts, (straightened them out and modernized them and “improved” them), they’ve always been reproduced too smoothly, and with less care for the original actors instructions alignment, arrangement, as it was originally in the prompt books, or in the Folio editions – I think. And the one scholar in the twentieth-century who did put it all together, and try to get that irregularity back in, so that Shakespeare’s verse is not all exactly, properly lined-up pentametric blank verse but is more broken, in a more irregular line, (more like free verse, actually, oddly enough, because fitted exactly to speech).. The only way you can get that in the twentieth-century, is the Harrison text. Then, the original punctuation (as distinct from our Pelican Shakespeare) is a good deal changed for speaking, and different from the punctuation which we have here, which is all modernized and improved and neatened and cleaned-up.
[Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” in the original First Folio]
So, if you’ve got your books here, I’ll.. For just one speech, I’ll correct the punctuation, and you can put it in your book, just as a sample, if you’re interested, if you’ve got a book. I might do that with mine. Have you got a pencil also?
Student: You don’t want me to mark it with a pen, do you?
AG: Have you got a pencil?
AG: Where? I don’t know if I’ve got a pencil… Oh well, if you’re going to do it with a pen, do it with a pen. Is that a fine-nibbed pen you’ve got there?
Student: No it’s pretty dark
AG: Ok – “All the infections that the sun fucks up..” – [Allen starts again, with Caliban’s speech in The Tempest] – “All the infections that the sun sucks up/From bogs. fens, flats, on Prospero fall and make him/By inch-meal a disease – colon (not exclamation-point but colon, after “disease” – this is page sixty-five – Act 2 Scene 2 – If you want to correct your..make your little correction marks on your edition, you’ll see how fun it is, the changes).So, instead of “By inch-meal a disease“, exclamation mark, it’s “By inch-meal a disease“, colon. Then, the next big one is ” Nor lead me” ( in line six) – “Nor lead me like a firebrand in the dark/ Out of my way” – “Nor lead me like a firebrand” and there’s no comma (so that if you were an actor, you’d say “..pitch me i’ the mire, nor lead me like a firebrand in the dark out of my way” (instead of “nor lead me/like a firebrand/in the /dark out of my way“.So there’s a difference in breathing there, as indicated in the original, or, at least, as indicated in the First Folio text.
Student: Leave out the comma after”firebrand“?
AG: Right. No, before “firebrand” – “Lead me“. That would go (out). And also “firebrand” is fire-hyphen-brand, it isn’t firebrand – “Nor lead me like a firebrand” – Nor lead me like a fire-brand” (they’re separated)
Then there is on line ten “And after bite me“, period, colon. What have you got there?. Comma? It’s actually a colon – Then, after “bite me“, then “hedgehog” is hedg-hyphen-hog – hedge-hogs – hedg-hogs, hedg-hogs – It isn’t hedgehogs, it’s hedge-hogs, “which/ Lie tumbling in my barefoot way” (bare-hyphen-foot, also) – “which/Lie tumbling in my bare-foot way” ,(instead of “which lie tumbling in my barefoot way”). So there, those little delicacies in timing make a little bit of difference for the speech. “and mount/ Their pricks at my footfall”– foot-hyphen-fall (and “foot-fall” is in line.. nine, ten, eleven.. twelve). Then “foot-fall”‘s followed by a colon again – “Do hiss me into madness” – “Sometime am I/All wound with adders who with cloven tongues/ Do hiss me into madness – colon. Then, “madness” colon, “Enter Trinculo” –“Lo, now, lo!” (“Lo, now lo” doesn’t have an exclamation point, it’s got a comma) – lo, comma, now, lo, comma, Here comes a spirit of his” (“Lo, now lo!/ Here comes a..”) – So it would be “Lo, now, lo“, it’s not “lo now lo”, but “lo, now, lo,/ Here comes a spirit..” – It’s lo comma, lo comma, not lo comma, now lo, exclamation point. “Here comes a spirit of his, and to torment me/ For bringing wood in slowly“, colon, after “slowly“. “I’ll fall flat” comma, “Perchance he will not mind me” –
And then, at the beginning, then, even in the prose there are changes, “Here’s neither bush” comma, nor shrub, to bear off/ any weather at all” colon – “and another storm brewing” – comma. So all those commas, instead of punctuations make the thing run on a little more, I would say, talkatively, less finicky, more flexibly (the commas are a lot more flexible, in this case, than the semi-colon which is an abrupt pause) – “Here’s neither bush” comma, “nor shrub to bear off/ any weather at all” colon, “and another storm brewing“, comma, “I hear it sing i’ the wind” _ “and another storm brewing/ I hear it sing i’ the wind“, or “ “and another storm brewing/, I hear it sing i’ the wind” So that, in other words, there’s less of a halt – “I hear it sing in the wind” is the logical following from “and another storm brewing” so you just take the comma (because “I hear it sing i’ the wind” is a modification of “and another storm brewing“. They aren’t separated thoughts and so therefore they don’t need to be separated by the semi-colon – “another storm brewing/ I hear it in the wind” – “I hear it sing i’ the wind” – and that’s followed by a colon again – and no capitals – “yond same black/ cloud“. And so forth.
It’s such an interesting note, So the… in these modern editions that we read, everything has been so cleaned-up and arranged that you may not get some of the nervous flexibility of the original speeches, and you may not get some of the prosody of the original line-length, because the lines have been rearranged to fit carefully into the blank verse form and Shakespeare was rougher, apparently (probably, because he may have written it originally in blank verse but then he had to alter a line or two in his prompt book for people to be reciting it, or saying it out loud). They might have been litle breaks and lacunae or changes at the last minute that made it speakable.
[beginning approximately eleven minutes in]
Student: How come?
Student: I did a Shakespeare course that ended..
AG: Pardon me?
Student: I finished a Shakespeare course that ended not that long ago
AG: Took it or..
AG: Took it or taught it?
Student: Took it
AG: With who?
Student: With who? – Well, it was with, I think you met him, actually, one of the guys at Warwick (University)
AG: How do they teach Shakespeare?
Student; They give lectures on each play, and then ( in the) seminars they discuss passages, which you read with the class, and then try and understand the sound that goes with each passage, so that the intonation and the movement will fit with the dramatic action on stage. So it’s a performance, in performance.
AG: I see, so it’s first lecture and then performance, a class performance together.
AG: How do they teach him at Oxford (University)?
Student: I think it’s similar because everything’s based on that.
AG: Is there some traditional way of teaching Shakespeare in England now, that’s evolved?
Student: There are two ways. There’s that way that’s grown up from some of the people at Oxford, but there’s another side of it, where they don’t take in performance so much, just stick consistently to the text, and try, in a sense, to interpret without any imagination how it works on the stage. Whereas Warwick tries try to use the idea of it in performance. So you’re encouraged to see a lot of plays.
AG; The Preface to the Kitteridge Shakespeare that I have says that traditionally The Tempest is thought to be better read than acted, more rich as reading than as acting. Is that so? or is that..have you heard that? have you heard that statement?
Student: Yes, I think most people would say that to try and do The Tempest would be one of the most hardest and that perhaps it has more of what Shakespeare thought about drama as an old man, when he came to compose this one, because it’s his last, and the last speech of Prospero seems to suggest that.
AG: Yeah. I saw The Tempest once, years ago, Has anybody seen it ever? acted?
Student 2: Yes
Student: I saw it in Stratford (upon Avon)
AG: Who played Prospero?
Student: Oh, one of the.. I don’t remember..
AG: How was it? Magical, or?
Student: It was very modern and magical..
Student 2: When did you see it?
Student: I saw it in 1978, the summer of (19)78 – The guy who played Caliban, he had a lot of weird set things. At one point, Ariel comes down on this big, big circle moon thing
Student 2: I was like a whole mechanical thing
AG: Jim (sic) Where did you see it?
Student (Jim): I’ve seen smaller productions, and I saw a really wonderful film that Peter Brook did of it
Student: Peter Brook said it was the most difficult play to put on
AG: He did a film?
Student: Yes, beautiful film
AG: I haven’t seen that.
Student: It’s really experimental tho’
Student: They use the whole audience. The audience is on… They just keep moving props around, the actors. It’s just amazing.
Student 2: ..The film of the play..
Student (Jim): The film of the play, experimental theater, but it was really done well. It was really..
AG: Who else has seen it? Who else? [to another Student] – Where did you see it?
Student: I’ve seen it twice, I saw that production., and I saw another production (in Leicester, in England), which I thought was much better, in fact, because they..they chose a totally arbitrary way of starting off, set in a Parisian street scene, in fact…
AG: Set in where?
Student: Parisian street scene, and, which is, as I say, totally arbitrary, but, by taking something like that, they import (something of) a dream-like quality, and (when) they have Prospero appearing… It became incidental to the play as a whole, but gave it a certain quality, allowing you to (key in to a certain quality)
Student 2: There was no shipwreck then?
Srudent: Oh yeah, yeah, all of the play was there. It was just like a tableau to begin with..
Student 2: You mean it wasn’t even.. I see
Student: They didn’t cover. They didn’t alter the play
Student 2: After the Paris scene came the shipwreck ?
Student: It sounds utterly ludicrous, but it was my favorite.
AG: Say, can we move in a little, because there’s not any…. Otherwise, I have to shout a bit. Why don’t we just get closer altogether? – If somebody wants.. wants to hang, wants to hang in the shadows in the back, psychologically, it’ll be alright, but.. Remember, there’s still seats in the back if somebody wants to hang back there, but.. It’s just too hard..
Okay, so what I thought I’d do is go over this text of envy and try and…go over, checking out little archetype phrasings and interesting poetry parts. From what I understand, from what I began. picking up and reading it, the basic subject seems to be envy. Is that generally thought at all? Has that occured to anyone or has anyone heard that particular
explanation? Is that traditional?
Student: Yeah, envy…
AG: Pardon me?
Student; I would say envy has a lot to do with it
AG: Yeah, that is the psychological trap that Prospero was trapped by, when his brother usurped his throne and that the conspirators, Sebastian and Antonio, get into, are usurping.. usurping somebody else’s throne, or usurping somebody else’s power. And then with Caliban there’s the continual theme of envy and jealousy and contention for superiority and inferiority. And Miranda and Ferdinand seem to be free of envy, relatively, relatively innocent.But the politicians are all full of envy, or jealousy, or want for power, envy of others power. And the complications of the play seem originally to have been caused by that. Prospero, apparently, made the mistake of not taking that into account when he gave over his political power to begin with. But the text does emphasize envy as a psychological motif that runs through the.. the origin of the play. And way back in history with Scyorax, the witch who was the mother of Caliban. There is a speech in Act 1, Scene 2, where Prospero is arguing with his imaginative fancy, Ariel, and getting into a sort of bitchy argument actually – “Thou liest, malignant thing! Hath thou forgot/The foul witch Sycorax, who with age and envy/ Was grown into a Hoop..”. So, apparently, the corruption of Sycorax, also, was envy – envy of beauty, or envy of lightness, or envy of humanity, or.. At any rate, the primordial Earth Mother demon, the primordial demon, Scycorax, her problem was envy as well.
[to Student] – Have you studied Shakespeare before? And is this point brought out much?..or is it commonly understood?
Student: Well, it’s… We were told that what sticks out in the play is..that, as the people start hitting the island, landing on the island, they each declare themselves king…and it sort of works out, and even… We were reading the play so we’d see in the first actual scene. Usually Shakespeare would set in an overture theme, in the first scene. And the first scene in The Tempest is the shipwreck, and nobody will come to order, nobody.. everybody’s trying to be king on the boat and consequently the ship goes down. So I think that that’s an aspect.
AG: Yeah. So we begin with Act 1. There’s a very funny line, the boatswain’s line in line ten. The boatswain and the politicians are arguing, or the workers and the politicians are arguing, and the boatswain says, “I pray now, keep below“, and Antonio wants to know where the power is, where’s the master?. And the boatswain, says, “Don’t your hear him?” – “You mar our labors, keep your/cabins:.you do assist the storm”. “You do assist the storm” is very funny.
I guess I got my taste of Shakespeare originally from (William) Burroughs (because the first day I met Burroughs, he was talking about a bar-room fight in which an old friend Lucien Carr had gotten into, in which he’d bit off part of the ear of some lesbian in a dyke bar in 1944 Greenwich Village, and Burroughs retreated and said, “Tis too starved an argument for my sword” (the argument between Lucien and whoever it was, the girl).
That’s just a funny line – “‘Tis too starved an argument for my sword” – I think it’s Romeo and Juliet or somewhere – remember that? – I don’t know where – some Shakespeare line. [Editorial note – the line is actually from Troilus and Cressida and reads accurately, “(I cannot fight upon this argument), It is too starved a subject for my sword”]
It’s “too starved..”, it’s like the line in Romeo and Juliet [Editorial note – the line is actually from Othello – “Put up your swords, let the bright dew rust them” – [Editorial note – the line is actually “Keep up your bright swords for the dew will rust them”l – “too starved an argument for my sword” – the idea of a “starved..argument” – “You do assist the storm” has that same archetypical quality of a.. a kind of a, almost understated but very.. very elegantly understated analysis of a situation that shows a great deal of aristocratic pride and discrimination, and is not quite a direct insult but is actually (a) pointing out procedurally – “you do assist the storm in fucking us up’. And all of Shakespeare for me was filled with those Burroughs-ian apothegms.
What have we got to? Act 1 Scene 1 line 48 -“Mariners: All lost! to prayers, to prayers!, All lost!” – Boatswain (or “Bosun”, I guess? – Bosun? Bosun?) – “What, must our mouths be cold?“- what’s that?, well. meaning dead We’ll all be dead, are we all going to die? – “must our mouths be cold” (tho’ the tense is funny – “must our mouths be cold” – for “will our mouths become cold”? – I guess that ‘s what it means, “Are we going to all die?”, “Are we going to wind up dead?”
“What must our mouths be cold?” is a very swift way of saying it. And) it’s a way of saying it without the abstraction of “We are dead” (which is somewhat of an abstraction because you only know your dead when your mouth grows cold and your heart stops beating and your breath ceases). So Shakespeare constantly goes to that exemplification of the abstraction with a specefic concrete action that would indicate the thing (which is the basic William Carlos Williams Imagism, or everything, that (Ezra) Pound and (William Carlos) Williams were asking for, in the twentieth century, when they said “No ideas but in things”, or direct presentation of the object (rather than reference to it). So, if you say, “What, are we going to be dead?”, that’s kind of a reference to a state, whereas “must our mouths be cold?” is the exact presentation of the state. It’s similar to.. my favorite passage for demonstrating imagistic practice in Shakespeare is the..is the famous song..”Fear no.. “.. what is it now? .
Student; “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun“?
AG: No… “When icicles hang by the wall/ And Dick the shepherd blows his nail/… And milk comes frozen home in pail/..And Marion’s nose looks red and raw……When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl…..While greasy Joan doth keel the pot” – But the winter, the abstraction of winter, or the essence of winter, is described by the actions of winter, or a presentation of a fact of winter such as Dick the shepherd, blowing his nail, trying to keep his nails warm, (which is a gesture everybody knows), from the chill, icicles hang by the wall, milk is frozen..”comes frozen home in a pail“. So here, the bosun says “What, must our mouths be cold?” instead of “What, are we all going to die?”. In that route, by-passing abstraction and going directly to the action, to the actual action itself..
Student: It’s like saying “you do assist the storm“, rather than saying you don’t make it any worse..
AG; Yes, yes “you do assist the storm” has something of the same direct quality, presenting the action really (in that case, presenting the action, and here, presenting the fact of the cold mouth as symbolic of death. But I would guess Shakespeare’s genius (and the reason he never had to bother with the line) was that he thought functionally in that way, that is, he did not think so much in abstractions, perhaps, as in the actual proceess of procedure
or existential fact that he’s presenting. But he gets, actually, to an analysis of situations by their causes and effect and detail, or by the details of the cause and effect, rather than generalizations about cause and effect. And that seems to be also characteristic of Unobstructed Mind, which doesn’t get tangled in abstractions but does look directly at detail, and patterns of detail which form abstractions, or which form generalizations, but using the detail to speak of the action, rather than using a generalization. And that may be why he was such an easy genius (because it wasn’t such hard work actually, I mean he didn’t have to scratch his head and try and work higher mathematics, he was just working with primary arithmetic, really, in a way, simplifying down). So, it’s a process of simplification rather than complication, I would say. So if anybody wonders how you get to be a genius like Shakespeare, it’s probably really easy, in the sense of relying on unobstructed sight rather than a higher powers of mind to deal with surface (maybe reserving higher powers of mind for, maybe, the whole construction of the play, but) line-by-line it’s direct observation in a sense
So, even in the insults. Antonio: “We are merely cheated of our lives by drunkards:/This widechapp’d rascal – wouldst thou might lie drowning/ The washing of ten tides!” Then it says “Pirates were hanged on shore and left until three tides washed them over”, so his extra curse is ten tides (just adding a couple more, so it’s really addition, rather than higher mathematics here – the insult is done through addition). “He’ll be hang’d yet/ Though every drop of water swear against it/ And gape at widest to glut him” (there’s a funny sound in all of that – “He’ll be hang’d yet/ Though every drop of water swear against it/And gape at widest… “ – how would you say that? – (“gape at wid’st”?) – he gape at wid’st to glut him” – There’s a funny sound that I always hear through (Jack) Kerouac‘s ear. In this case, at the end of Mexico City Blues, the 242nd Chorus, Kerouac gets some similar vocable sound – “The sound in your mind/ is the first sound/ that you could sing/ if you were singing/ at a cash register/ with nothing on your mind -/But when that grim reper/comes to lay you/look out my lady/ He will steal all you got/ while you dingle with the dangle/ and having robbed you/ Vanish/ Which will be your best reward/’Twere better to get rid o/ John o’ Twill, then sit a-mortying/In this Half Eternity with nobody/To save the old man being hanged/In my closet for nothing/And everybody watches/When the act is done…” – It’s a real imitation of Shakespeare’s electric speech, sort of or swift..swiftness in vocables .
The first time I tried teaching this here, the class didn’t get the point and I asked how many had read Hamlet (which it is an imitation of) and more than half the class had never read any Shakespeare. That’s why we instituted the Shakespeare course to begin with. So it was in vain to try to teach modern literature because nobody had an ear for antique sound.
In Act 1, Scene 2. Miranda – “O, I have suffered/ With those I saw suffer” (that’s a really nice sort ofthing you could carry away and paste up on your door or use as a sort of a tag line or use as a line for reference, for compassion – O, I have suffered/ With those I saw suffer” (or something to compare with television, the quality of her empathy with the quality, or lack of empathy that you get through a modern experience of television, where nobody “suffers with those they saw suffer” – or rarely do people suffer with those they see suffering .
I like it when she says “a brave vessel/ Who had, no doubt, some noble creature in her“. (That’s sort of like (Walt) Whitman in a sense, the urging, the urge and longing.. in idealization and empathy, seeing a panoramic scene, to imagine a “noble creature“, a noble conscious creature, or a lover, actually, in the midst of the panorama. I do that all the time. (I guess) probably everybody does. and looking out on some vast freight-train, or boat, or crowd, looking with longing to find some noble creature to relate to. It’s just a little slip of thought that went through.. I’m sure Shakespeare in a sense, probably Shakespeare as a homosexual (sic) has that constantly on his mind looking out into the theater – Is there anybody there who he can make it with? – what “noble creature” in this audience?
Miranda, page 33 of this edition – Act 1, Scene 2 – a funny piece of psychology in line 21 – Prospero’s been telling her that there have been other scenes and earlier histories (of) the family, and Miranda very innocently says, exaggeratedly, “More to know/ Did never meddle with my thoughts” – “Never meddle with my thoughts” – The thought of more to know never meddled with my other thoughts? – It’s a funny thing, “meddling with thoughts”, or as.. that a.. a thought, envious of more information, would be considered “meddling” – or she considered it meddling, (she made it a little moral, a little moral speech) – and “never meddle with my thoughts” . That’s also, from the point of view of meditation, or a meditator, a funny piece of physiological noticing of the process of thinking. There’s “meddling with my thoughts” – which you get also in this play as a basic theme – the nature of thought-forms and consciousness, particularly the line at the end where Prospero says…what?…on page 107 – “And thence retire me to Milan where every third thought shall be my grave“. These lines, “(and) never meddle with my thoughts” and ” every third thought shall be my grave“, both have the same quality of perception of the nature of thought-forms, or the nature of consciousness itself, which is interesting to anybody who has experienced meditation practice, partly the notion that thought-forms are discontinuous, and a thought arises, flowers, dissolves, and then there’s a gap, literally a gap (known in Buddhism as Ordinary Mind), and then another thought shows its head, flowers, rises, grows, and then dissolves. And that the nature of hodos chameliontos, the shifting chameleon of thought, is discontinuous flickers rather than one continuum, so that Prospero can count and say, every third thought shall be my grave (meaning, I will think on my death, or I’ll be reflecting on my death, or I’ll be aware of my death every third thought – so one thought’ll be “salami sandwich”, and another thought’ll be, “What time is it?”, and the other thought is ah! this human body is temporary and this body will be a corpse” (so that would be the third thought). But he’s saying, he’s saying at the end that his mind is now so acutely perceptive of what’s going on that every third thought is going to be acutely perceptive of his age and state, and a closeness to the grave,that every third thought “will be my grave” (like, meaning, every third thought will be a gap perhaps, or every third thought won’t be a thought at all, it’ll be an empty moment, like the grave). But, anyway he’ll think of the grave every third thought. But she’s got a line “More to know/ Did never meddle with my thoughts” and I just thought it was interesting that Shakespeare in this was just so right on the surface so aware of mind that he would lay that on Miranda as a little tiny reflection..
Student: Now, Ariel’s a funny character, the way that he comes into peoples’ lives, kind of as a God..
[Ariel – Henry Fuseli (1741-1825) oil on canvas -from the collection at the Folger Shakespeare Library]
AG: Uh-huh, yes. Well, I think, Ariel was always supposed to be the Imagination – Poetic Imagination, I guess the equivalent of (William) Blake‘s “Los” (somewhat..tho’ probably would have...well, somewhat similar function, actually, because, at the end of the play, Ariel is dismissed, as no longer necessary. And, actually, I believe at the end of Blake, in Jerusalem, Los also has to die into the scene, or disappear from the scene, because he represents loss) You only need the Poetic Imagination when Unity of Being has been broken and sundered, so you only need the Imagination to get back to Nature, in a sense. But once you’re back with Nature, then you’re one with Nature, there’s no more dreaming necessary, in a way. I mean, that’s a funny idea, but it’s parallel in both of them.
Student: Do you think that the island where they landed was the island of the Imagination?
AG: Well, no, I think Ariel is the Imagination. It’s more the fix that Prospero’s in, the isolation that he’s gotten into, by not.. by being too abstractly involved in Imagination in his studies, in his philosophical studies, so that he wasn’t at one with his kingship and he’d given it away for a while, so he’d isolated himself and also he ignored.. his own ignorance of the quality of envy which would be the undoing of any such innocent hopeful idealistic action. So I would guess that it’s just a physical fix that he’s in – in an island and there’s a storm around it that he creates magically, Yeah, the whole thing is a play so it’s all, all imaginary.
And then, at this time, I should.. right after that – Act 1, Scene 2 – “‘Tis time/ I should inform thee farther” – (So he’s going to give this background history to Miranda). So “Lend thy hand/ And pluck my magic garment from me“. So the Duke,… to cook up this storm (he’s apparently, like, a professional magician, or professional alchemist, or, he’s been studying something that’s pretty.. that requires actual magic garments – I don’t know the background, I haven’t read prefaces so I don’t know what the Renaissance background would be for magic garments for performing Prospero-like activities. Does anyone know anything about that? the background or basis of Shakespeare’s conception of magic?
Student: The only thing I know is that at the time the King had written a thing on witches
Student; The King. The King at the time.
AG: King James the first wrote about witches?
Student: He was.. He wanted to actually burn witches and stuff..
Student: Yeah ..He was into it.
AG: Oh no wonder Scycorax comes in. So this is.. this play was first performedin James’ court?
AG: So that’s why we have Scycorax and all that witchery as being the meaning…
Student: I think he enjoyed all that stuff. I think there’s a lot of.. that Shakespeare’s playing with the idea, in terms of the fact this is one of the few…
AG: Oh, I see
Student: ..one of the few plays where he actually talks to the audience (rather extensively) he cuts this barrier down totally…
AG: Actually, then, it would be a model and example for the King of white magic, rather than his King’s preoccupation with black magic, with Shakespeare demonstrating white magic in a royal circumstance.
AG: In a.. to sort of counter-act these surly black magic preoccupations of the King?
Student: Yeah, Queen Elizabeth’s astrologer Dr John Dee was deeply (magical), and he came up with a magic language, (working in another medium) – and people, they’ve never been able to figure it out) – that had its own grammar and syntax and everything, and they don’t know where it came from.
AG: Now, would Shakespeare have known Dee? Would he have known Dee’s work?
Student: Well, all of them…
AG: Dee was a famous character of the period.
Student; Oh yes, according to the.. I don’t know.. well, he was a doctor in divinity or what, but he was interested in alchemy (and other issues)…
AG: Yeah,well there’s a lot of astrology in here
Student: (John) Dryden. Dryden said something, like, he learned it all from the priesthood and put it in the language everyone spoke.
AG: That Shakespeare had?
Student: Yes – or put it in a language that everyone could speak in.
Student 2: The comments of Prospero, a lot of times, I felt, come off of the English language itself and (show) how the power of language could be magical. Like, in the end, where he gives his cloak (to him) and makes that beautiful speech.
AG: Yeah, well that will be at the end. We’ll get (to) that. I was just noticing that he had a magic garment , which was really funny. So, obviously, some sort of imaginative thing, because here his task is he’s got to explain to her what happened, the history (a somewhat ugly history, although it’s a human history). So he takes off his magic garment to catch up on, hear a summary of, the human history, and then, to correct it, he puts on his magic..magic cloak. I’d never noticed his magic garments. Are they described anywhere in the play? at any great length? What I’ve seen is, in plays, or you know, long peaked hats, and a little star, you know, (the) traditional witch’s elegant… or the warlock’s elegant peaked hat, wizard’s elegant peaked hat, and then the starry gown
[John Dee (1527-1608)]
There is a.. well, we’ll get it later on, but when he does talk to Ariel, and asked Ariel to do some work, there was a… let me see.. there’s a little speech of Ariel whoch brings in instantly, brings in, as soon as it starts, earth-air-fire-and-water. Well, we’ll probably get to it..yeah on..in Act i Scene 2, page 39 of this (edition), line 188 (line 188 of Act 1, Scene 2) – Ariel – I think this is the first entrance of Ariel? – yes, so Ariel’s first speech – (Prospero) _ “Approach, my Ariel, come” – have you all got it – Act 1, Scene 2 – line 187-188 –“Approach, my Ariel, come” – Enter Ariel – Ariel: “All hail, great master!, grave sir, hail, I come/To answer thy best pleasure; be’t to fly,/ To swim, to dive into the fire, (or)to ride/On the curl’d clouds” At least he’s got, swim in the water, dive in the fire (he doesn’t have earth exactly, but “ride on the curled clouds” is nice). At least he has air, water and fire right there as the first speech of Ariel. (Ariel is air water and fire and no earth I guess?, maybe?)
Student: And Caliban’s all-earth?
AG: Yes – And “curled clouds” is funny. It looks like Tibetan clouds, those curled clouds. It’s a terrific phrase for clouds, though – “the curled clouds” . That’s the thing I noticed when I read that speech – “curled clouds“? – you know, you want a great, accurate.. sort of one-adjective-does-the-whole-thing, to get the whole idea of ..how you describe clouds..the curls. And so simple. Like sewing or something. But also that quality of “curled” is exactly the same as in Tibetan painting, in Tibetan drawing, Tibetan tankas, those little curls and curlicues. So it’s a piece of genius that “curled clouds” – How he got that? That must be the great Shakespeare genius – to get exactly that one word – bam! – that opens up a whole.. You know, Imagist poets have been working for eighty years trying to describe the cloud(s), Shakespeare did it – “curled clouds” – “The curled clouds float over New York City”?
Student; There’s something about riding on the curled clouds too..
Student: The riding
AG: Yes. You get to ride on the…”to ride on the curled clouds“, yes – And what is she saying (here)? – “Be it to fly,/To swim, to dive into the….”, “dive into the fire” is pretty good too, by the way – “dive” into the fire”. I don’t know if anybody’s ever got that combination. Diving into fire?
Student: And yet he turns (it) into water immediately…
AG Yeah..Yes..oh yeah..
Student: So he’s making (sense that, you know, even fire can be made into water)
AG: Yeah, oh yeah. But when you use “dive” that means diving into water, yes?
Student: (I think Ariel, he might go in the water)
AG: Right, yes. Such intelligence, so smart. See, it’s the intelligence of Shakespeare that’s so amazing. Every.. you know, like, line-by-line, the intelligence of arrangement in detail and almost anywhere you open them you get this humorous intelligence, seeming to be master sort of like… apparently master of some kind of hermetic, or esoteric, or gnostic information, like earth-air-fire-water. At the same time, very playful with it – and very accurate – as you were pointing out “dive in the fire, turning into the water is pretty (good), or the suggestiveness that comes out of his arrangements and combinations is amazing .
Well, back to Act 1, Scene 2 line 35 – “You have often/ Begun to tell me who I am but stopp’d/And left me to a bootless inquisition, /Concluding “Stay not yet””… “Bootless” is a great Shakespeare word – “bootless” – where does “bootless” come from anyway ? Does anybody know? the origin of “bootless“?
Student: (Is it) booty?. You know, as in pillage and booty…?
AG: Yes? – beaut.. boot…
Student: I think that was a reference to a phrase, that was going around at the time, a phrase, since I remember it…
AG: Just “bootless”, since “bootless” runs through Shakespeare and we’ve got a “bootless” here, I thought to point out “bootless” – Shakespeare’s “bootless“
Student: Without boots, you couldn’t walk, so…”without shoes”?
AG: Well, maybe, a shoe-less inquisition? ….”bootless inquisition“‘s a funny phrase anyway – “bootless“, “Bootless”
Student: Well it could be connected with the idea of interrogation…?
AG: (Shakespeare’s) vocabulary – “The hour’s now come,/The very minute bids thee ope thine ear” – I like that – “the very minute bids thee ope thine ear” – “The hour’s now come,/ The very minute bids thee ope thine ear” – That could be taken out of here and used in any number of contexts like – the priest getting everybody married – The hour’s now come,/ the very minute bids thee ope thine ear” – or the President getting on the radio saying “We’ve declared war on Russia”! – “the very minute bids thee ope thine ear” – or Andy Clausen screaming and someone taps him on the shoulder – “the very minute bids thee ope thine ear“ – It’s very beautiful that, I just like that “ope thine ear” – ba-ba-ba– “bids thee ope thine ear“. Prosodaically, it’s interesting because it’s ope/ thine/ ear – three stressed syllables – “the very minute bids thee ope thine ear” (it isn’t “ope thine ear” it’s “ope/thine/ear”, so, actually what you’d have to say is “ope thine ear”, three stresses in a row, three definite monosyllable, three Creeley-esque monosyllables in a.. but they’re all together “ope thine ear“, they sound good together, they aren’t too staccato. You’ve got these monosyllables that sound good together actually in Shakespeare a lot – “ope thine ear” “bid thee ope thine ear” – so that’s four, that’s five of them in a line, one-two-three-four-five, “bid/ thee/ ope/ thine/ ear”. “bid thee ope thine ear” – it’s sort of a good sound to absorb, because, you know, if you could write like that, it’d be interesting – like “bid thee ope thine ear” – “Give me thy foot”,”Show thy foot to air”, “Set thy foot on pave”, “Put thy hair in here”, “Bid thee ope thine ear” – There’s lots of picture in it though – Bid thee ope thy, open thy, ear. So it also has a very funny pictorial quality. It seems like sort of a still photo or movie. The idea of opening the ear (so you’ve got a big hole! – or an ear with an opening)
Student: And a minute doing it too..
AG:: Yeah, it’s just so sweet to have a minute bid you do anything, (much less “ope thine ear”) . “The minute bids thee..” – “The minute bids thee gazing, gaze upon.. this bush, or something” – “The minute bids thee zip thy fly!” – “The minute bids thee..”
I don’t know why that’s…I don’t know how we get to that – “The.. minute bids thee”, that’s really kind of a mixed metaphor. “The minute bids thee”? “The minute points thee”, maybe, or “the minute-hand points”,( but he’s got the minute “bidding”, the “very minute” bidding). Bidding, actually.. it really doesn’t make sense! – In a way it doesn’t make sense at all…
Student: It’s like the very instant, like immediacy of something..
AG: Yeah, but “bid” is a spoken thing.
Student: Yeah, but what the air calls out, I mean, the very time calls out…
Student (2): (You could bid without speaking, you could bid with your finger)
AG: Yeah, but it’s… there’s something missing, but it doesn’t matter, but there is some logical connection missing. I noticed that in a lot of Shakespeare’s lines (the minor ones as well as the major ones). Just the minor dialogues, you know, they’re really funny and beautiful and witty. Still, they’re very daring. By I mean, biologically, it’s rather daring – Like, how did he think of that, the minute, the “ope”, to lay a trip like “bid” on the minute”, and then follow it with “ope thy ear“, which is totally different, like a different thought completely. You know that’s a lot more sort of Shakespearean, “ope thine ear”, it’s a lot more basic, as a Surrealist image, “ope thine ear“, open your ears, open thy ears, when you think about it.
Student: You mention cause-and-effect, you know, it’s like consequentially..
Student (2): And yet the sound of the clock, the bell on the clock, the minute hitting it.
AG: (But) he doesn’t say anything about clocks here.
Student “Ope thine ear” could also just be quoting, I think
AG Yeah..might have been.
Student: (He could’ve) hear somebody, somebody’s mother, saying, you know ,” Now, Ope thine ear!”
AG: Yeah, Ope thine ear – Ope thine ear, my servants!
Student: He gets to say it a bunch of times in those speeches There’s a bunch of places where he’s trying to keep the audience, and you get the feeling that…
AG: Oh yeah That whole thing is funny that he keeps telling these long stories, and, sort of as an aside to the audience, he keeps demanding if she’s falling asleep or not
Student: “Attend me”
AG: “Listen here now”. It’s not over.. So, I guess, he’s got to tell this.. This is a very tricky thing for the playwright to do. By laying the trip on Miranda, he’s laying the trip on the audience that, constantly you have to be reminded to pay attention, because this is the boring part that’s telling the ancient history. And she falls asleep at the end too.
Student: It is the longest introduction in all the plays..
Student: ..where he tells so much of the story, that he’s got to keep her awake in order to make the storm continue…
I mean the fact of the the time, because, the thing actually works, the time from the beginning of the play to the end is the same time it takes to perform it.
AG: Yes. Is this the first play of Shakespeare’s where that unity of time, place, and action took place… Because A Winters Tale took ..the previous play.. there’s a lapse of eighteen years between..between the acts, between the original… Pardon me?
Student: In Pericles for instance..
AG: Yeah, so, apparently, this play is remarkable for its unity of time and that is the time that takes place in the play is identical with the time descried in the play, or the time it would take to have the action take place in the play. And which goes back to Aristotle’s Poetics – (and) that’s what Aristotole said, that there should be a unity of time, place and action, that the unity of the time in a perfect play should be…stage-time should be the same time as world-time and world time should be the same time as imaginative time, that the history spoken of should take place during the same time. If you could capture those three hours when the climax took place and all that went before and after, all those two hours,then you would… In other words, you’d find the moments of time, or the hours, the moments, the a hundred-and-twenty moments, or a hundred-and-fifty moments, of time when to Oedipus something happens, (he learned something, he tore out his eyes and ran off, or whatever – got up there, argued, ran up and down the steps, argued tore out his eyes, killed somebody, killed his wife, killed his mother – It all happens in two hours, just like it happened in the play in two-and-a-half hours). So it’s a funny conception that the play should be a pun or a mirror of reality, mirror of the moment, mirror of exactly a hundred and fifty moments, in one place. If you could.. that’s very different from movies actually, or novels nowadays, or anything, that..where everything is scattered and dispersed to the four winds really, you know, like the whole consciousness is dispersed, disassociation of…
Student: Well, one thing, you can really read Ulysses on a full day..
AG: The book , Ulysses?
Student: Yeah (James) Joyce.
AG: Is that was..That that was his idea?
Student: Because..that it was all.. that it would take up that much time for the mind to go through all those little trips, and…
AG: Yeah – A full day of eight hours or twenty-four?
Student : Twenty-four
AG: You all know that about Aristotle‘s idea? about tragedy? or about plays – Has anybody not heard about that? I hadn’t thought of it recently, but I was reading Longinus, (some of Aristotle’s Poetics and Longinus on the sublime) and they were talking.. referring to that – the idea that the work, that a work of art… it would be as if you made a painting, say, of the .. oh I don’t know.. of the wall, ( if you took a square of it, and made a painting of it, that was just that size, rather than the whole wall, or if you made a painting of a still life it would be exactly the size of as still life and have everything in it) – or a play that would be exactly the size of the .. that would be.. that would be about a time that is exactly the size of the time of the play. And this play by Shakespeare does apparently fit into that. Can you understand what I’m saying or is that.?. Am I not making sense to you, because you have a puzzled look? Is it my speech was not making sense?
So, I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before, recently, but it seems to be that Shakespeare did manage that.
Then, the great thing that everybody notices, that the prior play, A Winters Tale is just the opposite (because there is) this eighteen year gap, in between the beginning, the action at the beginning and the action that resolves it at the end….
“The hour’s now come,/The very minute bids thee ope thine ear’ – So, if you’ve got a play where the action described and the action taking place on the stage are exactly the same, then it’s great, then, if you can have, “The hour’s now come,/The very minute bids thee ope thine ear’, because everything is identical with everything. I mean, the reality and the play are identical, in a sense, so you’ve got a pun going on all the time (where) anything you say can be put in, can be thrown into the pot, as part of the amazing magicalness of reproducing reality, particularly “The hour’s now come,/The very minute bids thee ope thine ear’ . And you know it’s a.. it’s a great moment, she’s going to be told history, right at that very moment.
So then, let’s see, what goes on after that. Yeah, Act 1, Scene 2 Line 50. Prospero: “Thou hadst, and more,Miranda.But how is it/That this lives in thy mind?” (she does remember some of the prior, prior family life) – “but how is it/That this lives in thy mind” What seest thou else?/In the dark backward and abysm of time” (that’s another great line – “in the dark backward and abysm of time” (I think there’s another line in Shakespeare, maybe it’s Hamlet or Macbeth, [Editorial note – it’s Hamlet] where they are reporting seeing a ghost and “in the dread vast and middle of the night” – “in the dread vast and middle of the night“, or here, “ In the dark backward and abysm of time“ – there are abstractions here – “dread vast and middle of.. night ” “dark backward and abysm of time” but they do seem to open up like a big vast sunyata void, some big space, gets opened up for that “backward and abysm” “vast and middle”. I don’t know, maybe the way that it’s set up – “backward and abysm“,”vast and middle” – “in the dread vast and middle of the night”,
“In the dark backward and abysm of time” – it’s a funny.. “backward abysm”? – what’s a backward abysm? – It isn’t.. it’s a backward and abysm. And it’s not a vast middle, it’s a vast and middle – “In the dark backward and abysm“, “in the dread vast and middle of the night” – It’s a funny rhetorical trick he’s…
Student: It’s a paradox, isn’t it?
AG: Yeah, but it does somehow break your brain open and you see big space. It’s just an interesting trick that he does. By yoking two dissimilar, or discordant, words together – “vast” and “middle“, “backward” and “abysm” – (yoking together with an “and“, I guess, is the trick) – you get a little space in between them from the “and“.
From this phrase I thought of another phrase of (W.B.) Yeats – “Out of the murderous innocence of the sea” – “murderous” stuck next to “innocence”, both making logical sense, because the sea is murderous and the sea is innocent, it’s not thinking about killing anybody, but it’ll drown you – ““out of the murderous and innocence” , “out of the murderous and innocence of the sea”. It’s just in thinking of constructions of paradoxical phrasing, years ago I began comparing “vast and middle“, “backward and abysm” to the swifter conjunction of “murderous innocence“, where two opposite words are yoked together, and, out of that, very directly I got “hydrogen jukebox” as a phrase. From Yeats’ “murderous innocence” to “hydrogen jukebox“, with some intervention of Surrealist thinking. But it’s how do you go about Surrealism. or some kind of.. how do you make these weird metaphors.? I began thinking. Haiku is two opposite things that are connected, that have a space in-between, and then (are) connected with a thought. “Murderous innocence” has to be connected with a thought, or you have to.. you know it’s “mind-blowing – “murderous innocence” – so that anything that gives you that little explosion of mind-blowing contradiction short-circuiting the brain, sort of, make you think,makes you
So, thinking in those terms, years ago, I got the idea that by polarity of opposites you could get automatic poetry, sort of like a cut-up, in a way, but polarity of opposites, you take two words that say the opposite thing and put them together and see what kind of little sucker you get out of it. You know, you’ve got to find a context, you ‘ve got to find a place where it makes sense – like, it’s completely logical – “out of the murderous innocence of the sea” in (W.B.) Yeats. (I think that’s in his poem ” A Prayer For My Daughter”.) But I was struck by the baldness of it, the nakedness of it, the trick, so to speak, when you get those two, and then I thought of it in terms of Surrealism, that’s the trick in Surrealism, and that’s probably the trick in all great metaphor, and that may be the trick of haiku, but anyways, what Aristotle said – “the apt relation of dissimilar objects” – is it? – “the apt relation of dis-similar objects”, and that was Aristotle’s definition of metaphor, metaphor, I guess. Is that correct? Does anybody remember? Does anyone know about that (thing)? Has that been used yet? Anybody been name-dropping Aristotle around here?
Student: Isn’t it in Poetics?
AG: Yes – Metaphor is ” the apt relation of dissimilar objects”. So the trick in Shakespeare very often is this ‘apt relation of dissimilar objects”, and its applied in a sort of sideways way with “In the dark backward and the abyssm of time”, where you have two funny words like”backward” and “abysm and you put them together to get a space, to make a big space. Well, it’s an idea.
This kind of thinking is what led me, to start with myself, to combinations like “hydrogen jukebox”. It grew out of “freed, vast and middle” and then my next study was “murderous innocence” and the next composition was “hydrogen jukebox”…
Student: Don’t you think it’s more just a case of unlikely juxtapositions rather than opposites, and that it’s a case of oxymorons?
AG: Yeah, it’s just unlikely juxtapositions rather than opposites. The Yeats is a little too neat. and it’s also made up out of abstractions (“murderous innocence of the sea“)
.And (Bob) Dylan‘s “to live outside the law you must be honest” is a sort of juxtaposition of ideas line . It’s abstract (it’s a) juxtaposition of opposite abstractions – that if you want to successfully live outside the bounds of society and its rules and conduct , then you’ve really got to be honest and straightforward and you can get away with it. So he puts it into this apothegm, this one fast shot- “to live outside the law you must be honest” (which, incidentally, in 1968, he thought was his best line, the best line of poetry he’d ever written). So that was his supreme Shakespearean shot because we were… I remember we had a long telephone conversation, (in 19)68 about poetry, and he was (this was after his accident) and he said he would like his poetry to have less holes in it, less filler, and just go,move on rapidly from line to line, advancing, logic advancing the story, and not got hung up, you know, repeating himself . And I said, now well what do you think is your best line? – And he said, “Well, have you heard “Quinn The Eskimo“? (which I hadn’t, and I didn’t..) and he said, “Well, best line is, “to live outside the law you must be honest”. And I said, “that’s kind of abstract, I don’t like that”, (not.. never having heard it sung and not remembering it and not appreciating it at all, I put it down instantly),
Student: That’s not the right song.
AG: No it’s not “Quinn The Eskimo”, it’s ..
Student: “Absolutely Sweet..
AG: ….Marie”, yes “to live outside the law you must be honest/Where are you tonight, sweet Marie”. But my own reaction to it when I first heard it was “No, that’s too abstract to be a good line. It’s like “out of the murderous innocence of the sea” . Except it’s so well done, done so well-done, so apt, so perfect a contradiction. And it’s so simple, it’s the simplicity that does it, that makes it good.
It’s like Gregory (Corso) has a line – “I ran up six flights and threw out everything that was important to me.” It’s the opening line of a poem – “I ran up six flights of my furnished room and threw out of the window everything that was of importance to me”, or “everything I thought was…”, or ‘everything that was supposed to be..”, “everything that was important (yeah, I think he just simplified it down) – “and threw out everything that was important” (without any qualifications like “to me”, or “supposed to be of importance”, or “that people would take to be important”) -“I threw out everything that was important”
So, let’s see – “If thou rememberest aught ere thou camest here, how thou camest here thou may…” ( Shakespeare’s doing that all the time too, making those little… Does anyone know how to read those two lines because I figured it out – “If thou rememberest aught how they camest here”…but then how would you read the second line?
Student: How they camest here…
AG: Right, You’d have to say “how thou camest here thou may” – the “how” would be what was emphasized – “If thou rememberst aught how (ere) they camst here, how thou camst here thou mayest” – If you remember anything before you came here, then you might remember how you came here, But in the way he gets the line lined-up like that you wouldn’t figure it out by the eye, I mean it would take a litte time to figure out what the line means and if you figure out what the line means then you can fiigure what the accents are. Really simple, actually.
Very often in reading Shakespeare, because it’s a lttle complicated syntactically like that, that’s a little witty shot, where he’s arranging the line for maximum swiftness, I think. Reading that with the eye very often you’ll just skim over that without looking, because there’s no particularly pretty image in it. There, the question is the logopoeia (among (Ezra) Pound’s three divisions of poetics is logopoeia, phanopoeia, melopoeia – melopoeia music or the musical quality, phanopoeia, the casting of an image on the mind’s eye, logopoeia, the dance of the intellect among words, or intellection, or wittiness of intellection) And this is witty syntax – “”If thou rememberest aught ere thou camest here, how they camest here, thou mayest” – It’s just a good mouthful – and slightly resistent to immediate intelligence, and slightly resistant to immediate understanding, unless you take the time to figure out how you have to say it, then, or how you have to mean it.
Student: Something about Shakespeare in his time – they went in for this very ornate way of talking, you know the conceit, it’s an interesting habit, that’s all.
AG: Yeah.. in his time (you say)?
Student: Well, yeah, they all did it. (Christopher) Marlowe and everyone..
AG: In everyday talk even? Probably.
Student: Characteristic of the times
Student (2): They used to play games, just, in the bars and stuff, how clever they could be, where they could rhyme, and how they could versify their talk and everything…
Student: Shakespeare really more than anyone else.
AG: Well Miranda caps that little abstraction, that little abstract syntax, she says”But that I do not” and you might read that “But that I do not” meaning “I don’t”, “But that, I do not” – But I do not remember that” “But that I do not.. (instead of “But that I do not” – “If thou remberest aught ere..,,,that I do not” – It’s actually perfectly clear once you hear it, probably, but it seems to me that he was deliberately, you know, being a stiff syntax (on it and) making it just for fun like that and then he’d..the he’d have to teach the actors what he meant
Student: Prospero’s sort of hemming and hawing.. sort of holding.. Is he playing with it?, I mean, the character..
AG: Well there are a number of interpretations actually, I’ve seen one where he’s considered here the sort of pompous father, trying to hold the attention of the daughter, and he does some ill deed (he’s trying ..he’s confessing, what a dope he was in the past to give his kingdom away to his brother and to retire himself into hermetic studies, and it was obviously somewhat of an idiotic deal, and so he’s trying to explain it to her (just like I might try to explain the (W.S.) Merwin incident to somebody, “Are you listening to me carefully?”), and he’s a little ashamed of the thing, and he’s trying to keep his daughter awake because his daughter is going to judge him, (an) issue, you know, to judge him on this, (or he’s) afraid of the judgment of the daughter. So he’s a little hesitant in presentation, and he’s doing it… Well, the psychology here is… the reason she’s falling asleep, she doesn’t want to hear his old dull confession, maybe, or he’s coming on so heavy, you know, he’s confessing his past. (In other words) he’s not only telling her the history, triumphantly, of what’s happening, but also, there’s some element of his own complicity, envy of magical power, perhaps? – his early envy for magical power? (I mean, just as others envied for his power, his physical power, his throne power).
Student: He wanted to go further…
AG: …he was envying magic power and had ambition, he wanted to more than King, wanted to have celestial… And so, he’s really, in a sense… And this is his confession to her about his misapprehensions of the past and how he got screwed up with the kingdom and how come they got stuck here.
Well, Miranda says, “O, the heavens! what foul play had we, that we came from/Or blessed was it we did?“…. It’s sort of like negative capability there, instant negative capability . Then she says” What a bad… or was it a bless?” (come to think of it, it’s a nice twist trick there – it’s one line 61-2. He had just explained that he (“thy father”) was Duke of Milan (“Duke of Milan and his only heir princess no worse..issued”. So, she’s just been informed that she’s princess and the heir
Student: How old was Miranda, because it says here that it happened twelve years ago?
Student (2): She was a little kid, then.
Student(3): Well, she came to the island when she was three years old
Student (4) Well, now she’s (still) very young.
AG: Yes. (Well) Not so – there’s fifteen-year-old girl’s in New York, all grown-up, old enough to have babies, girls have babies at fifteen. Mature. But it’s funny that her immediate reaction is, “What foul play had we, that we came from thence?/ Or blessed was’t we did….did? – Prospero: “Both, both, my girl” (Smart. Both of them. And that’s why he’s a great magician because he says “both, both”, doesn’t get really mad.)
Then, is she bored? I keep wondering. But she does say “Sir, most heedfully“… “O, good sir, I do“, while she’s falling asleep! – O, good sir, I do”– So it’s both a trick to catch the audience’s ear, and also a way of.. a way of breaking up the long speech, and also the drama of him confessing to his daughter, who doesn’t want to necessarily hear his old tired problems – “Now what if you do.. – “I pray thee, mark me” – What is he looking for? – “those being all my study” – “the liberal arts/Without a parallel, those being all my study” – (He put his brother up as “manager of my estate“, (that’s up in line 70, Act 1, Scene 2).
“Through all the signories it was the first/ And Propero, the prime duke, being so reputed/In dignity, and for the liberal arts without a parallel. Those being all my studies“
Then, the next thing he says, down below, is, “I, thus neglecting worldly ends, all dedicated/To closeness” (meaning locked up in monastic closeness) – “and the bettering of my mind/With that which, by being so retired,/O’erprized all popular rate”
(“Studies which, by being so withdrawn and retired, out-valued all popular estimation”, according to a footnote).
So he doesn’t say precisely what the magical study was, yet. Meanwhile, above that, was talking about how his brother learned the art of being a prince (there’s an interesting thing where he uses the word “trashing”, which is a modern use of “trash” – “Being one perfected how to grant suits./How to deny them, who to advance and who to trash” – (that’s funny that that recurs back then) – “And who to trash for overtopping” (“overtopping” is.. check as hounds going too fast, cut branches, cut branches of overtall.. as of overtall trees) – When my brother and I learned “who to trash for overtopping” (that’s kind of nice. Is that a traditional?…Was that a traditional English phrase?
Student: (I think he just came upon it)
AG: Yeah I wondered when I saw this – “who to trash for overtopping‘, it’s really very vivid. “Trash” here they suggest in the sense that you “trash” the extra branches, you know, when you’re trimming the tree then you trash …
Student: I think in Richard II, there’s a whole scene with the gardener (“trashing” the branches)…
Student: It says here for “overtopping”…
AG: Yeah – where to cut branches, as of over-tall trees…The note here is – “check, as hounds, for going too fast” – “Trash the hounds!” – I wonder if they would have said “trash the hounds” – “Trash the trees and hounds!”, “trash the trees!”
Student: We’re going through a whole speech where you just subtly see that all the odd usages of words will be coming from one trade and they’ll just be subtly identified. This guy will be talking about something and it may not have anything to do with the tree. He’ll just work it in and you get a whole system of metaphors coming in.
AG: Well here he has some sort of gardening metaphor – “Being once perfected how to grant suits/How to deny them, who t’advance and who/To trash for overtopping, new created/The creatures that were mine, I say – or changed ’em,/Or else new formed ’em..”…(which is also like gardening, a little bit), “having both the key/Of officer and office, set all hearts i’ the state/To what tune pleased his ear” (well now, there’s a totally other thing – the tune) “..that now he was/The ivy which had hid my princely trunk/ And suck’d my verdure out on’t” (So he’s back to the tree) – the trimming of the tree -“Thou attend’st not”- (I guess he’s gotten boring, (with) this extended metaphor – “O good sir..”, “O good sir, I do‘”- “I pray thee, mark me” (“listen here now”, “mark me”, “I pray you”..) – Er, what else is there?
Then page 36 in this Pelican edition – Prospero’s speech, line 109.
I’m just going through looking more or less at the little elegancies of speech, or delicacies of speech which are little highspots in the Shakespearean language as something you could look at because that’s the thing I like most about it. And I get the philosophy occasionally. I like the philosophy but it’s the…those little delicacies that… noticing the little philosophies of life that are built into the syntax . So he’s got this line here – “he needs must be/ Absolute Milan. “To have no screen between this part he play’d/And him he play’d he needs must be/ Absolute Milan‘ – That’s like definitively, for (Richard) Nixon, say – “have no screen between this part he play’d/ And he who played it” (for), he “needs must be” Absolute America – Nixon needs must be Absolute America – so “Absolute Milan,” “he needs must be Absolute Milan” – “He needs must be absolute America” – It’s interesting to translate those phrasings into what..localized, more localized ones, and you get a funny charge out of them. You realize how they’re used – “Absolute” – and how unique it is – “He needs must be Absolute America” (I wonder if anybody would say that ordinarily in Elizabethan speech? “You want to be Absolute London”?
Student: (You take it, thinking of Norway)
AG: Yes, yes – then “Absolute Norway” – It’s a funny combo – “He wants to be Absolute Norway” – “I want to be Absolute Allen..Absolute Ginsberg”… Absolute Naropa..Absolute carpets (you could get whole poems out of that “Absolute Milan”) – Absolute stairways, Absolute eyes, Absolute God, Absolute sidewalk – “The Absolute Sidewalk” – “I went out and walked on the absolute sidewalk” – It needs, of course, I’m twisting it around, it needs to be absolutely.. It’s a funny combo because “Absolute”‘s, actually, an abstraction – “Absolute Milan”. It’s really.. again.. it’s another way of getting, deriving, Surrealist notions, and you get a word like that, and play it against a noun (or what is it? an adjective? – is “Absolute” an adjective here?)
AG: Yeah. To get an adjective, some sort of curious Latinate adjective, and then play it against the names of cities, or fruit (“Absolute oranges”) or “Absolute eye glasses” – by sound, if you play it by sound (like “Absolute eyeglasses”, which is a kind of interesting combo), Absolute errata? Absolute lampshade? (Anyway,) it would require something with an “a” in it, or “ute“, some relation to it, some vowelic assonance – “Absolute Milan” is very trim, it’s a very trim, Absolute – “Absolute Milan” – Ab-so-lute Mi-lan – three to two – Ab-so-lute Mi-lan.
Student: I have a question about.. the first thing you started on, (I’ve forgotten the phrase now, but) we talked about the.. being… getting away from the abstract and clinging always (to)..what was it.. the seen?
AG: Oh, making use of the process word, like
Student: Yeah, “going into” the details..
AG: “What must our mouths be cold?“
Student: Right, right. Instead of just saying that. And then, since then, we’ve found a lot of these abstract, and yet, it’s still Shakespeare, and it still works, and I just thought that’s something that always throws me a little..
AG: Well, let us say that, in Shakespeare, there is this capacity for absolute non-abstraction, for absolute “cold mouth”. He does have that capacity, but then he also has a capacity for treating words interestingly, almost like objects.
Student: Which is alright then, that he uses an abstraction?
AG: I think an abstraction is interesting, like, “out of the murderous innocence of the sea“, “the dread vast middle of the night“, “the backward abysm of time”, if they’re done like a painter, (like) brushstrokes.
Student: Use them for more than just what they are as an abstraction..?
AG: No, well, by taking the abstraction-ness of them and using it as the basis for making it absurd,or shocking, or strange, or odd, eccentric, using the ordinary rational abstract basis of the words but then putting them in a really shocking odd order (like “dread, vast and middle“) or contradictory order (like “hydrogen jukebox” or “murderous innocence“).
It’s where you start using the words as objects, that you have an object there still, (In fact),when you use the words as sort of facts (that you have).. use the abstractions as facts of language, that you’re consciously manipulating or pushing around sound-wise, logopoeia-ly, wittily, almost wittily, then, you could have a whole poetry out of that.
In fact, a lot of Surrealist poetry is that.
Student: The combination of abstraction with…
AG: Yeah, weird combinations of abstraction that wouldn’t really belong together rationally, but then you put them together and so, it’s weird, and it makes, awakens the mind, wakens the mind to the absurdity of the language itself, the absurdity of the original abstractions, actually, like “Dadaism has four-hundred-and-thirty-two chairmen, all of different sexes”
Student: Really, that’s what the “Absolute Milan” is, because it is absurd. It can’t be done (and) that’s what he wanted.
AG: I guess, as you would say,we’re punning on (you know, referring to Milan as Milan), he’s punning on the original, popular, vernacular usage, or formal traditional usage.. I don’t know, I just think “Absolute Milan” is a funny line.
Student : It’s like “completely complete.”
AG: Well, no, it’s like “Salami New York”, or something. It’s like “Absolute New York”. It’s like if somebody says, “I’m going back to see absolute New York”, you’d really say, you’d really go to see… It’s just a funny idea. Well, I imagine Shakespeare appreciated just the idea of “Absolute Milan”, independent of its context, just as a unique phrasing of some kind, a unique and witty phrasing of some kind, you know, meaningless (except it does have this very literal – and boring – meaning – “He needs be Absolute Milan” – He needs to be the absolute King of Milan, the top..). But I just derived… the pleasure I get out of this weird thing, the Surrealist aspect, it’s the Surrealist aspect of the word-combinations that I like.
And (Jack) Kerouac did too. That was his take on Shakespeare very often, the… He said “Genius is funny”, relating to this kind of phrasing. He said, “Genius is funny” (talking about Shakespeare), meaning there’s a humor or strangely interesting, witty, humorous, funny word-combination with what was characteristic of Shakespeare’s genius, that it wasn’t somewhat heavily-labored literary horror-scene really, that was..(it was) real funny, in the sense of uncanny, uncanny conjunctions with humor. You get that in his contractions sometimes, or just in the simplest parts of his syntax I mean, just like the playfulness. “Hou camst thou here thou mayst – (Miranda): but that I do not“. I mean, that’s funny. And there’s another one on the next page which is also funny, as a contraction Prospero, line 135 – “Here a little further (it’s Act 1, Scene 2), “Hear a little further/And then I’ll bring thee to the present business/which now’s upon’s” – “which now’s upon’s” – which now, apostrophe “s” – now is upon us contracted “which now’s upon’s“, or, how would you say that? “which now is upon us”, yes, “which now’s upon us”, “which now’s upon us”. So he’s got nows-upon-us, now-is-upon-us – “nowsupon” – what? – it’s like “nows-up-ons”, it’s like three syllables, to have contracted it that much – now’s upon’s, instead of “now is upon us” (five). So he got three for five, three syllables for five, by contracting it. And it’s just good for swiftness of tongue, and, actually, it’s pretty much identical to the vernacular. It’s that kind of contraction, which looks very literary here (You know, like, it looks like some kind of archaic literary contractional practice), is actually sheer spoken vernacular notation, simple-minded notation of vernacular, very often (“without the which the story /Were most impertinent”)
What else we got? Yeah,then on page thirty-nine – Well, another contraction, mental contractions, page 38 – “Have I, thy schoolmaster” (this is line 172-173) “Have I thy schoolmaster, made thee more profit than any princess can..” (and then the note says “princess” means “princesses) – And he takes the singular, substitutes the singular for plurals
Q: My edition has them in the plural
AG: Pardon me?
Q: My edition has the plural.
AG: I betcha the original edition was singular. Because when you get the singular then you get the “princesses” become the abstraction of “princess”.. It’s like “Do I sing more strange than another poets can?” or “Do I sing more strange than another poet can?” – When you say “than another poet can”, that’s, I don’t know, something more clipped and fast – and, besides, “princesses” probably would have.. “..than other princesses can that have more time”, probably wouldn’t have fit in. For the basic pentameter ear, it’s “than other princess can that have more time“, whereas you’d get a big hang-up with “and other princesses can that have more time” – But I just like the wittiness of “another princess can” – from “another..“, just the sound of it, “another princess” “made thee more profit than other princess can” – There’s something basically right about the sound, compact about the sound.
Then, the top of the next page, eighty-nine. Apparently there is an astrological background here –
“By accident most strange, bountiful Fortune,/Now my dear lady, hath mne enemies/ Brought to the shore and by my prescience I find my zenith doth depend upon a most auspicious star, whose influence/If now I court not but omit, my fortunes will ever after droop”. So, apparently, he cast the astrologic prophecy, or consulted the stars, or consulted astrology, to make his decision as to when to move on the tempest. So that gives some more indication of where the magic is coming from or what kind of magic Prospero is practicing (but I don’t know if we’ll get much more in the play, much more hint)
(Generally), do you take a break in this class? (I didn’ t last week). Why don’t we give them a break? – five minutes? – Is this way of proceeding interesting, or is it boring? It’s just spotty,you know, and we can finish, then I’ll try to finish up to the second act, or go into the second act, Act 2, Scene 2 – (or) we may proceed a different way next time.
to be continued
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at the beginning of the tape and concluding at the end – or, see audio above]