Tags

, , , , , ,

Gack!!!

The Shakespeare Sonnet Slam is only a few days away and I haven’t finished memorizing or analyzing my assigned sonnet yet.

Sonnet 133 to be exact. One of the strangest, most interesting, and perhaps most pornographic of the sonnets, best I can tell.

Beshrew that heart that makes my heart to groan
For that deep wound it gives my friend and me:
Is’t not enough to torture me alone,
But slave to slavery my sweet’st friend must be?
Me from myself thy cruel eye hath taken,
And my next self thou harder hast engrossed;
Of him, myself, and thee I am forsaken,
A torment thrice threefold thus to be crossed.
Prison my heart in thy steel bosom’s ward,
But then my friend’s heart let my poor heart bail;
Whoe’er keeps me, let my heart be his guard:
Thou canst not then use rigour in my jail.
    And yet thou wilt; for I, being pent in thee,
    Perforce am thine, and all that is in me.

Now, one is not required to memorize for the slam, and I plan to have the typed sonnet with me, but given my eyesight, nervousness, and laziness, if I’m going to make any sense of this, it’s best to memorize. I know that the only way I can memorize something like this is if I manage to uncover its sense. And that’s what its all about. You don’t have to do great acting up there, but you do have to talk sense.

All right, how to find that sense from what first looks nonsense?

First: the structure of the sonnet gives you lots of clues. Shakespeare’s sonnets are always structured as three quatrains and a final couplet. So lets look at the poem again, divided that way:

Beshrew that heart that makes my heart to groan
For that deep wound it gives my friend and me:
Is’t not enough to torture me alone,
But slave to slavery my sweet’st friend must be?

***
Me from myself thy cruel eye hath taken,
And my next self thou harder hast engrossed;
Of him, myself, and thee I am forsaken,
A torment thrice threefold thus to be crossed.

***
Prison my heart in thy steel bosom’s ward,
But then my friend’s heart let my poor heart bail;
Whoe’er keeps me, let my heart be his guard:
Thou canst not then use rigour in my jail.

***
  And yet thou wilt; for I, being pent in thee,
    Perforce am thine, and all that is in me.

That is how I approach memorizing a sonnet. Each quatrain is another thought, argument, or approach. The final couplet is generally a wry commentary on the preceding approaches; either it is a clever summary of them, or a recognition of the futility of the speaker’s thoughts.

So let’s start off with the first quatrain.

Beshrew that heart that makes my heart to groan
For that deep wound it gives my friend and me:
Is’t not enough to torture me alone,
But slave to slavery my sweet’st friend must be?

Beshrew … Err … let’s start off with that first word—Beshrew. What does it mean? The dictionaries tell us “curse.” Okay, so we’re starting off pretty strong, the speaker (let’s say “I,” from now on) is cursing someone (let’s say “you,” from now on). Why am I cursing you? Because you are making my heart groan. And not only me, but the same for my best friend. Wait a second, my best friend and I are both in love with you! And you know it, and yet you cruelly delight in it. The three of us are caught in an awful compelling love triangle.

Now the loyalty to a same-sex best friend is a theme that runs throughout Shakespeare’s plays. It’s extraordinarily important to Shakespeare’s characters. Betrayal of a supposed friend is the motor of Julius Caesar, Othello, Two Gentlemen of Verona, and many more of his plays. So we need to take this very seriously.

So let’s go back to that first quatrain again, words like “deep wound” begin to take on a sexual meaning. My friend is hopelessly enthralled with you; you who have gleefully sliced our friendship apart with a deep wound. You have enslaved not only me, but my best friend. That is the crime of crimes.

Onto the second quatrain.

Me from myself thy cruel eye hath taken,
And my next self thou harder hast engrossed;
Of him, myself, and thee I am forsaken,
A torment thrice threefold thus to be crossed.

A change in the main thought now. The first quatrain was about cruel you; this second quatrain is about how I and you and my best friend have now irrevocably changed our relationships. The first line says that at first it was me whose soul (and body!) you had corrupted. The next line talks about “my next self” i.e. the one closest to me, my best friend, as being corrupted as well. You engrossed him harder. And if you want to go for the sexual meaning there, why not?

The next two lines say that my relationship is torn with you, my friend, and myself. But worse, each of us has three torn relationships now because of this madness, and to repair it would require each of us to repair the three relationships.

The third quatrain seeks a way to resolve the dilemma.

Prison my heart in thy steel bosom’s ward,
But then my friend’s heart let my poor heart bail;
Whoe’er keeps me, let my heart be his guard:
Thou canst not then use rigour in my jail.

I beg you to let me be your only lover; be cruel to me, so that my friend can be spared your cruelty. And perhaps, when you understand how important it is for me to shield my friend, to not betray him, then you will be a little kinder to me, in admiration of my loyalty.

But in the final couplet I have to admit that my dream of being free of you and your cruelty—and my own need for you—is a fantasy. And these last two lines are incredibly evocative and can be read so many ways.

And yet thou wilt; for I, being pent in thee,
    Perforce am thine, and all that is in me.

Right now, I think the most daring is to hit the final rhyme. Usually, I’m not a fan of stressing the rhyme in verse, but I think ending couplets in Shakespeare are an exception. So being pent in thee, “and all that is in me.”  But stressing me in the last line  almost forces the rhythm to add an additional stress on that. So,

And yet thou wilt; for I, being pent in thee,
    Perforce am thine, and all that is in me.

Was that Shakespeare’s intention? I can’t say. But I think it is a viable subtext for an actor. An actor always looks for a strong compelling subtext, even if it looks like other interpretations might be more likely. More, after the slam takes place later this week.