On Sleep – A monologue from Henry IV by William Shakespeare

King Henry IV on Sleep in the 3rd Act

In this quite lenghty monologue from Shakespeare’s Henry IV and the third act of the play; we encounter some thoughts on human sleep. This is portrayed through the voice and charachter of The king himself. This isn’t the only expressed thoughts on sleep that we encounter from the pen of Shakespeare. Sleep is a very human and common activity, but compared to Shakespeare’s own time and place – how often does modern plays and movies linger on this important theme today? Some questions we need to ask this monologue are:

  • What are the circumstances for this monologue? What has happened in the play?
  • Why is king Henry offering his thoughts on Sleep and how can we trace them?
  • Can we sense Henry’s own moods here? Is he happy, sad; or just being thoughtful about himself or any situation in particular?

Answering some of the questions above we see while reading that theking is very worried. Pay attention to the final line: “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” Just as in many other plays by Shakespeare, sleep is also associated with death. Compare the section with some of the lines from the play, The Tempest: “We are such stuff As dreams are made on; and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.” (IV Act, Scene 1) The play Henry IV is not about the king himself, but about his son, prince Hal who is the main protagonist. It’s one of Shakespeare’s historical plays and was finished before 1597.

Text

 

How many thousands of my poorest subjects
Are at this hour asleep! O sleep, O gentle sleep,
Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frightened thee,
That thou no more will weigh my eyelids down,
And steep my senses in forgetfulness?
Why rather, sleep, liest thou in smoky cribs,
Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee,
And hush’d with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,
Than in the perfum’d chambers of the great,
Under the canopies of costly state,
And lull’d with sound of sweetest melody?
O thou dull god, why liest thou with the vile
In loathsome beds, and leav’st the kingly couch
A watch-case or a common ‘larum-bell?
Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast
Seal up the ship-boy’s eyes, and rock his brains
In cradle of the rude imperious surge,
And in the visitation of the winds,
Who take the ruffian billows by the top,
Curling their monstrous heads, and hanging them
With deafing clamour in the slippery clouds,
That with the hurly death itself awakes?
Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude;
And in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king? Then, happy low, lie down!
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

Sources

Open Source Shakespeare.org >> Shakespeare’s Pathos by J. F. Pyre. In Shakespeare Studies. Madison: University of Wisconsin.

 

Henry IV, first Folio 1623.

Sonnet 130 – A poem by William Shakespeare

Context: William Shakespeare (1564-1616) needs no further introduction. This sonnet makes fun of the ideals of love. In the final sentence the narrator describes his love for the woman or “mistress” as something that is rare and wish not to compare her to other things associated with love. He’s also ironical. In the previous lines we read:  “I love to hear her speak, yet well I know That music hath a far more pleasing sound”. Deeply influenced by the Petrarchan way of writing the perfect poem and the ideal Petrarchan woman in a poem is a goddess. Notice how Shakespeare play with this ideal. His woman, his mistress doesn’t fulfill the ideal. Pay attention to this line: “I grant I never saw a goddess go; My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:”.

Themes: satire of conventional love, female beauty, irony

Words: dun = dull brownish gray; belied = misrepresented

SONNET 130

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

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Sources

wikipedia.org [various entries]

Sonnet 21 – A poem by William Shakespeare

Context: This sonnet mentions the Muse, in Classic mythology she was one of nine and here she represents her own element – poetry. This poem is about the narrator’s own attitude towards written verse and challenges any criticism his verse isn’t real or fake. Take notice on how he introduces himself here. He is not like any classic representation of the muse and his verse has not any ‘painted beauty’ which refers to make-up, cosmetics. When he adress his love through poetry he doesn’t use of superfluous words or add certain words to impress or boast. He chose to praise ‘truthfulness’ since he is in love for real. The structure of the poem follows the English sonnet with three quatrains followed by a couplet.

Themes: Love, virtue, truth, beauty all important keywords in Elizabethan culture and must be interpreted in its own context. What did these words represents in Shakespeare’s own time? Another theme is rivalry between poets.


Q1: So is it not with me as with that Muse

Stirr’d by a painted beauty to his verse,

Who heaven itself for ornament doth use

And every fair with his fair doth rehearse,

Q2: Making a couplement of proud compare,

With sun and moon, with earth and sea’s rich gems,

With April’s first-born flowers, and all things rare

That heaven’s air in this huge rondure hems.

Q3: O, let me, true in love, but truly write,

And then believe me, my love is as fair

As any mother’s child, though not so bright

As those gold candles fix’d in heaven’s air:

C: Let them say more that like of hearsay well;

I will not praise that purpose not to sell.

“Shakespeare Bites Back”: A free e-book from The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

As the weekend is approaching I would like to recommend a free e-book if you are interested in the life and works of William Shakespeare. The e-book “Shakespeare Bites Back” (2011) is written by Dr. Paul Edmondson and Prof. Stanley Wells. It’s available to the public for free thanks to The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. The aim of the Foundation “is to connect Shakespeare professionals, lovers and enthusiasts all over the world and to lead the world in democratizing Shakespeare in the digital age.” The main task of “Shakespeare Bites Back” relates to the controversy of authorship which has been much debated in this century. Therefore it’s a bit polemical too. The authors in this book do argue there are masses of evidence concluding Shakespeare was the author of all works attributed to him. They also conclude that “The nature of evidence is rich and varied”. Sadly, Edmondson & Wells states that “Until recently, Shakespeare scholars and the academic community at large have either opposed the conspiracy theory or stood alof from it.” They will introduce you to the Academic controversy and mere Conspiracy “theories”. The Shakespeare Authorship Conspiracy Theory has a history which can be dated back to Romanticism and the Gothic influenses some two hundred years ago.

I think it’s an important little book considering how we use Shakespeare today in movies for an example. The movie Anonymous (2011) gave extra fuel to the debate of authorship and I guess case isn’t closed when it comes to modern artistic interpretations of his life. I don’t mind artistic interpretations; but scholars should be in place to question; and help us see things with objectivity when presented “facts” are dubious or wrong no matter which field they emerge from. Here are some more important conclusions fighting Anti-Shakespearians:

Anti-Shakespearians may claim that they are ‘looking objectively’ at the evidence, but they never are. Their anti-Shakespearian bias prevents them from ever doing so. Instead, anti-Shakespearianism seeks first to deny the evidence for Shakespeare and then to position an alternative nominee in the gap Shakespeare has left behind. Anti-Shakespearianism is therefore synonymous with a denial of history, rather than with a revisionist and scholarly interpretation of the past.

You may take an extra look at the Pro-Shakespeare manifesto which also lists some of the important evidence:

Shakespeare puns on his own first name, William, in Sonnets 134, 135, 136 and 143. Sonnet 136 ends with ‘for my name is Will.’ We are in favour of a cautionary approach to making links between the works and their author’s life.

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“Two loves I have of comfort and despair”- A Sonnet by William Shakespeare

Context: This sonnet appeared for the first time with 15 other sonnets in Shakespeare’s “The Passionate Pilgrim” (1599). The narrator in this poem describes his two loves – a “fair youth”, or young man and the “Dark Lady”. Several voices are heard in this poem. One of his loves comforts the narrator, but the other one makes him despair. The narrator also brag about his own abilities on love, but take notice how Christian moral interfere in his descriptions of how one good angel and an evil angel battles the narrator’s soul. About 126 poems have a religious theme. Shakespeare wrote several sonnets which mention the Dark Lady, but we don’t know if she was a real person or just a “muse”. Autobiographical readings and interpretations has been done on this sonnet.

The English sonnet has three quatrains, followed by a final rhyming couplet.

Themes: Love, sexuality, possession, Dark Lady, Duality, soul, morality

Q1: Two loves I have of comfort and despair,
Which like two spirits do suggest me still:
The better angel is a man right fair,
The worser spirit a woman colour’d ill.
Q2: To win me soon to hell, my female evil
Tempteth my better angel from my side,
And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,
Wooing his purity with her foul pride.
Q3: And whether that my angel be turn’d fiend
Suspect I may, yet not directly tell;
But being both from me, both to each friend,
I guess one angel in another’s hell:
C: Yet this shall I ne’er know, but live in doubt,
Till my bad angel fire my good one out.

Sources: 

wikipedia.org

Shakespeare.jpg

Shakespeare’s Sonnet no. 30 and Proust

My blog will soon introduce you to Proust’s seven books long novel À la recherche du temps perdu 1 so I think it’s fitting to let you read Shakespeare’s sonnet no. 30 which contains the title of Proust’s work. Proust chose the title from this very sonnet because he thought it summed up everything his novel is about. After reading the sonnet myself; I think he was pretty right. It does fit the proustian mood.

Sonnet 30

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,

I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,

And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste;

Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,

For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,

And weep afresh love’s long since canceled woe,

And moan th’ expense of many a vanished sight.

Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,

And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er

The sad account of fore-bemoanèd moan,

Which I new pay as if not paid before.

But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,

All losses are restored and sorrows end.

Marcel Proust

  1. English variations of the title: “In Search of Lost Time” or “Remembrance of Things Past”. 

“Sonnet 55” – A poem by W. Shakespeare

Context : The English sonnet contains three quatrains followed by a final rhyming couplet. The lines are in iambic pentameter: 10 syllables and 5 stresses per line.

Themes : Love, immortality and memory. The beloved is glorified and compared to worldy goods and riches; but the message is that the beloved is the one who will live forever. Time is depicted as a slut which has done harm to the stone of monuments made by princes. The Old English word slut is non-sexual here and means only that time has made the stones dirty, blackened them. The narrator’s message is that the beloved in his poem in some sense will outlive all these wasted symbols.

Not marble nor the gilded monuments
Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear’d with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
‘Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room,
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.