April 2009

Thanks to everyone who showed up to read “Henry IV, Part 1” at the Plymouth Library yesterday. I think most of the readers would agree that we had a wonderful reading and I loved the many moments of spontaneous laughter (stifled, suppressed and unsuppressed) during the tavern scenes. I spent Saturday watching my daughter and others compete in staging plays dealing with weighty and sometimes sad topics at the State History Day competition in Grand Rapids. To balance that experience, our reading reminded me that history can also be very funny!

Thanks to first time reader Andrea Lighthall for coming. Andrea is in a couple of area great books clubs and wonderfully read Falstaff for the middle section of the play among other roles. Also thanks to Erik Wilder for attending the readings even though the incentive of counting the readings for school credit has long gone.

It was also wonderful to see Andrea and Richard’s interest in the question of the “missing” Welsh text of Henry IV, Part 1 and the references that were uncovered. Please let me know if you are interested in this discussion and I will e-mail you the references that Andrea dug up.

We voted for the next tragedy to be read and “Antony and Cleopatra” came out on top. Please note the new date for the meeting, it will be on May 17 instead of May 10. Attending on May 10 (Mother’s Day) was problematic for a few of our readers. We will be in the Friends Room in the Plymouth Library this time, as that was the only room available on May 17. It is a nice room however, with a cherry wood table and comfortable chairs.

Please let me know if you want to be added to my Epic Poetry Group mailing list. I am starting a separate list for that group. You can ask to be on that mailing list even if you do not plan to attend any meetings but are curious about the activities of the group. We will be starting that group with a reading of the John Ciardi translation of Dante’s Inferno, I anticipate that the readings will be a lot of fun. Dante was a gateway into World literature (Abandon all hope all ye who enter here!) for me with his references to Homer and other Greek poets and philosophers and reading the Divine Comedy enriches one’s reading experiences of poets like Milton, Tennyson and T.S. Eliot.

Prashant Andrade

Not too long ago, I remember reading something fascinating Virginia Woolf said about her experience reading Shakespeare. Here is the quote, it is an extract from her “A Writer’s Diary“, dated April 13th.

I read Shakespeare directly I have finished writing. When my mind is agape and red-hot. Then it is astonishing. I never yet knew how amazing his stretch and speed and word coining power is, until I felt it utterly outpace and outrace my own, seeming to start equal and then I see him draw ahead and do things I could not in my wildest tumult and utmost press of mind imagine. Even the less known plays are written at a speed that is quicker than anybody else’s quickest; and the words drop so fast one can’t pick them up. Look at this. “Upon a gather’d lily almost wither’d.” (That is a pure accident. I happened to light on it.) Evidently the pliancy of his mind was so complete that he could furbish out any train of thought; and relaxing, let fall a shower of such unregarded flowers. Why then should anyone else attempt to write? This is not “writing” at all. Indeed, I could say that Shakespeare surpasses literature altogether, if I knew what I meant.

I am guessing that most of us have come to understand this torrent of images and ideas by reading through the text slowly while periodically wading through annotations and footnotes and fathoming the meaning of it all while trying to keep our bearings. Surely, Shakespeare could not be serious about anyone processing everything that is happening in the cosmic “Lear on the heath” scene for example, in real time in the theater?
I have always wondered if there was a way to experience an inkling
of this exhilaration that Woolf talks about and I have been having a lot of fun with this idea over the past couple of weeks trying various things.

Since one of the ideas seems to give me an indication of this feeling is something you can try at our readings, I thought I would share it with the group. Here is a recipe:

i) Pick a relatively unfamiliar play. For me this was Troilus and Cressida, I have read the play less than a half-dozen times ever and seen the BBC production once.

ii) Choose a good (complete) audio recording of the play, I chose the Arkangel recording for this play.

iii) Pick a good edition of the play with a sufficient number of annotations but not too many, the Pelican worked fine for me, the Arden had too much.

iv) Listen to the play, but focus chiefly on the annotations while the audio is playing, glancing peripherally at the main text only if you are unsure about which character is speaking.

v) Don’t stop and brace yourself for an interesting ride!

Of course, if you know all the unfamilar usages, puns and allusions typically explained by the annotations, this might not be necessary, but   
from my experience it was a great way to be viscerally engaged with the text and a change from  deeper more ponderous studies of the text. Also not looking at the text while it is being read seemed to make things more spontaneous and fresh.

This system can obviously be used in the context of our readings if you wish to give it a try.

Prashant Andrade