A lot of people have written sonnets, but nobody in the English language is more associated with the form than William Shakespeare.
In 1609 Thomas Thorpe issued a quarto edition containing Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. The first 126 sonnets are addressed to a young man, but the final subset of sonnets are mostly addressed to a “dark lady.” A fun fact that is not very well known is that not all of the sonnets are actually sonnets in the technical sense. The sonnet forms Shakespeare was using have 14 lines, but Sonnet 99 has 15 lines and Sonnet 126 has only 12 lines.
When Jeffrey Lewis noticed that the words “sonic” and “sonnet” have a certain acoustical similarity and went so far as to imagine a series of mini-zines called Sonnet Youth based on classic Sonic Youth albums, it followed naturally that he might write a Shakespearean sonnet for each track of the albums he chose to highlight. Lewis has been active as a comic book artist and musician since the late ‘90s and likes nothing more than to poke fun at his musical heroes in songs like “The History of The Fall” (which appeared on the comp Perverted by Mark E) and “Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror.” Since 2004 he has put out a self-published comic book called under the title Fuff.
Each line is in iambic pentameter (the rhythm of “To BE or NOT to BE, that IS the QUEStion…”) and each poem is structured into the sonnet structure of three quatrains and a closing couplet. Naturally there’s also accompanying illustrations by Jeffrey.
Here’s Lewis’ sonnetic version of the song “Kill Yr Idols”:
It fills me up with anger and depression
There’s more to art than being on a list now
So why still try to make a good impression
On any music critic, even Christgau?
Leave behind all former tags and titles
Slay them with your brutal sonic force
As Nietzsche said, you have to kill your idols.
All uncertainty is intercourse
Keep skepticism strong and un-suspending
Perhaps that’s what the message of this tune is
The world you knew is coming to an ending
So kill it and embrace the crazy newness.
And kill me also, if I get too preachy.
Treat no one sacred—me, Christgau or Nietzsche.
It may not be great poetry but it is a damn sonnet and it does engage intelligently with Sonic Youth’s work.
All of the zines obviously come with a great many doodles drawn by Lewis—Shakespeare is prominent in the reworked album covers.
Images from Lewis’ Sonnet Youth zines after the jump…...
Shean Connery does Shakespeare? Shurely there’s shome mishtake?
Well no, for as Michael Caine once said, Sean Connery was always “a much better actor than just playing James Bond.” This can be seen by his performances in Hitchcock’s Marnie, or his first three films with Sidney Lumet—as military prisoner Joe Roberts in the outstanding The Hill, the eponymous crook in The Anderson Tapes, and one of his finest performances as a detective on the verge of a nervous breakdown in The Offence. Then, of course, there’s John Boorman’s Zardoz, or his performance alongside Caine in John Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King, or as a space marshall in Peter Hyams’ Outland, or as the maverick characters in The Name of the Rose, The Hunt for Red October, The Rock, Gus Van Sant’s Find Forrester and so on and so on. That his final films aren’t so good is down to poor choices and the moronic commercialization of Hollywood by producers who would be more suited to working as junior office clerks or assistants in shoe shops. That said, if only Connery had agreed to come out of retirement and play Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, how different this may have been. (The actor was even offered 15% of the box office gross, for which he’d have personally made out with $400 million!)
In 1961, the year before he became internationally famous as Bond in Dr. No, Connery gave a critically acclaimed performance in a Canadian television production of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth—or the “Scottish Play” as it is sometimes called by very superstitious actors. Shot in a studio in Toronto in a rather stylized manner—with few props or sets, using big close-ups and tilted camera angles—the production shows Connery is more than competent at delivering the Bard’s lines.
Macbeth tells the story of an ambitious soldier whose meeting with three witches (or “Weird Sisters”) on a “blasted heath” after a battle convinces him he will one day become King of Scotland. The witches hail Macbeth as Thane of Glamis, and predict he will soon be Thane of Cawdor and King therefafter. These predictions set Macbeth off on a murderous path that will eventually prove his undoing.
There’s an interesting connection between Macbeth and the hacktivist group Anonymous and that is Guy Fawkes—the infamous Papist plotter who planned (along with eleven others) to blow up the English House of Parliament on November 5th, 1605. This was the Gunpowder Plot and its failure is still celebrated today in the UK as Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night.
Fawkes’ bearded features have long been reproduced on cardboard masks for children to wear during Bonfire celebrations. This Guy Fawkes mask was reinterpreted by illustrator David Lloyd for the character “V” in Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta and has since become a recognizable avatar for Anonymous and the Occupy movement.
Apart form being very loosely based on a real Scottish King, Shakespeare’s Macbeth was written as piece of flattering propaganda for the new English King James I, who was also James VI of Scotland.
James was the son of Mary Queen of Scots and inherited the English throne from Queen Elizabeth I in 1603 after she died without issue. The English were suspicious of this dour Scottish Calvinist taking reign of their country and there was one attempted coup before the infamous Gunpowder Plot of 1605. In response to this plot, Shakespeare wrote Macbeth as a way to “flatter King James,” as the scholar A. L. Rowse wrote in his biography of Shakespeare:
...his Majesty received a great shock with the exposure of the Gunpowder Plot, 5 November 1605, which was to have blown him and his family, with all the Lords and Commons assembled in Parliament, sky high at the hands of the extreme wing of young Catholic malcontents. These events are not only reflected in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, but I think it fairly clear that the conception of such a play was suggested by them….Shakespeare, ever-responsive to the public mood, was inspired to write a play to do honour to the dynasty’s legendary forbear, Banquo, and thus to the King.
....[Macbeth] pays more tribute to the Scottish King than ever the dramatist had paid to the English Queen in all his previous work….in Macbeth we have tributes paid to Banquo, the mythical ancestor of [King James], to his ‘royalty of nature’, the dauntless temper of his mind’, the wisdom that doth guide his valour,’ while we are constantly reminded of the [witches’] prophecy that [Banquo]...shalt get kings, though thou be none.
Similarly [King James’s] personal interest in witches and demonology is catered for by the dominating influence exerted by the Weird Sisters, who are really incarnations of evil. James had written a book on demonology in Scotland, which Shakespeare read up for his play along with other Scottish lore: this Calvinist was very sure that witches and demons existed, where Queen Elizabeth, a sensible Erasmian, gave no such thought to such matters. King James knew that it was the witches who had raised up the storm that made his crossing the North Sea to marry Anne of Denmark so very unpleasant.
While Shakespeare flattered the new King, he did much to discredit the real Macbeth, who had been a successful ruler of Scotland from 1040 until 1057. He was no murderous tyrant but was described as “renowned” and gave equal rights to women during his reign and shared wealth amongst the people of Scotland—something quite unheard of at that time.
The camera loves Sean Connery and he certainly gives a good interpretation of Macbeth, and is ably supported by Zoe Caldwell as Lady Macbeth, William Needles as Banquo, Ted Follows as Macduff, Robin Gammell as Malcolm and Sharon Acker as Lady Macduff. This Canadian television production was directed by Paul Almond.
Shakespeare, Tchaikovsky & Me, Jayne Mansfield’s delicious album from 1963 or 1964 (depending on where you look), has never seen a CD release and it’s not available on the music streaming services I consulted. That scarcity has driven up the price: right now you can get a copy from Amazon.com for $60 and up.
Assessing Mansfield’s intelligence is something of a mid-20th-century parlor game. Quoting Wikipedia: “Frequent references have been made to Mansfield’s very high IQ, which she claimed was 163. She spoke five languages, including English. ... Reputed to be Hollywood’s ‘smartest dumb blonde’, she later complained that the public did not care about her brains: ‘They’re more interested in 40–21–35,’ she said.” Wasn’t there some meme about Jayne Mansfield enjoying the works of Immanuel Kant? Where did I get that from, some James Ellroy novel?
So how are her recitations of some of the greatest erotic poetry in the English language? Welllll, just fine, I think. I wouldn’t say she exactly reads them well—she reads them about the way you’d expect a big movie star to read them, crisply and evenly, perhaps a little too briskly. She brings a purr to the material that you wouldn’t probably get from current U.S. poet laureate Charles Wright, let’s say.
Here’s a track listing, followed by a clip of about six minutes from the album:
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “How Do I Love Thee”
Percy Bysshe Shelley, “The Indian Serenade”
Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Good-Night”
Robert Herrick, “You Say I Love Not”
Henry Constable, “If This Be Love”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “The Lady’s ‘Yes’” -
Lord Byron, “She Walks In Beauty”
William Shakespeare, “Cleopatra”
Christopher Marlowe, “Was This The Face”
Joseph Beaumont, “Whiteness, Or Chastity”
Leigh Hunt, “Jenny Kiss’d Me”
Anonymous, “Verses Copied From The Window Of An Obscure Lodging House”
Thomas Otway, “The Enchantment”
Christopher Marlowe, “The Passionate Sheperd To His Love”
Robert Herrick, “Upon The Nipples Of Julia’s Breast”
Ben Jonson, “Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes”
Lord Byron, “The Lovers”
Robert Herrick, “To The Virgins, To Make Much Of Time”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Inclusions”
William Butler Yeats, “When You Are Old”
William Wordsworth, “Daffodils”
William Shakespeare, “Take, O, Take Those Lips Away”
Thomas Carew, “Mark How The Bashful Morn”
Anonymous, “Oh! Dear, What Can The Matter Be?”
Alfred Lord Tennyson, “The Miller’s Daughter”
Charles Sackville, “The Fire Of Love”
Sir John Suckling, “The Constant Lover”
John Dryden, “Why Should A Foolish Marriage Vow”
Thomas Moore, “Believe Me, If All Those Enduring Young Charms”
Anonymous, “Love Me Little, Love Me Long”
In 1964 Great Britain celebrated the 400th birthday of William Shakespeare. In 1964 one subject on everybody’s mind was The Beatles, who had become a nationwide sensation the previous year. It was obvious: Why not combine the two?
That’s exactly what happened on a show called Around The Beatles, which seems to have been a variety show with many musical segments. For the Shakespeare bit, the concept was to peform the rude mechanicals’ performance of the “play within a play” about Pyramus and Thisbe from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Paul plays Bottom/Pyramus, John plays Flute/Thisbe, George plays Starveling/Moonshine, and Ringo plays Snug/the Lion. The show was taped and aired the same week as Shakespeare’s birthday—and, as it happens, his death day (they’re the same: April 23).
Mad Magazine uses Shakespeare to twit the Beatles, 1965
Following days of rehearsal, Around the Beatles (at least, the portions requiring the Beatles’ presence) was apparently filmed in just over an hour this evening.
[Then comes] the Beatles’ Shakespearean debut, performing the “play within a play” from act V, scene 1 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Paul and John take the roles of doomed lovers Pyramus and Thisbe, hamming up their parts enjoyably. Ringo plays the fierce lion, while George is Moonshine, complete with “lanthorn,” thorn-bush, and dog.
They stick to the general outline of the Bard’s text, altering the dialogue when necessary. ‘Then know that I, one Snug the joiner, am/A lion-fell, nor else no lion’s dam; For, if I should as lion come in strife/Into this place, ‘twere pity on my life” becomes “Then know that I, one Ringo the drummer, am; For, if I was really a lion, I wouldn’t be making all the money I am today, would I?” Members of [the backing band] Sounds Incorporated fill in for Theseus, Demetrius, and Hipployta, interrupting the “play” with heckling comments, such as “Roll over, Shakespeare!” and “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”
Eventually, their constant interruptions ad the scereams of the audience become distracting, but seeing a golden-wigged and deep-voiced John tell Paul “My love thou art, I think” makes it all worhwhile. The “lovers” conclude with “Thus Thisbe ends: Adieu, adieu, adieu,” segueing into “I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside.”
Paul does a very serviceable job as Pyramus; the same is true of George as “the Moon”—and the atmosphere in the room could hardly be better, with tons of playful, even collegiate call and response between the performers and the audience, who seem to be in a very intimate space. John, as Thisbe, wore a ridiculous blond wig and had blackened out one of his front teeth. Ringo as the lion is simply hilarious.
To toke or not to toke, or rather did he toke, that is the question. That’s right, you heard me, did the Bard smoke weed?
Not to get all “Lord Buckley” on you finger-poppin’ daddys, but is it possible that Willie the Shake was a “viper”? That’s what a controversial paleontologist wants to find out.
After some two dozen pipes were found buried in Shakespeare’s garden, many containing residues of smoked cannabis, a South Africa scientist named Francis Thackeray, with help from Professor Nikolaas van der Merwe of Harvard University, obtained fragments of these pipes via the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. They handed them over to South African Police forensic scientists for lab analysis. Low levels of marijuana residue was found in the pipes.
Cannabis was known to have been cultivated at the time in England and so it is certainly plausible that Shakespeare partook of the herb superb, but it would take looking at bone samples to say for sure. (Two of the pipes also tested positive for traces of cocaine, but this is a more difficult to swallow than the idea of the Bard smoking the “noted weed,” as cocaine first gets synthesized around the time of the Civil War).
Thackery says that his team could get into Shakespeare’s final resting place—he was buried under a church in Stratford-upon-Avon—unobtrusively, because a full exhumation of the body is not required and the remains would not have to be disturbed at all. Good thing, too, because Shakespeare was notoriously wary of anyone screwing around with his skeleton. A curse is engraved on his tomb that reads:
“Good frend for Jesus sake forebeare/ To digg the dust encloased heare/ Bleste be the man that spares thes stones/ And curst be he that moves my bones.”