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Our revels now are ended -- William Shakespeare

It's been some time since we visited the Bard...
(Poem #126) Our revels now are ended
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
-- William Shakespeare
from 'The Tempest', Act IV, Scene i.

Have I mentioned before that Shakespeare was a genius?

In previous mails I had talked (briefly) about his poetic skills ('Full
Fathom Five', Minstrels Poem #16) and his rhetorical construction
('Pardon me, thou... ', Minstrels Poem #48). Today I'd like to highlight
another of his many talents - an uncanny ability to venture into highly
metaphysical territory without seeming awkward or strained. He does so
often enough for it to be noticeable, yet never enough to seem jarring
or out of place; indeed, it is this very skill of Shakespeare's which
raises his dramatic verse above the level of mere stagecraft and into
the realms of poetry. (Not that his verse was ever 'mere' anything - his
plays, as plays, stand alone, while his poetry - the sheer beauty of his
language - is beyond compare).

Time (and its effect on human affairs) always held a fascination for old
Willy (witness any number of Sonnets, most of Lear and the second half
of Macbeth), and some of his finest flights of poetic fancy have been
inspired by it. Some critics have read in this preoccupation a sort of
morbid pessimism, but I cannot agree with this diagnosis. As far as I'm
concerned, the man was just exploring the human condition to an extent
far ahead of his time... the fact that great poetry was distilled out of
his quest for 'meaning' is just an added bonus.

thomas

56 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Vikram Doctor said...

>Time (and its effect on human affairs) always held a fascination for old
>Willy (witness any number of Sonnets, most of Lear and the second half
>of Macbeth), and some of his finest flights of poetic fancy have been
>inspired by it.

I love a couple of lines which are thrown in one of the more obscure plays I
think - Trolius & Cressida (and that's the other aspect of his genius, his
sheer volume, so he could write semi-duds like this, along with so much much
more) where he says, "For time is like a fashionable host/..." damn, I'm
forgetting the line, it goes on to say because it always has two hands held
out, one to welcome new guests, the other to say goodbye to departing ones.

Vikram

John Provo said...

If think of this quote from The Tempest in the context of events on
September 11, 2001, you can feel the reverberations?

John Provo

William W Armstrong said...

Anyone who has studied quantum physics, knows how our everyday view of
the world gives little inkling of the wierd properties of the matter out
of which it is built. Shakespeare seems to anticipate future discoveries
showing the illusory nature of our perception of the world in his "Our
revels now are ended" speech. One quantum theorist, David Moser,
referred to quantum particles as

.....the dreams that stuff is made of.

William W. Armstrong ("Bill")
3624 108 Street NW
Edmonton, Alberta
Canada T6J 1B4
Tel

Richard Southern said...

The proper rendering of the line is

"Yea, all which it....."

Not "Ye" which gives it a different meaning.

Sasha Fergusson said...

Yes, the piece is very good... And, The Tempest having always been
my favourite play, I've had it memorized since the age of eight. One
of the important things to remember about Shakespeare is that it
should never be read like poetry. It should be read as speech. In
this piece, I find, it is particularly difficult to avoid reading it
as a poem. The piece is about death, and the 'death' of the play. It
means our lives/the play are immediately over after we die, and we
leave no traces behind us. Our revels now are ended... he's talking
about the play, and its happy ending. He actually says that the play
was only made up of actors, and that the characters are all gone now
that the play is over. Very neat... I wonder if Shakespeare actually
thought this about death....

My favourite part: And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.

Anonymous said...

I've always liked the use of this quote from "The Tempest" as it was used in "The Maltese Falcon"...

Ward Bond: It's heavy. What is it?

Humphrey Bogart: It's the stuff that dreams are made of.

Anonymous said...

and from "The Scottish Play" or MacBeth to those who are not superstitious, Will had a fasination with the ephimalness (sp) of life


To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing

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