Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Bloody Shakespearo



Much as I love Shakespeare, it's taking me weeks to set to music Desdemona's lament out of Othello:

The poor soul sat sighing by a sycamore tree,
Sing all a green willow;
Her hand on her bosom, her head on her knee,
Sing willow, willow, willow.

The fresh streams ran by her, and murmur'd her moans;
Sing willow, willow, willow;
Her salt tears fell from her, and softened the stones;-
Sing willow, willow, willow.


The problems I'm having are maybe due to the muddle of trees. Come on, Swan of Avon, which is it to be, sycamore or willow? As Dr Johnson said: 'Shakespeare never had six lines together without a fault. Perhaps you may find seven, but this does not refute my general assertion.' Six lines? The first two are enough for me.

Sycamore (Acer pseudo-platanus)

Verdi made a matchlessly beautiful setting of this in his opera Otello, which reminds me that some years ago J. and I went to the opera house in Montpellier to see Verdi's Macbeth. I've long had an unusual affinity with Shakespeare's original, because not only did I live near Cawdor (Thane of Cawdor, remember?) in Scotland for many years, but going to work everyday took me past Macbeth's Hillock, a group of hummocks in a field where local legend had it that Macbeth met the Weird Sisters in thunder, lightning, or in rain.

Verdi's Macbeth was entertaining in other ways than just musical. The designer had envisaged the interior of Cawdor Castle like the inside of a submarine. Lady Macbeth's yellow nightie kept getting caught on the conning tower ladder as she climbed up and down it, goodness knows why. Far from being murdered in his bed, King Duncan was done to death in a sort of hole in the stage floor. The production was whistled and hooted, something I'd heard of in Continental opera houses but had never witnessed before. I particularly enjoyed the Italianization of the characters: Banquo escaped the process, of course, but we had Cauduro for Cawdor, Fifo for Fife, Macduffo...

Back to composition. Maybe having written about it will release the flow.

17 comments:

Vicus Scurra said...

We do suffer for our art, don't we? I am struggling with the screenplay for a Hollywood version of King Lear featuring Jim Carrey, Vin Diesel and Cheryl Cole.

Christopher said...

We do indeed, Vicus. I don't think appreciate the agonies we endure. I wish you and your project the outcome it so clearly merits.

Z said...

I've not heard of tears, be they ever so salt, softening stones before, either. Certainly Will had an off day.

I said...

crikey - it's all very complicated over here, isn't it

mind you, makes a change from Abba and Elvis. . .

(-:

ps: you'll notice that I'm I, so you're not tempted to add (EIO) - the extra time/energy that you'll save from typing a few less characters will doubtless help sustain your creative endeavours until their completion

Dave said...

I don't know about the first two lines, but the third suggests she's been dismembered.

I hope this helps.

Dave said...

And the fourth line reminds me of Tit-Willow (Mikado, G&S). This may bring a useful tune to mind.

I hope this helps.

Sarah said...

Opiates may help

moreidlethoughts said...

For Pete's sake do NOT attempt the posture adopted by the heroine.Well, not with your bad back!

I've "mangled" the Bard more than once, but never thought to put Mac in a sub.(And I expect Rog would manage to find, in that, a pun about fast food outlets!)

Christopher said...

Z: Very true. I think the Bard sometimes wrote down the first thing that came into his head. Like most of us.

I: Thank you. You're so considerate!

Dave: Thanks for the suggestion. Yes, there are close similarities, involving tits, trees, watercourses and unrequited love. However on looking into the matter, I find a Sir A. Sullivan has already composed it. Blast.

Sah: Erm, yes, but the horrid example of Coleridge floats past my eyes. He just about lived off laudanum and suffered terribly with chronic constipation as a result, to the point where a brass...but I won't weary you.

MIT: Thanks. Yes, the third line suggested that game Twister to me. I don't know to what extent a round or two of Twister might be a cure for unrequited love.

Rog said...

I only got the reference to The Stanglers but got a bit lost after that!

Rosie said...

I wonder how many Macbeth sites there are in Scotland? I grew up by Macbeth's woods.

Christopher said...

Sorry, Rog. I can't even find The Stanglers!

Rosie! Good to see you. Thanks for dropping in. Yes, Macbeth's thises-and-thats are as common as Queen Elizabeth slept heres. I wonder if they ever slept together - with Bonnie Prince Charlie keeping cave?

(Where are Macbeth's woods? Birnam?)

Rog said...

The Stranglers
No More Heroes

Whatever happened to Leon Trotsky?
He got an ice pick
That made his ears burn
Whatever happened to dear old Lenin?
The great Elmyra and Sancho Panza?
Whatever happened to the heroes?
Whatever happened to the heroes?
Whatever happened to all the heroes?
All the Shakespearoes?
They watched their Rome burn
Whatever happened to all the heroes?
Whatever happened to all the heroes?
No more heroes any more
No more heroes any more
Whatever happened to all the heroes?
All the Shakespearoes?
They watched their Rome burn
Whatever happened to the heroes?
Whatever happened to the heroes?
No more heroes any more
No more heroes any more

Whatever happened to Leon Trotsky ?
He got an ice pick
That made his ears burn
Whatever happened to dear old Lenin ?
The great Elmyra, and Sancho Panza ?
Whatever happened to the heroes ?
Whatever happened to the heroes ?
Whatever happened to all the heroes ?
All the Shakespearoes ?
They watched their Rome burn
Whatever happened to the heroes ?
Whatever happened to the heroes ?
No more heroes any more
No more heroes any more
Whatever happened to all the heroes ?
All the Shakespearoes ?
They watched their Rome burn
Whatever happened to the heroes ?
Whatever happened to the heroes ?
No more heroes any more
No more heroes any more

Anonymous said...

Does one state the obvious that that William’s repetitive willowing is merely a sing-song formulae utilised in common rhyme of the time with its allusion to river and stream-side willows bending ore into sorrowful brooks as we all know they do (or did) just as the rhyme narrates while describing, no doubt, that, that, probably, on the stream bank ‘the poor soul’ sits not a stones throw away, away close to a dreary sycamore? And, why not a sycamore being, as it is, the most pernicious, intrusive self-seeded tree in Britain today as, no doubt, then? Therefore, likely that anyone that sits by a tree; and; if they look up at the tree they may be weeping by or laughing under and in sorrow or mirth perchance ask “What tree is that?” they will likely be satisfied (or not, and, whoever is in the vicinity to knowledgably answer) to learn that that it is an ubiquitous dreary sycamore rather than a majestic Cedar of Lebanon, lofty Lombardy poplar, scrawny Scots pine or any other number of emotive tree specimens. Whoever bawls, weeps cries, beats their breasts or tears their hair out at the riverside can be assured there’s always a sycamore close by, close by, close by.

Christopher said...

Rog: Thank you so much. All is clear, even down to the hidden rhyme. But what happened to Verse 3?

Jimina: Well this is very beautiful, not to say elegiac. It would be easier and more rewarding to set to music than Desdemona's ditty. All the same I'd be interested to know what kind of tree might be in the offing for those who blub. Greeters would of course lean against Scots pines, as you infer.

Rog said...

It took me 2 hours to type out 1 and 2 and I had to go to bed.

Anonymous said...

I apologise, profoundly (if not, profusely) for maligning Acer pseudoplatanus as dreadfully “dreary”. Though, She cynically pretends to be an incomparable Maple of Asia or North America Her handmedown bright yellow garb presently displayed in vistas of Autumn's English woodland surpasses all other of our native trees. Except, beside Old Fagus who wears His seasonal coat so marvellously in equal chrome yellow, amber, vermillion and fools gold. While ambling through an English dank wood (what we have left of them) and when a turn of the clock makes light bright 3 o'clock a dreary dark four 'o clock accessible streams are brought to gushing and overflowing. Boo Hoo!