Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Tempest in the Classroom

The master, the swabber, the boatswain and I,
The gunner and his mate
Loved Mall, Meg and Marian and Margery,
But none of us cared for Kate;
For she had a tongue with a tang,
Would cry to a sailor, Go hang!
She loved not the savour of tar nor of pitch,
Yet a tailor might scratch her where'er she did itch:
Then to sea, boys, and let her go hang!

I'm teaching The Tempest as I usually do about this time. Students always complain about how hard it is to read plays, although they like Shakespeare a lot better than Marlowe. I'm not sure why -- yes, I do realize the stature Shakespeare holds in the world, but I so love Marlowe's audacity and sheer exuberance. But my students find him more challenging -- or as they would say, "too hard."

Tis magic, magic that hath ravished me...

Marlowe has all the beauty of Shakespeare; what he lacked, perhaps, was the thought of the audience -- or not awareness so much as concern for their reaction. Shakespeare can be equally devastating, but he seemed to always have been aware of the paying audience. Perhaps it is the difference of being an actor as well as a writer. I expect that would make it impossible to forget the eyes upon you, not to desire their approval, just as Prospero (like Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream) exhorts the audience to applaud at the end of the play. The Tempest does contain my all time favorite Shakespearean line:

I shall laugh myself to death at this puppy-headed monster.

Why? I don't know. Humor is a difficult thing to analyze. Not that it stops us from trying. I am still immersed in my British comedy at present, reading Harry Thompson's biography of Peter Cook which was recommended by folks at the Establishment. Although I didn't get much reading done this weekend as I was trying to finish up my draft of an essay on The Sorcerer for S.T. Joshi's icons of horror and fantasy anthology. I tried not to get carried away talking about Faustus and Prospero, but I couldn't resist a bit of a digression on them. That's magic for you --

Where the bee sucks. there suck I:
In a cowslip's bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat's back I do fly
After summer merrily.
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.

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