Friday, May 09, 2008

Shakespeare Hyperlinking!

Protean Pre-echoes?

Did Shakespeare invent hyperlinking?

Look at this:

O, how this spring of love resembleth
The uncertain glory of an April day,
Which now shows all the beauty of the sun,
And by and by a cloud takes all away.

(I, 2)

And ‘compare’ it to this, Summer’s Day:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd,

(Sonnet 18)

I bet you know the second, but the first?

Both Shakespeare, both written in his early career – one a sonnet, the other from

The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

I’m reminded of what Brook said about how Shakespeare had a memory – and used everything that came his way. My only question is which came first – the play or the sonnet?

A couple more:

O, but I love his lady too too much,
And that's the reason I love him so little.
How shall I dote on her with more advice,

(II, 4)

And, Friar Laurence to Romeo:

And art thou chang'd? Pronounce this sentence then:
Women may fall, when there's no strength in men.

Thou chidst me oft for loving Rosaline.

For doting, not for loving, pupil mine.

(Romeo and Juliet, II, 3)

And –

Yet (Spaniel like) the more she spurnes my loue,
The more it growes, and fawneth on her still;

(IV, 2)

with -

And even for that do I love you the more;
I am your spaniel; and, Demetrius,
The more you beat me, I will fawn on you.
Use me but as your spaniel; spurn me, strike me,
Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave,
Unworthy as I am, to follow you.
What worser place can I beg in your love
(And yet a place of high respect with me)
Than to be used as you use your dog?

( A Midsummer Nights Dream, II, 1)

What is it that is going on here? Is Shakespeare just recycling a good idea – like the costumes and props of the Theatre Company? Or is it something else?

One thing I think worth mentioning at this point is that I ‘heard’ these connections when watching the BBC production – they are not the product of reading the play closely or searching – although I have since ‘confirmed’ by digging them out (and am in the process of a read through).

They are memorable images in terms of sound.

Shakespeare’s audience, much more tuned than I am to listening, must also have picked out connections – maybe not for the Sonnet, which circulated in writing privately, but for the other plays – and several other instances I could quote.

What Shakespeare seems to be doing here is ‘hypertexting’ – downright naughty of him so early in the history of the internet. These links do precisely what the little under-linings in this blog do – make you leap across a world of experiences to a specific point.

However, if ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona is the first play, then this implies something very interesting: It is a foundation other plays build on. The other plays are referencing this play.

Even if it isn’t the actual ‘first’, it is certainly early, so part of the foundations of the whole Shakespeare Experience.

This is recognized in the Oxford Shakespeare, where the play is printed first – and therein lies a problem: We read linear … first suggests earlier, suggests less mature, suggests less good.

I’ll say it again – I enjoyed watching this play last week – I enjoyed it more than I’ve enjoyed a Hamlet in many a year. For me, at this time, this is better than Hamlet.

Now, maybe I’m just stupid. And maybe not (chorus of assembled acolytes, “No, Enlightener of the World, never!”).

The fact that Shakespeare has deliberately linked to this play would suggest he had a degree of respect for it – and that the audience of his time would have seen enough performances to be able to make the connections. This is not saying the play is a prototype – something tried and discarded, but that is an active ingredient in the repertory.

Of course, strange things happen with hyperlinks – you can go back and change a text to add an extra reference or delete one (it’s called editing) – so, did Shakespeare – or anyone else, like Middleton – interfere with the text and add a link here, swap a link there?

Most likely: The text we have is from the first folio of 1623 – which Wells suggests is a snapshot of the version actually last performed. And that would suggest Shakespeare could and would have changed anything he didn’t like – and also that the other company members would have thrown in their three penny worth …

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