Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A bit of poetry from As You Like It

It's Wednesday, which is a good day for something from Shakespeare (and a bit of a tradition around here, when I remember to get my act together). Speaking of acts, today's poetry is found in Act III, scene 2 of As You Like It. You can read my (somewhat irreverent) summary of the play if you'd like, but assuming that not all of you have the time or inclination, I'll just set up today's selection for you.

As You Like It is a comedy featuring a female main character (Rosalind) who spends most of the play in drag as a boy, calling herself Ganymede (the name of Jove's page and sometime sex partner). Rosalind loves Orlando; Orlando loves Rosalind. They interact quite a lot as Orlando and Ganymede, with Orlando not realizing Ganymede and Rosalind are one and the same, during which time Rosalind instructs Orlando on the proper way of expressing love, and on what to expect when dealing with an actual woman, as opposed to his romanticized notion of her.

In Act III, scene 2, Orlando has entered the Forest of Arden and has strewn his (mostly bad) poetry in praise of Rosalind about the forest. Rosalind has found some of it, and enters this scene (dressed as Ganymede) to find Touchstone (a jester, who knows that Rosalind and Ganymede are one and the same) and Corin (a shepherd, who believes Ganymede to be a boy) together. Touchstone tweaks Rosalind by extemporizing some poetry on the spot, only Rosalind can't really set him down because she is, after all, supposed to be a boy named Ganymede, who has no idea who this Rosalind is. Savvy?

Interspersed with the poetry is a bit of dialogue between Touchstone and Ganymede/Rosalind. I let Touchstone have the last word in this edit:

[Enter ROSALIND (as Ganymede), reading aloud]

ROSALIND
From the east to western Ind,
No jewel is like Rosalind.
Her worth, being mounted on the wind,
Through all the world bears Rosalind.
All the pictures fairest lined
Are but black to Rosalind.
Let no fair be kept in mind
But the fair of Rosalind.

TOUCHSTONE
I'll rhyme you so eight years together, dinners and
suppers and sleeping-hours excepted: it is the
right butter-women's rank to market.

ROSALIND
Out, fool!

TOUCHSTONE
For a taste:
If a hart do lack a hind,
Let him seek out Rosalind.
If the cat will after kind,
So be sure will Rosalind.
Winter garments must be lined,
So must slender Rosalind.
They that reap must sheaf and bind;
Then to cart with Rosalind.
Sweetest nut hath sourest rind,
Such a nut is Rosalind.
He that sweetest rose will find
Must find love's prick and Rosalind.
This is the very false gallop of verses: why do you
infect yourself with them?

ROSALIND
Peace, you dull fool! I found them on a tree.

TOUCHSTONE
Truly, the tree yields bad fruit.
Form: The poems are in rhymed couplets, sometimes using a short I and sometimes a long, but with every line rhyming with a variant of Rosalind. The meter is trochaic in nature (a trochee being a two-syllable foot composed of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one: DUMta or, if you prefer, TRO-key). It's what's known as the catalectic version of trochaic tetrameter, meaning that there are four feet per line, they are trochees, but the final foot is cut short. (Another way of analyzing it is to say that it's two trochees followed by an amphibrach, if you want to get persnickety about it.) Shakespeare often used this meter to indicate madness, supernatural forces ("When shall we three meet again?") or, in this case, ineptitude.

Discussion: Orlando's four couplets are all based in courtly love, comparing her to jewels, proclaiming her the most worthy woman in the world, and extolling her fairness. (Exactly the sort of thing that Shakespeare does himself in praise of the Fair Youth in his lovely Sonnet 18 ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?") and the precise thing he mocks in his Dark Mistress tribute, Sonnet 130 ("My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun").)

Touchstone's extemporaneous six couplets are far more earthy and, in some cases, downright bawdy. To wit: The first couplet is about mating deer, the second about mating cats. The third says that winter garments need to be lined (filled with something warm), and so does Rosalind. (Hey now!) The fourth is a harvest pun that involves tossing Rosalind in the hay, the fifth (my favorite) refers to Rosalind's disguise (at least, that's my take on it) - Rosalind the woman is sweet, but she is dressed as a male (the "sourest rind"). And the sixth goes one further by combining the notion that Rosalind is hidden and must be found with the bawdy suggestions at the start, saying that a man would have to "find love's prick and Rosalind." There's a double meaning to the "love's prick", of course: On the one hand, he's talking about the pain sometimes associated with love. On the other, he's talking about male anatomy.

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1 comment:

Sra. Spanglish said...

Thank you for the analysis! This will help me discuss meter with my students for National Poetry Month!