Friday, August 06, 2010

Take, O Take Those Lips Away by William Shakespeare

At the start of Act IV, scene 1 of Measure by Measure comes this song, sung by the frustrated Mariana, who was betrothed to Angelo ages ago - only he refuses to marry her without a dowry:

Take, O take those lips away,
  That so sweetly were forsworn;
And those eyes, the break of day,
  Lights that do mislead the morn!
But my kisses bring again, bring again,
Seals of love, but sealed in vain, sealed in vain!

Form: Rhymed ABABCC, like Venus & Adonis stanza, but using a different meter. Each line consists of two trochees and an amphimacer. A trochee (pronounced TRO-key) consists of an accented syllable followed by an unaccented one (TUM-ta). An amphimacer has three syllables: stress, non, stress, or TUM-ta-TUM. Put together, each line goes TUM-ta TUM-ta TUM-ta-TUM. Except, of course that the last two lines have an echoing refrain that makes them longer by an extra amphimacer. Don't worry, you won't be tested on this, but for the one or two of you out there who might have cared, there it is.

Discussion: Mariana is suggesting that Angelo take his lips away, since he used them to break promises, and to take his eyes as well, because they also lie. She asks that he return her kisses to her - a double meaning, of course, in that it means, on the one hand, that she wishes she'd not kissed him in the first place and, on the other, that she'd like to kiss him again.

Here's a setting of it done by John Wilson, a composer who lived in the early 17th century, performed by Dave Rogers, whom I found on YouTube. I quite like him:

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1 comment:

David Lindley said...

It has been forcibly argued (by Gary Taylor and John Jowett) that this scene, and the song, are not actually by Shakespeare at all, but by Thomas Middleton, in a revision of the play after Shakespeare's death, but before the publication of the Folio edition in 1623.