Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Journey to Richard II: Part 16

Richard II
Shakespeare & Co.; Lenox, MA
July 2013
A series of posts about my journey through the works of Shakespeare--on the page, on the stage.

I started teaching Much Ado About Nothing to my 8th graders in the 1994-1995 school year, continued through 1995-1996 but then retired in January 1997 (disgusted with Ohio's--and our school district's--obsession with Ohio Proficiency Tests--don't get me started). As I've described in earlier posts, my time with Shakespeare in class got more and more complicated, more and more--what?--eclectic? "Full-immersion" may be the best term.  I did not tire at all of watching Kenneth Branagh's film of the play (I saw portions of it five or six times a day while students were viewing it)--and I wept, over and over and over again, at some of the moments. The scene, for example, when Beatrice is chiding Benedick for not believing in Hero's innocence is just flat powerful. And the huge dance at the end?  When the entire cast, hands linked, dance through the garden of the country estate, the music of "Sigh No More" soaring on the soundtrack? Oh, did I weep ... every time.

"Sigh No More," by the way, a song in the original play, appears in Act II, Scene 3, but Branagh--cleverly, I thought--moved it to the very beginning--and the music resonated throughout the rest of the film. No one knows what the original music sounded like (the earliest setting is 1648), but I really do love Patrick Doyle's setting in the film. There's an interesting montage version of it on YouTube: Link.

I always had my kids memorize Shakespeare, too: a sonnet (they could choose between 18 ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" and 130 ("My mistress' eyes are nothing lie the sun")) and a passage from the play we were reading. (I soon tired of those two, which I'd memorized myself, and memorized a new one every year, took a quiz on it on the same day the kids took their sonnet quizzes. I now know 14 of the 156 sonnets.) In Shrew, as I wrote the other day, the kids learned Petruchio's speech to Kate (it contains the line "What is the jay more precious than the lark, / Because his fathers are more beautiful?"). And for Much Ado? What else but "Sigh No More":

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never:
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into Hey nonny, nonny.

Sing no more ditties, sing no moe,
Of dumps so dull and heavy;
The fraud of men was ever so,
Since summer first was leafy:
Then sigh not so, & c.

Meanwhile, Joyce and I were going to see all the plays we could--here, there, lots of places. We learned, of course, that a handful of plays are produced over and over and over again: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night, and some others. But some of the others are very rarely produced. We started going to the Stratford (Ont.) Festival in 2001, and there we saw some of those rare ones--Troilus and Cressida, Timon of Athens, Pericles: Prince of Tyre, King John.

And one day I decided to make a list of the plays we had not seen in a live production. The list was short: The Winter's Tale, Titus Andronicus, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and ... Richard II.

Next time...The Final Four!  (Okay, there were five: The Two Noble Kinsmen, which Shakespeare co-wrote with John Fletcher.)

**Info on music from Ross W. Duffin, Shakespeare's Songbook (W. W. Norton, 2004).

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