Jab! Jab! Punch! Shakespeare Boxing and Taking It On The Chin

ivyand shakespeare.JPG
Shakespeare, almost overcome by ivy, 13 September

Yes, it is September, but this morning as I write  it might be November or February.  High winds and rain lashing the windows as if we were at sea, and it is cold.

But it is not winter yet: only the beginning of autumn. Yesterday evening I  was looking at the ivy in the back garden and realised that the summer’s growth had almost overwhelmed  Shakespeare, who resides in a corner by the shed, with a bird’s nest on his right shoulder.

Seeing him there made me think of reading a Shakespeare sonnet, which isn’t something I always want to do. Like mackerel, the sonnets  have a peculiar flavour,  and aren’t always what I fancy, though when I read them/am given mackerel I  enjoy them more than I think I will.  And  I’ve really enjoyed a couple of Saturday Dayschools, where we read  a bunch of the sonnets and maybe that is something to  think of again – a sort of mackerel baked whole with ginger,soy and spring onions.

Anyhow, this morning I thought, yes, I’ll read some of them, and so I have, though with an under-thought, which I’ve only just formulated, which was : perhaps I really want to read a Shakespeare play?  Aha. Don’t know if I could do that here? If the Sonnets are mackerel, what are the plays ? Feasts, banquets, weeks away in  other lands… The plays seem the right  vehicle for Shakespeare’s mind. Of course the Sonnets are his mind, too, but this sort of intimacy  doesn’t seem the place  he inhabits best.  At his fullest, he needs players, playing, inside and out. Which isn’t to say that the Sonnets aren’t works of genius in their own right.  Oh, leave that mackerel analogy! It’s as if Shakespeare was a great athlete and might  box or play rugby and win silver or gold at both.  Here he is boxing:


When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defaced
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the watery main,
Increasing store with loss and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
That Time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!

Would you take it to your Shared Reading group? I would.

How does a novice sonnet-reader get into this? What’s the emotional punch here?  Ouch  – ‘time will come and take my love away’. Everything  else is bobbing and weaving, is jab, jab, jab.

For beginners  with sonnets the rule is read it all, then  read it in chunks. The chunks here mostly fall into two lines or four lines, marked by the semicolons and colons, and by the repetition of the word ‘when’  as the first word. Let’s take it a bit at a time:

When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defaced
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;

Those repeated ‘when’s’ become something but at the first one we don’t know that yet. Is it just me, or does ‘when’ imply a pattern of thought: when this, then that.  When I go the shop (then) I buy things.  but what we get here is a long list of  whens with no ‘then’ outcome until the end of the poem. So we have to read and wait. The waiting is  marked by the semicolon.

‘When I have seen’ is also – is it?  – plural?  Has it happened many times in the past? I have seen is certainly a completed action in the past. I’m not sure what it is  here in the grammar that makes me think it is plural. Seen over and over.

You might ask, why is it ‘Time’s fell hand ‘? I look up ‘fell’ in the Etymological dictionary. Fell is causes to fall, is cruel. I looked at ‘defaced’ and think of vandalism, wanton damage. It’s random and cruel, remorseless and careless – that’s Time.  And what does Time deface?

The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;

I am thinking of graveyards, of memorials, perhaps because of ‘buried age’. The rich proud cost – is that stuff – masonry, marble tombs, oak caskets. Rich is one thing, proud another. This line is stuffed full of meanings – this is Shakespeare’s brain, floating like a butterfly, jab, jab, jab. You pay your money – jab! You create some monument that  expresses your self-pride – jab! You know what? – It gets covered in cobwebs and ivy  – jab! Because you  are dead – jab!  Because you are ancient, in the past, over, done – jab!

He’s bouncing around on his toes.

More tomorrow.


7 thoughts on “Jab! Jab! Punch! Shakespeare Boxing and Taking It On The Chin

  1. Pete Flowerdew September 13, 2017 / 7:52 am

    Brill- Jane,I haven’t enjoyed one since we deconstructed one with Bernie (Remember her from Shakespeare groups?). Of course “when I have seen” is an entirely different prefix to “I have seen” it implies continuity. I think? Xx

    • drjanedavis September 17, 2017 / 9:48 pm

      yes, agree – continuity. So glad you enjoyed. ‘Course I remember Bernie – didn’t she do a fantastic job there for years?

      There are so many wonderful sonnets – come on everybody! get reading them!

  2. Heather September 13, 2017 / 8:26 am

    Poor Mr Shakespeare, overwhelmed by ivy but still looking rather dapper. I would (and shall) take this sonnet to my Shared Reading group. We have a few of the sonnets already. I am thinking about introducing one of the plays….any tips on where to begin?

    • drjanedavis September 17, 2017 / 9:47 pm

      Really glad you are going to take it to your group! makes all that early morning typing seem worthwhile – thank you. RE the plays – Loubyjo is in a group that has read all the Shakespeare plays and some of them twice- so she might want to comment?
      For me – one of the greats is good because people will have heard of it. So Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, As You Like It and my own top favourite, The Winter’s Tale.
      First one I ever did was Othello, right at the beginning of Shared Reading … in the first two weeks I read all the parts because no one wanted to help… but then someone took pity on me and soon everyone was reading. Wonderful. Go slowly -that’s my main tip.
      I’ll do something here on the blog at some point!

  3. Heather September 13, 2017 / 8:28 am

    Oops, should have said…we have read…..

  4. peter flowerdew September 13, 2017 / 1:19 pm

    And the allegory of the tides displayed in “Hungry ocean gain
    Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
    And the firm soil win of the watery main,
    Increasing store with loss and loss with store;
    When I have seen such interchange of state,
    Or state itself confounded to decay;”
    makes one realise how unimportant our emotions are in the overall scheme of things, perhaps comfort when having lost a loved one?Though Don’t think that would apply in Marg’s and My case.Peter xx

    • drjanedavis September 17, 2017 / 9:42 pm

      no, I don’t think it would. Must admit, when reading I did think – very briefly, as if I could hardly bear it, of what will happen when my husband /self die. We’ve been married 34 years.
      it doesn’t make any difference that our emotions are nothing ion the scheme of things, does it? we still feel them, and they are huge.

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