Linguistic beauty of English theatre

One of my best discoveries of past two years are NTLive recordings of theatre plays. I've been feeling lately as if they were that only thing keeping me going.

Julius Caesar staged in London Bridge, Spring 2018

Bridge's "Julius Caesar" is my favorite of all performances. When you enter the show you get confused for first couple minutes: is it a Shakespearian play or some sort of rock fest? Now Julius Caesar is in my opinion a story about a crowd and madness before anything else. And Bridge's immersive setting plays this point out nicely: the play literally happens right in the midst of spectators, some just watching, some chilling with beer. Wish so much I were there!

Cassius and Brutus:

Cassius:

Brutus, I do observe you now of late: I have not from your eyes that gentleness and show of love as I was always wont to have

Cassius:

Tell me good Brutus, can you see your face?

Brutus:

No, Cassius, for the eye sees not itself but by reflection, by some other thing.

Cassius:

't is just... and very much lamented, Brutus, that you have no such mirrors as will turn your hidden worthiness into your eye.

Brutus:

Into what dangers would you lead me, Cassius, that you would have me seek into myself for that which is not in me?

Cassius:

Therefore, good Brutus, be prepared to hear: and since you know you cannot see yourself but by reflection, I, your glass, will modestly discover to yourself that of yourself which you yet know not of.

Brutus:

... What is it that you would impart toward me? If it be aught toward the general good, set Honour in one eye an' death i' the other an' I will look in both indifferently! For let the gods so speed me as I love the name of Honour more than I fear death.

Cassius:

...I know not what you an' other men think of this life, but as for my single self:

I had as lief not be as live to be in awe of such a thing as I myself!

I was born free -- as Caesar. So were you. We both have fed as well, and we both can endure winter's cold as well as he. For once upon a raw and gusty day, troubled Tiber chafting with her shores, Caesar said to me:

"Darest thou, Cassius, now, leap into this angry flood an' swim to yonder point?"

Upon the word, accoutred as I was, I plunged in and bade him follow! Which indeed he did. The torrent roared! An' we did buffet it with lusty snews throwing it aside. Stemming it with hearts of controversy. But ere we could arrive the point proposed, Caesar cried: "help me, Cassius, or I sink!"

An' I as Aeneas -- our great ancestor -- did from the flames of Troy upon his shoulder the old Anchises bear, so from the waves of Tiber did I that tired Caesar!

And this man is now become a God! An' Cassius is a wretched creature who must bend his body if Caesar carelessly but nod on him!

...

Cassius:

The fault dear Brutus is not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings

...

...

Now, in names of all the gods at once, upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed, that he is grown1 so great? Age, thou art shamed!

Note how is grown works apparently as a filtration, removing information about preceding process or, more precisely, emphasising the lack of such information. An example of what Michael Polyakov has described in his blog.

Rome, thou hast lost the breed of noble bloods! When went there by an age, since the great flood, but it was famed with more than with one man? When could they say till now, that talked of Rome, that her wide walls encompassed but one man?

Now is it Rome indeed and room enough, when there is in it but one only man?

...

Brutus:

...

Till then, my noble friend, chew upon this:

Brutus had rather be a villager, than to repute himself a son of Rome under these hard conditions as this time is like to lay upon us.

Caesar to Antony, about Cassius:

Let me have men about me, that are fat! Your Cassius has lean an' angry look, she reads too much, such ones are dangerous! ... Would she were fatter!

Caesar, Calpurnia, and Decius Brutus

Calpurnia:

Say he is sick

Caesar:

Shall Caesar tell a lie? Have I in conquest stretch'd mine arm so far, to be afraid to tell graybeards truth? Decius go tell them Caesar will not come.

Decius:

Most mighty Caesar, let me know at least some cause, Lest2345 I be laught at when I tell them so.

Caesar:

The cause is in my will: I will not come! That is enough to satisfy the senate!

Antony mourning for Caesar:

Had I as many eyes as thou hast wounds, weeping as fast as they stream forth thy blood, it would become me better than to close in terms of friendship with thine enemies.

Oh, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth, that I am meek an' gentle with these butchers. ... Over thy wounds now do I prophesy, which like dumb mouths do ope' their ruby lips, to beg the voice and utterance of my tongue, a curse shall light upon the limbs of men; ... And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge, with Ate by his side come hot from hell, shall in these confines with a monarch's voice cry "Havoc!" and let slip the dogs of war!

Madness of King George with Mark Gatiss

Willis and George

Doctor Willis:

You must behave

King George:

Must? Whose must is this: your must our my must?

Also King George:

I'm the king, I am not told! I am the verb, sir, I'm not the object.

Hamlet with Cumberbatch

The first play I've watched. And if there was any that really gave me chills this is the one! Deep, consuming darkness and Cumberbatch's amazing accent.

Here we have an Evil King:

My offence is rank! It smells to heaven!

...

My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. Words without thoughts never to heaven go!

Do it, England! For like a heptic in my blood he rages!

A young man who wasn't quite ready for what should had happened:

Smiling, damned villain! My tables, "meet it is" -- I set it down -- "that one may smile, and smile, and be a villain!"

How weary, stale, flat an' unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world...

...

Foul deeds will rise, though all the earth o'erwhelm them, to men's eyes!

And many other beautiful characters and lines, including popular "whether it is nobler in the mind" and "poor Yorick!"

But! We are, of course, primarily interested in what confuse commoner's grammatical intuition. I don't remember many of these but it must be because I've re-watched that production about ten times already...

  • Begin with something simple:

    Who's there?

    Nay, answer me: stand, an' unfold yourself!

    Not really confusing, but curious.

  • Almost immediately follows:

    't is struck twelve: get thee to a bed, Francisco.

    This form will later be repeated by Hamlet addressing Ophelia:

    Get thee to a nunnery -- go!

  • Gertrude:

    ...

    Thou knowest 't is common: all that lives must die, passing through nature -- to eternity.

    Hamlet:

    Aye, madam, it is common.

    Gertrude:

    If it be, why seems it so particular with thee?

    Hamlet:

    Seems, madam?! Nay -- it is! I know not "seems"!

    This is actualy a part of "oh that this too too sullied flesh would melt" and "how weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable" speech all of which -- including conversation with King Claudius -- is a must-read (must-hear)!

*

> To ears of flesh and blood. List, list, O, list!

(if not obvious: it's as in "listen" but used with "thou")

*

> The play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King!
  • Someone (what? it may be a spoiler), after stabbing by mistake a wrong person:

    I took thee for thy better!

  • You can also watch how questions without an auxilliary verb leave much more of an impression:

    This was your husband. Look you now what follows: Here is your husband; like a mildewed ear

    ...

    Have. You. Eyes?!

    Or this by Rosencrantz, Hamlet's pal:

    Take you me for a sponge, my lord?

  • Just a play of words:

    Now, Hamlet, where's Polonius?

    At supper.

    At supper? Where?!

    Not where eats, but where he's eaten.

    And more:

    Where is Polonius?!

    In heaven! Send hither to see: if your messenger find him not there, seek him i' the other place yourself!

  • Some "many a":

    Ophelia:

    How does your honour for this many a day?

  • A little bit of had-conditionals:

    You that look pale and tremble at this chance, that are but mutes or audience to this act, had I but time -- as this fell sergeant, death, is strict in his arrest -- Oh, I could tell you.

  • Some rather rare curses:

    What is he, that builds stronger than either the mason, the shipwright, or the carpenter?

    ...

    Marry, now I can tell.

    To it!

    ...

    Mass, I cannot tell!

  • Some cute valediction:

    "...he, that thou knowest thine, HAMLET"

Contless they are: you better just watch it!

Macbeth -- the Scottish play

I would like Macbeth more than all the others had it been staged as a well-thought and consistent performance. So far all the productions I've seen are really bad at details -- NATO uniform, my Gosh -- and definitely don't cast nearly enough of that black despair unto you that they should cast. The sadest thing is how the witches are played -- shrieking with these stupid childish voices. Most like a joke.

Yet as compilations of separate scenes...

There was this production that was trying to mimic a horror movie (which made most of it look like a joke) -- I can't recall exactly whose. It had an outstanding "Knock-knock" scene: as Seyton performed Hell's gate keeper the dead were falling out of windows and stoves.

Be sure to watch "Come you, spirits! Un-sex me here, and make thick my blood" scene as well as "tomorrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow". Some creeping rhythm there.

King Lear

Another play that I think must fill spectator with fear but does not as it's usually not played well enough.

I still like "blow winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!" lines and the Fool's songs as performed in some of Globe's productions (the one where both Kent and Fool are gals).

Ian McKellen's performance is remarkably boring, but got some very cool (almost psychodelic) pictures (e.g. the ones with the King and blinded Gloucester with a ragged wall in background, if I should remember).

Much Ado About Nothing

Watched the one staged in Shakespeare's Globe. A very inspiring play about disdain turning into love full of merry songs and dances.

The Hollow Crown

A (probably low-cost) TV series that begins with Richard II and ends I think with Henry the V but may be even later.

I particularly like Richard the third with Cumberbatch playing the main villain.

Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York: and all the clouds that lour'd upon our house in deep bosom of the ocean buried.

...

Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace have no delight to pass away the time, unless to spy my shadow in the sun and descant on mine own deformity:

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover, to entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain and hate the idle pleasures of these days.

Henry the fifth is also shot well though I still don't know the name of the actor.

Once more onto the breach, dear friends! Once more!

Romeo and Juliet

Watched that teenager version and it was quite cool.

What's in name? That, which we call a rose, is by any other name as fair.


  1. Michael Polyakov, "How tenses work" 

  2. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/lest 

  3. https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/406803/what-tense-should-i-use-after-the-conjunction-lest-must-it-always-be-an-infin 

  4. https://english.stackexchange.com/a/331549 

  5. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/grammar/moods 

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