I’m listening to Dark Ambient Radio through Winamp* on my computer as I sit at my desk and knit, and read, and write. This dark piece comes on, didn’t catch the name or artist, but at the end of it, this woman’s voice starts reciting poetry. The poem is really good stuff, sounds vaguely Elizabethan, and she recites it very well. I quickly open Firefox and type the last line into Google. (I am the Google Queen! — I read about it in Discovery Magazine in 1999, and started using it as a reference for medical equipment brand names and drug brand names when most people didn’t know from search engines, never mind Google.) Bingo. Sonnet XC by — you guessed it — good ol’ Bill
Shaksper Shakspere Shakspeare. (He never seems to have spelled his surname with three “e’s,” so why do we?)
THen hate me when thou wilt, if euer,now,
Now while the world is bent my deeds to croſſe,
Ioyne with the ſpight of fortune,make me bow,
And doe not drop in for an after loſſe:
Ah doe not,when my heart hath ſcapte this ſorrow,
Come in the rereward of a conquerd woe,
Giue not a windy night a rainie morrow,
To linger out a purpoſd ouer-throw.
If thou wilt leaue me, do not leaue me laſt,
When other pettie griefes haue done their ſpight,
But in the onſet come,ſo ſtall I taſte
At firſt the very worſt of fortunes might.
And other ſtraines of woe, which now ſeeme woe,
Compar'd with loſſe of thee,will not ſeeme ſo.
For thoſe who are conuinced that the clown who typeſet the aboue in 1609 was three folioſ to the wind, here it is ſpelled and typeſet “correctly.”
Then hate me when thou wilt; if ever, now;
Now, while the world is bent my deeds to cross,
Join with the spite of fortune, make me bow,
And do not drop in for an after-loss:
Ah! do not, when my heart hath ‘scaped this sorrow,
Come in the rearward of a conquered woe;
Give not a windy night a rainy morrow,
To linger out a purposed overthrow.
If thou wilt leave me, do not leave me last,
When other petty griefs have done their spite,
But in the onset come: so shall I taste
At first the very worst of fortune’s might;
And other strains of woe, which now seem woe,
Compared with loss of thee, will not seem so.
Never mind that it’s a little Diana Damrau of a sonnet, that all the rhymes are effortless, and that all the little iambs are hard-wired into the pentameter so that reading it aloud is like pulling a silk scarf through a gold ring (I wish I knew who the lady was who was reciting it, because she nailed it); the guy just hauls off and quills stuff like “Give not a windy night a rainy morrow” and freights this humongous metaphor into your head on just seven freaking words. . . .
People say Shakspeare is hard. No. Shakspeare is easy. This sonnet. There’s not a hard word in it. Not a word that any reasonably literate person wouldn’t know the meaning of. Some of the grammatical forms are a little arcane, but within reach. Some of his syntax is a little closer to Latin and French than we’re used to, and he uses some of the words in ways we’re not accustomed to having them used, but there’s nothing so hard in the language of this sonnet that you don’t know exactly what he’s talking about by the second read through.
What makes Shakspeare hard is that in the 400 odd years between us and him, technology, and the vocabulary that goes with it, has changed so much that most of us don’t even know what half the stuff in his world is anymore, never mind what the jargon means that goes with it. True, the pelt on the critter is a little strange, but once you’ve skinned it, the bones of the language haven’t changed so much that you can’t make heads nor tails of it; and his subject matter, human beings, hasn’t changed at all. We may not have much in the way of a hereditary aristocracy left these days, but we understand all too well the kind of people who want wealth and power and are willing to stop at nothing to get it. Politics in the halls of government? Yep. Still got that, too. Manipulate people by making them doubt themselves or others? Yep. Only we call it gaslighting now. Or, take this sonnet — add beer and a pickup truck and you’ve essentially got the lyrics of about half the country and western songs ever written.
Yes, most internet radio stations have in-browser players, but I don't always want to be having to open my browser to hear music, especially when I'm using it for something else and I have six or eight other tabs open and/or I've got four or five windows open across two monitors.