Tag Archives: Shakespeare

Underworld

Below is the section in which the speaker meets his guide. [From the “Underworld” part of *The New House of Fame* by Paul “Whitberg” Burgess]

“Meeting My Guide”

Inside a bare, depressed, neglected room,
Were nameless graves with labels ‘one through nine’.
I came across a shade beside a tomb
Whose sunken eyes appeared to softly shine
and momentarily dispel the gloom.
His eyes, which gazed intensely into mine,
Suggested that he hoped I’d stay to talk
To him about the place the pallid walk.


His voice, which sliced the silence like a sword,
Then said, “Though once a legend of the stage,
For many years, I’ve mostly been ignored
Or mentioned briefly on a ref’rence page.
With England’s finest troupes, I often toured
And earned the highest honors of my age.
Who’d think an era’s great celebrity
Would be consigned to long obscurity?

Before he* held a gentlemanly staff
And fame had pushed his head to tops of trees
Beyond the reach of any tall giraffe
(or whatever novel idiom you please),
I was inducing Shakespeare’s crowds to laugh
Until they begged for breath upon their knees.
Together we were Joves to Adam’s wife:
What Will designed, I galvanized to life.

[As if displaying his ability to clown,
His language was, at times, an awkward blend
Of phrases from a modern urban town
And others from the sixteenth cent’ry’s end.
He’d call a beard “a bed of facial down,”
Then speak of “twerking” or another trend.
He knew as much of newer slang above
As Cupid’s ever known of making love.]

What’s most remembered from our Much Ado?
Why—by the heathen rites of popish mass—*
The constable who never had a clue!*
I was a hit with high to lower class,
But later Will declared, “You never grew.
You’ve always played the part of brainless ass.
I’m weary of the roles you’ve been assigned
And long for jests more gentle and refined.”*

Is William Kempe a name thy ears have heard?
I was, as modern Yankees call it, “cool.”
Before the days that Willie was “yes-sirred”,
I played the part of clown and rustic fool
[When Will required a scene or two absurd
Enough to make the groundlings grin and drool.]
But by the time he was composing Lear,
He’d caused the roles for me to disappear. “

“If you’ll remain a moment by my side,”
(He whispered in a pleading, hopeful tone
I think would pierce a tyrant’s armored hide
And soften stainless steel or solid stone)
“I’ll tell you more whilst serving as a guide
To wonders living men have never known.
…But, first,” he said, excited as a dog,
“I wish to share a witty monologue.”

Although he’d never let me have my say,
I thought with pity, “Time has done him ill.
Provided I’ll not have to give him pay
Or find a sacrificial beast to kill,
I’ll let the lonely actor lead the way…”
My thoughts were broken by these words from Bill:
“I’ll now begin my witty, pretty speech,
In which, like Horace, I’ll delight and teach.”

“Will Kempe’s Monologue
“Who’d think that Death could take so many souls
across the river Greeks once knew as Styx?
The Reaper reaps the carriers of coals.
He buries builders skilled at laying bricks
and people smiling when the cam’ra rolls
[but, when it’s off, assaulting aides with kicks].
Of spirits dead there’s such a high amount
that I’d not try to take a thorough count.

“That hair, those lashes curled by skillful hand
Will fall one day from your decaying skull.
That skin you have so diligently tanned
Will fade until it has become quite dull.
Your famous frame, your sunken ship unmanned,
In time, will be a rotting, hollow hull.
For many decades, your body will endure
without a perm or proper pedicure.”

It seemed his monologue would never stop.
I cut him short, which caused his eyes to tear.
“Cuttest thou my mind’s unripened crop?
This cut, unkind as that of any spear,
Hath made my sinking spirit drop.
…yet, mark my final pretty couplet here:
Though ‘fame’ and ‘glory’ are appealing terms,
They’ll keep no man from being food for worms.

“In Bessie’s age*, an actor who was hired
Would win the fame of being dutiful
(And other names to which he had aspired)
With lines as filled with what is beautiful
As babes are filled with grace when nobly sired
Or ships of pirates are of booty full.
But if you fancy speeches short and plain,
I’ll bind my wit with cold Concision’s chain. “

NOTES:

*He=Shakespeare. For the sake of meter, I have taken grammatical liberty with “He” and its antecedent. I realize that a possessive form, like “Shakespeare’s,” does not serve as a proper antecedent to “he” because “Shakespeare’s” is functioning here as an adjective that modifies “crowds”. In any case, readers need not assume that the stylistic quirks of characters are also those of the author;)

*Tensions between Protestant England and the Catholic world made similar irreverent oaths common in England. ]
*Dogberry—played by William Kempe, the stanza’s speaker
*Robert Armin, known for more sophisticated humor, replaced Will Kempe in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

*Bessie was an affectionate nickname for Queen Elizabeth I.

“Shakespeare in the Underworld” [Complete: Parts I-III]

Selections from The New House of Fame by Paul “Whitberg” Burgess

A chat with England’s bard will make it clear
that death for stars is still a thing to dread.
I trust you’ll recognize this person here
[Unless you’ve got no brain inside your head].
That’s William Shakespeare–Britain’s treasured dear,
A man among the greatest of the dead.
Now have a conversation with the Bard
To see that death’s a fate that’s always hard.


Before the Bard could say a single word,
He was approached by Richard Number Three
(A king who’s also known as “Rick the Third”).
The Bard inquired, “What dost thou want of me?”
The Third replied, “Thou sland’ring boorish bird,
Thy song hath brought me lasting infamy.
Thy play–a dreadful toy, a trivial thing–
Hath made me seem the worst of any king.

I thank thee–balding, bitter, whoreson, hack–
For making sure that all posterity
Would think me evil with a crooked back.”
Said Will, “To thee, I gave eternity.
A famous name–which many hate to lack–
I gave thee as an act of charity.
Without my widely-read and studied play,
How many would recall your name today?”

Richard glared and turned to walk away.
Then, William took a seat and breathed a sigh
And said these weary words I’ll now relay:
“A second death I’d volunteer to die.
I deeply loathe this place of gloomy gray,
And passage out of here I’d gladly buy.
Although my body long ago decayed,
It seems my spirit’s not allowed to fade.”

I never rest. Each moment seems to bring
Complaints from ev’ry lady and her lord,
From ev’ry princess, baron, queen, and king
Whose fame on page and stage has ever soared—
Instead of being some forgotten thing
That future ages knew not and ignored.
If I had known they’d never let me be,
I never would’ve written history.”

“Thou’ hast not come, I hope, with foul design…
In other words, to ask about my work:
‘The plays and poems–are they truly thine?
Above the questions never cease to lurk.’
Some claim that visions from a source divine
Reveal the Bard was Russian or a Turk,
While others say he served our Holy Lord
Or was a pirate living by the sword.”

“Another says, ‘Well, ev’rybody knows–
As royal flower comes from royal bud–
No lowly peasant ever could compose
Those works that hint at none but noble blood.
Our culture’s greatest poetry and prose
Was fathered only by a noble stud.
He who composed those lines we read today
Was never making gloves to earn his pay.’

‘Perhaps the credit Will so long has taken
Belongs to Earl of Oxford, Ed de Vere—
If not a king, a queen, or Francis Bacon.’
Said Will, “For love of peace, I’ll shake no spear
At silly theories that they’re fond of makin’,
But lies have harmed old Ed and Frank, I fear—
They both believe they wrote A Winter’s Tale,*
And their debate has grown a little stale.”

*De Vere, believed by some conspiracy theorists to have been “Shakespeare,” died several years before the composition of A Winter’s Tale.

“I’d also keep the scholars out of here:
[‘If Bottom turned by magic to an ass
Is, like I think, a bawdy pun on “rear,”
I’ll teach my Early English Drama class
That Will was saying slyly, “I am queer”
And scenes in drag express his inner lass.’]
[‘Does Lear suggest it’s choice or iron fate
That makes a person bi, or gay, or straight?’]

“One critic claims I had a proto-commie’s voice,
While others say that freer enterprise
Was doubtlessly my economic choice.
He thinks I served the state with pretty lies,
She says rebelling made my heart rejoice.
They make me what they love or most despise…
The real “me” critics think they can define
Is not contained in any written line. “

“Another blow from fickle, frightful fate
Are bards I often am assaulted by.
How deep’s the well of bitter rivals’ hate!
I’d thought with death that jealousy would die,
But writers foul, along with writers great,
Despise that I’m one critics deify.
Although the fault is surely none of mine,
It irks them that my name’s become divine.”

Although there’s truth in much of what he said,
It seemed he wanted only to complain.
His whiny ways began to hurt my head.
As much as this confession causes pain,
I admit that, from England’s bard, I fled
As people flee from falling acid rain .
I went in search of other famous ghosts
And hoped they’d serve as better spirit-hosts.

“Shakespeare in the Underworld”

[Part I: a selection from The New House of Fame by Paul “Whitberg” Burgess]

“A chat with England’s bard will make it clear
that death for stars is still a thing to dread.
I trust you’ll recognize this person here
[Unless you’ve got no brain inside your head].
That’s William Shakespeare–Britain’s treasured dear,
A man among the greatest of the dead.
Now have a conversation with the Bard
To see that death’s a fate that’s always hard.
 

Before the Bard could say a single word,
He was approached by Richard Number Three
(A king who’s better known as “Rick the Third”).
The Bard inquired, “What dost thou want of me?”
The Third replied, “Thou sland’ring boorish bird,
Thy song hath brought me lasting infamy.
Thy play–a dreadful toy, a trivial thing–
Hath made me seem the worst of any king.

I thank thee–balding, bitter, whoreson, hack–
For making sure that all posterity
Would think me evil with a crooked back.”
Said Will, “To thee, I gave eternity
A famous name–which many hate to lack–
I gave thee as an act of charity.
Without my widely-read and studied play,
How many would recall your name today?”

Brave New World

How easy it’s become to cross the sea–
To visit lands with foreign flags unfurled.
The web connects Japan to Sicily,
And knowledge travels quickly ’round the world.
Oh, age of unsurpassed technology!
You’ve made our globe a place where all is swirled.
[When not subjected to our foul abuse,
You’ve served with tools of nearly boundless use.]

…
With modern tech, celebs can swiftly share
Selected priceless moments with a crowd
Of millions of adoring fans who care
A lot about and feel sincerely proud
Of novel ways a star has styled her hair.
The shrines where ancient worshipers once bowed
Have given up their place without regret
To profile pages on the internet.

Celebrities from days of early date,
I wish you lived to see how things are now.
Who knew what hat was worn on Milton’s pate?
Who knew when Francis Bacon waxed his brow?
[Men* lived when news required a longer wait,
but thinking folks must surely wonder how!]
If only Shakespeare had a profile page,
We’d know about his actions off the stage.

*Iambic pentameter and political correctness do not get along.

Imagine! Brilliant Michelangelo
Would post a pic of what he had for lunch.
Adoring fans would be the first to know
If Mikey’s meal was soft or apt to crunch.
I’d like to think a later post would show
His fav’rite types of whiskey, wine, and punch.
A single finger’s touch or mouse’s click
Would lead to Mikey’s latest glamour pic.

Selections from *The New House Fame* by Paul “Whitberg” Burgess

“Hamlet”: a limerick

While not exactly a masterpiece, the following piece combines two of my favorite things: Shakespeare and limericks.

There once was a depressing young Dane.
It appeared he was wholly insane,
But he’d planned to seem mad
While avenging his dad
Who[m] his evil old uncle had slain.

a limerick by Paul Burgess

“Cautionary Tales”

Lear:Dost thou call me fool, boy?

Fool: All thy other titles thou hast given away; that thou  wast born with. [Emphasis mine]

 

Kent [disguised]: This is not altogether fool, my lord. (William Shakespeare, King Lear. 1.4.146-48)

[Before becoming outraged that I have used Shakespeare to preface limericks, remember that he often juxtaposed the highbrow and lowbrow and the comical and the serious.  He was the sort of person to place, at a dramatic point in a tragedy, lines such as the following: “Villain, I have done thy mother” (Aaron from Titus Andronicus)…

“Tattoo Granny”
There was once a lady in pink
Who covered her skin all in ink.
But when she was old,
Those tattoos would fold,
And she’d wish that to nothing they’d shrink.

“Death of a Parasite”
A man was once sent to his grave
By a people he’d tried to enslave.
‘twas and ending quite fit
For that greedy old Brit
Who took always more than he gave.

“Disco Dummy”
A man with a hole in his brain
Once boogied in front of a train.
As the train came along,
The man danced to a song
About the avoidance of pain.

“A Dream of Cream”
There was once an old man with a dream
To ingest a few gallons of cream.
When the task was complete,
He arose from his seat,
And his trousers then split at the seam.

“Confessing Carl”
With too great an abundance of time,
Carl confessed to too many a crime.
‘Til came there a day
When cops blew him away
For having thus wasted their time.

5 limericks by Paul Burgess

P.S. I do not intend to imply any comparison between a limerick-writing hack and the language’s greatest writer…

*I have added the previously missing line to “A Dream of Cream”

*Hamlet*–impermanence and inter-being

Hamlet [5.1.198-205]

Hamlet:

Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander
returneth to dust; the dust is earth; of earth we make
loam; and why of that loam whereto he was converted
might they not stop a beer barrel?
Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.
O, that that earth which kept the world in awe
Should patch a wall t’ expel the winter’s flaw!

4.3.26-30 [King=K, Hamlet=H]
H: A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a
king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.

K: What dost thou mean by this?

H:
Nothing but to show you how a king may go a
progress through the guts of a beggar.

“Shakespeare at Mardi Gras” [A sonnet by Paul Burgess]

“Shakespeare at Mardi Gras”
Shall I compare thee to the Mardi Gras?
For thy enjoyment rarely comes to rest.
As cats at balls of yarn, thy hands oft paw
Thy blouse to bare to lookers-on a breast.
Thou grantest jesters their profoundest wish
And satisfy the chefs awash in grease
Who toil to fry another plate of fish.
The seamen searching for divine release
All know that fulfillment of fiery needs
They’ll rapidly, at little cost, receive
For giving thee a string of plastic beads.
…Though’ to all Adams play thee willing Eve,
The Quarter’s Pearl* you’ll always be,
So long as breath remains inside of thee.

 

Inspired by the Steely Dan song “Pearl of the Quarter,” which seems to be about a hooker in the French Quarter with whom the protagonist falls in love:

“An Offer of Immortality”

A brief dialogue between a poet and his love–by Paul Burgess [In response to Shakespeare, “Sonnet 18”]*

“My dear, immortal’s what you’d surely be—
Preserved forever through these lines of verse.”

“To share Criseyde or Helen’s infamy?
What poets know as ‘fame’, I’d call a curse.”

*from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18”

…in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

“The Blinding of the Cyclops Polyphemus”

Modern Heroic Couplets by Paul Burgess–inspired by a scene in Homer [Book 9 of The Odyssey; one might view these lines as a compressed adaptation and modernization of a much longer passage.]

While clutching at his mutilated eye,
To Ulysses, the Cyclops gave reply:
“An oracle, whose words I could recite,
Predicted that the man who’d take my sight
Would be the famous hero Ulysses.
From mini morsels, shorter than my knees,
I had no fear of death or even harm—
A shadow might have caused me more alarm!
Assuming only force could make me blind,
I was not ready for a deadly mind.

 

–Anyone interested in Homer, Classical Poetry, or Early Modern English Literature* should check out George Chapman’s brilliant translations of The Iliad and The Odyssey. The following link leads to information on an inexpensive edition of the translation so famously praised by Keats: http://www.amazon.com/Chapmans-Homer-Odyssey-Classics-Literature/dp/1840221178/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1401367076&sr=1-3&keywords=wordsworth+classics+chapman%27s+homer

*from the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods in which Shakespeare was one among several brilliant minds