Friday, May 18, 2012

The Cranky Old Man is reading  A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, 1599, by James Shapiro.

The season is Summer. Summer in England in 1599 is a year of uncertainty. England is embroiled in a war in Ireland that is not going well, Spain threatens a repeat of the Spanish Armada, and the Queen, now old and frail, is uncertain in what to do.

Shakespeare has been plagiarized. A new book of poems, The Passionate Pilgrim, supposedly written by Shakespeare, has come out. The book is a commercial success, but Shakespeare does not share in the profits. He is certainly the author of some of the poems, but not all. The law being what it is in 1599, does not offer protection to the author for his works. Shakespeare, understood the vagaries of the law for he commented in 1591, "The first thing we do," said the character in Shakespeare's Henry VI, is "kill all the lawyers."

One of Shakespeare's plagiarized poems is When My Love Swears. At this point, Shakespeare had kept most of his poems for private distribution among friends. The commercial success of the plagiarized version caused him to re-issue the poem with some nuanced changes.

William Shakespeare -  When My Love Swears

When my love swears that she is made of truth
 I do believe her, though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutor'd youth,
Unlearned in the world's false subtleties.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best,

Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue:
On both sides thus is simple truth suppress'd.
But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
O, love's best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love loves not to have years told:

Therefore I lie with her and she with me,
And in our faults by lies we flatter'd be.

Shakespeare's changes are subtle. Line six changes "I know" to "she knows" suggesting a psychological understanding of the female mind. The following line is changed from " I, smiling" to "Simply" again implying a wisdom of the ways of lovers that only comes with experience. This follows with a revision of multiple lies to just one lie apiece each lover shares. Finally, Shakespeare changes the last line from "Since that our faults in love thus smothered be," to the simpler and less judgmental, "And in our faults by lies we flattered be."

Love is forgiving. It is not to be condemning or judgmental. We may lie in our efforts not to offend, but we must remember that at the end of the day, "I'll lie with her and she with me."

William Shakespeare was 35 in 1599. His revision of the sonnet took place some time between 1599 and 1609, when he was 45. Either way, Shakespeare was wise beyond his years in understanding the dynamics of love. The poem, written years earlier, is changed in perspective by the older, wiser Shakespeare to reflect an understanding that relationships are, after all, a matter of compromise and respect.

And a few scattered lies.

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