May 27, 2007

The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare

SUNDAY, 27 MAY, 2007
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Poem: from The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare. Public domain. (buy now)

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless'd;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself,
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the novelist who created the detective Sam Spade, Dashiell Hammett (books by this author), born in St. Mary's County, Maryland (1894).

It's the birthday of novelist John_Barth (books by this author), born in Cambridge, Maryland (1930). He's the author of novels such as The Floating Opera (1956) and The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor (1991).

It's the birthday of ecologist and nature writer Rachel Carson (books by this author), born in Springdale, Pennsylvania (1907). Her best-selling book about the dangers of pesticides, Silent Spring (1962), became one of the most influential books in the modern environmental movement.

It's the birthday of the poet Linda Pastan (books by this author), born in New York City (1932). She started writing poetry when she was a kid, and had some early success. But after she got married, she didn't write again for 10 years. She only started again after her husband told her he was tired of hearing her talk about what a great poet she might have been if she hadn't gotten married. She has gone on to publish many collections, including Waiting for My Life (1981) and Carnival Evening (1998).

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer John Cheever (books by this author), born in Quincy, Massachusetts (1912). As a child, his grade-school teacher let him tell stories to the class if the children had been good. Sometimes he stretched a single story over the course of several class periods, ending each installment with a cliffhanger.

In the spring of his junior year, Cheever was expelled from prep school for poor grades. He wrote a story about it called "Expelled" (1930), and it was published in The New Republic magazine. He got married and began struggling to support his family by publishing short stories, and he developed a style that blended realism and fantasy.

In his story "The Swimmer," he wrote about a man at a cocktail party who decides on a whim to swim home to his house by way of all the swimming pools in the neighborhood. Cheever wrote, "He seemed to see, with a cartographer's eye, that string of swimming pools, that quasi-subterranean stream that curved across the county. He had made a discovery, a contribution to modern geography; he would name the stream Lucinda after his wife. ... Making his way home by an uncommon route gave him the feeling that he was a pilgrim, an explorer, a man with a destiny, and he knew that he would find friends all along the way; friends would line the banks of the Lucinda River."

Cheever went on to publish several novels, including The Wapshot Chronicle (1957), and he won the Pulitzer Prize for his collection The Stories of John Cheever (1978). But all the while that he was writing fiction, Cheever was also keeping a series of journals, which contained his most private and explicit thoughts about his struggles with alcoholism, bisexuality, adultery, and depression. As he approached the end of his life, he began to think the journals were his best work, so he arranged with his son to have the journals published after his death. He died in 1982, and The Journals of John Cheever came out in 1991.

Cheever once described his work as coming from "a long-lost world when the city of New York was still filled with a river light, when you heard the Benny Goodman quartets from a radio in the corner stationery store, and when almost everybody wore a hat ... [a world full of] chain smokers who woke the world in the morning with their coughing ... who were truly nostalgic for love and happiness, and whose gods were as ancient as yours and mine, whoever you are."

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