Jun. 29, 2007

Sonnet 55: Not marble, nor the gilded monuments

by William Shakespeare

FRIDAY, 29 JUNE, 2007
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Poem: "Sonnet 55" by William Shakespeare. Public domain. (buy now)

Sonnet 55

Not marble nor the gilded monuments
Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear'd with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war's quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
'Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room,
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
   So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
   You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1613 that the Globe Theater burned to the ground. For more than 10 years, it had been the most popular theater in London, and it was the theater where many of Shakespeare's greatest plays had their premiere.

It had been built in 1599 by Shakespeare's own acting company Lord Chamberlain's Men. Shakespeare used his own money to pay for 12.5 percent of the cost. It was the first theater ever built for a specific acting company, and the first to be financed by that same acting company. Among the plays that debuted there were As You Like It, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Othello, All's Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, King Lear, and Macbeth.

It was a theater in the round, with the audience in a circle around a platform for the actors. It was probably designed this way because most of the actors in Shakespeare's company got their start acting in the street, surrounded by a crowd. The plays were performed in the afternoons to take advantage of natural light. The roof of the theater was open to the elements, and most of the audience didn't even have seats. They just stood on the ground for the entire performance, which usually lasted about 4 hours.

And yet it was the most popular form of entertainment in the city. The theater held about 3,000 people, and it was usually full. At the time, London had a population of about 200,000. So whenever one of Shakespeare's plays was performed, 1 out of every 65 people in the city was at the Globe.

There were probably few props and very little in the way of scenery. But by the end of his career Shakespeare was apparently beginning to experiment with more dramatic effects onstage. On this day in 1613, a cannon was fired during a performance of Henry VIII to mark the King's entrance, the thatched roof caught fire, and the whole theater was lost in an hour.

In 1996, a replica of the Globe Theater was completed in London, and plays are performed there exactly the same way they would have been performed by Shakespeare's company. The performances take place in the afternoon daylight, there are no microphones, and few props. A large portion of the audience stands in the yard to watch the play, and the roof is open to the weather. About 700,000 people visit it every year. The actors say that the audience always pays better attention to the play when it's raining.

It's the birthday of actress, playwright and director JoAnne Akalaitis, born in Chicago, Illinois (1937), who said she became a director because "as an actor I felt humiliated by the directors." A production of In the Penal Colony, a musical adaptation of Kafka's story by her now ex-husband Philip Glass and directed by Akalaitis, opened in New York City in 2000. Akalaitis said, "I love rehearsal because [that's] where you get lost .... It's about getting lost, but if you're willing to get lost, you might find a way out. ... It can all be a disaster but it's very interesting."

It's the birthday of composer, librettist, and lyricist Frank Loesser, born in New York City (1910). As a young composer he had the first big hit song of World War II: "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition" (1942). He won a Pulitzer Prize for his musical How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying (1962), and two Tony awards, for Guys and Dolls (1950) and Where's Charley? (1948). He said, "Loud is good."

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