Feb. 6, 2004

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love

by Christopher Marlowe

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Poem: "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love," by Christopher Marlowe.

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love

Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

The shepherds' swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the man who wrote, "Come live with me and be my love / And we will all the pleasures prove"— Christopher Marlowe, born in Canterbury, England (1564). He's the author of plays such as The Jew of Malta (c. 1590) and Dr. Faustus (c. 1594), and he was one of the most prominent playwrights of his lifetime. When he began his career, most English plays were written in rhyming couplets, but Marlowe wrote in blank verse. Other playwrights, including Shakespeare, followed his example.

He lived an exciting life. He was a child prodigy and managed to get in to Corpus Christi College in Cambridge, even though he was the son of a shoemaker. His school records show that he was frequently absent from class because he was working for Queen Elizabeth's secret service. There is some evidence that he continued to work as a secret agent for the Queen for the rest of his life. In the 1590s, while he was producing his plays, church officials began to accuse him of espousing atheism, a charge that could be punished by torture. On May 18, 1593, a warrant was issued for his arrest, but he died in a fight over a bar bill before the police could find him.

Conspiracy theorists have wondered about Marlowe's death for centuries, and there is a group called the Marlovians who believe that Marlowe's death was actually faked by the Queen in order to protect Marlowe from the Church. They believe the Queen actually whisked Marlowe away to Italy, where he continued writing plays. They also believe that Marlowe used an actor named Shakespeare as a front man to cover up his identity. Marlovians point out that many of Shakespeare's plays mention places in Marlowe's home district of Kent, while they never mention the places near where Shakespeare was born. A tavern mentioned in Henry IV actually belonged to Marlowe's sister. Marlovians also point out that many of Shakespeare's plays deal with themes of exile and false identity. Few Shakespeare scholars, however, take this conspiracy theory seriously.

It's the birthday of lexicographer and writer Eric Partridge, born in Poverty Bay, New Zealand (1894). He wrote some of the first books about British slang, including A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (1937), Usage and Abusage (1942) and English Gone Wrong (1957). He served as a soldier in the Australian infantry during World War I, and he was fascinated by the ways soldiers used language, constantly making up new words and phrases. After the war, he became a professor of literature, but found after two years of teaching that he was just repeating himself in the classroom, boring everybody, including himself. So he became a freelance writer instead.

He published a few books of literary criticism before he finally decided to write about the slang of the British soldiers that had fascinated him so much during the war. His early articles about slang were popular enough that he was able to write his Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (1937). At the time, slang was not considered a serious subject of study, and many slang words were not included in dictionaries. Partridge felt that this language was vital and needed to be recorded, and his dictionary was a big success. He went on to write books about the slang used in Shakespeare's plays and the history of clichés and catchphrases, as well as the language of crooks, racketeers, beggars, tramps and convicts.

It is partially thanks to Partridge that slang is now taken seriously by linguists and lexicographers. In 1989, the Oxford English Dictionary included most of Partridge's examples of slang in its second edition.

It was on this day in 1937 that John Steinbeck published his novel Of Mice and Men, the story of two migrant farm workers, George Milton and his simple-minded friend Lennie Small, who dream of owning their own place and living off the fat of the land. In the novel, George Milton says, "We'd have a little house an' a room to ourself. Little fat iron stove, an in the winter we'd keep a fire goin' in it. ... An when we put in a crop, why, we'd be there to take the crop up. We'd know what come of our planting. ... It'd be our own, an' nobody could can us."

He wanted his novel to reach the very workers he was writing about, but he knew that many poor farm workers were illiterate. He had seen theater troupes performing for farm labor camps, and he got the idea that he could write a novel that was made up almost entirely of dialogue, so that it could also be produced as a play.

Steinbeck had almost finished his first draft of the novel when his dog tore the manuscript to shreds. He wrote to his editor, "Two months work to do over again. ... I was pretty mad, but the poor little fellow may have been acting critically." He eventually rewrote the novel and it was published on this day in 1937. The play was produced soon after, and both the novel and the play were huge successes. Of Mice and Men has remained one of Steinbeck's most popular novels, and it's been made into a movie three times, in 1939, 1981, and 1992.

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