Books I Read in November & December 2015

In November I read:

Perdita - Frederick SandysThe Winter’s Tale, by William Shakespeare, read by a full cast including Ciaran Hinds as Leontes and Eileen Atkins as Paulina, directed by Clive Brill (Arkangel, 2003) — “A sad tale’s best for winter.” But this one has a happy ending and, of course, lots of lovely poetry.

“When you do dance, I wish you
A wave o’ th’ sea, that you might ever do
Nothing but that; move still, still so,
And own no other function.” (Act 4, Scene 4)

Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare — I listened to an audio recording of this in October, but read it in November, as well, as part of a Shakespeare class I am supervising. I had the pleasure of introducing two of my siblings (both in their teens) to this delightful play. They loved it! Benedick was a favorite character and the interactions between him and Beatrice thoroughly enjoyed.

King John, by William Shakespeare, read by a full cast including Michael Feast as King John and Eileen Atkins as Constance, directed by Clive Brill (Arkangel, 2003) — This play has lots of rousing war speeches. One interesting passage, not a war speech, occurs when King John wants to be crowned a second time. Pembroke argues that it is superfluous and Salisbury adds,

“Therefore, to be possess’d with double pomp,
To guard a title that was rich before,
To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw a perfume on the violet,
To smooth the ice, or add another hue
Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light
To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.” (Act 4, Scene2)

This speech is quoted in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. After Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre become engaged, Jane protests against him pouring jewels into her lap and crowning her with roses. She tells him, “[Y]ou might as well put a border of gold lace round that plain pocket handkerchief you have there.” He counters, “I might as well ‘gild refined gold.’  I know it” (chapter 24).

— — —

In December I read:

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare, read by a full cast including Amanda Root as Hermia, David Harewood as Oberon, and Roy Hudd as Bottom, directed by Clive Brill (Arkangel, 2003) — I listened to this with a group of my youngest siblings. They just finished memorizing four speeches from the play as part of our Shakespeare Class. Not surprisingly, Puck and Bottom were favorite characters.

Jessica - Luke FildesThe Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare, read by a full cast including Trevor Peacock as Shylock, Bill Nighy as Antonio, and Hadyn Gwynne as Portia, directed by Clive Brill (Arkangel, 2003) — My favorite scene is the one where Lorenzo and his new wife Jessica sit and talk together in the moonlight. It’s funny and romantic. It also contains the speech where Lorenzo declares that “The man that hath no music in himself, Nor is not mov’d with concord of sweet sounds, Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils … Let no such man be trusted” (Act 5, Scene 1). Wooster, with the help of Jeeves, quotes this (in an episode of the TV series ‘Jeeves and Wooster’ based on P.G. Wodehouse’s stories) when his neighbours raise objections to the “infernal din” that is his trombone playing.

Earlier in the play (in the first scene, in fact), Lorenzo teasingly complains that Gratiano is such a talker, he never lets him speak. Gratiano agrees: “Well, keep me company but two years more, Thou shalt not know the sound of thine own tongue.” The Merchant of Venice is a mixture of humor, romance, and near-tragedy. It’s ambiguous portrayal of anti-Semitism and its serious story (despite its categorization as a romantic comedy) make The Merchant a bit of a “problem play” — but, of course, only make it more interesting.

Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot, read by Becky Miller — I started reading this to myself, but ended up listening to most of it via a LibriVox recording. Daniel Deronda is the last novel George Eliot wrote. It is thus the last book on my list to read for the Eliot Project!

Cymbeline, by William Shakespeare, read by a full cast including Sophie Thompson as Imogen, Ben Porter as Posthumus, and Jack Shepherd as Cymbeline, directed by Clive Brill (Arkangel, 2003) — Recently, I tried to list all of Shakespeare’s plays from memory. I failed because I forgot Cymbeline. The Arkangel recording is solid, as usual, but it turned Posthumus’s dream sequence (where he is visited by the ghosts of his father, mother, and two brothers and then by Jupiter) into a song. The singing made it take quite a long time and, as the tune wasn’t very interesting, I found it wearisome.

Emma, by Jane Austen — It has been a long time since I have read Emma, but I read it this month in celebration of the bicentennial of its publication. Emma turned 200 on the 23rd of December 2015!

Emma is a wonderful book. It never ceases to delight me. There are so many things I like about it, I will just note one amusing part I don’t think I had particularly noticed before. One day, Mr. Knightley comes to Hartfield on business with Mr. Woodehouse and begins to talk to Emma about the evening before: “‘A very pleasant evening,’ he began, as soon as Mr. Woodhouse had been talked into what was necessary, told that he understood, and the papers swept away …” (chapter 21). And that, I suppose, is how Mr. Woodhouse’s business is generally discharged!

— — —

Looking over my reading list, I realize that, for the past three months, I have read nothing which I have not read before. It was all worth rereading, however.


Paintings: Perdita by Frederick Sandys (circa 1866) and Jessica by Luke Fildes (1896).

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