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Courage & Cowardice - Venus & Adonis - 3rd June 2018, Shakespeare Sunday

‘They that love best their loves shall not enjoy’

Below are heart-rending verses, likely to echo for any who did ever ‘suffer love’ and to provide fodder for those who wish to ‘speak ill’ of it.

I found them in Shakespeare’s narrative poem ‘Venus and Adonis’ while searching for a quote for today’s #ShakespeareSunday theme of Courage & Cowardice (chosen by @anne_obrien for creators @HollowCrownFans).

Venus, Goddess of Love, in mourning the death of Adonis, curses love:

‘Wonder of time,’ quoth she, ‘this is my spite,
That, thou being dead, the day should yet be light.

‘Since thou art dead, lo, here I prophesy:
Sorrow on love hereafter shall attend:
It shall be waited on with jealousy,
Find sweet beginning, but unsavoury end,
Ne’er settled equally, but high or low,
That all love’s pleasure shall not match his woe.

It shall be fickle, false and full of fraud,
Bud and be blasted in a breathing-while;
The bottom poison, and the top o’erstraw’d
With sweets that shall the truest sight beguile:
The strongest body shall it make most weak,
Strike the wise dumb and teach the fool to speak.

It shall be sparing and too full of riot,
Teaching decrepit age to tread the measures;
The staring ruffian shall it keep in quiet,
Pluck down the rich, enrich the poor with treasures;
It shall be raging-mad and silly-mild,
Make the young old, the old become a child.

It shall suspect where is no cause of fear;
It shall not fear where it should most mistrust;
It shall be merciful and too severe,
And most deceiving when it seems most just;
Perverse it shall be where it shows most toward,
Put fear to valour, courage to the coward.

It shall be cause of war and dire events,
And set dissension ‘twixt the son and sire;
Subject and servile to all discontents,
As dry combustious matter is to fire:
Sith in his prime Death doth my love destroy,
They that love best their loves shall not enjoy.’


Notes on Playing

Note the wonderful use of sound, there to be played with when acting / reciting.

Perhaps, as I did, when looking at ‘fickle, false and full of fraud’, you might imagine another ‘f’-word feeling apt for the grieving and raging Venus!

Consider, too, changes, such as where she might be ranting and where quiet; where bitter, where despairing.

Explore the images created and sense them – what is it like to be ‘raging-mad’ and ‘silly-mild’? Tap into such rich description even as you speak these words.

‘The bottom poison, and the top o’erstraw’d / With sweets’ – what do you imagine, thinking about this?

Historically, floors could be covered with rushes and sweet-smelling herbs, the latter used to combat nasty odours. Useful to know, and I’d always advise looking up anything you are unsure of – this is a basic connection needed with the text: know what you are saying!

For your own personal connection, you can also use other images and ideas that spring from Shakespeare’s words, ones that come from your imagination responding to his.

While knowing of strewn rushes or straw as floor covering, I also found myself responding to ‘The bottom poison, and the top o’erstraw’d / With sweets’ by mentally creating a layered drink with sweet colourful juices above the initial poison, disguising it visibly and to the taste: a lethal cocktail with a couple of straws and one of those little umbrellas on top. Nice!

Yes, this is a different use of ‘straw’, but provided we know what was originally meant, and our version responds to that meaning, we can use different images and ideas to connect us with what we are saying.

Finding your own connections is a huge part of owning the words – written centuries ago, you can make these lines live now! 

Go on: read out loud, explore, and comment to let me know what you find and feel…

PS – if you’d like some basic help with the rhythm, see this article: Shakespeare’s Verse: Iambic Pentameter – It’s Easy!

I love the quote I found to illustrate today’s #ShakespeareSunday theme of Doctors, Medicine & Mortality, chosen this time by @teenytinyflame for event creators @HollowCrownFans.

"Your doctors ... thought it good you hear a play And frame your mind to mirth and merriment, Which bars a thousand harms and lengthens life." Messenger, Taming of the Shrew - Prologue

The full section this quote is taken from reads:

“Your honour’s players, hearing your amendment,
Are come to play a pleasant comedy;
For so your doctors hold it very meet,
Seeing too much sadness hath congeal’d your blood,
And melancholy is the nurse of frenzy.
Therefore they thought it good you hear a play
And frame your mind to mirth and merriment,
Which bars a thousand harms and lengthens life.”

In other words, Shakespeare is prescribing the arts to combat depression – a great prescription and one which we can all do with being aware of in our times!

Of course, he – being a playwright (and I an actress) – could be said to have a vested interest in prescribing plays for the good of our health, but that makes them no less effective as wonderful medicine.

Plays have long been known as cathartic, uplifting and enlightening – and long may that continue!


“Welcome to another #ShakespeareSunday! Today’s theme has been chosen by @shakesofthrones: WAR, WEAPONS and BRAVERY!” – @HollowCrownFans

My first thought for creating a tweet brought to mind women’s weapons, despite those having often been called tears. Exploring the words ‘woman’ and ‘weapons’ – on that ever useful site opensourceshakespeare.org – led me to one of my very favourite plays, the Scottish one, and the quote I chose led to my exploring ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘born’ within Twitter’s gif options.

The result was this tweet with Game of Thrones gif and my creation of this image…

War, Weapons & Bravery - Macbeth - 23rd July 2017, Shakespeare Sunday - smaller

Both quotes, from Macbeth and from Game of Thrones (Season 3, Episode 3: Walk of Punishment), are spoken by warriors.

Macbeth’s words relate to a Witches’ prophecy, which he believes keeps him safe from being killed.

Daenerys Targaryen replies to the common Braavos saying “Valar Morghulis” – “All men must die” – with her own newly minted phrase, one that seems to carry hope for her and for Missandei (also pictured here).

War requires weapons and bravery, the former usually supplied physically, the latter requiring internal bolstering, often via words, often based on beliefs.

Does it matter which words, which beliefs?

“Welcome to another #ShakespeareSunday! Today’s theme chosen by @246Theater: LOSS and HEARTBREAK!”

On seeing this tweet from @HollowCrownFans, I immediately thought of the heartrending scene in Henry VI, part 3 where the king observes two soldiers with the enemy soldiers they have slain: the first realises the corpse he is looking to rob is actually his father’s and the second realises the man he has just killed is his own son.

"Ah, no, no, no, it is mine only son! ... These arms of mine shall be thy winding-sheet; My heart, sweet boy, shall be thy sepulchre, For from my heart thine image ne'er shall go" Father who has killed an unknown foe in battle, only to find the corpse is his own son Henry VI, pt. 3 - II.v

The hideousness of civil war is here deftly shown – turning family on itself, and leaving none untouched.

Henry has just been wishing he were a lowly man rather than a monarch, thinking there would be little demands upon him then. Into this come the two soldiers, and he witnesses what demands there are on ‘ordinary’ men – fighting their own flesh and blood without realising, because they are at the mercy of the royalty and nobility who press them into military service.

Heartbreak and loss, indeed.


@HollowCrownFans are celebrating their 5th anniversary, and this Sunday tweeted:

“Good morning and welcome to another #ShakespeareSunday! Today’s theme: THE HOLLOW CROWN PLAYS! (Rich II, Henry IV, V, VI & Rich III)”

The Hollow Crown is a televised series of Shakespeare’s plays from the BBC – this banner has covered Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 & 2, and Henry V (first series) and Henry VI part 1, Henry VI parts 2 & 3 amalgamated, and Richard III (second series, subtitled The Wars of the Roses). The high profile actors involved are far too numerous to fully list (including – to name but a handful – Judi Dench, Julie WaltersSophie Okonedo, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch & Jeremy Irons), so do check out the above link!

@HollowCrownFans began #ShakespeareSunday and it has taken on in a big way – yes, it ‘trends’! Part of the fun of getting involved is finding new people to interact with on Twitter via the likes and follows gained when tweeting a quote inspired by the weekly themes put forward.

Here’s my offering for this five year anniversary…



5 year, congrats - Henry IV, pt 1 9th July 2017, Shakespeare Sunday

The quote comes from a time that Prince Hal (later Henry V, ‘the warlike Harry’) is joking / teasing Francis, ‘a drawer’ (tapster, barman). I like to think he’s also pictured here, along with Falstaff (wielding the sword), Bardolf (rednosed behind the sword, probably with Pistol and Nym), Hal, and likely Poins (the fine gentlemen watching).

I like to think Francis is the boy just in front of Falstaff – with those 5 years still to serve his apprenticeship – but he could be the chap coming up out of the cellar.

What think you?

This Sunday’s tweet from  @HollowCrownFans read “Good morning and welcome to #ShakespeareSunday! Today’s theme has been chosen by @PublicTheaterNY: FREEDOM & ART!” *

I was reminded of Nelson Mandela and the other anti-apartheid prisoners held on Robben Island. One, Indian prisoner Sonny Venkatrathnam, had a copy of the works of William Shakespeare covered in images from greetings cards depicting Hindu gods (the guards were unlikely to take a religious book).

This book was passed among prisoners, and leaders were asked to mark their favourite passages. This 2001 article ‘O, what men dare do’ is very interesting re. this, South Africa, Shakespeare and freedom.

Probably the most famous of the prisoners who marked the ‘Robben Island Bible’ is Nelson Mandela, who had a long relationship with Shakespeare’s words / ideas. Here you can see his signature and the passage he chose, from Julius Caesar…


‘Freedom’ appears 33 times** in Shakespeare’s works and is included in the 306 occurrences found of ‘free’.

*(Public Theater were recently involved in controversy with their Trump-related take on Julius Caesar: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=public+theater+shakespeare+trump)

** opensourceshakespeare.org –  great resource!

@HollowCrownFans tweeted that “Today’s #ShakespeareSunday theme has been chosen by @Carnival_Films to mark 5 years of #TheHollowCrown! – POWER, DEFIANCE & SURVIVAL!”

I was delighted to find all three clear in this quote from the play Coriolanus, spoken by tribune Sicinius Velutus, an enemy of the general Coriolanus…

Coriolanus [III, 3] Sicinius Velutus: What you have seen him do and heard him speak, Beating your officers, cursing yourselves, Opposing laws with strokes and here defying Those whose great power must try him; even this, So criminal and in such capital kind, Deserves the extremest death.

It is clear the politicians know how to influence the people – whether it is to their own good or not you / a production can explore.

How do I know how many times certain words turn up in Shakespeare’s works?

I use opensourceshakespeare.org –  great resource!

I created this for @HollowCrownFans‘ great #ShakespeareSunday tweets – check them out and join in! Today’s word is ‘father’ – probably for Fathers Day, so this may not be quite in the spirit of such celebrations, but hey… it is Shakespeare!

Want to know the other times ‘father’ occurs in Macbeth? Search at opensourceshakespeare.org – great resource.

Father - Macbeth - 18th June 2017, Shakespeare Sunday

So, this Saturday – 23rd April – sees the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. You may have seen some signs of this about. 😉

Here you can listen to some major talent talking about his characters:
Shakespeare’s People – BBC Radio 4, Front Row


Just a few of the actors, directors and writers who give their personal take on a favourite Shakespeare character