166. Now is the Winter of Our Discontent: William Shakespeare

While jogging I was listening to Bill T. Jones’ pick Schubert’s “Winterreise” for NPR’s “Winter Song” series. The song is beautiful, and haunting, but that is not what inspired this post. Instead, it was Jones’ talking about a scene from his childhood.

Jones is a dancer and choreographer; a black man who grew up poor in the cold of Minnesota. His is a tale of a father and a son. Listening to many stories and a lot of NRP, they tend to sound very much alike, even in their copycat originality, but this one is different. I can’t really explain it–Schubert haunts the background of this telling–I can only encourage you to click the link above. You can find the Schubert here.

Perhaps the opening to William Shakespeare’s “Richard III” is a bit flip, as NPR is talking about the season while Gloucester is using winter as a metaphor. But I thought that Jones’ story, while about a cold winter scene, isn’t really about the temperature. This soliloquy is then spot on. For a background on “Richard III” check out this synopsis on Wikipedia; it does an excellent job introducing this opening.

What makes this soliloquy is Richard’s physical deformity. A discussion of physical image is perfect for middle school, and how we judge and pre-judge others. It is a lesson that can be extended into media studies and even comic book heroes and villains (see the movie “Unbreakable”), and even “Harry Potter”.

Of course, Shakespeare’s Gloucester is as dark and evil in in his soul as his body is ugly and twisted. This is stagecraft! Theater! As is media and comic books. Can we get beyond this? Can your class generate a list of movies, television shows and books that go against this portrayal of good and evil?

How does it play out in the classrooms and hallways of your school? Who are the favorites!

As with any poem or Shakespeare (because, although beautiful, this is not a poem in the strict sense) the tangle of words and lines, and untangling the snarls and traps, is part of the fun. It is essential for a middle school student to do this. Success here means success elsewhere.

Read it aloud.

Now is the Winter of Our Discontent
(from Richard III)
William Shakespeare

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smooth’d his wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting barded steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other:
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew’d up,
About a prophecy, which says that ‘G’
Of Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be.
Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: here
Clarence comes.


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