January 12, 2016

Ariel's Poetry

        Tomorrow I start my workshop on Shakespeare’s language with our town’s eighth grade as they begin their A Midsummer Night’s Dream unit.  So to be perfectly honest, Shakespeare is all I can think about right now.  Shakespeare isn’t big on fantasy, but he does have Midsummer Night’s Dream’s fairies, Macbeth’s witches, and The Tempest, which is full of magic.  So here’s some of Shakespeare’s fantasy poetry: two songs sung by the spirit Ariel in The Tempest.

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell.

Where the bee sucks. there suck I:
In a cowslip's bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat's back I do fly
After summer merrily.
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.

        The first is full of gorgeous imagery, melancholy but also wonderful.  The second is cuter, and I really don’t picture Ariel lying in a flower or riding on a bat.  Ariel can fly without benefit of bat, so what would be the point?  I suppose it might be interesting just for variety.  Still, even if I’m not sure the poem describes Ariel, it does make a nice picture of some sort of wee imp or elflet.  Shakespeare may not have been big on fantasy, but he certainly was huge on rich imagery that evokes all manner of worlds, moods, emotions, and visions.
        One of the most interesting things about Ariel, from an illustration standpoint, is not only are there all those images to evoke all sorts of possibilities for Ariel - angel, fairy, genie, nymph, breeze? - but Ariel is one of the few characters in literature who is portrayed sometimes as male and sometimes as female, about equally.  It certainly makes it fun to see what artists have done with the character, and to think about how I picture the character myself.

[Pictures: Engraving by uncredited artist from The Tempest edited by Nicholas Rowe, 1709 (Image from rightreading.com);
Ariel’s Song, illustration by Charles Ricketts, 1895 (Image from feuilleton);
On the bat’s back I do fly, engraving by Louis Rhead from Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb, 1918 (Image from Internet Archive);
On the bat’s back I do fly, illustration from An Illustrated Shakespeare Birthday Book, 1883 (inspired by a painting by Henry Fuseli, 1800-10) (Image from 4umi);
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough, copperplate engraving by Charles William Sharpe from Imperial Edition of the Works of Shakespeare, 1873 (Image from Emory).]

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