Best. Shakespeare. Ever.

I was initially a tad dubious about these beamed-in theatre productions where theatres film their output and transmit it simultaneously to cinemas all over the world.  Whilst I could see that it enabled thousands more people to see a play which they might not otherwise get to attend, it seemed a rather dislocated experience.  It must also be hard for the actors, knowing that they are performing for a dual audience and that as well as having to project to the gods at the National (or wherever) they will have cameras on them doing a close-up.

But I am now a total convert, having seen not only Hedda Gabler from the National but also, on Saturday, the completely amazing NT production of Twelfth Night, starring in a gender-bent role, Tamsin Greig as Malvolia.

I always respected Tamsin Greig as an actor.  Her ultra-distinctive voice is rarely heard on The Archers nowadays, as Debbie is permanently in Hungary, but I loved her in Black Books and various other things on the good box.  But I basically thought of her as a soap/sitcom actress and had No Idea of what heights of comic invention she could ascend on the stage.  Her Malvolia was the funniest, most striking, most pathetic, most hilarious and outrageous I have ever seen.  And though she was the best thing in it, the cast as a whole was far from dusty.  Setefane claimed that Phoebe Fox was the finest member of the cast, playing another gender-bent role, Olivia (a woman pretending to be her own brother).  And ’tis true, she was indeed brilliant, but I couldn’t take my eyes off Tamsin Greig.  Best.  Twelfth Night.  Ever.  In fact, possibly the best Shakespeare ever – in my experience at least.

Gender-bending is common in Shakespeare when not only did boys play women, but characters often pretended to be of the other sex.  But recently in more feminist style, roles have been swapped; so recently Helen Mirren has played Prospera in The Tempest and Maxine Peake, Hamlet:

If you get a chance to see this production, go.  Sell your house and all its contents, but go.  It’s terrific.

Kirk out


Insecure Wednesday

Yes, it’s the first Wednesday of the month and time to be insecure again – and this month the question we insecure writers are asked to consider is, ‘What is your favourite aspect of being a writer?’

Well I guess for me, my favourite aspect is the tremendous sense of liberation which comes from ‘unpacking the heart.’  That phrase is used rather disparagingly by Hamlet, but for me it’s an opening, a freedom; not so much a road as a river that you follow, never knowing where it may lead you.  Each day is a surprise and although it is often hard, just as following the course of a river is hard and can lead you into ravines and over rugged rocks; when you finally break through, the experience is stunning.

I never know where I’m going and I like it that way.  Looking back you find a sense of rhythm and purpose but at the time it often makes no sense: all you can do is pursue that infuriating river that twists and winds, falls and rises, expands to a sea and contracts almost to nothing.  It’s like Leonard Cohen once said: it starts off easy but then you’re on your hands and knees at 3 am trying to pursue a lyric.

OK so now I realise I’m getting away from the good stuff and talking about the difficulties.  But you can’t have one without the other folks!

Speaking of Hamlet, there was a guy on the radio the other day who claimed that the supposed universality of Shakespeare was all down to a conspiracy by the RSC.  Sounds a bit far-fetched to me…

Happy (and hard) writing!

Kirk out


Always Keep a Sonnet in Your Bonnet

So, today being poetry day, and since I have received an invitation to enter a sonnet competition (or ‘bake-off’ as they rather quaintly call it: not sure how that works except as a spurious reference to television) let us consider the question: What is a Sonnet?

Well, basically yer actual sonnet consists of fourteen lines in an abab cdcd rhyme scheme and written in iambic pentameter.  OK if you don’t know what an i p is, it’s the metre most of Shakespeare is written in.  It has five feet with the stress on the second syllable of each foot.  So imagine you take five steps like this: heel-toe, heel-toe, heel-toe,  heeltoe,  heeltoe.  Then you turn and do the same back the other way, for example:

‘The world is too much with us: late and soon

getting and spending, we lay waste our powers’

Of course, you need to break up the syllable pattern a little otherwise it’s too much like doggerel (there! that answers one of the questions from last week), so the example I just gave (another Wordsworth, incidentally) breaks it up on ‘with us’, slows it down on ‘late and soon’ and reverses it on ‘getting and spending’.  However, it still has five metrical feet.  A good poet knows when to break the pattern and when to stick with it.

So much for the rhythm; now for the rhyme.  Rhyme schemes are usually described using letters, where the first rhyme is a and the second b and so on.  So, for example in this sonnet by Shelley, the rhyme scheme starts a b a b:

Poet of Nature, thou hast wept to know

That things depart which never may return:

Childhood and youth, friendship and love’s first glow

Have fled like sweet dreams, leaving thee to mourn.

…then it continues, c d c d:

These common woes I feel. One loss is mine

Which thou too feel’st, yet I alone deplore.

Thou wert as a lone star, whose light did shine

On some frail bark in winter’s midnight roar:

… and now we come to a split.  The original sonnet form divides in two: eight lines followed by six.  This is known as a Petrarchan sonnet, after the Italian poet Petrarch, and can be used to develop an argument or to put two sides of a question: hence the sonnet can be rhetorical as well as lyrical.  Shelley continues:

Thou hast like to a rock-built refuge stood

Above the blind and battling multitude:

In honored poverty thy voice did weave

Songs consecrate to truth and liberty,

Deserting these, thou leavest me to grieve,

Thus having been, that thou shouldst cease to be.

the Petrarchan sonnet can finish with a rhyme scheme e f g e f g – or as it does here, with e e f g f g.

However, Shakespeare came along and, as ever, did his own thing with the sonnet.  He divided it 12 -2, finishing with a rhyming couplet, like so:

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

… this, as I’m sure you know, is the final couplet of the famous ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ sonnet:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;

Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou growest;

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

.. however, as you can see, Shakespeare has the best of both worlds here as he also uses the 8/6 split: first to examine the proposal that everything fades and decays, and then in the last 6 lines to say, ‘Yeah, but that’s not gonna happen to you.’  Then in the final couplet he says, ‘you’re gonna live forever in these lines, babe’.  So with the Shakespearean sonnet you can not only develop an argument but sum it up with a double-whammy at the end: and that is why I favour the Shakespearian sonnet above the Petrarchan.

You can read more here:

Next week:

Who knows?

I have yet to receive any of your lovely poems, readers!

Kirk out

Ouf! as the French say

A terrible poem I wrote years and years ago:

The beer bottle is brown

It fizzes when opened:

Pschitt! As the French say.

It was a Haiku.

If you don’t know, there used to be a fizzy drink sold in France and it was advertised with the word “Pschitt!” plastered all over the billboard (to indicate the sound it made when opened) – much to the amusement of all English-speaking visitors.  I guess they’ve got wise to it now.

What would the English equivalent be?  Suggestions please.

I’ve taken to working in the reference library.  It’s warmer and quieter – and they have more computers.  Downside: they are much stricter about not eating and drinking – but actually, that’s better – if I don’t drink, I don’t need to pee.

In fact, the reference library is altogether a severer place to work: busts of Shakespeare and Newton (as well as other luminaries, all male) preside sternly over you as you work.  They all look very serious, though I fancy Shakespeare has a smile playing around his mouth, though that could be just because I know him.

Very tired today.  Slept badly.  Going out with Ruth tonight, to Sardaar’s as usual (we are blessed with many veggie Indian restaurants in Leicester) – and tomorrow, to the Ale Wagon with Peter and then back to his for food.

TTFN – enjoy your weekend

PS  Actually, as haiku lovers will have spotted, the last line doesn’t have enough syllables.


This is how it went – not huge numbers of people but those who came were those who meant something to us and who we’ll stay in touch with should we move. I did a roll-call of the absent. These were in 3 categories: dead, ill or on holiday (that reminds me, for some obscure reason, of the rhyme “Solomon Grundy” which is a sort of companion piece to “Monday’s child”. I shall reprint it later.) Anyway, Noel brought one of these flash-looking white marquees; plus some excellent puddings.

Poems read:

116th sonnet by Shakespeare “Let me not unto the marriage of true minds admit impediment” (Mark to me)

Corintians – that one about love. I think it’s in Four Weddings and a Funeral (Mark to me)

The Good-Morrow by John Donne (me to Mark)

2 others by Steve including one by Phillip Sidney – I’m going to ask him what they were

One lovely one by Holly

I shall put it all on the web site.


yesterday. So now I’m 51. Actually feel quite good about entering this phase of my life.

Solomon Grundy

Solomon Grundy

Born on Monday

Christened on Tuesday

Married on Wednesday

Took ill on Thursday

Worse on Friday

Died on Saturday

Buried on Sunday

And that was the end of Solomon Grundy

It’s about the shortness of life, plus all the different phases like Jacques speech in “As you like it” (you know, “All the world’s a stage” – that one.)

Seven Days

I once wrote a novel on this theme. A woman was stuck in a nuclear bunker (I wrote it in the eighties) and to keep from going mad, she writes her memories, one phase of her life for each day she is there. Monday is her earliest memories, Tuesday, childhood, and so on. On Sunday she realises it’s all been a mistake – she was working in the fairly new science of thought research in the Museum of Thought – and comes out of the bunker.


I really should rewrite it but at the moment I am cannibalising it for short stories.  One of these is called A Saturday Afternoon in the Museum of Thought

T-t-t-t-t-that’s all folks!

Long post today cos I’ve been away!

See you tomorrow!