John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton

Poet's Corner: "All the world's a stage …"

From As You Like It
Act II, Scene 7

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)

This is the last week of March, so here's one more poem — well, not really a poem, I guess — referenced in Anne of Green Gables. In this case, it's a fairly oblique reference, one that I didn't even notice until it was brought to my attention by the Wild Cherry Blossoms: The Green Gables Project, a wonderful web site that provides (among many other things of interest) annotations for all eight of the Anne Shirley novels.

Anyway, in chapter 24 of Anne of Green Gables,we find this passage:

There was a tang in the very air that inspired the hearts of small maidens tripping, unlike snails, swiftly and willingly to school; and it WAS jolly to be back again at the little brown desk beside Diana, with Ruby Gillis nodding across the aisle and Carrie Sloane sending up notes and Julia Bell passing a "chew" of gum down from the back seat.

This, obviously, is a parody of lines 7 and 8 of the soliloquy reproduced above, and it's representative of one of the things I found most fascinating about Anne of Green Gables: it's just dripping with overt and casual cultural and literary references, many of them to works that have long since vanished from collective memory. Obviously people are still reading As You Like It, but how many people remember "Bingen on the Rhine" or "Nelly in the Hazel Dell" or "Curfew must not ring to-night!"? Well, that one will be kind of familiar to more than a few people as long as The Desk Set remains available on home video, but the point is that I'm glad Anne of Green Gables is still widely available, because it's a terrific snapshot of the cultural landscape of the time it was written. That it's a good book is gravy.

Tags: poet's corner

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