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Sonnet 55

Read by Claire Marchionne
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One of the best books ever written on acting

Acting notes from Playing Shakespeare by John Barton: "The scansion is regular here because the thought is clear cut and the feeling joyful, though in the middle there are a number of contrapuntal emphases.  The important thing is the sweep and bravery of the whole.

This sonnet is full of vivid adjectives which need fresh-minting: 'Gilded monuments', 'this powerful rhyme' , 'unswept stone', 'war's quick fire', 'the living record', and 'all oblivious enmity'.  Find them at the moment you speak them and they will have life and freshness.

The verbs too are vital and active and each should surprise us: 'you shall shine', 'besmear'd with sluttish time', 'When broils root out', 'nor war's quick fire shall burn' and 'shall you pace forth'.

XVIIth century drawings of the monument to Martinus V in S. Giovanni in Laterano
XVIIth century drawing of
the monument to Martinus V
S in S. Giovanni in Laterano

But go for the spirit as much as the details."

"I loved listening to him", says reader, Claire Marchionne of John Barton, who directed her in Ibsen's Peer Gynt, and with whom, while with the Royal Shakespeare Company, she did many workshops.

Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear'd with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword, nor war's quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
'Gainst death, and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
  So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
  You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes.

Next Sonnet: 56

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