Posts Tagged ‘Literature’

Romeo wears a mask to disguise himself so he may enter his father's enemy's ball. Romeo is played with Leonard Whiting in Franco Zeffirelli's masterpiece film, "Romeo and Juliet," made in 1968 with Olivia Hussey starring as Juliet

Romeo wears a mask to disguise himself so he may enter his father's enemy's ball. Romeo is played by Leonard Whiting in Franco Zeffirelli's masterpiece film, "Romeo and Juliet," made in 1968 with Olivia Hussey starring as Juliet.

Yesterday, I cut my finger with a knife. My daughter asked me, “Is it bad, Mom?” I thought of the street fight scene from “Romeo and Juliet” when Mercutio gets wounded. Romeo says to Mercutio, “Courage, man. The hurt cannot be much.”

Read today’s post to discover Mercutio’s famous response.

“Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare, 1595

Our story so far:  Sixteen-year-old Romeo Montague and his friends – in disguise – boldly crash a masquerade party at the home of Romeo’s father’s enemies, the Capulets. There Romeo meets and falls in love with an enchanting young lady. We know that it is Juliet, the 13-year-old daughter of Lord Capulet.

Romeo, watching Juliet dance, asks a servant her name:

“Who is that lady who gives richness to the hand of that knight by simply holding it?”

Unbeknownst to Romeo, Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, hears Romeo’s voice and recognizes it as the son of his sworn enemy, Lord Montague. He swears revenge, although the ruler of the city has forbidden any more bloodshed between the two rival families.

Romeo approaches Juliet and they kiss. Romeo does not know that he was seen by Tybalt. Here is that scene from the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli version of “Romeo and Juliet.”

Several scenes later, the two lovers secretly wed.

Act III, Scene I. A public place…

Meanwhile, Romeo’s two best friends, Benvolio, a good-natured guy, and Mercutio, a sassy, hot-headed fellow, are bored, out walking the streets with nothing to do and missing their lovesick friend, Romeo.

Benvolio urges Mercutio to go inside. He senses that the Capulets also might be out, idly about, and up to no good. Neither Benvolio nor Mercutio know that Tybalt saw Romeo at the Capulet ball and has sworn to kill him but the street fighting between the two families has been a long-standing problem.  Benvolio pleads with Mercutio:

“I pray thee, good Mercutio, let’s retire. The day is hot, the Capulets abroad, and if we meet, we shall not [e]scape a brawl, for now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.”

An arrogant Mercutio laughs at Benvolio’s suggestion that he is a quarrelsome fellow and foolishly ignores his friend’s warning that trouble lies ahead….

Enter Tybalt and others.

Ben: By my head, here come the Capulets.

Mer: By my heel, I care not.

Tyb: [To his men] Follow me close, for I will speak to them. [To Mercutio and Benvolio] Gentlemen, good den. A word with one of you.

Mer: And but one word with one of us? Couple it with something; make it a word and a blow [a slash of your sword].

Tyb: You shall find me apt enough to that, sir, and you will give me occasion [good reason].

Mer: Could you not take some occasion without giving? [I’m sure you could find a reason without having it given to you].

Tyb: Mercutio, thou consortest [play around] with Romeo.

Mer: Consort? What, dost thou make us minstrels [silly musicians]? And thou make minstrels of us, look to hear nothing but discords [angry sounds].  Here’s my fiddlestick [sword]; here’s that shall make you dance. Zounds, consort! [By God’s wounds, Benvolio, do you hear these insults?]

Ben: We talk here in the public haunt of men. Either withdraw unto some private place and reason coldly of your grievances, or else depart. Here all eyes gaze on us.

Mer: Men’s eyes were made to look, and let them gaze. I will not budge for no man’s pleasure, I.

Enter Romeo who has just married Juliet. No one knows yet. He is now married to a Capulet and thus, unknown to Tybalt, his cousin by marriage.

Tyb: Well, peace be with you, sir. Here comes my man [meaning Romeo].

Mer: But I’ll be hanged, sir, if he wear your livery [uniform]. Marry, [Indeed], go before to field [leave town to fight], he’ll be your follower! Your worship in that sense may call him man.

Tyb: Romeo, the love I bear thee can afford no better term than this: thou art a villain. [villain is the nicest name I can call you, I hate you so.]

Rom: [not wanting to fight] Tybalt,the reason that I have to love thee doth much excuse the appertaining rage to such a greeting. Villain am I none. Therefore farewell. I see thou knowst me not. [as your cousin; you haven’t heard the news.]

Tyb: Boy, this shall not excuse the injuries that thou hast done me; therefore turn and draw.

Rom:  I do protest I never injured thee, But love thee better than thou canst devise till thou shalt know the reason of my love; And so, good Capulet, which name I tender as dearly as mine own, be satisfied.

Mercutio is incensed that Romeo returns Tybalt’s insults with loving words, so draws his own sword to defend Romeo.

Mer: O calm, dishonorable, vile submission! Alla stoccata [At the thrust] carries it away. Tybalt, you ratcatcher, will you walk?

Tyb: What wouldst thou have with me?

Mer: Good King of Cats, nothing but one of your nine lives….

Tyb: I am for you. [Draws.]

Rom: Gentle Mercutio, put thy rapier up.

Mer: Come, sir, your passado! [a forward thrust of the sword as the foot steps forward]

They fight.

Rom: Draw, Benvolio; beat down their weapons. Gentleman, for shame! Forbear this outrage! Tybalt, Mercutio, the Prince expressly hath forbid this bandying in Verona streets. Hold, Tybalt! Good Mercutio!

Romeo steps between them. Tybalt, under Romeo’s arm, stabs Mercutio. Tybalt runs away.

Mer: I am hurt. A plague o’ both your houses! [Curse the Capulets and Montagues.] I am sped [done for]! Is he gone and hath nothing?

Ben: What, art thou hurt?

Mer: Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch. Marry, ’tis enough. Where is my page? Go, villain, fetch a surgeon.

The page exits.

Rom: Courage, man. The hurt cannot be much.

Mer: No, ’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door; but ’tis enough, ’twill serve. Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I am peppered [mortally wounded], I warrant, for this world. A plague o’ both your houses! …Why the devil came you between us? I was hurt under your arm.

Rom: I thought all for the best.

Mer: Help me into some house, Benvolio, or I shall faint. A plague o’ both your houses! They have made worms’ meat of me. I have it, and soundly, too. Your houses!

Exit, supported by Benvolio. Mercutio dies.


Here is the fight scene from Zeffirelli’s 1968 film, “Romeo and Juliet.” The clip opens with a wet-haired Mercutio challenging Tybalt to a duel. Tybalt wears a red cap and orange vestments.

Readers: For more “Talk Like Shakespeare Today” posts, click here.

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The Mole from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, illustration by E.H. Shepard

The Mole from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, illustration by E.H. Shepard

The following is an excerpt from the opening scene in the children’s literary classic, The Wind in the Willows. The Rat and the Mole are standing on opposite riverbanks, shouting across the river to one another in greeting. Rat is standing outside his snug riverside dwelling that includes a pier.)

“Hullo, Mole!” said the Water Rat.

“Hullo, Rat,” said the Mole.

“Would you like to come over?” enquired the Rat presently.

The Rat…stooped and unfastened a rope…then lightly stepped onto a little boat which the Mole had not observed. It was painted blue outside and white within, and was just the size for two animals; and the Mole’s whole heart went out to it at once, even though he did not yet fully understand its uses.

The Rat sculled smartly across and…the Mole stepped gingerly down…and …to his surprise and rapture found himself actually seated in the stern of a real boat.

Ratty and Mole out boating from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, illustration by E.H. Shepard

[T]he Rat shoved off and took to the skulls again. “Do you know, I’ve never been in a boat before in my life.” [said the Mole]

“What?” cried the Rat, open-mouthed: “never been in  a – you never – well I – what have you been doing, then?”

“Is it so nice as all that? asked the Mole shyly…[as he] felt the boat sway lightly under him.

“Nice? It’s the only thing,” said the Water Rat solemnly, as he leant forward for his stroke. “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,” he went on dreamily: “messing – about – in – boats; messing -“

“Look ahead, Rat!” cried the Mole suddenly.

It was too late.

Published in 1908, The Wind in the Willows, written by Kenneth Grahame, is a timeless tale of animal friends and their adventures along the Thames riverbank, in the Wild Wood, or on the Open Road.  The main characters are the laid-back Ratty, the dim but positive Mole, stern yet kindly Badger, and the irrepressible Mr. Toad of Toad Hall. To see more of E.H. Shepard’s drawings for The Wind in the Willows, click here.


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The Eldest Children of Charles Dickens with Pet Raven Grip by Daniel Maclise, 1941

The Eldest Children of Charles Dickens with Their Pet Raven "Grip" by Daniel Maclise, 1841

In yesterday’s post , I mentioned Grip the Raven, author Charles Dickens’ pet bird that was the inspiration for Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “The Raven.” Dickens’ children loved the bird Grip although he did bite their ankles. At his children’s request, Dickens included Grip as a character in one of his books, Barnaby Rudge (1841). Dickens had three pet ravens, all named Grip. Grip I died in 1841, possibly because he ate lead chips scraped off a wall being repainted at the Dickens home. Dickens had the bird preserved and mounted in a glass case for display in his study. After Dickens’ death, a Poe collector acquired Grip I and donated him to the Free Library of Philadelphia where it remains today.

Dickens was saddened by Grip’s death. On March 12, 1841, he wrote the following letter to his friend, Daniel Maclise, who provided illustrations for his books and portraits of Dickens and his family, including the one on the left here featuring the eldest four of Dickens’ nine children: Charley, Mamie, Katey, and Walter. Dickens wrote:

 Mr. Dear Maclise,

Charles DickensYou will be greatly shocked and grieved to hear that the Raven is no more… On the clock striking twelve he appeared slightly agitated, but he soon recovered, walked twice or thrice along the coach-house, stopped to bark, staggered, exclaimed “Halloa old girl!” (his favorite expression) and died. The children seem rather glad of it. He bit their ankles but that was play…”

You might well ask why Grip the Raven is part of an Edgar Allan Poe Collection in Philadelphia. Toward the end of his life, Poe was a paid literary critic. In this role, he reviewed Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge, in which Grip the Raven plays a part. When Grip makes his first noise in the book, one of the characters says, “What was that — tapping at the door?” The answer is “‘Tis someone knocking softly at the shutter.” Poe’s criticism of Barnaby Rudge was that, although he liked the book overall, he felt that the raven’s “croaking might have been prophetically heard in the course of the drama.”

Four years later, Poe published his most famous work, the poem  “The Raven,” which gave the raven a more central role. It features a tapping and talking raven who flies into a man’s room and perches on a bust of Pallas Athena. Dickens’ raven could speak many words and had many comic turns, including the popping of a champagne cork, but Poe emphasized the bird’s darker “devil-bird”qualities. His bird spoke only one word, “Nevermore.” Poe’s raven may have represented a messenger from hell or the after-life, mirroring the gloom and foreshadowing the doom of the troubled narrator who misses his beloved Lenore.

  The Raven

verse 1

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door-
                Only this, and nothing more….”

verse 3

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”- here I opened wide the door;-
                Darkness there, and nothing more.

verse 4

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mienof lord or lady, perched above my chamber door-
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door-
                Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

1884 Illustration from "The Raven" by Gustave Dore

1884 Illustration from "The Raven" by Gustave Dore

verse 5
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore-
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
                Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”
Edgar Allan Poe

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