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TOPIC: Where's the verb, Cleon?

Where's the verb, Cleon? 6 years 8 months ago #4901

  • Marcus
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I've been having the following lively discussion on Facebook. I was thinking some folks here might want to weigh in:

This Tharsus o'er which I have the government,
A city on whom plenty held full hand,
For riches strew'd herself even in her streets;
Whose towers bore heads so high they kiss'd the clouds,
And strangers ne'er beheld but wond'red at;
Whose men and dames so jetted and adorn'd,
Like one another's glass to trim them by;
Their tables were stor'd full, to glad the sight,
And not so much to feed on as delight;
All poverty was scorn'd, and pride so great,
The name of help grew odious to repeat.
But see what heaven can do by this our change: ...

This is From "Pericles," Act I, Scene 4. It's spoken King Cleon of Tharsus (played by Larry Giantonio in my recent production). This is a thesis/antithesis speech in which Cleon is saying "Tharsus used to be great (thesis), but now it's going to ruin (antithesis)." I've quoted the thesis. You can see the start of the antithesis in the last line, above: "But..."

Here's my question: does Cleon ever finish the sentence he starts in his first line?

My reading of it is this:

This Tharsus (o'er which...

As if he's going to say something like, "This Tharsus (which used to be so great) is now fucked."

In other words, it looks to me like all words after "Tharsus" -- up until that last line "But..." line -- are part of a long parenthesis that describes Tharsus. I'm waiting for the parens to get closed and for a verb to appear. "This Tharsus ... WHAT?!?"

I am not claiming Shakespeare made an error. If Cleon doesn't finish his sentence, that would fit with his agitated frame of mind. This is late Shakespeare, so we're in the period when he plays with language structure as a means of conveying inner states.

But I'm wondering if I'm just misreading it. An alternate take that occurred to me is...

This Tharsus (o'er which I have the government)
[IS] A city on whom plenty held full hand...

In other words, the verb might be transparent but understood.

What do you think? Any other ideas? Am I missing something obvious?

=================

FRIEND ONE:
I think I would take the first line as is, then take the rest as qualifiers or descriptors up to ... to trim them by" then the verb (were) in the next line is the sentence verb. And thus the thing, although convoluted, is ... grammatically sound.

You can even take out from "for riches...trim them by" and the sentence works I think.

==================

ME:

if I understand you rightly, you're suggesting this:

This Tharsus o'er which I have the government

(A city on whom plenty held full hand,
For riches strew'd herself even in her streets;
Whose towers bore heads so high they kiss'd the clouds,
And strangers ne'er beheld but wond'red at;
Whose men and dames so jetted and adorn'd,
Like one another's glass to trim them by.)


Their tables were stor'd full, to glad the sight,
And not so much to feed on as delight;
All poverty was scorn'd, and pride so great,
The name of help grew odious to repeat.
But see what heaven can do by this our change: ...

That's appealing, because it groups the "whose" phrases together (whose towers, whose men), but taken your way, I get confused when I pop back out of the parenthesis.

"Their tables...?" Who does "their" refer to? Isn't it the "men and dames"? It can't be, because the men and dames are tucked away inside their parenthetical reality.

I'd be totally on your page if the first like was something like:

The PEOPLE OF Tharsus o'er which I have the governement

The PEOPLE OF Tharsus o'er which I have the governement (blah blah), their tables were stor'd full...

===========================

FRIEND 2:

it's definitely tricky. I think you've got it; the whole set up of the speech is thesis/antithesis, and I think it's his dissertation on "the misery of Tharsus", which he mentions shortly after. reminded me of the Duke at the top of Measure for Measure. If the play were about Cleon, this speech would start the show. The 2nd Ed. Arden argues that ... See Morethere's a missing 'is", and the line should be though of as "This is Tharsus". I'm not really in love with that, as the only people with him are his wife and attendants, who should already know where they are. Unless it's a rhetorical sort of thing, i.e. "So, this is what this place has come to..."

Hope somebody comes up with something to help you out, but it's as much sense as I can make out of the thing.

=============================

FRIEND 3:

Yeah, you can put a mental colon in there...

This Tharsus o'er which I have the government:

==============================

ME:

Yes, I agree. That's one way of making sense of it that works. He's implying, "My topic tonight is Tharsus, the city o'er which I have the government:"

===============================

FRIEND 4:

The key for me is the word "but" in the last line. That leads me to believe that it is meant to be read as in your 2nd interpretation. If all else up to that line was parenthetical, then there would be no "but".

... I think.
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Where's the verb, Cleon? 6 years 8 months ago #4902

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FRIEND 5:

I think there's no right answer here. Rules in Shakespeare are like rules for English in general: they're absolutely unbreakable, except for when they don't apply.

There is certainly precedent for sentences in Shakespeare that leave the "is" out and only imply it, which could be the case here. Or else not.

I'd go online to the British Library and look at their facsimile of the quarto (they've put all the quartos online, a great resource, for free) just to check the earliest version, but then I think you just gotta decide what you like best.

Me, I like the idea that Cleon starts a sentence he never finishes, because I'm a big fan of weird syntax and jagged linguistic edges; I don't like breaking up the verse in weird ways just for the hell of it, but I really don't like when proper grammar is wedged into a Shakespeare text when it's clearly ungrammatical.

==========

ME:

It's funny you should say that, Ian, because it was immediately my favorite interpretation, too: that he starts a sentence and then gets so caught up in the modifying phrases that he forgets where he started. That's how I think I'd play it, anyway.

One thing I forgot to mention, because I didn't think it was important at the time, is that this speech is interrupted by Dionyza RIGHT BEFORE THE ANTITHESIS:

CLE.
This Tharsus, o'er which I have the government,
A city on whom plenty held full hand,
For riches strew'd herself even in her streets;
Whose towers bore heads so high they kiss'd the clouds,
And strangers ne'er beheld but wond'red at;
Whose men and dames so jetted and adorn'd,
Like one another's glass to trim them by;
Their tables were stor'd full, to glad the sight,
And not so much to feed on as delight;
All poverty was scorn'd, and pride so great,
The name of help grew odious to repeat.

DION.
O, 'tis too true.

CLE.
But see what heaven can do by this our change:

Which maybe lends itself to the interpretation that Cleon was going somewhere but got interrupted and lost his place.

==========

I have now checked all editions of all quartos: http://www.bl.uk/treasures/shakespeare/homepage.html

They punctuate it like this...

This Tharsus, o'er which I have the government,
A city on whom plenty held full hand:

...with a colon after the second line. All the following lines end in commas except...

Like one another's glass to trim them by:

... and the first full-stop is at...

The name of help grew odious to repeat.

... which is right before Cleon gets interrupted and then starts the antithesis.
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Where's the verb, Cleon? 6 years 8 months ago #4911

  • Julian Lopez-Morillas
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Call me Friend Six...

I think Friends Three and Five both make some good points. You could bolster any case by reminding yourself that the PERICLES quarto is notoriously bad, and that there's no helpful Folio text you could use for comparison. So by all means, fiddle with the punctuation any way you like in an effort to clarify the text. In any case, punctuation is only an attempt, when rendering a spoken text in print, to reproduce the patterns of breath and inflection that lend sense and structure to the words they separate.

But I think the whole problem is more or less a nonissue. If, as scholars, we have the freedom to pore over a text, backtracking over the syntax five or six times to make sure it was punctuated as we remember it, the passage may reveal itself as ungrammatical in the strict sense. But in the theatre, spoken by an actor who has a good sense of the desperate situation Tharsus finds itself in, the speech has sufficient emotional authenticity and clarity of meaning to get his theme across. People, even people not under severe stress, don't tend to talk in grammatically pristine complete sentences anyway. I doubt one theatregoer in a hundred would reach the point of Dionyza's interruption and mentally say, "Whoa! I never got a verb there!" The proliferation of images has an integrity of its own.

Speaking personally: I've directed the play twice, and as I look back I think that yes, I always knew there was something a little wonky about the syntax in Cleon's first speech... it was a little tickle at the back of my consciousness-- but i never thought it was a problem that needed addressing. And neither of my actors, to the best of my recollection, ever raised the question.
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Where's the verb, Cleon? 6 years 8 months ago #4913

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"But I think the whole problem is more or less a nonissue"

It's not.

I'm a director, not a scholar. I don't care a fig about correct punctuation for some school-house reason.

I only care about acting choices. IF there's a missing verb then that tells you something. It tells you something about Cleon's state of mind. It's worth noting for that reason. It's worth delving into for that reason. The same thing is true in a modern play.

Let's say I'm directing "Death of a Salesman" and I read...

"Attention must paid!"
(The actual line is "Attention must be paid!")

I would examine that closely for a long time. I don't really care if it's a mistake or not. That's immaterial to my ends. Both good and bad things can come from mistakes. I could add in a verb. Should I? Will I gain anything by adding a verb? Will I gain anything by leaving it out?

I'm in throws of pre-production for "The Tempest." This morning, I was looking at Prospero's famous speech about abdicating his power:

Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves,
And ye that on the sands with printless foot
Do chase the ebbing Neptune, and do fly him
When he comes back; you demi-puppets that
By moonshine do the green sour ringlets make,
Whereof the ewe not bites; and you whose pastime
Is to make midnight mushrumps, that rejoice
To hear the solemn curfew: by whose aid
(Weak masters though ye be) I have bedimm’d
The noontide sun, call’d forth the mutinous winds,
And ’twixt the green sea and the azur’d vault
Set roaring war; to the dread rattling thunder
Have I given fire, and rifted Jove’s stout oak
With his own bolt; the strong-bas’d promontory
Have I made shake, and by the spurs pluck’d up
The pine and cedar. Graves at my command
Have wak’d their sleepers, op’d, and let ’em forth
By my so potent art. But this rough magic
I here abjure; and when I have requir’d
Some heavenly music (which even now I do)
To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fadoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.

One of the many fascinating things about this speech, if I understand it rightly, is its sentence structure: it starts simply enough...

Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves...

As if Propero is planning to say:

Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves: let me tell you what's on my mind.

But when does he get to the "let me tell you what's on my mind part?" Not right way. First, he includes other "people" in the set of people he's addressing. Sort of like...

Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves (and other folks) ...

Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves,
(And ye that on the sands with printless foot
Do chase the ebbing Neptune),
let me tell you what's on my mind.

Except he still doesn't tell them what's on his mind. Nor does he list more people. Instead, he explains a bit more about "ye that on the sands with printless foot"...

Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves,
And ye that on the sands with printless foot
Do chase the ebbing Neptune, and do fly him
When he comes back;


Then, STILL without saying "let me tell you what's on my mind," he yet again broadens his audience...

you demi-puppets that
By moonshine do the green sour ringlets make,
Whereof the ewe not bites;

and you whose pastime
Is to make midnight mushrumps, that rejoice
To hear the solemn curfew:

Propero is finally done listing his audience. So now he's ready to tell them what's on his mind. Except he doesn't. Instead, he further defines how "you whose pastime is to make the midnight mushrumps" have aided him...

by whose aid
(Weak masters though ye be) I have bedimm’d
The noontide sun,

[and by whose aid I have] call’d forth the mutinous winds,
And ’twixt the green sea and the azur’d vault
Set roaring war;

At this point, Prospero does something very interesting. He forgets where he is going, ending his first "sentence" prematurely (without ever telling his audience his point, even after going to such great lengths to describe who he is talking to). It looks like he does this because -- purely to better define his audience -- himself. His point is what his audience (spirits) does for him. But somewhere in there he gets muddled and thinks he's talking about himself.

Graves at my command
Have wak’d their sleepers, op’d, and let ’em forth
By my so potent art.

Or am I wrong? Is that what Prospero meant to say all along:

Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves (and other people):
...
Graves at my command
Have wak’d their sleepers, op’d, and let ’em forth
By my so potent art.

I can see either interpretation working, but the difference between them is EVERYTHING. IF Prospero loses his train of thought (even though he regains it by the end), that means he's not entirely in control. He gets carried away by his own words. If he's been heading towards "Graves" all along, then the entire speech is planned -- and executed according to plan.

In the end, it comes down to a choice between this...

Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves (and other people):
...
Graves at my command
Have wak’d their sleepers, op’d, and let ’em forth
By my so potent art. But this rough magic
I here abjure...

And this...

Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves (and other people):
...
this rough magic
I here abjure...
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