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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: December ::
Re: Roth on Verse
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.2309  Tuesday, 11 December 2000

From:           Herman Gollob <
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Date:           Monday, 11 Dec 2000 17:34:52 -0500
Subject: 11.2297 Roth on Verse
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.2297 Roth on Verse

>In Philip Roth's "I Married a Communist", p. 302, we can find a detailed
>analysis of the insistent and obsessive afterlife of Shakespearean
>sounds:
>
>'And thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges.'  Line of
>prose.  Recogonize it?  From the last act of Twelfth Night.  Feste the
>clown, to Malvolio, just before Feste sings that lovely song, before he
>sings, 'A great while ago the world begun, / With hey ho, the wind and
>the rain,' and the play is over.  I couldn't get that line out of my
>head.  'And thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges.'  Those
>cryptogrammic g's, the subtlety of their deintenisification--those hard
>g's in 'whirligig' followed by the nasalized g of 'brings' followed by
>the soft g of 'revenges.'  Those terminal s's..., thus brings his
>revenges.  The hissing surprise of the plural noun 'revenges.'  Guhh.
>Juhh.  Zuhh.  Consonants sticking into me like needles.  And the
>pulsating vowels, the rising tide of their pitch--engulfed by that.  The
>low-pitched vowels giving way to the high-pitched vowels.  The bass and
>tenor vowels giving way to the alto vowels.  The assertive lengthening
>of the vowel i just before the rhythm shifts from iambic to trochaic and
>the prose pounds round the turn for the  stretch.  Short i, short i,
>long i. Short i, short i, short i, boom!  Revenges.  Brings in his
>revenges.  HIS revenges.  Sibilated.  Hizzzzzuh!  Driving back to Newark
>with Ira's weapons in my car, those ten words, the phonetic webbing, the
>blanket omniscience... I felt I was being aspyhxiated inside
>Shakespeare.

Bravo, Sir!  A few weeks ago I quoted this very passage from Roth in a
book I'm writing for Doubleday as an instance of some of the finest and
most original Shakespeare analysis I've come across in years. I wonder
if these thoughts are original with Roth (after all, he was an English
professor for a time at the University of Chicago) or whether he
actually derived them from a high school teacher in Newark, as did the
narrator of the novel, or from his ex-wife Claire Bloom and her circle
(which undoubtedly includes the RSC's Cicely Berry and John Barton).
Whatever, it's a revelation, and I commend you for calling it to
everyone's attention.

Herman Gollob
 

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