Potpourri (2)

Greetings! It’s a quiet Saturday evening, cold and dark outside but light and warm here in my room. On the floor beside me I’ve gathered some of the books I’m currently reading, and I wanted to share a few quotable bits with you.

“Long ago in Rome I saw a woman so ancient of flesh that she was kneaded and furrowed like God making the world.”

From The Confessions of X (Suzanne M. Wolfe)

“Not knowing how to listen, they read the poem but they do not hear it sing, or slide, or slow down, or crush with the heel of sound, or leap off the line, or hurry, or sob, or refuse to move from the self-pride of the calm pentameter no matter what fire is rustling through it.”

From Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse (Mary Oliver)

“Rather than rest in the immutability of God, we point to our own calcified sin patterns and declare ourselves unchanging and unchangeable.”

From None Like Him: 10 Ways God is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing) (Jen Wilkin)

“I had a pleasant evening on Thursday with Williams, Tolkien, and Wrenn, during which Wrenn almost seriously expressed a strong wish to burn Williams, or at least maintained that conversaton with Williams enabled him to understand how inquisitors had felt it right to burn people. Tolkien and I agreed afterwards that we just knew what he meant: that as some people at school, coll. punts, are eminently kickable, so Williams is eminently combustible.”

From The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis (Volume II)

 

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Book Memories (2016)

Happy new year to you all! As I have done for the last two years, I wanted to share my year’s leisure reading with you. I’ve read some brilliant books this year–and some that were not so brilliant too! I have to say, though, I am a little embarrassed that I didn’t read more non-fiction.

As usual, I only list books that I’ve completed, so books that I gave up on or haven’t finished yet won’t show here, nor will books that I only dipped into. On the other hand, if I began a book last year, but finished it this year, it goes on this year’s list. Asterisks indicate re-reads. Links are to where I’ve written about the book on this blog. And children’s books count. Even picture ones!

 

Non-fiction

Orthodoxy (G. K. Chesterton) *

A Grief Observed (C. S. Lewis)

For the Glory: The Life of Eric Liddell (Duncan Hamilton)

Highly recommended.

The Cross of Christ (John Stott)

Richard Hooker: A Companion to His Life and Work (Brad Littlejohn)

Every Bitter Thing is Swet (Sara Hagerty)

Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (James K. A. Smith)

Seasons of Waiting: Walking by Faith When Dreams are Delayed (Betsy Childs Howard)

An Experiment in Criticism (C. S Lewis)

The Four Loves (C. S. Lewis) *

The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember (Nicholas Carr)

 

Fiction and Poetry

The Rosemary Tree (Elizabeth Goudge)

The Happy Prince and Other Stories (Oscar Wilde)

Crossing to Safety (Wallace Stegner)

Beowulf (trans. Seamus Heaney)

I am David (Anne Holm)

Highly recommended.

The Scent of Water (Elizabeth Goudge)

The Perilous Gard (Elizabeth Marie Pope)

Pity the Beautiful (Dana Gioia)

All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)

Highly recommended.

Rilla of Ingleside (L. M. Montgomery) *

Because of Winn-Dixie (Kate DiCamillo)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows)

The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)

Parable and Paradox (Malcolm Guite)

Hay Fever (Noel Coward)

The Magic of Ordinary Days (Ann Howard Creel)

Disappointing.

Gentian Hill (Elizabeth Goudge)

The Awakening of Miss Prim (Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera)

In This House of Brede (Rumer Godden)

Tales from the Perilous Realm (J. R. R. Tolkien)

The End of the Affair (Graham Greene)

Highly recommended.

The Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro)

Highly recommended.

The Little White Horse (Elizabeth Goudge)

All This, and Heaven Too (Rachel Field)

I Saw Three Ships (Elizabeth Goudge)

The Heaven Tree (Edith Pargeter)

The Green Branch (Edith Pargeter)

So, yes, there was real book joy in 2016! I’ve picked out some of the best by labelling them as “highly recommended”, but there were others that I found excellent even if I haven’t given them that label. I do hope that you might find some new friends waiting for you in this list. Read with discernment, of course. I don’t recommend every book–or every aspect of every book–on this list. Lastly, if you have any book suggestions for me, do return the favour and leave a comment telling me what they are! Who knows what book joy might await you and me in 2017? Happy reading!

 

What’s in a Name?

A year or so ago I scrolled through bestselling books on Amazon, and wrote a piece which I never posted commenting on some of their titles. I’d seen another blogger do something similar and I liked the idea. I never posted it at the time, but I’ve spruced it up and I present it now. I haven’t checked the bestsellers list again, so no doubt it is hopelessly outdated. If the bestsellers then are still bestsellers now, let’s just say that they’ve done well for themselves. (Disclaimer: I am judging these books on titles, not on content. In fact, I have no idea what most of them are about.)

Zoo

Unless this is a picture book for two-year-olds (in which case, you have my blessing), it just doesn’t cut it.

Elizabeth is Missing

This title manages to give away a lot and yet remain flat and stale. When Elizabeth Went Missing would be better—it would spark the question “What happened when she went missing?” and prompt readers to discover the answer.

The Sunrise

Em, yes? We have one of those every day. This is probably intended to be an evocative rather than a curiosity-inspiring title, and I’ll admit it’s pretty enough, but it lacks concreteness. How about Sunrise over Niagara, or something with a hint of sadness like The Last Sunrise? Can you feel the difference?

Finders Keepers

This title does make the potential reader ask questions (“Who finds what?” “Who keeps what?”) but to have a cliché as the tile of your book? I’m not convinced.

The Children Act

This is eye-catching because it sounds like a work of non-fiction. Then you realise that it’s a novel and you know that weighty things are at stake, even though you don’t know exactly what.

I Let You Go

You did? Why? Tell me more, and while you’re at it, please pass the tissues.

A Man of Some Repute

This is not only an intriguing title (why only some repute?) with an elegant, old-fashioned feel, but there’s a lovely iambic rhythm to it.

All the Light We Cannot See

Beautifully evocative and rhythmical, this makes me wonder what this light is and why we can’t see it….

 

In conclusion, dear authors and publishers, when it comes to the titles of your books, a rose by any other name may indeed smell as sweet, but if you’ve christened it a birthwort rather than a rose, I may never venture near enough to smell it.

The Awakening of Miss Prim

“’My dear Miss Prim,’ he’d said, ‘you may use all the labels you wish, of course you may. All I ask is that you don’t use the kind that glow in the dark. I don’t have anything against coloured labels, nothing at all, but I don’t think the sermons of St Bonaventure should be catalogued in lime green, or the works of Virgil in fluorescent pink.’”

I expected Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera’s The Awakening of Miss Prim to be a light, fun read of a book-loving woman falling in love with her eccentric employer. I didn’t expect it to contain deeper thoughts on education, marriage, and faith, or to be, in essence, a conversion story.

When Prudencia Prim takes a job as private librarian to a gentleman in the village of San Ireneo de Arnois, she is unaware that she has taken the first step in turning her life upside down. An intelligent, orderly woman, a lover of beauty and of what she terms “delicacy”, Miss Prim likes to think she was “born at the wrong time and in the wrong place”.

She tells her employer, The Man in the Wingchair, after she has been in San Ireneo for a while, “’I used to think I possessed a sensibility from another century. I was convinced I’d been born at the wrong time and that that was why vulgarity, ugliness, lack of delicacy all bothered me so much. I thought I was longing for a beauty that no longer existed, from an era that one fine day bade us farewell and disappeared.’

‘And now?’

‘Now I’m working for someone who effectively lives immersed in another century, and it’s made me realise that that was not what my problem was.’”

Miss Prim’s real problem, as the book makes clear, is her modern, secular mindset. With a premise like that, one would be forgiven for thinking that The Awakening of Miss Prim was an example of the mediocre kind of modern Christian fiction, rather than something that is, in fact, published in the mainstream market. To its credit, however, its spiritual elements feel integral to the story rather than being forced or garish.

Overall, the quality of writing was good, although I felt that the story sometimes lacked internal coherence, and I would have made some changes to the conclusion. That being said, Miss Prim was a fun, absorbing read, and satisfying too because of its serious treatment of things that matter.

In an interview with Foyles, Fenollera said the following:

“I wanted to write about two very different manners of seeing the world – from the viewpoints of tradition and modernity – and about the adventure entailed in asking oneself questions and looking for answers, searching for searching for [sic] truth, goodness and beauty.”

I think she did a good job of that, and I’d recommend The Awakening of Miss Prim as a delightful and enriching read. I’ll let The Man in the Wingchair have the final word (as he so likes doing):

“’Dostoyevsky, Prudencia? Dostoyevsky? If I were you, I’d start worrying.’”

Someone at the Door

I know, I know. I’ve expressed my antipathy for free verse more than once on this blog. And it’s true: I tend to have a strong distaste for it. I recognise there are exceptions, however. Some free verse poetry is wonderful. And when I set about to write a poem for the prompt Sarah sent me, “Someone at the Door”, a fixed form didn’t seem to work, while free verse did. So, here goes….

 

Rubbing the sleep from my eyes,

I stumbled towards the door.

I’d been scrubbing all day, my body now one vast ache.

But I couldn’t go to bed yet,

Not yet.

Not with Peter’s life in the balance.

 

We’d prayed and pleaded together,

But weary with work and woe

I’d fallen asleep to the sounds of prayer.

Until the bell rang, bringing me to my senses, rousing me from my dreams,

And I had to tiptoe out

To answer the door.

 

I peered into the darkness, and suddenly my body jarred awake,

Life tingling in every fingertip.

Peter!

I was so happy that I ran to tell them–

Ran like a child.

I couldn’t wait to see the joy that would

Fill the faces of my master and his friends.

Couldn’t even wait

To open the door

And let Peter

In.

 

You can laugh.

I laugh now,

To think that for joy

I left him standing in the cold and dark. Fine welcome, that!

But I did.

 

Bursting into the room,

I shouted over James’ “Lord, we beseech you….”

“He’s here! Stop your beseeching! Peter’s outside!”

They looked at me blankly.

“Can’t you see? You don’t need to pray any more. You’ve been answered!”

Silence.

 

And then,

“Rhoda, you’re mad,” said Andrew.

“Mad”, they echoed.

“But he’s alive! He’s outside!”

My eagerness made me stumble over my words.

“Perhaps it’s his angel, child”, came Mary’s gentle voice.

“No”, I said, polite but firm.

 

Why I didn’t

Dash back to that door and drag Peter inside and shout “See!”,

I don’t know.

Maybe I was mad.

 

Meanwhile, the banging continued.

Someone (I don’t know who)

Slowly got up and stepped to the door.

I heard a gasp, laughter and exclamations, and Peter was ushered in.

 

And in my joy at their joy, I forgot to feel smug that I’d been proved right.

And really, the joke’s on me, as much as on them.

Surely Luke must have smiled as he wrote his second book,

Smile as you and many others have smiled too,

At my thoughtless eagerness,

My careless joy.

 

Book Memories (2015)

I can’t quite believe that it’s the end of the year. Where is the frost? The chilly nights? The cosy fire in the living room? But my calendar assures me that it is indeed the last day of December, and so I take it on faith that it is so. That being the case, I’m going to continue the tradition I began last year and share with you the books I’ve read this year. I enjoy browsing other people’s book lists, and I hope you enjoy doing the same with mine.

As I did last year, I only count books that I’ve completed, so books that I’ve given up on or haven’t finished yet won’t show here, nor will books that I dip in and out of (usually poetry). On the other hand, if I began a book last year, but finished it this year, it goes on this year’s list. Asterisks indicate re-reads. Links are to where I’ve reviewed the book on this blog.

Non-Fiction

The Screwtape Letters (including “Screwtape Proposes a Toast”) (C. S. Lewis) *

A re-read, apart from “Toast”, which was new to me.

84, Charing Cross Road (Helene Haff)

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street (Helene Haff)

Planet Narnia (Michael Ward)

The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography (Alan Jacobs)

Chance or the Dance? (Thomas Howard) *

The Four Loves (C. S. Lewis) *

Reflections on the Psalms (C. S. Lewis)

The World’s Last Night (C. S. Lewis)

I skipped the “Toast” essay as I’d read it when I read Screwtape.

The Meal Jesus Gave Us (N. T. Wright)

The Dating Manifesto (Lisa Anderson)

A Dash of Style (Noah Lukeman)

The Good God (Michael Reeves) *

Highly recommended.

Teach Us to Want (Jen Pollock Michel)

Everlasting is the Past (Walter Wangerin Jnr)

Letters from the Land of Cancer (Walter Wangerin Jnr)

The End of Our Exploring (Matthew Lee Anderson)

Highly recommended.

Behold the Lamb of God (Russ Ramsey)

Fiction and Poetry

The Heart of the Family (Elizabeth Goudge)

The Silver Chair (C. S. Lewis) *

The Horse and His Boy (C. S. Lewis) *

Daddy-Long-Legs (Jean Webster)

The Magician’s Nephew (C. S. Lewis) *

The Last Battle (C. S. Lewis) *

Huntingtower (John Buchanan)

Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen) *

Pendragon’s Heir (Suzannah Rowntree)

Our Mutual Friend (Charles Dickens)

The Daughter of Time (Josephine Tey)

Lilith (George McDonald)

A Soldier of the Great War (Mark Helprin)

Highly recommended.

Anne of Green Gables (Lucy Maud Montgomery) *

The Singing Bowl (Malcolm Guite)

Anne of Avonlea (Lucy Maud Montgomery) *

The Blue Castle (Lucy Maud Montgomery)

Sense and Sensibility (Jane Austen)

The World, the Flesh, and Father Smith (Bruce Marshall)

Four Quartets (T. S. Eliot)

Only forty-something pages, but it was packaged as a book, so I’m treating it as one! Also, I have almost no idea what it all means….

Kristin Lavransdatter (Sigrid Undset, trans. Tiina Nunnally)

Highly recommended. 

So, yes, there were plenty of good reads here. I’ve picked out some of the best by labelling them as “highly recommended”, but there were others that I found excellent even if I haven’t given them that label. (Almost everything by Lewis, for example!) I do hope that you might find some new friends waiting for you in this list. Read with discernment, of course. I don’t recommend every aspect of every book here. Lastly, if you have any book suggestions for me, do return the favour and leave a comment telling me what they are! Who knows what delightful or thought-provoking or moving or helpful books might await you and me in 2016? Happy reading, and the happiest of new years to you.

Desert Island Book List

In the last month or so, two of my blogger friends have posted about what books they’d want with them on a desert island (see here and here), and I’ve decided to follow suit.

Of course, the Bible and a handy collection of survival books are a given. And the books I’m selecting aren’t necessarily my favourite books of all time. I love Perelandra, for example, but reading about the Un-Man perusing Ransom through the caves of an almost-deserted island, while marooned on an island myself, would be far from ideal. I’m also looking for books that can bear the weight of repeated re-reads, and even offer new insights with such re-reads.

Anyway, here goes.

  1. Reformed Dogmatics by Herman Bavinck (the abridged one-volume version). I began trying to read this, but gave up. However, I know it’s good, and if I were stuck on a desert island I’d want to be able to do some in-depth theological reading. And since there’d be so little else for me to be distracted by, I know that I’d actually finish it.
  2. The Collected Poems of C. S. Lewis (edited by Don King). This is my favourite collection of poems. There’s beauty and wisdom and joy and wit and Lewis-ness in here, and I wouldn’t want to be without it.
  3. The Book of Common Prayer. I’d want to have words to pray for the times when I had no words of my own, and to be reminded that even in my lonely state, I was part of the church universal.
  4. Gilead by Marilyn Robinson. This one would help to remind me of the loveliness of life.
  5. Emma by Jane Austen. Because if I only have one Austen book, let it be a long one.
  6. Augustine’s Confessions. I haven’t read past the opening few pages, at most, but as with Reformed Dogmatics, I know that it’s worth reading. And re-reading.
  7. The Oxford Book of English Verse. I own The New Oxford Book of English Verse, but I have more than half a suspicion that this one would be the better of the two. There’s be plenty for me to enjoy here, and plenty for me to study. Memorising poems would also help to pass the time.
  8. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis (volume II or III). I haven’t got far yet in reading these myself, but I’d choose a volume because it’s massive, so I’d get much more of Lewis’ prose than I would were I to choose a single book. Lewis was an excellent letter writer, so there’d be much for me to learn and delight in here.
  9. A Handbook to Literature (Harmon and Holman). I’d use this to help me study the poetry I’d brought, as well as to help me write my own.
  10. The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. Yes, I know this isn’t exactly (ahem) a single book, but in my defence it’s a series, each book is short, and—and—how could I possibly live the rest of my life, perhaps, without having the opportunity to read Narnia again?

What would your desert island book list be?

Cinderella

I don’t write about films that often–I’m much more of a reader than a film watcher, after all–but how can I resist telling you about Disney’s new Cinderella? What can be better than a good and beautiful girl, a handsome and noble prince, and a happy ending?

Visually, it’s stunning. Of course. Disney, I think it’s safe to assume, has the money to do what they want in that area. The palace, the dresses, the magic–gorgeous.

As for the storyline, the joy is that they’ve kept it classic. They haven’t made it darker. They haven’t made it inappropriate. In short, they’ve been wise enough to know that if something’s not broken, there’s no need to fix it. Rather than changing a much-loved tale, they’ve concentrated on telling it well.

I particularly appreciated how well-nuanced the characters are. Here, perhaps, they’ve made a few alterations, but if so, it’s for the better. Cinderella herself is as sweet and innocent as you’d expect her to be, and yet–without in any way making her some sort of fairytale feminist–they’ve also ensured that she’s not a doormat. She doesn’t stay with her horrid step-family because she’s content to be abused. She stays–however hard it is–because she promised her parents she would care for her home. She’s sweet, but underneath that sweetness is strength, not weakness. And that’s admirable.

In this version, Cinderella and the prince accidentally meet in the woods prior to the ball, when he’s hunting. The prince tells Ella he’s an apprentice (“an apprentice king”, he has to clarify later at the ball–ah yes, that does make a bit of a difference…..), which means, as a review I read pointed out, that Ella doesn’t fall in love with him for mercenary reasons, since she gets a chance to meet him when she thought he was just an ordinary guy (though really, Ella dear, what apprentice dresses like that?)

That same scene also gives the prince a more substantial reason to love Ella than merely her breathtaking beauty at the ball. He sees something of her kindness and her courage, and that attracts him too. I’m so glad they did it that way.

As for the prince himself, he’s more substantial too. We see him mature in the course of the film. I love his words to Ella when they finally find each other after soldiers have been shoving her glass slipper on the feet of women all over the country: “Will you take me as I am,” she asks, “an honest country girl who loves you?”, to which he replies, “If you will take me as I am: an apprentice still learning his trade.”

I was also impressed by the way the wicked stepmother was portrayed. She’s certainly a nasty woman, but we know why she’s the way she is, and can even–gasp–feel sorry for her. And that’s important, because people act the way they act for a reason. That doesn’t excuse wrong behaviour, but it makes it more understandable, and it narrows the gap between us and “the baddies”. We’re not as different from them as we’d like to think.

In this post-modern culture, it’s a delight to see a film that portrays a world where there is real good and evil and where goodness–courage and kindness–does win in the end. A world that does contain sadness, but also a world that believes in happy endings. And a world where the heroine’s parting words to the villain are “I forgive you.”

I get two opposite feelings after encountering something like Cinderella. The world isn’t really like that, I remind myself. You’re not beautiful. You’re not going to be the belle of any ball or the sweetheart of any prince. Your life is dull and drab compared to that world. And in a sense, that’s absolutely true. Let’s be realistic here: I’m an ordinary girl living a fairly ordinary life and if I marry, it will be to an ordinary guy.

But then I remind myself that in another sense, our world is much more like the world of Cinderella than I give it credit for. It is full of beauty and wonder. Goodness will win the day. And every good fairytale is only a reflection of the incredible story God is writing, with the ultimate happy ending. It’s hard to believe that when I turn from the glamour of the screen to the frustrations of daily life. But Ella had her burdens too, and they only enriched her happy ending. Indeed, her happy ending would not have been possible without them.

So, yes: I loved it. So much so that SJ is going to humour me by accompanying me for–ahem–my second viewing later this week….

 

Of Lovely Things (6)

Happy November!

I hope your life these days is full of glimmers of beauty, like bright autumn leaves. Mine is, though too often I turn my gaze from the glimmers and focus instead on the grime that comes with being a fallen person living in a fallen world. But here are some lovely glimmers from recent days….

A chunky package from Amazon through the door earlier this week. The bare brown cardboard concealed a book I’d been waiting for since the summer. Oh joy.

Children…. Two girlies twirling their skirts and showing me their dance steps…. Seven-year-old boy falling asleep against me on the sofa while the adults discussed a psalm…. Reading a Robert Frost poem to my youngest brother.

A witty email from a friend.

Looking back over some journal entries from a dark days with the perspective of the unexpected, glorious goodness that God was soon to rain down, though I didn’t know it at the time. Reminding myself that He’s done it before so He can do it again in other difficult situations.

Chesterton’s essay “On Running After One’s Hat”, which was one of my reading assignments this week. His insights are marvellous. And hilarious.

“But in the case of all such annoyances, as I have said, everything depends upon the emotional point of view…. For instance, there is a current impression that it is unpleasant to have to run after one’s hat. Why should it be unpleasant to the well-ordered and pious mind? … It certainly is comic; but man is a very comic creature, and most of the things he does are comic…. Now a man could, if he felt rightly in the matter, run after his hat with the manliest ardour and the most sacred joy.”

“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”

Read the whole thing here. It’s not long and it’s so worth it. Oh, to live life with a generous sprinkling of GKC’s unquenchable enthusiasm!

What are some of your recent “lovely things”? 

A Sprinkling of Shakespeare

I have only a few days left of my Shakespeare course (if one ignores the final exam, that is), and so I here present you with a far from comprehensive (and perhaps at times a tongue-in-cheek) summary of the eight plays I’ve been studying, along with some comments and favourite quotes. (The quotes, by the by, are generally only extracts from longer speeches—I thought you’d appreciate brevity!) Even if Shakespeare isn’t normally your thing, do take a moment to enjoy the beauty of some well-crafted lines!

Hamlet

Young Hamlet is sick of life, and even sicker of his uncle (whom he learns murdered his father), and after agonising over his problems for most of the play, he kills and is killed in a bloody final scene.

Being a happy endings sort of girl (as you may have already gathered), Hamlet isn’t the sort of play I’d choose to read, but I ended up becoming somewhat attached to it, perhaps because it was my first play and I spent more time on it that I have done on later ones and also because watching various actors on Youtube perform the famous “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy was a lot of fun. Also, there are some memorable speeches in this play.

O that this too too solid flesh would melt, 
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew! 
Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d 
His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter!

Hamlet is of course most famous for his despairing “To Be or Not to Be”, but this passage was new to me, and the anguish of it struck me. Flesh melting into dew is such a striking metaphor.

Henry IV Part I

Prince Hal initially acts the part of a scoundrel in order to make his later good behaviour more impressive. (Hmmm….)

I will redeem all this on Percy’s head 
And in the closing of some glorious day 
Be bold to tell you that I am your son; 
When I will wear a garment all of blood 
And stain my favours in a bloody mask, 
Which, wash’d away, shall scour my shame with it: 

Again, I like the vivid imagery here. This speech is one of the things that makes me want to believe in the reformed Hal, but because I know what he was up to, I just can’t completely do so in this play.

King Lear

Self-centred Lear spurns the one daughter who loves him for the sake of the two who only pretend to, and realises his mistake too late. Another death-filled ending.

This is a rather depressing play, and the eye-gouging scene was horrid. I think it’s one of my least favourite plays to have studied, although there are some noteworthy passages in there, such as this one….

Fairest Cordelia, that art most rich, being poor; 
Most choice, forsaken; and most lov’d, despis’d! 
Thee and thy virtues here I seize upon. 
Be it lawful I take up what’s cast away. 

I love the rhythm and the contrasts in the first and second lines, and it’s also a sweet expression of love.

Henry V

The former Prince Hal, now King Henry, wages war on France, wins a glorious victory, and marries the French princess.

It’s unfortunate that Henry doesn’t appear to have a more valid reason for waging war on the French, but it’s hard to resist his stirring call to arms, the triumph of the underdog, and Henry’s humility in victory. A romantic ending is an added bonus!

God, the best maker of all marriages, 
Combine your hearts in one, your realms in one! 

I love the idea expressed here of two hearts becoming one. (Of course, two realms becoming one is nice too, but few of us are kings and princesses….)

Othello

Vicious Iago convinces the noble but naive Othello that the latter’s wife, Desdemona, has been unfaithful to him. You know what’s going to happen next. He kills Desdemona, and then realises the truth. And then he kills himself….

Ooh, but Othello’s naivety and jealously is frustrating! There are, however, some wonderful speeches.

Put out the light, and then put out the light: 
If I quench thee, thou flaming minister, 
I can again thy former light restore, 
Should I repent me: but once put out thy light, 
Thou cunning’st pattern of excelling nature, 
I know not where is that Promethean heat 
That can thy light relume.

This is the tragic, utterly wrong part just before Othello murders his wife. But “Put out the light, and then put out the light” is a hauntingly beautiful image as he describes Desdemona as a light that will be quenched for ever.

The Merchant of Venice

Bassanio borrows money from Antonio (who borrow money from Shylock) in order to make his fortune by winning the hand of the beautiful Portia. After choosing the right casket (long story), he hears that Shylock is threatening to take the pound of flesh which Antonio had promised should he default on his debt. (Dude, don’t make promises like that. Just don’t.) Bassanio runs to the rescue, but really it’s Portia who saves the day.

A happily-ever-after! It makes a nice change!

You see me, Lord Bassanio, where I stand, 
Such as I am: though for myself alone 
I would not be ambitious in my wish, 
To wish myself much better; yet, for you 
I would be trebled twenty times myself; 
A thousand times more fair, ten thousand times more rich; 
That only to stand high in your account, 
I might in virtue, beauties, livings, friends, 
Exceed account; but the full sum of me 
Is sum of something, which, to term in gross, 
Is an unlesson’d girl, unschool’d, unpractised; 
Happy in this, she is not yet so old 
But she may learn; happier than this, 
She is not bred so dull but she can learn; 
Happiest of all is that her gentle spirit 
Commits itself to yours to be directed, 
As from her lord, her governor, her king. 

I’ve liked the famous “The quality of mercy” speech for a long time, but this one was new to me, and I can resonate with Portia’s wish that she could be a better woman for the sake of the man she loves as well as with her desire to be taught by him. (Though, really, that girl had a lot going for her as it was!)

The Winter’s Tale

Leontes’ misguided jealousy and bitter desire for revenge causes havoc amongst his nearest and dearest, but what was lost is partially restored at the end.

I didn’t like this one….

Not so: 
I am as ignorant in that as you 
In so entitling me, and no less honest 
Than you are mad; which is enough, I’ll warrant, 
As this world goes, to pass for honest.

Little stood out to me in this play in terms of noteworthy speeches, but I did like this piece of frankness from Paulina to the enraged Leontes.

The Tempest

Propero and Miranda’s island exile comes to a glorious end when Prospero forgives those who have wronged them.

An ending of grace and reconciliation. Perfect.

(But what’s with Ferdinand and Miranda getting engaged after apparently knowing each other for less than three hours?!)

O, wonder! 
How many goodly creatures are there here! 
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, 
That has such people in’t!

I love this innocent and full-of-wonder exclamation for Miranda. She’s spent most of her life on a secluded island and up until this point has only ever seen three other human beings (apart from when she was a very little child). Now, she sees a group of men, and this is her amazed exclamation.

(And I now know where someone got the title of their book from….)

Obviously, there’s a huge amount more that could be said not only about these plays but about the extracts that I’ve chosen—and believe me, I have written a lot on Shakespeare over the last couple of months—but this is a sprinkling of Shakespeare, not an assignment! All I’ll say in closing is that while I have certainly encountered things that I’ve disliked while studying  Shakespeare, he’s famous for a reason….