At the National Taiwan University’s 2012 Shakespeare conference I led a sing-along on the final day, a relaxing change from the rigor of all the Shakespeare-izing that had gone on before. All four of the songs I chose are from As You Like It. There is a lot of singing in AYLI, and the songs are important for establishing the mood of a scene, and sometimes for changing the mood within the scene. At the end of Act II, scene 7 the changes are simply wonderful. Jacques makes his “seven ages of man” speech, a passage often solemnly — and foolishly — quoted out of context as evidence that Shakespeare was a cynic, which it is not; melancholy Jacques is the cynic, but Shakespeare deftly confounds his cynicism by the appearance of loyal and dignified old Adam, who does not fit into Jacques’ pessimistic “seven ages” at all. With “Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind” the Swan of Avon effortlessly modulates into a meditation on disloyalty; all men are not like loyal old Adam.
I wish I knew who wrote the settings we sang for “Blow, Blow” and “Under the Greenwood Tree,” our first two sing-along selections. I heard them back when I was in high school (consider that as casually said), from a quaint and curious sort of black plate that revolved at 33⅓ rpm, and emitted what used to be called a spoken word recording. The songs on it were uncredited.
The third setting was of “It Was a Lover and his Lass” by Thomas Morley, or perhaps I should say published by Thomas Morley, in 1592. Morley, a contemporary of Shakespeare’s was a composer, but he was also the major “force” in music publishing in his day; back then it was not unknown for publishers to be credited with music that they never wrote, so I am cautious as to authorship. It is one of only two songs known to have been published during Shakespeare’s lifetime, the other being Robert Johnson’s “Where the Bee Sucks,” whose melody is a little too involved for a sing-along. “It Was a Lover and his Lass” is not a favorite of mine: with all those “hey nonny-nonnies” it has too much Morley and not enough Shakespeare. I included it because it is well-known; the audience was rather expecting it.
I wanted to close the sing-along with something rousing (it was a morning session, after all, and the Chinese are not, as a rule, coffee-drinkers), so I chose “The ShakeScene Round” and engaged three student horn players from the Chinese Culture University music department (NTU paid them generously) to fortify the voices of the very academic NTU audience; academics tend to be soft-spoken introverts, and sometimes need a boost. The student horn players blew the roof off, and the audience rose to the occasion.
In the prefaces to previous books I have expressed the hope that the reader will enjoy reading my book as much as I have enjoyed writing it, tra-la-la. This wish does not apply to Hanno’s Voyage from Carthage to Indonesia; the end result is satisfying, but to arrive at this end took almost thirty years of intermittent donkey work, dead ends and sweat. I hope that the reader will enjoy reading it much more than I have enjoyed writing it, and much, much more than I have enjoyed revisiting these essays, which had their genesis back in the ’90’s.
This is not only because of compatibility issues with thirty-year-old software. I am touched by an autumnal mood even in the normally pleasant task of acknowledging those individuals who have helped with the book, because so many of them are gone, either through death or simply losing touch. They have been acknowledged in the body of the work. After many years I have finally come to understand the lines in Goethe’s dedication to Faust.
Was ich besitze, sieh’ ich wie von Weiten,
Und was verschwand, wird mir zu Wirklichkeiten.
(“What I possess, I see as if from a distance, and what has
disappeared has become what is real to me.”)
Make no mistake, life is good. It is also sometimes poignant.
Houston and Taipei, 2021