Leaving not a rack behind


“Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”

The Tempest. Act iv. Sc. 1.

Another famous stage metaphor of Shakespeare from The Tempest. The most remarkable visual image is the stage trapping of ‘the baseless fabric of this vision’. A cloth backdrop with pictures of cloud-capped towers, gorgeous palaces, solemn temples and the great globe itself .The pageant fades as soon as the revels are ended ,leaving “not a rack behind” .We are such stuff as dreams are made on. Our revels get ended too soon. Then our life is rounded with a sleep. Once the curtains are down we go into the oblivion of sleep.

(also included in the Shakespeare page)

An Idiot’s Tale

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

The famous lines from Shakespeare’s Macbeth are great poetry .The multiplicity of images in the lines confuses a reader a little but in the end it all seems to add up to a beautiful meaning. The book image in which time moves in pages of tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow is followed by the candle image, the brief candle of man’s life ,its light only illumining the way to dusty death .In the brief candle’s light ,man becomes a shadow ,an insubstantial figure depending upon a real figure for its existence. Life is but a walking shadow, which moves as a mere reflection of the real thing. And then suddenly the actor’s image comes –a favorite Shakespearean image which recurs in many of his plays. Life is but a poor bit player on the stage that comes and goes .He stays for a while and while he stays he makes a fool of himself by “showing off” as though the show will go on for ever.

The best image is of the idiot’s tale that comes with a lot of sound and fury .An idiot’s tale is full of sound and fury but in the end it means nothing.

As an undergraduate, what puzzled me was this “idiot “whose tale was supposed to be our life. In the traditional Indian theatre tradition a play is first introduced by a sutradhari . During the introduction and several times during the enactment of the play the sutradhari speaks out as though the action on the stage is his tale which unfolds as he speaks. The sutradhari no doubt does a lot of sound and fury but his tale does not “signify nothing”. It is more plausible that man’s life is merely compared here to a story narrated by an idiot who cannot make a coherent whole out of it to bring forth meaning .Life is not an idiot’s tale( a tale of an idiot), but a tale told by an idiot. May be, there is a grand design behind it all but one does not expect an idiot to make meaning out of it. The sutradhari is making a big mess of his presentation.

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73

 

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds
sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love
more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere
long.

The most famous of Shakespeare’s sonnets,this one has some of the finest visual imagery one comes across in Shakespeare’s sonnets.”when yellow leaves or none or few , do hang/Upon those boughs which shake against the cold”-this is the  time of autumn when the trees are bare and shake against the cold”-a reference to the age of the poet when he passes through the stage of old age and is waiting for the sunset of his life . The “season” metaphor of the year corresponds to the poet’s lifetime with its various stages and then slowly  the poem switches to the “day” metaphor in which the poet’s life is compared to the different stages of the day(that time of day instead of that time of year).The poet is now talking about the twilight of the day and the black night which takes away the twilight.Finally the poem switches to  “the moment” when the fire glows on the ashes of his youth on the death-bed “where it must expire,consumed by that which it was nourished by”. A progression in time from the year,to the day and finally to the moment.

The dominance of the visual elements can be felt in the  use of  the words :”behold”,”yellow”,”seest”,”twilight”,”fadeth”,”black night”,”glowing”,”perceiv’st”. The image of the autumn – yellow leaves,bare boughs, birdless trees,the boughs shaking against the cold, bare ruined choirs of trees where the birds sang not long ago is a recurrent one in Shakespeare’s plays as well as poems. The sonnet is structured as 3 quatrains and two lines,each of the quatrain dealing with a different division of time-the first one with a year of time,the second one with the day ,the third one with the moment.