Blot Some Lines

A long time ago we had a great discussion over that classic quote about how Shakespeare “never blotted a line,” and the follow-up “Would he had blotted a thousand!” Did that imply that he made 1000 mistakes that should have been erased … or that he could possibly have made room for 1000 more moments of genius?
Tell me your least favorite line(s) in Shakespeare. The one that makes you cringe, and which he’d never written it. Makes you want to just take your red pen and strike it from existence, because it just doesn’t *feel* right.
I’m not talking about snipping of entire characters and speeches because you need to cut down on time and/or people. I’m talking specifically about lines that rub you the wrong way because they don’t flow like they should, or they sound out of character, stuff like that. As if you were a modern editor and were sending notes back to the author with whatever the mark is that’s the editor’s equivalent of “WTF were you thinking here, Will?”
I ask because I’m wondering whether people will accept the challenge, or whether I’ll get a lot of “Every word Shakespeare wrote was perfect” debate.

11 thoughts on “Blot Some Lines

  1. The entire "Time Travels In Divers Paces With Divers Persons. I 'll Tell You Who Time Ambles Withal, Who Time Trots Withal, Who Time Gallops Withal, And Who He Stands Still Withal" exchange in As You Like it makes me crazy. Alright, Will, we get it. Rosalind is witty and bright. Do you need to run the "joke" into the ground?

  2. Anonymous says:

    "Oh, bloody period." One of the last lines in Othello. It gets a LOT of reaction in the classroom and is wrong on so many levels. No one reads that line and only thinks "what a horrific time this was".


  3. I enjoy Shakespeare's terrible poetry—when he intends it. The Pyramus and Thisbe play in Midsummer Night's dream is the prime example, but the poem Claudio reads before Hero's monument in Much Ado About Nothing is some of the worst poetry Shakespeare ever wrote . . . but it's intended to show Claudio's immaturity, not to be a serious attempt at good writing.

    Is it sacrilege to say that some of the sonnets are terrible? Try this closing couplet from Sonnet 7, for example:

    So thou, thyself out-going in thy noon,
    Unlook'd on diest, unless thou get a son.

    Bad, Will. Bad.


  4. Well, there is some pretty poor stuff in some of the sonnets.
    This couplet may not be as bad as it sounds to us because the rhyme may have been more perfect in Shakespeare's day. Kerrigan argues that point extensively, but I think we have to be careful in extrapolating what we know about what English sounded like 400 years ago.
    There has been a lot of work done on that by scholars like Kokeritz and Cercignani, based on rhyme pairs and puns, and I think we CAN be certain that English did not sound the same when Shakespeare spoke it as it does now. Most scholars think it had a sort of Scottish accent.
    But if you are looking for weak couplets, I would point rather to 103:
    And more, much more then in my verse can sit,
    Your owne glasse showes you, when you looke in it.
    So, I agree, The Sonnets have some eminently blottable material.
    And to answer your question, Duane, I think Ben Jonson meant that he wished Shakespeare had taken more care with his work, and weeded out some of his grammatical errors and what Jonson saw as errors in logic (which others might view as poetic license). Jonson took some heat for his outburst, and took pains later to apologize for any appearance of criticism of his friend and colleague, whom he greatly admired.

  5. Do, do: he'll but break a comparison or two on me; which, peradventure not marked or not laughed at, strikes him into melancholy; and then there's a partridge wing saved, for he will eat no supper that night.


  6. Actually, he'll leave a thoughtful post!

    It's not the rhyme (or the lack of appreciation thereof in the modern age) that gets me about that early sonnet. It's the lack of subtlety combined with the blandness of expression.


  7. Ooooooo! I'm gonna tell catkins you said that!!

  8. Having announced myself willing to find some sonnets less worthy than others, I feel comfortable coming to the defense of Sonnet 7.
    I understand your sentiment, KJ, but you take the couplet out of context.
    Let's put it back in its place:

    Loe in the Orient when the gracious light,
    Lifts up his burning head, each under eye
    Doth homage to his new appearing sight,
    Serving with lookes his sacred majesty,
    And having climb’d the steepe up heavenly hill,
    Resembling strong youth in his middle age,
    Yet mortall lookes adore his beauty still,
    Attending on his goulden pilgrimage:
    But when from high-most pich with wery car,
    Like feeble age he reeleth from the day,
    The eyes (fore dutious) now converted are
    From his low tract and looke an other way:
    So thou, thy selfe out-going in thy noon:
    Unlok’d on diest unlesse thou get a sonne.

    The metaphor is this sonnet is the rising and setting sun, yet, cannily, the word "sun" is never used in the poem. Note, however, its homonym, the final word, in the final line of the couplet. The beloved is compared to the sun, his glory being admired as he rises to his peak, but waning as he declines. Hence, the admonition to do something quick (i.e., get married and have a child) lest he be forever forgotten.
    You can feel the poem rising and falling along with unmentioned-but-always-present sun. The blandness you feel, KJ, is, I think, the intentional let-down of the sinking sun, all the more noticeable after the rising rhythms that precede it. It ends with a "son," which is all the poet will offer as a way to raise him up again.
    Read the sonnet again, noting the climax at "steep-up heavenly hill" extending until "high-most pitch" when it starts "reeling" downward to the "bland" couplet and the final, most important word.
    Have I convinced you??

  9. That is a delightful and impassioned defense of Sonnet 7. Thanks for pointing out the careful course of the poem, Carl.

    I see all of that—and there's even some interesting possibilities in the idea that the sun at noon casts no shadows, and a son is something like a shadow of the father—and "shadow" was another name for an actor in Shakespeare's day.

    But it still seems dull. There's not much that's lyric in the lines, and, reading it out loud, I don't hear much music.

    And the pun at the end seems strained—perhaps because we've had to go such a long, shaggy-doggy way to get there.

    However, there are much worse poems out there! Shakespeare on an off day is still better than—say—Percy Bysshe Shelley. Can we find some common ground there?


  10. It's threads like this that make me love this place. I'm just sayin.

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