Monday, 22 February 2021

Fear no more the heat o' Shakespeare...



My dad used to say parts of this poem/song from Shakespeare. It comes from the play 'Cymbeline' as sung to someone the singers think is dead. As with a lot of Shakespeare it seems to slip into a rather posh-sounding place full of high-sounding cliche until you look at it closely.


Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,
Nor the furious winter’s rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.


Fear no more the frown o’ the great;
Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke;
Care no more to clothe and eat;
To thee the reed is as the oak:
The scepter, learning, physic, must
All follow this, and come to dust.


Fear no more the lightning flash,
Nor the all-dreaded thunder stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
Thou hast finished joy and moan:
All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee, and come to dust.


No exorciser harm thee!
Nor no witchcraft charm thee!
Ghost unlaid forbear thee!
Nothing ill come near thee!
Quiet consummation have;
And renown├Ęd be thy grave!


Let's ask of it, why 'wages', 'lads', 'chimney-sweepers'? Why is it the 'tyrant's stroke' that we are 'past'? Or the 'frown of the great'? Why did we 'care' about having to get clothes and things to eat? Why should we take comfort that the 'sceptre', 'learning' and 'physic' will 'come to dust'?


Is there, then a meaning going on in the song about class? And oppression? That death will relieve us of the 'fear' of poverty, hunger and tyranny? Think of writing as being 'to' someone or 'for' someone - at least two 'audiences' here - the audience within the narrative, and the audience 'at home' or in the theatre. It's hardly directed at someone who is rich or is in the ruling elite. Why would Shakespeare write this?