As you may know from reading his plays, Ken Ludwig is a bit of a Shakespeare fanatic. He began teaching his own children how to read and memorize passages from Shakespeare from the time they were six years old. The purpose of his book How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare is to pass on the torch and create a whole new generation of Shakespeare lovers.

In total, the book presents 25 passages that Ken taught his kids over the course of several years, ordered into a specific sequence to make learning them as easy as possible.   And as each passage is discussed, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream to The Tempest (with a lot more plays in between), he explains the stories, the characters and the meanings of the works, giving readers the kind of knowledge of Shakespeare they’ll need to become great students, great thinkers, and great teachers.

In addition to the book’s success as a means of teaching Shakespeare to children, adults may also find it useful as a stealth method of brushing up on their own knowledge. From Shakespeare novices to experts, readers of all ages will find something wonderfully irresistible in these pages.

Samuel French is delighted give you a taste of this indispensable guide to Shakespeare in three excerpts, published weekly.

To learn more and to download extra content relating to the book, including an excerpt and audio from actors Derek Jacobi, Richard Clifford, and Frances Barber, visit HowToTeachYourChildrenShakespeare.com.


CHAPTER 15
Passage 9

Carpe Diem

What is love? ‘Tis not hereafter
Present mirth hath present laughter.
What’s to come is still unsure.
In delay there lies no plenty,
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty.
Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

(Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene 3, lines 48–53)

Earlier we examined the opening speech of Twelfth Night (If music be the food of love, play on…) and discovered that most of the play’s major themes are referred to in those first eight lines: love, appetite, surfeiting, dying.

One additional theme is suggested by the opening speech, and it is arguably the most interesting of all:

Enough; no more.

‘Tis not so sweet now as it was before.

This theme might be described as “enjoy things while you’re young and able to enjoy them because they won’t last forever.” “Carpe diem,” as the Latin poet Horace put it around 20 B.C. “Seize the day.”

Shakespeare will emphasize this theme again and again in Twelfth Night, most clearly in a song sung by Feste, the wise fool.

In Act II, Scene 3, a moment before Malvolio, the haughty butler, bursts into the room in his nightshirt (My masters, are you mad?), Sir Toby and Sir Andrew ask Feste for a love song, and Feste sings:

What is love? ’Tis not hereafter.

Present mirth hath present laughter.

What’s to come is still unsure.

In delay there lies no plenty,

Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty.

Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

This wistful theme will pervade the play and lend the otherwise riotous proceedings an air of ruefulness and weight.

Let’s analyze what the passage means; then you should try to memorize the passage a whole line at a time. With its strong four-beat rhythm and easy rhymes, it won’t be hard.

What is love? ’Tis not hereafter.

Meaning: Love shouldn’t be held off for the future: Love should be enjoyed right now.

Present mirth hath present laughter.

Meaning, again: Joy should come now. Don’t hold it off. Joy now will produce happiness now.

What’s to come is still unsure.

Still in Shakespeare means “always.” So the line means “What’s to come is always unsure.”

In delay there lies no plenty,

Plenty in this context means “reward.” So the line means “There’s no reward for delaying things.”

Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty.

Here, sweet and twenty is a metaphor for a sweet young woman. It’s as if Shakespeare is saying:

“Then come kiss me, you sweet young woman.”

One of Shakespeare’s most beautiful verbal ingenuities is to turn adjectives into nouns. Sweet and twenty are adjectives describing a woman, but Shakespeare turns them into nouns identifying the young woman. (The technical term for a metaphor where something closely associated with a subject is substituted for it is metonymy.)

Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

Meaning “Youth is something that won’t last.” This line contains two abbreviations that allow the line to scan—that is, to be read with the proper number of rhythmical beats (in this case four). First, he shortens is to ’s. Second, he leaves out the word “that.” If he said,

Youth is a stuff that will not endure,

then the line, in addition to being ungainly, wouldn’t be in four beats like the rest of the lyric. Shakespeare turns it into a thing of beauty with a contraction and an omission.

YOUTH’S a STUFF will NOT enDURE .

Every writer in the world would give his right arm to write a line like that, indeed, to write any of the lines in this lyric. It’s the kind of simple, straightforward, philosophical, and calmly beautiful passage that you will want to hold onto forever.

So go sit quietly in a corner and memorize one of the most beautiful song lyrics in the English language.


How-To-Teach-Book3To purchase Ken Ludwig’s How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, click here.

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