Sigh a little more

Jun 7, 2013 by     Comments Off on Sigh a little more    Posted under: Brian Wrote This, Film Reviews, Uncategorized
A little meditation on song lyrics to liven things up around here.  Lyrics by William Shakespeare, music by Joss Whedon, in the artistic matchup you’ve been waiting for. Read along, and convert my sounds of “whoa” to hey, nonny nonny.

Just posted a review of Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing. It’s a terrific, charming adaptation of a brilliant play, and a perfect antidote to the recent rash of excessively kinetic, inadequately heartfelt action flicks bum-rushing the multiplex.  (Also, Amy Acker was hugely impressive as Beatrice.) But I’m not here (after a long absence) to talk movies.  I’m here to talk songs.

Sigh No More

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever;
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so,
But let them go,
And be you blith and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into Hey nonny, nonny.

Sing no more ditties, sing no mo
Of dumps so dull and heavy;
The fraud of men was ever so,
Since summer first was leavy.
Then sigh not so,
But let them go,
And be you blith and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into Hey nonny, nonny.

–William Shakespeare

Whedon also wrote the music to the film, and the soundtrack centerpiece is a rendition of Sigh No More, a little ditty Shakespeare composed and placed within his play.  Set to Whedon’s music, the song is hypnotic.  I spent too many overstressed hours in an office today, and I got through it by mainlining Al Green’s Greatest Hits over the headphones, and Whedon’s version of “Sigh No More,” playing the two-and-a-half-minute song easily 20 times.

Musically, the song’s however endearing you find it to be.  But lyrically, there’s a lot to consider in a very short space.  A superficial googling into scholarship on the song produces the idea that it’s not what we’d today call a feminist manifesto.  The song can be read as telling women, gently, to shut up and tolerate the misbehavior of their husbands.  Context within the play suggests that Shakespeare intended such a negative reading. I get that, completely, and have no argument against that reading of the author’s intention.  But for me, a feminist comfortably ensconced in the 21st century, the lyrics convey entirely the opposite.

There’s two things going on, for me.  One, my understanding of women’s options today, as opposed to what 1598 or so offered.  Secondly, the phrase “let them go.”  In a world where divorce was a largely criminal act, and romantic relationships often started at the altar, “let them go” might be read as “permit their misbehavior, and stay with them.”  But that’s not how I first read it.  “Then sigh not so but let them go” meant, to me, “don’t dwell on the pain, and move on.”  And specifically, it meant let them go out of your life.

While that might be a pretty blithe approach to heartbreak, it’s fair advice for life’s woes in general–a Zen approach, my wife called it, to the pains and problems in life that you can’t control.  And I imagine that much of the inconstancy Shakespeare had in mind was youthful and premarital flirtation–which may have put the woman’s reputation in jeopardy, but generally wouldn’t have involved longstanding, deeply committed relationships.

Or so I imagine, and this reaction is all about what i imagine.

I was glad to find a contemporary reading, even one at odds with the text, in Shakespeare’s light ditty.  I think the Whedon arrangement fits that wistful “Zen” attitude of carry on and keep your head up, and that’s good advice for anyone, even struggling writers.

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