Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Atlantic Ocean, Simon Winchester, and the Seven Ages of Man

Winchester, Simon. Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and A Vast Ocean of a Million Stories. New York: Harper, 2010.

I'm trying to write about things as I encounter them instead of putting them on the back burner.

That's why I'm briefly mentioning a book I'm listening to and its Shakespeare connection. Ever since I read The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary, I've tried to read everything that Simon Winchester has written. The man is an astonishing writer. He can make geology—a subject about which I would not generally be bubbling over with interest to investigate—completely fascinating. He is one of the modern masters of non-fiction. I've read his Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded , his A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906, his The Man Who Loved China (which was a bit of a dud, but a dud by Winchester is still worth reading), his Pacific Rising: The Emergence of a New World Culture (which was also on the less-than-thrilling side, but which might be seen as a companion to the book I'm currently reading), and his The River at the Center of the World: A Journey Up the Yangtze, and Back in Chinese Time. I'm currently listing to the audiobook version of his Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and A Vast Ocean of a Million Stories (read—and marvelously read, too—by the author).

I told you that to tell you this. The organizational structure of Atlantic is based on Jaques' "Seven Ages of Man" speech from As You Like It. Winchester attempts to trace the history and culture of the Atlantic Ocean in these seven categories:
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything. (II.vii.139-66)
In another author's hands, it might be really, really cheesy. But Winchester is (thus far—I've only read into the second age) able to pull it off. And it demonstrates that Shakespeare is never confined to the study or the stage. He contains oceans.

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Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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