Friday, February 5, 2010

"And love he loves..."

I'm currently teaching John Dryden's Marriage a la Mode as part of a literary drama survey course, and it's been about as much fun as I've ever had teaching anything. This stems largely from the play's incessant bawdiness, but it's also due to a really handy fusion of genres and forms that practically constitutes a survey on its own. It's rare that any work makes it easy to get students excited about the ways in which form and content complement one another, but Marriage a la Mode seems to pull it off.

Then there's the context of the play, which is just as entertaining. If work always consisted of teaching students about libertinism in King Charles II's court, my job satisfaction would be off the charts. Not only does it loosen things up a bit, but it allows for those intensely satisfying lessons in which you actually explode the myths to which your students want to remain loyal. Marriage a la Mode is about marriage. It was written in the seventeenth century. Given those two facts alone, some students try their damnedest to just sit on their hands and repeat platitudes about how things have changed, how marriage was "before" versus how it is "now," but Dryden doesn't let them.

But the greatest joy of all may be that the play is dedicated to John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, which gave me an excuse to have them read some of his poetry. If Dryden forces them to realize that society's views on marriage haven't deteriorated since the Restoration, then Rochester makes it clear that no 21st century rapper, reality star, or myspace celebrity can do filth like a libertine. We read the "Satyr on Charles II" and then discussed censorship, sex, and the evolution of swearing. It was a good day.

I' th' isle of Britain, long since famous grown
For breeding the best cunts in Christendom,
There reigns, and oh! long may he reign and thrive,
The easiest King and best-bred man alive.
Him no ambition moves to get renown
Like the French fool, that wanders up and down
Starving his people, hazarding his crown.
Peace is his aim, his gentleness is such,
And love he loves, for he loves fucking much.
---Nor are his high desires above his strength:
His scepter and his prick are of a length;
And she may sway the one who plays with th' other,
And make him little wiser than his brother.
Poor prince! thy prick, like thy buffoons at Court,
Will govern thee because it makes thee sport.
'Tis sure the sauciest prick that e'er did swive,
The proudest, peremptoriest prick alive.
Though safety, law, religion, life lay on 't,
'Twould break through all to make its way to cunt.
Restless he rolls about from whore to whore,
A merry monarch, scandalous and poor.
---To Carwell, the most dear of all his dears,
The best relief of his declining years,
Oft he bewails his fortune, and her fate:
To love so well, and be beloved so late.
For though in her he settles well his tarse,
Yet his dull, graceless ballocks hang an arse.
This you'd believe, had I but time to tell ye
The pains it costs to poor, laborious Nelly,
Whilst she employs hands, fingers, mouth, and thighs,
Ere she can raise the member she enjoys.
---All monarchs I hate, and the thrones they sit on,
---From the hector of France to the cully of Britain.

1 comment:

Tamara said...

"...then Rochester makes it clear that no 21st century rapper, reality star, or myspace celebrity can do filth like a libertine."

love love love!