"I Know a Bank Where the Wild Thyme Blows" from A Midsummer Night's Dream





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Published on Aug 18, 2011

The first line is often misquoted "whereon the wild thyme blows"

Shakespeare presents a dilemma to the actor. The poetry and the meaning can be hard to reconcile. This speech contains lines of exquisite poetry, for instance, "There sleeps Titania sometime of the night" must be one of the most mellifluous phrases ever written. The actor is presented with a choice: to transmit the meaning at the expense of the poetry - or to indulge the poetry and care less about what the words mean. Shakespearian actors - Olivier, for instance - tend to sing the lines, paying less attention to meaning. You can hear John Geilgud here (at 8.50):

If you listen to a Shakespearian actor reading Sonnet 130 - "My Mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun..." He will bring out the beauty of the poetry, but when you consider what the words mean, then you will realise that it's not a love poem to be read to his mistress. What girl wants to hear that her eyes aren't bright, her lips aren't red, her complexion is muddy, her hair is like wire, her cheeks aren't rosy, she smells bad, her voice isn't musical, and she's not light on her feet? Poetry notwithstanding, that would knock her love stone dead. But it sounds intoxicating. Shakespeare gives the actor a problem - the prosody and the meaning are sometimes pulling in opposite directions.

Titania was painted by Frederick Howard Michael,
and Frank Cadogan Cowper
and Arthur Rackham
and John Simmons

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull'd in these flowers with dances and delight;
And there the snake throws her enamell'd skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in:
And with the juice of this I'll streak her eyes,
And make her full of hateful fantasies.

Take thou some of it, and seek through this grove:
A sweet Athenian lady is in love
With a disdainful youth: anoint his eyes;
But do it when the next thing he espies
May be the lady: thou shalt know the man
By the Athenian garments he hath on.
Effect it with some care, that he may prove
More fond on her than she upon her love:
And look thou meet me ere the first cock crow.


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