At the end of April I had the great pleasure to act as a judge for a Shakespeare Cento Poetry contest. A ‘cento’ is a poem or piece of literary writing that’s composed of quotations from other works – in Latin it means ‘patchwork’, or something made up of many different pieces, not unlike a mosaic or a collage.The poet Alison Chisolm recently wrote a stirring cento poem for BBC2 made up of lines from Keats, Longfellow, Tennyson, and her own work, which you can listen to here:
The Shakespeare Cento contest was organized on Twitter by a group of Shakespeare enthusiasts called @HollowCrownFans. The group, which is just about to celebrate its one-year anniversary, was originally set up in response to the BBC’s Hollow Crown series (which you might have spotted in the video above, or read about on BloggingShakespeare last year as part of its Year of Shakespeare project). Since its inception the group has grown to over 2,700 members spread across the world – every continent, they tell me, barring Antarctica (any readers in the South Pole out there??).
The group is a fun and lively community – in addition to creating a space in which members can share their enthusiasm for Shakespeare, the Hollow Crown series, and, let’s be real here, the actor Tom Hiddleston – they have established a weekly event called #ShakespeareSunday, in which Tweeters the world over send in their favourite Shakespeare quotes related to the week’s theme (recent themes have included soldiers and battles, coronations, and a series of beloved Shakespearean actors).
They estimate they get about 500-600 tweets each Sunday bearing the fruits of Shakespeare’s poetry – you don’t have to be a member to participate, so if you’re on Twitter consider sending them one of your favourite lines next Sunday.
When I asked the group’s two organizers, who are based in the UK and the US, about their reasons for creating @HollowCrownFans, they replied, ‘We like to think we are bringing Shakespeare into pop culture to show new and existing audiences alike that the Bard is for everyone and has a place in the modern world.’ Part of this has been about inspiring people to use Shakespeare to create their own works of art – which is where the Cento contest comes in.
Back in April @HollowCrownFans invited members to write their own poems using lines from Shakespeare. In the end they received thirty entries, from which I chose three winners. They were all wonderful in their own way – it was great to see how inventive writers were with Shakespeare’s lines, honouring their original meanings but also making them their own.
Below are the top three finalists, published with many thanks to @HollowCrownFans and all the participants in the contest for celebrating Shakespeare in such a fun, intelligent, and spirited way.
By ‘Les Vieux Jours’ – @cheeruphamlet
Chicago, Illinois, USA
‘In Love with the Dream King’
Thou know’st the mask of night is on my face.
Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed
with heavy eye, knit brow and strengthless pace
to live a second life on second head.
Come, gentle night, come, loving, black-brow’d night,
Steal me awhile from mine own company.
Sometime all full with feasting on your sight,
All days are nights to see till I see thee.
Why, there then: thus I do escape the sorrow
As easy might I from myself depart.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow
Pour’st in the open ulcer of my heart.
How many make the hour full complete;
Yet not so sound and half so deeply sweet.
Romeo & Juliet/Juliet Act 2 Scene 2
Rape of Lucrece
Romeo and Juliet/Juliet Act 3 Scene 2
Midsummer Night’s Dream/Helena Act 3 Scene 2
Antony and Cleopatra/Eros Act 4 Scene 14
Macbeth/Macbeth Act 5 Scene 5
Troilus and Cressida/Troilus Act 1 Scene 1
Henry VI/Henry VI Act 2 Scene 5
Henry IV, Part 2/Prince Henry Act 4 Scene 5
A very accomplished poem, both in a technical and artistic sense. I love the fact that the author used the sonnet form, and also that s/he drew on such a wide variety of plays and poems. The sensation I got from the piece was one of melancholic longing – a slight sadness and restlessness but also a quiet optimism.
By Elizabeth Preller – @emprelle
Into something rich and strange,
One foot in sea and one on shore,
Like bubbles in a late-disturbed stream,
A dream itself is but a shadow,
As sense cannot untie.
The Tempest (I, 2)
Much Ado About Nothing (I, 3)
Henry IV, Part I (II, 3)
Hamlet (II, 2)
Cymbeline (V, 4)
Judge’s comments: The shortest entry, but by no means the slightest! I especially liked the opening image of instability and shape-shifting – drowning, dreaming, breathing all at once. The plays the poem draws on are at face value quite different, which makes the very strong coherence of the lines all the more impressive.
By ‘Shakespeare Today’ – @Shakes_Today
Mark her eyes,
That show, contain and nourish all the world
And make my seated heart knock at my ribs.
The colour of her hair
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold
and other precious, precious jewels
Such war of white and red within her cheeks,
Whose blush doth thaw the consecrated snow,
To melt myself away in water-drops.
What majesty is in her gait,
I’ll write it straight:
Of a cheerful look, a pleasing eye and a most noble carriage.
Her voice was ever soft, gentle and low,
And in the porches of my ears did pour
Marvellous sweet music.
Her eyes, her hair, her cheek, her gait, her voice,
Which I in sufferance heartily will rejoice.
1. H8 IV.ii
2. LLL IV.iii
3. Mac I.iii.
4. AC II.v.
5. MV V.i.
6. MV III.i.
7. TS IV.v.
8. TA IV.iii
9. R2 IV.i
10. AC III.i.
11. AY III.v.
12. 1H4 II.iv
13. KL V.iii.
14. Ham I.v.
15. Tem III.iii.
16. TC I.i.
17. H5 II.ii.
Judge’s comments: The poem finds a real coherence in the chosen lines, maintaining their sense while also employing them for new purposes. The structure is elegantly simple.