Monday’s Verse 2/16/2015 (Shakespeare)


a usage lesson of sorts today. I’m not sure what to say about the phrase “sea change” and its use in popular media. There’s nothing much wrong with it; it’s a slight cliche, but it seems like people generally know what it means when writers use it. A complete and dramatic reversal, something like that? Take 2 examples located via the Huffington Post. David Oyelowo opines that given the box office successes of “12 Years a Slave,,” “The Butler,” and “Selma,” that “…it feels like a sea change is at hand” (in terms of Hollywood recognizing an audience for black-centered narratives). An environmentalist claims that coming to terms with California’s water shortage “will require a sea change in perspective.” Sometimes the implication is that this reversal, though a long time coming, is sudden.

It took Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan to teach me that the phrase adorns Percy Bysshe Shelley’s (“Sh, ye creepy, shy bells,” 1792-1822) grave in Rome. The inscription alludes to his death at sea, and comes from one of most famous “song” excerpts of all Shakespeare’s plays, Ariel’s song from Act I, Scene II of The Tempest. With this song, the sprite Ariel leads shipwrecked Ferdinand to Prospero. I’m interested to hear whether you all sense any distance between the phrase here and the way we currently use it. -ed.

excerpt — Ariel’s song, “Full Fathom Five”

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them–Ding-dong, bell.


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