Play Sonnet 129
The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action: and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight;
Past reason hunted; and no sooner had,
Past reason hated, as a swallowed bait,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad.
Mad in pursuit and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.
In Sonnet 129, the poet has some choice words about the consequences of sex.
Big Willie wants you to know that sex is a way to squander vital energy AND incur shame– at the same time. Anticipatory lust makes you murderous, violent, blameworthy, savage, extreme, rude, cruel, and certainly not trustworthy. First you enjoy sex, then immediately despise it. People go to absurd lengths for something they’ll hate once they have, insisting it was put in their path just to make them crazy. It encourages extremes in emotion. It’s short term bliss followed by true sorrow. While you’re anticipating, it seems like a joy; afterward, a bad dream. Everyone knows this, yet no one knows enough to avoid the experience that leads us to this hell.
“omne animal post coitum triste est”, or, “after sex all creatures are sad”, is a piece of Latin folk wisdom often quoted in relation to this sonnet.
A particularly striking feature of this sonnet is the torrent of adjectives describing the build up of desire, and the imagery of the hooked fish which portrays the victim of lust as a frenzied animal expending its last vital energies in paroxysms of rage and futile struggle, even though it is inevitably doomed.
The Bowery, Manhattan
The Bowery is a street and neighborhood in the southern portion of the New York City borough of Manhattan. The street runs from Chatham Square at Park Row, Worth Street, and Mott Street in the south to Cooper Square at 4th Street in the north, while the neighborhood’s boundaries are roughly East 4th Street and the East Village to the north; Canal Street and Chinatown to the south; Allen Street and the Lower East Side to the east; and Little Italy to the west.
In the 17th century, the road branched off Broadway north of Fort Amsterdam at the tip of Manhattan to the homestead of Peter Stuyvesant, Director-General of New Netherland. The street was known as Bowery Lane prior to 1807. “Bowery” is an anglicization of the Dutch bouwerij, derived from an antiquated Dutch word for “farm”, as in the 17th century the area contained many large farms.
A New York City Subway station named Bowery, serving the J/Z trains, is located close to the Bowery’s intersection with Delancey and Kenmare Streets. There is a tunnel under the Bowery once intended for use by proposed but never built New York City Subway services, including the Second Avenue Subway.
By 1766, when John Montresor made his detailed plan of New York, “Bowry Lane”, which took a more north-tending track at the rope walk, was lined for the first few streets with buildings that formed a solid frontage, with market gardens behind them; when Lorenzo Da Ponte, the librettist for Mozart’s Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro, and Così fan tutte, immigrated to New York City in 1806, he briefly ran one of the shops along the Bowery, a fruit and vegetable store. James Delancey’s grand house, flanked by matching outbuildings, stood behind a forecourt facing Bowery Lane; behind it was his parterre garden, ending in an exedra, clearly delineated on the map.
The Bull’s Head Tavern was noted for George Washington’s having stopped there for refreshment before riding down to the waterfront to witness the departure of British troops in 1783. Leading to the Post Road, the main route to Boston, the Bowery rivaled Broadway as a thoroughfare; as late as 1869, when it had gained the “reputation of cheap trade, without being disreputable” it was still “the second principal street of the city”.
By the time of the Civil War, the mansions and shops had given way to low-brow concert halls, brothels, German beer gardens, pawn shops, and flophouses, The Bowery, which marked the eastern border of the slum of “Five Points”, had also become the turf of one of America’s earliest street gangs, the nativist Bowery Boys. In the spirit of social reform, the first YMCA opened on the Bowery in 1873.
By the 1890s, the Bowery was a center for prostitution that rivaled the Tenderloin, and for bars catering to gay men and some lesbians at various social levels, from The Slide at 157 Bleecker Street, New York’s “worst dive”, to Columbia Hall at 5th Street, called Paresis Hall. One investigator in 1899 found six saloons and dance halls, the resorts of “degenerates” and “fairies”, on the Bowery alone. Gay subculture was more highly visible there and more integrated into working-class male culture than it was to become in the following generations, according to the historian of gay New York, George Chauncey.
From 1878 to 1955 the Third Avenue El ran above the Bowery, further darkening its streets, populated largely by men. “It is filled with employment agencies, cheap clothing and knickknack stores, cheap moving-picture shows, cheap lodging-houses, cheap eating-houses, cheap saloons”, writers in The Century Magazine found it in 1919. “Here, too, by the thousands come sailors on shore leave,—notice the ‘studios’ of the tattoo artists,—and here most in evidence are the ‘down and outs'”. Prohibition eliminated the Bowery’s numerous saloons.
The vagrant population of the Bowery declined after the 1970s, in part because of the city’s effort to disperse it. Since the 1990s the entire Lower East Side has been reviving. As of July 2005, gentrification is contributing to ongoing change along the Bowery. In particular, the number of high-rise condominiums is growing. In 2006, AvalonBay Communities opened its first luxury apartment complex on the Bowery, which included an upscale Whole Foods Market. Avalon Bowery Place was quickly followed with the development of Avalon Bowery Place II in 2007. That same year, the SANAA-designed facility for the New Museum of Contemporary Art opened between Stanton and Prince Street.
The new development has not come without a social cost. Michael Dominic’s documentary Sunshine Hotel followed the lives of residents of one of the few remaining flophouses.
Interior shots were filmed at Lumos
1. Valentine’s Manual of Old New York / No. 7, Ed. Henry Collins Brown, Pub. Valentine’s Manual Inc. 1922
2. Jackson, Kenneth L. “Bowery” in Jackson, Kenneth T. (ed.), (2010) The Encyclopedia of New York City (2nd edition). New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-11465-2, p.148
4. Manhattan East Side Transit Alternatives (MESA)/Second Avenue Subway Summary Report
5. Smith, Matthew Hale. Sunshine and Shadow in New York, 1869, p.214.
6. Levinson, David ed. (2004). The Encyclopedia of Homelessness, s.v. “Bowery, The”.
7. Chauncey, George. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890–1940: ch. 1 “The Bowery as haven and spectacle” (1994:32–45), p. 33
8. Frank, Mary and Carr, John Foster, “Exploring a neighborhood”, The Century Magazine 98 (July 1919:378)
ACTOR – Rich Sommer
Rich Sommer most recently closed Off-Broadway in Buried Child opposite Ed Harris. He made his Broadway debut in Harvey opposite Jim Parsons at Studio 54 and was also in Roundabout’s The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin. . Best known for his portrayal of Harry Crane on AMC’s “Mad Men.” Other notable TV appearances include “Wet Hot American Summer,” “Love,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Law & Order (SVU and Original),” and recurring roles on “Elementary” and “The Office.” Film work includes the upcoming LBJ and Girlfriend’s Day as well as Hello My Name is Doris, The Devil Wears Prada, Celeste and Jesse Forever, The Giant Mechanical Man, and Fairhaven.
DIRECTOR – Alex Megaro
When Alex was 8 years old, his father showed him Alien on Valentine’s Day so he could see a movie “with red in it.” Now he’s a filmmaker. He works on a freelance basis as a director, editor, writer, and producer. He recently directed the award-winning short A Pious Man and also produced/edited the feature film Driftwood, winner of the Grand Jury Prize for narrative feature at the 2016 Slamdance Film Festival. This is his second film for The Sonnet Project having previously directed Sonnet 82.
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY – Paul Taylor
Paul Taylor is a filmmaker based out of New York. His recent work as director of photography include the feature film The Winds That Scatter, as well as Driftwood on which he also served as writer/director.