On Maurice, Shakespeare, and the Wonders of Literature

In Beauty and the Beast (2017), when Belle returns home from her morning routine, she finds her father Maurice tinkering with a music box designed as a windmill house while reflecting through song about love’s role in preserving memories.

The atmosphere of this scene is something very familiar to me. In my family, reflecting on the bittersweet aspects of life and love, and discussing ideas bordering philosophical are encouraged. My mother and my father, with their talent in art and in writing respectively, have also nurtured in me the interest in creating and memorializing things. Reading has likewise been viewed as a worthwhile hobby.

As in Belle’s story, these practices are not always easily understood by other people. While I have found friends, peers, and colleagues who are appreciative of my hobbies and habits, there have also been some who have called my interests “boring” or “strange”. The tone used to express these adjectives has ranged from innocent candor to bewilderment to prejudice.

Still, I never felt excluded in social situations. Again, there are always people who share or support my interests. Through them and with them, I learned more.

Remember that moment when Belle was reading lines from Romeo and Juliet to the Beast? Then the Beast continued the lines and commented that there are better books to read? I find that part so adorable. I totally understand the reason for Belle’s smile. Finally, she has someone who reads books and knows about her favorite author – Shakespeare.

Ah, Shakespeare. Such a joy to read, but a challenge indeed.

I am not among the literary world’s Shakespeare experts, but I have read Shakespeare and have taught some of his works for introductory literature classes. Among his sonnets, I like this one in particular:

SONNET 19

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,

And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;

Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,

And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood;

Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleet’st,

And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed Time,

To the wide world and all her fading sweets;

But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:

O, carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow,

Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen;

Him in thy course untainted do allow

For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men.

Yet, do thy worst, old Time: despite thy wrong,

My love shall in my verse ever live young.

In this sonnet, the image of time is that of an animal devouring all things. One can try pleading to him, one can try asking that certain important things be spared. Or instead one can follow Shakespeare and temper the effects of time through literature: “My love shall in my verse ever live young.”

Maurice, in the live action Beauty and the Beast, and his song remind me so much of that sonnet.

“How does a moment last forever? How can a story never die?” He tempers the effects of time through his art. His wife has already passed away but he still preserves her memory through his creations. And where does he get the strength to do this? “It is love we must hold on to. Never easy but we try.”

Maurice does the same art of preservation for his daughter later on in the film. In the final dance, he is seen drawing Belle and the Prince dancing with several others in the ballroom. At that point, things have come full circle. By the time the credits were rolling and “How Does a Moment Last Forever?” was playing again, I went from tearful to quietly but heavily crying out of joy.

To every bard and artist, here’s a nod to you.

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