It can also be quite cathartic.
Let’s be honest, what day can’t be improved by a good “Arrrrrgh!” or two?
If people annoy you, you can threaten to make them walk the plank, or call them lily livered landlubbers, and nobody takes offence.
I grew up enjoying books like Treasure Island and Kidnapped!, and still enjoy a good, old-fashioned pirate story, so I thought I would share Book Squirrel’s International Talk Like A Pirate Day Book Recommendations.
In honour of International Talk Like A Pirate Day, here are three great pirate tales for your reading pleasure.
‘Fallen Into Bad CompaNy’ by Kayla Jindrich
Matthew wants nothing more than to escape from his past, but that hardly seems possible with his new apprentice. While William might be Matthew’s chance at redemption, an opportunity to pay for his mistakes, William also has a reckless streak that could ruin the new life that Matthew has built for himself. Either Matthew will pull William from piracy, or William will drag Matthew back into the dangerous world that they both come from.
This line comes from Henry VI, Part 2, written in 1598. It was spoken by Dick the Butcher, a character nobody remembers except for this line, who was hanging about with his fellow rebels in a field at Blackheath.
It’s often quoted by people who are disillusioned with the legal system, or feel that certain members of the legal profession have less integrity than they should do. It is with these people for whom Dick the Butcher is likely to identify and sympathise.
It is important to understand that the intent of the line was to be funny — a sardonic response from the sort of character who is likely to have suffered at the hands of a lawyer or witnessed them acting less than judiciously— rather than a serious suggestion or a statement of intent. When you read the scene as a whole, the jaded weariness of Dick and his mates is clearly evident as a contributing factor to their rebellion. This is the context in which this quotation must be read.
Dick the Butcher is part of a group of rebels led by Jack Cade, who is extolling his qualifications to be king because of his noble connections, while the others are having a bit of a laugh at him because, realistically, he’s anything but noble. Jack does have ideas about a more egalitarian society, which form the context for Dick the Butcher’s punch line. As far as he’s concerned, if there were going to be some kind of ideal society, it wouldn’t have any lawyers in it.
Cade concurs with Dick: lawyers using parchment to create documents is a waste of good lambs’ skins, and the beeswax used as a seal stings more than the bee does. He agreed to something legally once, and somehow gave up his freedom or rights by doing so. He doesn’t clarify what the issue was, but the audience certainly understands his sentiments regarding lawyers.
The misunderstanding and misuse of this quotation arise from the interpretation that Shakespeare is saying that it’s the lawyers and upstanding citizens who would stand in the way of such a rebellion working because of their integrity and commitment to enforcing the law.
I would be willing to put money on that theory having been dreamed up by a lawyer in the first place.
If the predominant population of Shakespeare’s audiences were made up of lawyers, judges and clerks, this theory may have more credence.
However, the audiences were comprised of a much wider representation of society as a whole, only a small percentage of which was made up of lawyers. Many were quite common folk who stood throughout the performances, known as groundlings, while others were wealthier and could afford to pay for a seat. While some of those may have been lawyers, most were lords and ladies and members and other members of the gentry.
It does seem that even in Shakespeare’s time there was a fair degree of scepticism about lawyers. While Shakespeare mentions the legal profession more than any other, this is by no means the only play in which Shakespeare makes a joke at their expense. Mercutio, for example, talks about lawyers grasping for money in ‘Romeo and Juliet’, while the Fool in ‘King Lear’ makes a pointed statement about lawyers not saying or doing anything unless you pay them first.
Shakespeare was not trying to incite violence against lawyers, but he certainly wasn’t suggesting that they are the protectors or upholders of society, either. Dick’s statement is clearly satire, expressing cynicism about lawyers in ways that people understood even then.
The pun is often quite an under-appreciated form of humour. Also known as paronomasia, its a device of word play that relies on the multiple meanings of words, or the alternate meanings of homophones, to make a joke or draw attention to an idea.
All my life, puns have been a much-loved form of humour in my family. Sometimes deliberate, other times incidental, my mother always took great enjoyment in teaching us to play with words and meanings, and to take great satisfaction in a well-executed pun.
Birds, flowers, food, animals, jobs… you name it, we punned about it.
One of my personal favourites occurred the first time we played Trivial Pursuit as a family. My brother-in-law asked me a Science & Nature question: “Which is bigger, the Moon or Uranus?” “Hold on and I’ll check!” I quipped, then bent right over and stuck my head between my knees. The combination of sight gag and pun had everyone roaring with laughter. Since then, the story has been passed on numerous times to friends, extended family, and the next generation.
Admittedly, some can be fairly lame, but when wielded by a person with great vocabulary and word power, a pun can be a thing of beauty. Shakespeare himself loved a good pun, incorporating many of them into his plays. Shakespeare often engaged in paronomasia in both humorous and more serious contexts as a way of exploring or developing key ideas..
Mercutio’s joke as he is dying, “Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man” is a prime example, and a master stroke of dark comedy genius secreted within a play that actually has very little to laugh about.
The ability of characters such as Iago and Richard III to twist words using puns demonstrates just how easily they are able to manipulate both meaning and situations to their advantage, and provide powerful insights into each one’s evil genius.
It’s nice to think that Shakespeare and I are of the same mind when it comes to puns. They are fun; they are clever; they engage the intellect; they bring ideas into sharp focus. And the fact that there are a plethora of ways to use them means a lot.
Of course, some people just don’t appreciate that particular brand of humour. There’s no point, for example, trying to explain puns to kleptomaniacs because they can’t help taking things literally.
My granddaughters and I were sitting on the floor of their pink-painted cabin at the bottom of the garden. I had evicted yet another invading spider and, while the youngest sat on my knee, her almost-five year old big sister was sprawling in the pink armchair.
The three of us had been playing. I had pushed little Imogen on her swing until she giggled with joy and had chased Hollie around the garden, swinging her up onto my shoulders and teaching her to stand on her head in a fairly unorthodox manner. Somehow, small children make you forget the aches and pains… at least until next morning when you try to move again.
By this point though, we had settled down in the playhouse and eaten a meal of chocolate-dipped worms and green slimegrobbels with custard… a menu chosen by Hollie and lovingly prepared by the…
Most of the time, when people protest about the way the English language is abused, it’s a case of the language continuing to evolve as it has always done.
One such example is the practice of verbing, which takes the noun form of a word and transforms it into a verb form… like ‘verb’ and ‘verbing’.
Just last week, I was talking with a friend about how annoying she finds it when people say “I’m going to action that.” I’m sure she sought me out for the conversation because I’m both a word nerd and an English teacher.
“Action is a noun! A bloody noun! How can so many otherwise intelligent people get that wrong?”
“It grates on us because it’s recent,” I said. “We’ll get used to it.”
“No, I won’t! It’s just wrong!”
“You know Shakespeare did it?”
“Verbing. He did it all the time.”
“You and your Shakespeare. It’s like he’s the answer to everything.”
“You know he invented the word ‘friending’, right?”
She rolled her eyes and walked away. She didn’t even flinch at my use of the term “verbing”, which is exactly the same thing as “actioning” in terms of the language. After all, ‘verb’ is a noun, too.
It is the recent examples of verbing, such as “actioning” an idea, that we notice because we’re not used to hearing them yet. When Facebook was new, people complained the same way about “friending”, but these days nobody thinks twice about that. At some point in time, someone decided that it was okay to talk about bottling fruit, or shelving books, and now those terms are just everyday language.
It is also true, however, that some things people commonly say are, quite simply, wrong.
My pet peeve is when my students are talking about sport or some other kind of competition, and they say “We versed Team X”.
This is a common bastardisation of the Latin versus, which means ‘against’. It is commonly used for sporting matches and legal cases, and is generally abbreviated as v. or vs., as in Black v. White or Blue vs. Red.
My first response is always to ask whey they wrote poetry about another team. “You played them. You opposed them. You clashed with them. You competed with them. You did not write poetry about them.” Then I explain how the different words work, and what they actually mean.
The reason “versed” is wrong is because the words ‘versus’ and ‘verse’ have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Because ‘against’ is a preposition, it simply doesn’t make sense to say “We againsted them”. It is not verbing, by any stretch of the imagination.
The first time we have that conversation, they look at me with confusion. Some have a glazed look of fear, like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights. This never fails to entertain me. The second and third times, they roll their eyes.
Over time, the tedium of having the same grammar-nerdy conversation persuades them to start using the language correctly. They learn, I win, and so does the English language.
I’m always a bit lost for words when people remark that history is boring. Not because I have nothing to say— far from it— but because I know they are never going to be anywhere near ready for the conversations I want to have with them.
I accept that in the past, some teachers have been guilty of making history very, very dull, but it was not the history that was boring: it was the teacher.
I’ve had some of my own students question, “Why do we need to learn about this? How am I ever going to use this in real life?” My responses vary depending on the topic at hand, but they are consistently positive and enthusiastic about how interesting and inspiring history can be.
I have recently discovered two new examples to offer to students or friends who complain about history.
A week or so ago, I read a story of a 14th century nun named Joan who faked her own death to get out of the convent she was living in. How’s that for dedication?
Apparently, she wasn’t the only one who wanted to escape either. Having studied medieval history and knowing the lifestyle adhered to by monks and nuns of the time, I can’t say I blame any of them.
Faking your own death is definitely taking it to the next level, though, so I feel that Joan deserves a bit of recognition and applause for her commitment to the performing arts.
I now know more about this amazing creature than my friends will ever think beneficial. You can bet I’m going to tell them all about it, and I know my Year 9 boys are going to love it, too. I almost can’t wait until they complain again, so that I have a good reason to get the story out and share it.
Seriously, take a look at this beast. This picture from a medieval bestiary, or book of animals, portrays this particular bonnacon as being rather pleased with himself and his toxic poop. He’s never going to be sorry.
Go on. Tell me now that history is boring. I dare you.
My cats are big Shakespeare fans; in the case of Rocco, who’s been letting himself go a bit, a huge devotee of the Bard–fifteen pounds at his last checkup. We have assembled on the patio for a reading from Julius Caesar. Titus Andronicus was checked out of our local library, and my wife, the family Shakespeare-hater, is out of town.
“This foul deed shall smell above the earth/with carrion chipmunks, groaning for burial.”
I’ve told them the best way to read Shakespeare is that taught to me by Merlin Bowen, my freshman humanities teacher; once through quickly without checking the footnotes, then the second time more slowly, and thoughtfully, looking up the buskins and petards as you go. Easy for him to say since he didn’t have chemistry and social studies and phys ed and French and drugs to take at the same time.
It is a constant source of amusement to me that barely a day goes by without someone reading a post I wrote over two years ago. As hard as I try to write posts that are interesting and engaging, and have some relevance to either readers or other authors the one post that shows up in my blog stats almost every day is ‘Top Four Shakespeare Podcasts’, posted in June 2017.
While I have had some posts that got a great response at the time, othing else I’ve published on this blog has had that kind of perpetual popularity,
The funny thing is, it’s only got three likes, but more people than that visit that post every day. Perhaps WordPress needs to make the “like” button bigger and brighter so that it’s easier to see and click.
Given that it’s the most successful blog post I’ve ever written, I thought it was worth posting again for all the followers I’ve gained since then. Enjoy.
I love podcasts, and I love Shakespeare. In these four podcasts, you’ll find the best of those two worlds combined.
#1: No Holds Bard. An informative and entertaining podcast by Dan Beaulieu and Kevin Condardo, directors of the Seven Stages Shakespeare Company in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. They discuss the plays, words that people in the 21st century might not know, different interpretations, and various performances of Shakespeare’s plays. They even have a segment where they’ll answer homework questions sent in by students.
#2: Folger Shakespeare Library: Shakespeare Unlimited. A podcast that explores the associations between Shakespeare’s writing and the world today through the words we use, ideas we discuss, and performance of the works of Shakespeare and others.