Misunderstood and Misquoted Shakespeare: “One Foul Swoop”

This morning’s conversation in my kitchen is a clear demonstration of just how much of a Shakespeare Nerd I really am.

H: I need egg cartons. Where do I get egg cartons? 
Me: How many do you want? 
I pointed to the top of my fridge where there sat a stack of egg cartons. 
Me again: Take them all. 
H: Oh wow! Thanks! 
K: That’s awesome! I’ll grab them in one foul swoop and put them in the car.
Me: Well, that’s decided my blog post for today. 
K: Huh? 

In Act 4, Scene 3 of ‘Macbeth’, Malcolm and Macduff engage in testing one another’s loyalty to Scotland rather than to Macbeth, who has become king. During that conversation, Macduff learns of the murders of his wife and children at the order of Macbeth, whom he describes as a “hell-kite” who has slain his “chickens” in “one fell swoop”. 


The deed was certainly foul, but that isn’t what Shakespeare wrote. He wrote “one fell swoop” which is an entirely different thing. 

Here, fell means ‘fierce’. 

It’s an image of violent attack, of hunting, and of predator and prey, which leaves the audience in no doubt that these murders were calculated and precise. The term “hell-kite” leaves the audience in no doubt of the evil motivations behind the slaying.

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The Pun.

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.

Classy Humour.

I love the fact that my students have great senses of humour. They’re quirky and fun, and they know they have the freedom to express that in my classes.

Last week, one of my students told me a funny story about what he did in Biology class. To his delight, I appreciated the humour a lot more than his classmates or the Biology teacher had done.

He was more than willing to give me permission to write his story creatively. I decided a Drabble would be perfect for creating a snapshot of that moment in the classroom.

I hope you enjoy his very classy humour as much as I did.

And thank you, James, for making me laugh on a regular basis. You’re a legend.

The teacher stood at the front of the room, textbook in hand, as the students settled down to business. 

“Please open your text book to page four hundred and four, and… yes, James?”

The teacher looked with anticipation at the young man sitting in the second row, hand raised and an awkward smile on his face. 

“That page cannot he found.” 

His classmates looked confusedly at James, and then at the specified page in their own books.

The teacher frowned. “Are you sure? There must be some kind of mistake.”

James’ smile became a triumphant grin. “It’s an error 404.”

***

Credit for this story must be given to my student, James, who actually did this in one of his classes, and gave me permission to write it as a drabble.

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On Verbing

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?”

“What?” 

“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. 

Hey nonny nonny

‘Hey nonny nonny’ is a curious little phrase found in Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’. The character Balthasar sings a song to the ladies in which he recommends that instead of worrying about what the men are up to, they should convert their sighs of despair into ‘hey nonny nonny’.

The phrase ‘Hey nonny nonny’ has no direct translation into modern English, but is understood from the context that it could be taken to mean a dismissal of circumstances as we do today with expressions like “whatever”, “what the heck?” or “that’s life”, or simply refer to general merry-making. 

As such, it is a phrase that can be safely used in circumstances where less appropriate responses cannot be uttered. In my experience, expressing one’s umbrage using Shakespearean quotations is almost as satisfying as actually swearing anyway. There is something remarkably cathartic about speaking in Elizabethan English, although that will likely never be understood by anyone who does not appreciate and enjoy the language as I do. 

I have decided to add “hey nonny nonny” into my repertoire as a worthy companion exclamation to my renowned-among-those-who-know-me question, “What manner of nitwittery shall plague me on the morrow?”
In writing this post, however, I’ve come to one realisation: I will have to teach my devices that I intend to type “hey sonny sonny” or “hey nanny nanny” about as much as I ever mean to type “oh shot”. 

Hey, nonny nonny. They’ll learn. 

Two More Reasons Why History is Not Boring

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. 

Original painting: Jan Van Helmont Portrait of the Sisters of the Black. Public Domain
The clever edits are my own. 

Then, today, one of my favourite History blogs on WordPress posted about “the mythical animal with a deadly rear end”. I followed the link to the full story about the Bonaccon, and did a little more research after that.

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. 

‘Good Tickle Brain’: An “excellent good friend” for exploring Shakespeare.

For Shakespeare Sunday this week, I want to share with you the wonderful work of cartoonist Mya Gosling at Good Tickle Brain. 

Mya takes the vast works of Shakespeare and condenses them into cartoons that even those with very little knowledge of Shakespeare can read, understand and appreciate.

For Shakespeare nerds like me, it presents a lot of fun and great “oh yeah!” moments. For those new to the plays or wondering what on earth the characters are saying and doing, Mya’s cartoons make the complex much more straightforward. 

This website contains a wealth of play summaries, character spotlights, analysis and audience insights. I frequently share Good Tickle Brain with my students because it really does help to make whatever play we are studying more accessible and relatable for them. 

Even if you haven’t seen or read the play Titus Andronicus — and let’s face it, most people haven’t— make sure you watch the video titled ’Titus Andronicus: All The Deaths’. The way she draws all the characters and then depicts how they died in the play is brilliant!

Also incredibly insightful is the non-Shakespeare section titled ‘Keep Calm and Muslim On’, which is Mya’s exploration of the way in which Muslims and non-Muslims get along together in American society, which I find highly relevant to Australia too.  I always enjoy seeing the simple but profound ways in which Mya breaks down the barriers and embraces the differences while still showing how similar we really all are. 

It’s a great website that holds lots of fabulous little surprises. I really hope that you’ll take a look, and I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do. 

What I Love… and What Frustrates Me… About Pinterest

Pinterest is great for inspiration, curating themed collections and procrastinating by getting distracted with eye candy. 

It is a platform on which the users create collections of images called boards. These are usually themed, although how organised and themed they are is entirely up to each individual user.

I love being able to put together a collection of images on any theme I wish. The evidence of this is the fact that I have a bazillion Pinterest boards for everything from books worth reading, my book reviews and blog posts and social media for Indie authors to costume and set ideas for musical theatre productions and swoonworthy libraries. I’ve collected hundreds of great looking recipes that I might never make, and probably twenty that I have. I can be as nerdy about things as I like- in fact, that is positively encouraged! It really is all very enjoyable. 

Just a few of my bookish and Indie author boards.

Pinterest is a great way to highlight my own content and link it back to my blogs or website. When I write a blog post relevant to Indie authors in one way or another, I can add it to one of my boards on Pinterest where it is easily found and accessed by others. The link back to my blog post is an integral part of the pinned image, so that a click on that image takes a viewer straight to my blog. This link is easily achieved by sharing to Pinterest directly from each WordPress blogpost, or by adding the link manually to a custom image. 

It is a wonderful thing to be inspired by others, whether it’s by “how to do something” posts, images of places you’d like to travel to,  or ideas about how to take better photos of different things. This is something that Pinterest and Instagram have in common because they’re both highly visual in nature. 

I also like the fact that you can have secret boards. This means that you can save collections of things like Christmas or birthday gift ideas or whatever else you want to keep private, and nobody else can see them. 

One very practical, personal use for Pinterest is creating a Wish List. My best friend, my sister and I all have a Wish List board, where we place images of things we’d like to have as birthday or Christmas gifts. It makes shopping for one another so much easier, and enables us to buy the perfect gift every time. They don’t have to be expensive things – one of my friends used that board to find the pattern for a pair of knitted gloves I liked, and presented me with those very gloves in my favourite colour: black! If there is a particular book I want, or a particular bear I want to add to my collection, I can add it to that list and use it as a shopping list for myself, too! 

What frustrates me, though, is that Pinterest is really not all that social.

You used to be able to like someone’s post, but you can’t do that anymore. You can save it to your own collection. You can leave a comment, but not many people do. You can send someone a pin via direct message, assuming they’re on Pinterest too. But none of it feels much like an immediate connection like it does on Facebook or Instagram. I may have 735 followers, but I never actually know if they’re there. 

I suppose that’s because Pinterest is focused more on curating content than on creating connections between people. I understand the different emphasis, but I really don’t think being able to like someone’s image distracted from that. 

The Verdict: Pinterest is a helpful and enjoyable media platform, but not exactly social in nature. It is best used for collecting and sharing content, not connections. 

Having said that, if you’d like to follow me on Pinterest, you are more than welcome to do so. You won’t be able to ‘like’ my posts, but you may find one or three – or thirty – boards that inspire or help you somehow. 

What I Love… And What Frustrates Me… About Blogging On WordPress

There are many features of WordPress that I love. In terms of social media platforms, though, the advantages are clear.

It’s more meaningful than Facebook.
The content on WordPress – and I assume on other blogging platforms – is as varied and interesting as you’ll ever find. Books, history, poetry, literature, Indie authors, self publishing, photography, travel, food, music… you name it, there are multiple blogs right there waiting to be discovered and read.  There is no end to the talent in this place. 

There’s no clickbait, drivel or game requests.
Enough said.

You can engage exactly as one does on Facebook.
You can like a post, you can leave a comment. You can even like as many posts as you want to, and WordPress won’t stop you from doing so. How’s that for a positive, helpful algorithm?

Sharing posts is easy.
What’s on WordPress doesn’t have to stay on WordPress.
With one click, you can share posts on WordPress using the reblog function, or directly onto any of the other social media platforms.

Going ad-free with a custom domain is cheap and easy. 
It doesn’t cost much to have your own domain name that adds to your personal branding, and eliminate all advertising from your blog altogether. It works out even cheaper if you pay for two or three years instead of one, and as a business expense, you can claim it as a tax deduction. This can be done from the WordPress menu, so you don’t even have to Google how to do it. 

Sorry, though – wordynerdbird.com and mrbooksquirrel.blog are already taken. Have fun thinking up something cooler! 

There is no instant messenger, nor is there an inbox. 
There are benefits to not being quite so available all the time. 
I know. It’s a shocking thought, but I’m brave enough to say it. 

Many bloggers do have links to their other social media accounts on their blog, so you can still send a personal message or have a conversation there if you wish to. 

There’s no drama. 
Well… there might be on some political blogs, or perhaps some celebrity ones, I suppose. I don’t follow or read those, so I wouldn’t know.

Generally, though, you follow and read what you want to, and the rest sail blissfully past without even making a blip on your radar. 

Block style formatting. 
I found using the new “blocks” editor intimidating for about half a day, and have absolutely loved it ever since. It makes designing a great-looking post super easy. If you don’t like where an image or some other content is, you can move it around without fuss. Need a sub-heading? No problem. Formatting a list? Easy as. You can even save a particular block as a reusable one, so you can add it to subsequent posts with one click. This is great for themes and otherwise related posts. 

The Reader page on WordPress is brilliant
It lists all the posts from the blogs you follow, so that you can scroll through and see what’s on offer. It means that people who follow your blog will actually be able to see when you make a new post, and click through to read it with ease. 
If you want to find something new, you can search for a topic or click on the “Discover” tab.

There are, however, just a couple of things that frustrate me.

As I commented yesterday, I wish it were easier to get people to engage and respond. Perhaps they don’t perceive the value of that like they do on other social media platforms. Perhaps it’s a different type of audience. I just don’t know what the answer is there. 

The WordPress app. 
While the website uses “blocks” for content, the app is a dinosaur. Editing a post using the app is a nightmare because of the different formatting – you have to convert it from blocks to “classic” and it all just ends up looking wrong. 

It’s disappointing, because an outfit as big and professional as WordPress should be able to furnish their users with an app that is easy to use and which fully complements the website editor. 

Consequently, I do all my posting via the website, even on my iPad or phone. It’s far easier and the results are better. 

The Verdict:
WordPress wins, hands down. With just a little more audience interaction, it would be darn near perfect. 

What I Have Learned From Blogging 150 Days In A Row

Blogging consistently for 150 days in a row is no mean feat. It takes time, effort, and brain power, and a bit of self-discipline really helps, too. I’m thinking very clever things of myself today, but that’s not the only positive outcome. 

When I first started blogging, I was a bit here and there with it all, which is perfectly fine. Over time, though, I noticed that the more consistent I was, the more consistently my posts were being read. When I managed a three or four day streak, I felt like I had really accomplished something constructive in terms of getting myself “out there” as a blogger,

At the beginning of this year, one of my resolutions was to blog more consistently. I can certainly put a check in that box!  Now that we’ve reached the middle of the year, I have spent some time thinking about what I’ve learned from doing so. 

Goals are highly motivating. When you’re on a long streak, it’s very easy to dismiss thoughts like “I’m too tired” or “not today” and get it done. 

Planning is essential. Sometimes, deciding what to write about is the hardest part. Planning helps to overcome this.  I have developed a list of themes, post ideas and issues to explore. That way, I’ve always got something to write about if there is nothing pressing or timely bobbing around in my head.  Participating in special “months” like Women in History and “National Poetry Month” has helped me to focus my posts during those specific times. This has helped me to attract different kinds of readers to my blog, which is generally quite eclectic in the topics I cover. 

I still want to improve the way I coordinate my planning. I’ve started to time my Shakespeare-related posts to coincide with #ShakespeareSunday on Twitter so that I have an audience to reach that is automatically curated for me by someone else’s design. That’s proven to be very handy, so I want to find more opportunities like that to fit with my interests and content. 

Reblogging is a great way to share sand add value to someone else’s content. I often share other people’s posts via Twitter, and do so very gladly. When I discovered how to reblog someone’s work, that was a revolutionary moment for me. It enabled me to share their work in a more meaningful way than just tweeting it – which is meaningful and helpful, but it doesn’t add any value to the content. 

Reblogging makes it possible to add comments or a reflection of my own on the topic. This is helpful to both them and myself: their content reaches another blogger’s audience, and my content is enriched by theirs. It is also a very good thing to be inspired by what someone else produces, and to let that fuel my own thoughts and words. 

It’s also fair to say that there are times when the tank has been dangerously empty, and those bloggers whose work I have shared have literally saved my day – both by inspiring my post, but by encouraging my mind and spirit when life has been hard. 

Varying the topics attracts different readers. There are blogs dedicated to just one topic. Some of those bloggers do it extremely well. I am probably never going to be one of those people. 

I like to discuss different things that interest me. By mixing it up, I’ve been able to find new readers who like history, or poetry, or horror, or Shakespeare, or who are Indie authors and interested in the issues that relate to our awesome little corner of the publishing universe. These audiences often cross over, so if someone isn’t interested in what I write one day, they probably will be on the next. 

Over the past 150 days, I have seen my readership grow, measurable by the increase in followers on my blog. I find this very exciting, as when I started out, I thought having ten followers was incredible. Actually, given that I had very little clue what I was doing, it probably was incredible!

Consistency increases visibility. I’ve noticed that I’m getting more post likes and engagements from people who weren’t following me previously. I can only assume that this is because my posts are gaining visibility via the WordPress reader as well as on Twitter and via my very amateur attempt at SEO. My rather thorough use of categories and tags might be helping, too.  Whatever the source of the magic, I’ve enjoyed some great feedback and questions from readers that have been both helpful and stimulating. 

Accuracy and accountability matter. When you say something on your blog, you need to be able to back it up. Thankfully, as a History teacher, this is something I’ve always known. So when a reader asked me recently, “What’s your source?” I was able to answer promptly and easily.  I really don’t want to start providing a bibliography for every post I write, but it does matter that I can verify my content when I am called on to do so. 

People want to know who you are, Even though a blog post focuses on a particular topic or idea, readers respond well when you show them something of who you are or what makes you tick. I do not suggest making it all personal or discussing all your private issues in detail, but if readers can see that you are genuine, they will respond to you in positive and encouraging ways 

I am better at blogging than I used to be.  Part of that is in the development of my skills by learning as I go, and part of it is confidence that can only ever come from experience. This has, in fact, been the most motivating lesson of all. If I keep going, I’ll get even better. I don’t know if the world is ready for that, but I am. 

There are, however, still things that remain a mystery to me: 

How do you actually get people to click “like” before they leave? 
How can I get more people to leave a comment or question? 

Those are questions that fall into “next level engagement”. I’ll write that into my goal-setting now.