In the coming school term, my year 10 students will be studying ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ and comparing it with the 1999 hit film ’10 Things I Hate About You’.
I started writing notes for them about why Katherina was referred to as a shrew. Those notes evolved into a blog post for Shakespeare Nerd, and then I simplified them again for my students.
It’s so easy to get drawn into the vortex of the language and its richness, and to find oneself admiring the ways in which the social values of the time are embedded so deeply in the tapestry of story, character and theme.
If you have ever wondered what a small furry animal had to do with a sharp-tongued woman, wonder no more.
A shrew is a small mammal with small eyes and a pointy nose. Even though it looks like a mouse, the shrew is actually related to moles and hedgehogs. It has sharp, pointy teeth and eats insects, seeds and nuts. One of the most distinctive features is their odour, created by the multiple scent glands in various places on their bodies. There are numerous species of shrew, of which some, but not all, are venomous.
As far back as the 11th century, shrew was also used to describe a woman who nags, gossips or argues, or is otherwise hard to get along with. This came from the Old English word for the animal: screawa.
This probably came from the popular medieval superstition about shrews because of their aggressive nature and sharp bite.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate: Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And summer’s lease hath all too short adate; Sometimetoo hot the eye of heaven shines, And often is his gold complexion dimm’d, And everyfairfrom fair sometime declines, By chance or nature’s changing courseuntrimm’d: But thy eternal summer shall not fade, Nor lose possession of that fair thouow’st, Nor shall Death brag thou wand’rest in his shade, When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st. So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
William Shakespeare, Sonnet 18
This sonnet is popularly believed to be a poem of love and admiration. That may be a fair interpretation of the first two lines, and I suppose that might be as far as some people read.
I have been contemplating Shakespeare’s 65th sonnet this weekend:
Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o’ersways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O how shall summer’s honey breath hold out
Against the wrackful siege of batt’ring days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays?
O fearful meditation! Where, alack,
Shall Time’s best jewel from Time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
O none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.
William Shakespeare, Sonnet 65
A year ago today, I was sitting beside my father in the last days of his life. Three days later, it was my beloved cousin and friend Helen whose hand I was holding as she, too, fell prey to time and mortality.
Saying my final farewells to them both in the space of five days was certainly a “wrackful siege of batt’ring days”. I wrote poetry and reflections to both express and process my thoughts and feelings. I wanted people to know how I felt. I wanted people to understand who both these jewels were and why they would always matter, despite their having been being reclaimed from this life.
I learned more about grief, and I learned more about letting go. I had no choice, because there is no human hand or will strong enough to hold back the relentless march of time and mortality.
This sonnet expresses a reality of life: nothing can withstand the relentless power of time. Erosion, degradation, and decay overwhelm not only the frail, but also the mighty. True, rocks and brass may outlast flowers and flesh, but they too will yield eventually.
It is a poem of contemplation and resignation, but also one of defiance: time may be relentless, and there may be no way to “hold his swift foot back”, but one who is immortalised or memorialised in ink lives on, albeit in a different way. We can continue to remember and honour them, and to express our love for them. Our memories and mementos remain long after those who have fallen prey to time and mortality.
In Shakespeare’s time, they had fewer options for immortalising those who passed away than we do. They had eulogies and poetry – the black ink in which “my love may still shine bright”. They could create drawings and paintings. Now, in addition to those, we have photographs, video, and voice recordings.
Poetry and eulogies still touch our souls just as powerfully, though— whether written in the 21st century or the 16th, our written tributes and reflections endure and move us still.
Begone is the base level entreaty for someone to leave. To say “Fellow, begone!” is the equivalent of “Okay mate, out you go…” today. If not addressing someone who is actually a fellow, you can use any other form of address, or simply say “Begone!” with an imperative tone. A flick of the hand toward the door could add a nice dramatic touch.
Get thee gone! adds a touch of urgency. It’s more like saying “Go, quickly!” or “Get out now!” This is used forty times throughout Shakespeare’s plays, usually when there is a sense of timeliness or hurry about the leaving. It can also suggest impatience or frustration with the person to whom the command is addressed.
Get thee hence! is equivalent to “Get out of here!” or “Get away from here!” It often seems stronger and more urgent than begone! or get thee gone!
Itis certainly expressive and delivers a satisfying sense of Shakespearean drama to your demand to be left alone. Of course, if they don’t go when you tell them to, you can always try mixing it up a little just as Imogene did in Cymbeline: “O, get thee from my sight… Dangerous fellow, hence!”
Aroint thee! Is stronger again because of its implied disrespect for the recipient of the command.It really just means ‘go away’ or ‘begone’, but at the same time indicates that the speaker holds higher status or demands more respect than those to whom they are speaking. It also has supernatural or spiritual connotations, as it was commonly used to eject witches from one’s presence.
Avaunt takes telling someone to get lost to another level, as it carries even greater spiritual or superstitious weight. This is the word one would use for commanding demons or any other evil presence to leave. When directed at people rather than the supernatural, it carries connotations of derision, hatred, or fear; that the speaker seeks to protect themselves from those to whom they speak is understood from this choice of word.
It is important to note that a great deal of suspicion toward witches existed at the time at which both plays were written and performed, and at both points in time in which each play was set. Therefore, Shakespeare’s use of injunctions such as aroint thee and avaunt is a clear indication that the characters on the receiving end are either held in contempt and/or malevolent.
A longer, more detailed exploration of each of these terms is available at Shakespeare Nerd.
Shakespearean Ways To Tell Someone To Go Away. #Shakespeare #words #communication
One of the biggest obstacles for people who have not previously watch or read Shakespeare is a perception that the language is hard to understand. While there are definitely some words that are unfamiliar because they are no longer used, the most commonly perceived challenge is understanding thee and thou, art and wert, and the like.
Before I ask my students to read or listen to Shakespeare, I teach them the basics of Early Modern English and what all those old-fashioned words mean. I give them a translation guide, and get them to practise speaking and writing basic sentences before moving on to the most fun lesson of the year: Shakespearean Insults!
Once they have played with the language, they are far more receptive to it in a film or written text.
Like anything in life, the path ahead is smoothed by breaking down barriers and removing obstacles.
This infographic is designed to present the basics of Early Modern English simply and directly, to serve as a memory aide and a translation guide as needed.
Understanding Shakespeare’s English #Shakespeare #English #infographic
A butt-load has long been one of my favourite ways ton refer to a large amount, either physically or a figuratively— one might have a buttload of work, or have to carry or store a buttload of stuff. It amuses me, though, that butt-load can actually refer to an actual unit of measurement.
A butt is a large barrel for wine or spirits that holds roughly four times the size of a regular barrel or two hogsheads Butt came into English in the late 14th century from the Old French word bot which was the word for a barrel or wine-skin. This came from the late Latin buttis which also meant cask.
The butt used to be a legal measurement, but because the actual size and capacity tended to vary quite a bit — it could be anywhere between 108 and 140 gallons— it fell out of favour.
In Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’, the Duke of Clarence is drowned in a butt of malmsey wine. In terms of methods of execution, there are probably worse ways to go. Still, the references to the malmsey- butt never fail to make my students laugh.
This sense of the word is also used in ‘The Tempest’ where Stephano claims to have escaped the storm by floating “upon a butt of sack which the sailors heaved o’erboard”.
That’s because butt canalso mean one’s buttocks: the behind, the rump, the posterior. It first took this meaning from animal parts in the mid 15th century in relation to butchering and cookery, as a shortened form of buttocks, which was the name given to the meaty rear end of animals and people by about 1300. The application of butt to humans came later, as part of American slang in the mid 19th century.
Butt came to mean the the thick end of something or the extremity of a piece of land by about 1400, which is most likely how the term came to be used for the end of a rifle, and therefore a pistol, or of a smoked cigar or cigarette, which was first recorded in 1847.
Shakespeare’s Richard III uses this sense of the word when he responds to his mother’s invocation to “put meekness in thy breast, Love,charity, obedience and true duty” with “and make me die a good old man! This is the butt-end of a mother’s blessing— / I marvel that Her Grace did leave it out!” This is also a pun for butt as in his being on the receiving end of her insult.
By the early 1600s, butt had come to be used for the target of a joke or an object of ridicule. 1610s. This was derived from the Old French word but which meant an aim, goal, end, or a target in archery, which swans in turn the product of the Old French words bot for end and but for aim or goal which was used for a target for shooting practice or a turf-covered mound against which an archery target was set that dated to the mid 1300s.
It is this earlier sense of the word used by Richard, Duke of York in ‘Henry VI part 3’ when he tells his killer, “Come, bloody Clifford, rough Northumberland, I dare your quench.ess fury to more rage. / I am your butt, and I abide your shot.”
Othello also uses sense of this word in his final scene, where he says, “Be thou not afraid, though you do see me weapon’d; / Here is y journey’s end, here is my butt.”
The verb to butt meaning to hit with the head, as a goat, a fighter or a soccer-player might do, was in use by 1200 . This came from Anglo-French buter and Old French boter which meant to push, shove, thrust or knock. This came from either Frankish or another Germanic source which traces back to Proto-Germanic word butan, and before that to the PIE root *bhau which meant to strike.
In the banter between Katherine and Longaville‘Love’s Labours Lost’ V.ii, he admonishes her: “Look how you butt yourself with these sharp mocks, Wilt thou give horns, chaste lady? Do not so.” Katherine responds with a comment about he should die a calf before his horns grow, which is a witty little bit of innuendo as they part ways.
Another example of Shakespeare’s word play is the pun on butt in ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ where Gremio describes the clash of wits between Hortensio and Petruchio thus: “Believe me, sir, they butt together well.” Bianca responds with both pun and innuendo: “Head and butt! A hasty-witted body / Would say your ‘head and butt’ were ‘head and horn.”
To butt against, meaning to adjoin or sit right next to, dates back to the 1660s,p and comes from an abbreviation of abut.
To butt into a conversation by intruding without invitation came into American English at the turn of the 20th century.
One of the catch-all phrases of the 21st century is “It is what it is.” On the surface, it seems like a no-brainer, but when you think about it, it’s a statement that can indicate acceptance, resignation, or simple acknowledgement of a thing or situation. It can communicate “that’s all you’re going to get” or “that’s the best I could do” or “that will have to do. Despite its apparent simplicity, it’s a versatile statement to keep up one’s sleeve.
The repetition in this phrase is known as ploce, pronounced plo-chay .
Ploce is a very old word which came into English from Latin from the Greek work plokē meaning complication or twisting, which came from the ancient Greek word plekein which means to plait or weave. That in itself is fascinating, as it gives a clear impression of the words twisting or weaving around themselves as they are repeated. It’s quite a visual image of what the language is doing.
Ploce is a literary and rhetorical device by which a word is repeated for emphasis.
It can be simple repetition, like Popeye saying “I am what I am, and that’s all I am”.
It can involve a change in the meaning of the word: Examples: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” “I don’t want to hear you talk the talk, I want to see you walk the walk.”
Note: This is also called antanaclasis, but you’ll probably never need to know that unless you’re studying Rhetoric, Classics or Shakespeare.
It can involve a change in the form of the word. Example: “She cried until there was no crying left in her.”
This is also called polyptoton. You’ll probably never need to know that either, unless you’re studying… you get the idea.
Shakespeare made regular use of ploce in his plays, but my favourite examples are to be found in speeches by Queen Margaret in Richard III:
Margaret often makes use of elegant imagery and rhetoric in her speeches, and her use of ploce is certainly eloquent.
A malapert is a person who acts like they know everything and is confident that they are always right.
These days, we might call them a know-it-all. We could also call them a wise guy, a smart aleck, or an expert on everything. There are a number of less polite terms available to those willing to use them, too.
The difference between a pedant and a malapert is that a pedant knows they are right about something in particular, while a malapert thinks they are right about everything.
Malapert is a word that dates back to the 14th century, coming into English from the Old French words mal meaning bad or badly, and apert meaning skilful or clever. By the mid1400s, it was being used to describe a type of person rather than just a behaviour or attitude. Given that Shakespeare uses the word three times in his plays, each time without any explanation, one can assume that the word was commonly used and understood throughout the medieval and early modern periods.
In Henry 6, Queen Margaret and her son, the young Lancaster Prince Edward, engage in a contest of insults with their captors: Clarence and Gloucester. As sons of Richard, Duke of York these two are the Lancastrian King Henry’s enemies, as the two houses are rivals for the English throne. Clarence calls the young prince malapert, highlighting his youthful confidence by calling him an “untutor’d lad”.
Almost as proof of Clarence’s assessment, the prince responds by insulting them again. Despite the clevernesand bravery of his words, this proved to be a bad move, as “perjur’d George” and “misshapen Dick” respond by stabbing him to death. End of argument.
In Richard III, the same Queen Margaret tells the Marquess of Dorset that he is malapert and warns him that his newly found nobility won’t protect him from being destroyed by the Yorks, particularly Richard (Gloucester) whom she describes as a “bottled spider” and a “poisonous bunch-back’d toad”. Richard turns the insult back on Margaret, and Dorset promptly turns it right back on him.
In the comedy Twelfth Night, Sir Toby Belch and Sebastian are engaged in an argument when Sir Toby insists that he “must have an ounce or two of this malapert blood” from his rival.
This is a word I have long been aware of, yet I have definitely not made as good use of it as I could have done. This, however, is likely to change in the near future.
Over the past few days I have been struck by the paradox in which life seems to go by so fast, driven at breakneck speed by the demands of work and family and often leaving us little time to relax, but it can at the same time grind to a halt at key moments and leave us little to do but contemplate life itself.
As I sit by my father’s bedside and look out the window of his hospital room, watching the long morning shadows fade and transform in bright sunshine and reappear later in the day, this passage from Macbeth V.v has been running through my mind.
I’ve had plenty of time to think about what it means. Thoughts about the transience of life, the fleeting shadows, the fact that tomorrow is neither promised nor guaranteed, and how easily one’s candle can be snuffed out have been foremost in my mind.
The irony and contrast of interacting with my students on Monday and watching a performance of Macbeth from the Globe Theatre and then spending so much time in this quiet hospital room since Tuesday, thinking about the roles I play and the importance of how I play them, has not escaped me.
While “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” (As You Like It, II.vii) I’d like to think at this point I am not a poor one. Whether at work or at home, and especially this week taking care of my dad, I have chosen to prioritise integrity and kindness. I will not deliver rehearsed lines, seeking instead to project and embody meaningful words with total commitment to my character and roles as daughter, career, sister, advocate, communicator and encourager.
Life’s But A Walking Shadow #Reflection #LifeisStrange #ThoughtForTheDay #FridayThoughts #Shakespeare
This short speech by Macbeth is his response to the news that Lady Macbeth is dead. It is not as emotional as Macduff’s response to the death of his wife and children, but instead is quite poignant and philosophical. A soliloquy might have been more expansive on his thoughts and feelings.
It is a reflection on the brevity and meaninglessness of life. Every day we live is someone else’s last, and our stories are full of noise and bother, but ultimately pointless.
Perhaps he anticipated her death, given her descent into guilty madness. His observation that “She should have died hereafter;There would have been time for such a word” suggeststhat he thought he had bigger problems at that point, and he simply didn’t have time to grieve properly. Implying that her timing was inconvenient is the kind of self-interest that those who love to hate Macbeth might find…