A Fit of Pique.

I get really annoyed when I see people writing about peaking someone’s interest. 

A mountain is peaked. A cap can be peaked. 
People can even look peaked: in this sense, it means they are pale. 
A career can peak. 
In fact, someone’s interest in something can peak, right before it declines again. 

While they sound the same, the correct term for having caused intense interest or curiosity, is piqued

To pique someone’s interest is to heighten or arouse it. In other words, it is to stimulate their curiosity or attention. 

A fit of pique is an episode of annoyance or irritation – such as might happen, for example, if someone’s negative emotions are piqued. 

A related word is piquant, which means provocative, tantalising, spicy or tangy. Food that excites the taste buds or a story that excites the imagination can both be described as piquant. 

The other homophone is peeked. This is the past tense of peek: to take a quick look, or a sneaky one. 

So… now that I’ve piqued your interest with my fit of pique, and you’ve peeked at my post… I’m sure your interest has long since peaked. 

See? Homophones can be fun!

Misunderstood Shakespeare: “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”

“A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” 

Written by Shakespeare in around 1593, these words have become immortalised as the final words of desperation spoken by King Richard III of England as he battled Henry Tudor for control of the throne of England.  

These words are also possibly the most frequently misinterpreted Shakespeare quotation in history, although Prince Hal’s “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers!” from Henry Vl is right up there on the list. 

Shakespeare very cleverly painted Richard III to be entirely evil and villainous, self-serving and single-minded in his pursuit of the throne at the expense of all others who stood between him and the ultimate royal goal.  

As evil and villainous as Shakespeare’s Richard is, it’s crucial to remember that Richard was fighting for both his kingdom and his life. It makes absolutely no sense, therefore, that he would have been wandering around Bosworth Field offering someone his kingdom in exchange for a horse. 

What this line actually means is that Richard knew he was going to lose the battle if he couldn’t get back on a horse and keep fighting. His horse had just been killed in battle, while he was still riding it. On foot, he was without means of either strategic defence or meeting the enemy in an even fight. He was an easy target that travelled much slower and far less deftly than his mounted opponent. 

The line could be interpreted as meaning, “Without a horse, I’m going to lose my kingdom!” It was a cry of despair, not an attempt at last-minute marketing. 

The urgency and foreboding in Richard’s words make this scene a magnificent piece of drama. If there’s anything the audience loves more than a villain getting it in the neck, it’s the villain realising that it’s coming. 

When understood properly, this oft-misinterpreted quotation reveals once again the genius of the wordsmith. 

If you have a line or scene of Shakespeare you’d like explained, feel free to ask a question or make a suggestion in the comments and I’ll give it a red hot shot.

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. 

Tuesday Trivia: Who Played Mark Antony in an 1864 Production of ‘Julius Caesar’?

‘Julius Caesar’ is a play by William Shakespeare about the assassination of Caesar by a group of his senators.

Given that the play clearly demonstrates that the assassination was morally wrong, and that the conspirators did not prosper as a result of their actions, you might be tempted to think that anyone who knew the play well enough to perform the role of Mark Antony would know better than to assassinate someone. 

And if you thought so, you’d be wrong. A famous actor and a member of a prominent family among theatre circles,  John Wilkes Booth played Marc Antony while two of his brothers played Cassius and Brutus in a production of Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ at The Winter Garden theatre on November 25, 1864, just four months before he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. 

Obviously, his decision to shoot the president brought his acting career to a screeching halt. What a shame that he took more inspiration from Brutus than he did from Mark Anthony. Less violence and more brilliant rhetoric might have served us all well.