Because it’s December and Christmas decorations are everywhere, I wrote last night about the meanings and etymology of the word ‘bauble’ on WordyNerdBird. I wondered then if it were a word used by Shakespeare. To my delight, it was indeed!
Interestingly, Shakespeare references one of the continued senses and the obsolete sense of the word, and creates double entendre with it for extra credit.
In ‘Cymbeline’, the queen refers to Caesar’s ships bobbing around on the sea as ‘ignorant baubles’, describing them further as being like egg shells, being thrown and broken against the rocks.
A similar reference to boats as ‘baubles’ is made in ‘Troilus and Cressida.
In ‘Othello’, Cassio shows his disregard for Bianca by describing her as a bauble that follows him around and tries to make him fall in love with her. That his companions laugh with him demonstrates that this use of the word…
In Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy — the one that stars with “To be or not to be…” — the overthinking prince lists a number of problems that make life hard to bear. Most of these are things to which we can relate quite easily: oppression, love that is not returned, the wheels of justice turning too slowly, and people being rude to you.
Most people, though, would read the speech and get to the phrase ‘the proud man’s contumely’ and be completely stumped. It’s not a word one comes across terribly often. In all honesty, it’s probably only literature scholars and high school students studying ‘Hamlet’ that are likely to come across the word, and only one of those groups are likely to know right away what it means.
Contumely is a very old word that means disrespectful, offensive or abusive speech or behaviour.
Contumely is interesting in that most English words that end in -ly are adverbs, which describe verbs, but this is a noun. It doesn’t follow the grammatical pattern of English because it is not originally an English word.
It came into English in the late 14th century from the Old French word contumelie,. That came from the Latin word contumelia, which meant’ reproach’ or insult’, and is related to ‘contumax’ with means ‘haughty’ or ‘insolent’.
These days, we’re far more likely to use terms like ‘insolence’, ‘disrespect’ ‘scorn’ or ‘abuse’ instead.
Still, it could be fun to respond to someone’s arrogance with ‘I do not have to tolerate your contumely’. Hopefully, it would leave them as perplexed as those high school students reading Hamlet’s soliloquy for the first time.
It could also be useful to know that someone behaving with contumely would be described as contumelious.
This word evolved in the 15th century, so it follows the common pattern of the noun form being used first and the adjective coming afterwards. Mr Darcy’s haughty dismissal of Elizabeth Bennet at their first meeting, a lawyer strutting and posturing in the courtroom, or one’s mother-in-law’s disdain for their general existence could all be described as contumelious.
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.
Tmesis— pronounced teh-MEE-sis— is an unusual word that many people will never have heard of, even though it’s the name for something we do frequently and quite naturally.
Tmesis is the name given to that linguistic behaviour by which we divide a word and insert another word into the middle. In the 21st century, the inserted word is often a swear word, but it doesn’t have to be.
We do it to add emphasis and increase the strength of what we’re saying.
The Ancient Greek word temnein meant ‘to cut’, and from that came the word tmesis, which meant ‘cutting’. It refers to the cutting or division of the first word in order to insert the second.
The practice is centuries old. There are examples of it in Old Irish and Scandinavian poetry, although the earliest written examples of it being used in English only date back to the 1500s.
Shakespeare used tmesis in a number of his plays:
“This is not Romeo, he’s some other where.” — Romeo and Juliet
“How heinous ever it be” — Richard II
“That man – how dearly ever parted.” — Troilus and Cressida
Tmesis also exists in the poetry of John Donne:
“In what torn ship soever I embark, That ship shall be my emblem, What seas soever swallow me, that flood Shall be to me an emblem of thy blood.” — Hymn to Christ
From these examples, it is clear that the device has always been used to strengthen the idea or emotion being communicated, which is exactly how it’s still used today.
In Australia, where we seem to love a good swear word and the power it gives our expressions, tmesis is so common that it seems to me to be part of our linguistic identity. Inserting a term such as ‘flaming” or ‘flipping’, or one’s preferred swear word, into words and phrases is a standard part of our speech. From “abso-flaming-lutely’ to “no freaking way!”, Australians have made tmesis their own without ever knowing that it was a literary device or that it has a name.
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…
My family are definitely looking out for me while we’re all staying home. Just this week, two of my nieces sent me messages about opportunities for free entertainment while we’re all staying home and staying safe. I’m super grateful to them both for thinking of me and passing on the details of things they knew I would love.
In factt, those opportunities are so good, they deserve sharing with you, too.
The Globe Theatre is streaming a free Shakespeare play each fortnight, starting with Hamlet on April 6th. What a fabulous opportunity to watch great productions by some of the best in the world! And for any Shakespeare lovers who, like me, live somewhere that means they’ll never get to see as many of the plays as they wish to in live theatre, this is a fabulous chance to see more of the canon in near-to-live performance.
The Shows Must Go On! features productions of various Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, free of charge, on YouTube. The first show available is Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor TM Dreamcoat. Given that I directed that show last year, anyone who knows me will tell you there is absolutely zero chance of me not singing along with every word.
(Edit: already watching… already singing. Strange as it seems… )
I know it’s not the same as actually going to the theatre, but such fabulous, free entertainment is most welcome, especially while we’re all maintaining social isolation and trying to maintain our wellbeing.
Fabulous, free entertainment opportunities for #StayingHome #StayHome #entertainment #WhatToDoDuringQuarantine #WhatToWatch
Of all the scenes written by Shakespeare, this is the most Halloween-worthy. What is more appropriate for All Hallow’s Eve than a haunting, right?
Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’ portrays Richard as an evil, conniving, murderous villain who plots and murders his way onto the throne of England. His deeds are ruthless and his victims are many.
In Act 5, Scene 3, the ghosts of all of Richard’s victims haunt him in his tent the night before the battle. Each of them bids him to “despair and die”, which becomes a powerful refrain that haunts him as he sleeps. This kind of regular repetition of a phrase is called epimone (uh-pim-o-nee): it compounds and gives power to an idea by dwelling on it.
Each of the ghosts also visits Richard’s opponent, Richmond, as he sleeps, bidding him to live, conquer and flourish. It is significant that their words to him are not…
Often referred to as the Weird Sisters, the witches of ‘Macbeth’ open the play with a powerfully macabre and horrifying scene. There is a cauldron in the middle of the cavern, around which the witches dance and recite the list of ingredients in the potion they are making.
Just reading the recipe is enough to make one’s skin crawl – and we are nowhere near as superstitious as Shakespeare’s original audiences.
In 1606 when the play is thought to have first been performed, audiences then would have both living memory and current knowledge of witch trials and persecutions, and would have been very wary of anything to do with witches and magic.
Shakespeare knew what we was doing, though. James I had been king of England for a few years, and did not enjoy universal popularity among his English subjects. By portraying the witches and Macbeth as evil, he was…