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…
I generally love a good thunderstorm. Tonight, I appreciate it even more than usual.
Growing up, I loved seeing Snoopy start his stories with “It was a dark and stormy night”. I used to giggle at that clichè long before I understood the deeper allusion to the fact that authors sometimes use the weather to reflect or foreshadow what characters in their stories feel or experience.
This is a literary device known as pathetic fallacy. It is used to set mood and tone in a piece of writing or art, emphasising emotions and heightening reactions. Rain can be used to reflect sorrow or misery, dark clouds can suggest anger or resentment, and a storm can suggest conflict, inner turmoil or violence.
If you’ve ever read ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte, you will have experienced pathetic fallacy being used so expertly that you may not have even noticed. Blended seamlessly with gothic imagery, turbulent relationships and the isolation of the Yorkshire moors, Bronte’s use of snow, rain, storms, cold and dark makes for incredibly powerful writing. Who can forget Cathy at the window during that storm, begging Heathcliff to let her in? It’s legendary because it is powerful, emotive writing that embeds its imagery in the consciousness of the reader.
My other favourite example of pathetic fallacy is Shakespeare’s King Lear shouting at the snowstorm, “Blow, wind, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!” Lear has literally been left out in the cold by his daughters Goneril and Regan, who have exploited his love and trust before throwing him out, homeless and broke. It’s such a potent scene — the depths of human coldness are amplified by the vision of a broken-hearted old man outside in a blizzard. It is chilling in more ways than one, and possibly one of Shakespeare’s finest scenes.
At other times, pathetic fallacy seems predictable and cliched. Sometimes it is almost painfully obvious and clunky. It often appears to be overused by authors who don’t have the finesse required to make it work — possibly because when authors do have that skill and it is done well, it it works as it is intended to without irritating the reader.
Tonight, nature is doing the author’s work for me. Outside, it is indeed a dark and stormy night. It has been raining steadily for hours now, thunder rolls and reverberates every now and then, and a draught of wind occasionally howls at the door. I am sitting in my father’s hospital room, having been called in late at night because he has been distressed and agitated. I have shed tears while talking with family members or sending messages. My emotions are all over the place. I’m both incredibly tired and wide awake.
A rainy night with the occasional rumble of thunder is most fitting.
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
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…
Pretty much anywhere you go, whoever you talk to, if they know only one thing about any play by Shakespeare, it’s the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. It’s possibly the most famous scene ever written.
There’s just one problem with that: there was no balcony.
There. Never. Was. A. Freaking. Balcony.
In the script, the stage direction is clear: JULIET appears above at a window.
I don’t know who invented it, but it was a killer idea that I bet Shakespeare would wish he had thought of, were he still alive today.
Of course, directors can stage a play however they like, and make use of whatever structures and sets the theatre provides.
Filmmakers can do likewise, but one must keep in mind their tendency to just change whatever they want. Hollywood is notorious for that. The mayhem that comes from mass misunderstanding occurs when directors think they know better than the author, and when people watch a movie instead of reading the book.
It makes people and their assumptions about the original text wrong, and leaves them marinating in their wrongness until their wrongness is so commonly accepted that most people think it’s right.
It just goes to show that what your English teacher always said is true: there really is no substitute for reading the book.
These days, when people talk about a “foregone conclusion” they mean something is a given: it is inevitable, it will happen, it may safely be assumed. As certain as it sounds, it is still a statement of conjecture about an event that is yet to occur.
When Shakespeare had Othello speak those words in Act 3, Scene 3 of the play that bears his name, it had quite the opposite meaning. In this scene, Iago is manipulating Othello’s thoughts and making him believe that Desdemona has cheated on him.
Othello says, “But this denotes a foregone conclusion: Tis a shrewd doubt, though it be a dream.”
Here, he is speaking of the adultery between Desdemona and Cassio as something that he is certain has already happened. This gives the phrase “foregone conclusion” the opposite meaning to that which it holds today.
This, and statements such as “I’ll tear her all to pieces” and “O blood, blood, blood!” are evidence that Othello has already made up his mind about the guilt of his wife and former second-in-command.
The scene ends with Othello swearing his loyalty to Iago and thinking of ways to kill Desdemona. Charming, I know.
“Lead on, Macduff!” is a phrase often used to say “after you” when people are being polite and opening doors for someone, or showing that they will follow another person’s lead.
People who use this phrase think they are quoting Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’, but they’re not quite doing so: those are not the words Shakespeare wrote.
Both the phrase and its meaning have been changed over time.
What Shakespeare wrote was “Lay on, Macduff”, and Macbeth wasn’t opening any doors or following Macduff’s lead when he said it. Macbeth and Macduff were fighting one another, and only one of them would survive. The words “Lay on, Macduff” were Macbeth saying “come on, fight me!”
So, next time you open a door, or commit to following someone else’s lead, be careful about saying “Lead on, Macduff”. If they know their Shakespeare, they might just fight you!