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.
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.
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.
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
Sonnets are hard to write. There are rhyme and rhythm patterns that one must observe and maintain, which force the poet to refine and craft their words meticulously so that no nuances of meaning are lost in the interests of obeying the rules.
I have written one sonnet of which I am very proud.
I have also written several others which are pretty rubbish, and therefore will never publish them. I firmly believe that their value lies in the learning and the practice, rather than in the reading. Failure can, after all, be a most effective instructor.
I hope you enjoy the poems this post has to offer, and find yourself more informed about the beauty and complexity of the sonnet when you leave it than when you arrived.
10 Classic Examples of the Sonnet Form via Interesting Literature
The sonnet form is one of the oldest and most popular poetic forms in European literature, having been invented in the thirteenth century and used since by poets as varied as Petrarch, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti, Tony Harrison, Carol Ann Duffy, and Simon Armitage. Below, we offer […]
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…
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.