Shakespeare Nerd: Valentine’s Day Edition

This Valentine’s Day edition of Shakespeare Nerd is brought to you by the brilliant Mya Gosling, creator of Good Tickle Brain.

Image reproduced here with permission.
Image reproduced here with permission.

Shakespeare Nerd Valentine’s Day Edition via @goodticklebrain
#ShakespeareSunday #ValentinesDay

Shakespeare’s Baubles.


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 to describe a pretty but not-so-valuable woman was easily understood at the time.

In ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, ‘bauble’ is used to refer to Kate’s hat – a decorative item of clothing, which is of little value in the play other than its use as a prop in her surprising demonstration of obedience to her husband, Petruchio.

‘Timon of Athens’ references a bauble as the staff of a jester or idiot, although in this instance, Aaron the Moor is suggesting that a king holding his sceptre and claiming to be faithful to God is the equivalent of his fool holding a bauble and pretending to be the king.

This sense of ‘bauble’ is extended in All’s Well That Ends Well, where the Clown refers to cheating on a man with his wife and giving her his bauble “to do her service”.  Clearly, this is a pun on the jester’s staff, used to reference an altogether different kind of rod with a special ending on it.

This is Shakespeare’s trademark wit in action, taking common language and creating word play loaded with double entendre that would delight the masses and the ‘gentlemen’ alike.

Shakespeare Halloween Party

Last year, I wrote a number of posts about the best Shakespeare scenes for Halloween.

This year, Mya Gosling has very kindly given permission for me to share her Shakespeare Halloween Party cartoons.

Mya is the creative genius behind Good Tickle Brain, where she turns Shakespeare’s characters and plays into insightful and amusing cartoons. I hope you enjoy her work as much as I do.

Used with permission.
Used with permission.
Used with permission.
Used with permission.

Shakespeare Halloween Party
#cartoons #Shakespeare #halloweencostume

Misunderstood Shakespeare: “Let’s Kill All The Lawyers”

This line comes from Henry VI, Part 2, written in 1598. It was spoken by Dick the Butcher, a character nobody remembers except for this line, who was hanging about with his fellow rebels in a field at Blackheath.

It’s often quoted by people who are disillusioned with the legal system, or feel that certain members of the legal profession have less integrity than they should do. It is with these people for whom Dick the Butcher is likely to identify and sympathise. 

It is important to understand that the intent of the line was to be funny — a sardonic response from the sort of character who is likely to have suffered at the hands of a lawyer or witnessed them acting less than judiciously— rather than a serious suggestion or a statement of intent. When you read the scene as a whole, the jaded weariness of Dick and his mates is clearly evident as a contributing factor to their rebellion. This is the context in which this quotation must be read. 

Dick the Butcher is part of a group of rebels led by Jack Cade, who is extolling his qualifications to be king because of his noble connections, while the others are having a bit of a laugh at him because, realistically, he’s anything but noble. Jack does have ideas about a more egalitarian society, which form the context for Dick the Butcher’s punch line. As far as he’s concerned, if there were going to be some kind of ideal society, it wouldn’t have any lawyers in it. 

Cade concurs with Dick: lawyers using parchment to create documents is a waste of good lambs’ skins, and the beeswax used as a seal stings more than the bee does. He agreed to something legally once, and somehow gave up his freedom or rights by doing so. He doesn’t clarify what the issue was, but the audience certainly understands his sentiments regarding lawyers. 

The misunderstanding and misuse of this quotation arise from the interpretation that Shakespeare is saying that it’s the lawyers and upstanding citizens who would stand in the way of such a rebellion working because of their integrity and commitment to enforcing the law. 

I would be willing to put money on that theory having been dreamed up by a lawyer in the first place.  

If the predominant population of Shakespeare’s audiences were made up of lawyers, judges and clerks, this theory may have more credence.

However, the audiences were comprised of a much wider representation of society as a whole, only a small percentage of which was made up of lawyers. Many were quite common folk who stood throughout the performances, known as groundlings, while others were wealthier and could afford to pay for a seat. While some of those may have been lawyers, most were lords and ladies and members and other members of the gentry. 

It does seem that even in Shakespeare’s time there was a fair degree of scepticism about lawyers. While Shakespeare mentions the legal profession more than any other, this is by no means the only play in which Shakespeare makes a joke at their expense. Mercutio, for example, talks about lawyers grasping for money in ‘Romeo and Juliet’, while the Fool in ‘King Lear’ makes a pointed statement about lawyers not saying or doing anything unless you pay them first. 

Shakespeare was not trying to incite violence against lawyers, but he certainly wasn’t suggesting that they are the protectors or upholders of society, either.  Dick’s statement is clearly satire, expressing cynicism about lawyers in ways that people understood even then. 

On Verbing

Most of the time, when people protest about the way the English language is abused, it’s a case of the language continuing to evolve as it has always done.

One such example is the practice of verbing, which takes the noun form of a word and transforms it into a verb form… like ‘verb’ and ‘verbing’. 

Just last week, I was talking with a friend about how annoying she finds it when people say “I’m going to action that.” I’m sure she sought me out for the conversation because I’m both a word nerd and an English teacher. 

“Action is a noun! A bloody noun! How can so many otherwise intelligent people get that wrong?”

“It grates on us because it’s recent,” I said. “We’ll get used to it.”

“No, I won’t! It’s just wrong!”

“You know Shakespeare did it?”

“What?” 

“Verbing. He did it all the time.”

“You and your Shakespeare. It’s like he’s the answer to everything.” 

“You know he invented the word ‘friending’, right?”

She rolled her eyes and walked away. She didn’t even flinch at my use of the term “verbing”, which is exactly the same thing as “actioning” in terms of the language. After all, ‘verb’ is a noun, too. 

It is the recent examples of verbing, such as “actioning” an idea, that we notice because we’re not used to hearing them yet. When Facebook was new, people complained the same way about “friending”, but these days nobody thinks twice about that. At some point in time, someone decided that it was okay to talk about bottling  fruit, or shelving books, and now those terms are just everyday language. 

It is also true, however, that some things people commonly say are, quite simply, wrong

My pet peeve is when my students are talking about sport or some other kind of competition, and they say “We versed Team X”. 

This is a common bastardisation of the Latin versus, which means ‘against’. It is commonly used for sporting matches and legal cases, and is generally abbreviated as v. or vs., as in Black v. White or Blue vs. Red. 

My first response is always to ask whey they wrote poetry about another team. “You played them. You opposed them. You clashed with them. You competed with them. You did not write poetry about them.” Then I explain how the different words work, and what they actually mean. 

The reason “versed” is wrong is because the words ‘versus’ and ‘verse’ have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Because ‘against’ is a preposition, it simply doesn’t make sense to say “We againsted them”. It is not verbing, by any stretch of the imagination. 

The first time we have that conversation, they look at me with confusion. Some have a glazed look of fear, like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights. This never fails to entertain me. The second and third times, they roll their eyes.

Over time, the tedium of having the same grammar-nerdy conversation persuades them to start using the language correctly. They learn, I win, and so does the English language. 

How to Talk to Your Cats About Shakespeare

I Never realised how lacking my relationship with Scout Kitty and Abbey the Labby has been.

I’ve been selfish. I’ve been keeping the Shakespeare all to myself.

After reading this fabulous post that I discovered today, I have just apologised to them both, and told them that it’s all about to change.

The cat yawned and went back to sleep, but the dog shall have her day.

‘Top Four Shakespeare Podcasts’: The Most Successful Blog Post I’ve Ever Written.

It is a constant source of amusement to me that barely a day goes by without someone reading a post I wrote over two years ago. As hard as I try to write posts that are interesting and engaging, and have some relevance to either readers or other authors the one post that shows up in my blog stats almost every day is ‘Top Four Shakespeare Podcasts’, posted in June 2017.

While I have had some posts that got a great response at the time, othing else I’ve published on this blog has had that kind of perpetual popularity,

The funny thing is, it’s only got three likes, but more people than that visit that post every day. Perhaps WordPress needs to make the “like” button bigger and brighter so that it’s easier to see and click.

Given that it’s the most successful blog post I’ve ever written, I thought it was worth posting again for all the followers I’ve gained since then. Enjoy.

WordyNerdBird

Promo WordyNerdBird Shakespeare Podcasts

I love podcasts, and I love Shakespeare. In these four podcasts, you’ll find the best of those two worlds combined.

#1: No Holds Bard. An informative and entertaining podcast by Dan Beaulieu and Kevin Condardo, directors of the Seven Stages Shakespeare Company in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  They discuss the plays, words that people in the 21st century might not know, different interpretations, and various performances of Shakespeare’s plays.  They even have a segment where they’ll answer homework questions sent in by students. 

You can follow on Facebook and Twitter.

#2: Folger Shakespeare Library: Shakespeare Unlimited. A podcast that explores the associations between Shakespeare’s writing and the world today through the words we use, ideas we discuss, and performance of the works of Shakespeare and others.

You can find more information on their website.

#3: Chop Bard – In Your Ear Shakespeare. This podcast explores different parts of the…

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My Least Favourite Shakespeare Play

The reference to Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in the title of ‘A Rose By Any Other Name’ is blatantly obvious. 

The irony is that ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is probably my least favourite play from among Shakespeare’s works. As I often explain to my students who think it’s romantic and all about love, it’s really not. It’s a tragedy that demonstrates what happens when people do stupid things on impulse and don’t stop to think about the consequences of their actions.

They’re teenagers. They met on Sunday, and by Thursday, they’re dead.

And, as Shakespeare points out in the epilogue, they end up that way because their families both prioritise their stupid feud over the happiness and the future of their children.  How much more like a badly plotted teenage soap opera could it be?

It’s more of an anti-Romance, if you ask me. They’re not in love, they’re infatuated. Romeo really is quite an idiot, and as for fickle… how quickly did he forget his passion for Rosaline the moment he met Juliet? If you ask me, Rosaline dodged a bullet – or a dagger, or a vial of poison, there. 

To be fair, the fault isn’t Shakespeare’s. He based his play on an old story that was very popular back in the day, which was a brilliant marketing move. The other factor that made his play such a hit was the beauty of the language with which it is written. There’s nothing at all wrong with the writing: it’s magnificent. Nothing can convince me otherwise.  If anyone could give a story about two silly teenagers from equally silly families another 600 years plus in terms of longevity, he was the man for the job.

So, is it odd that I’ve used ‘Romeo and Juliet’ as one of the starting points of my story? Not really, because I wanted my story to be something of an anti-Romance, too. 

‘A Rose By Any Other Name’ draws on ‘Romeo and Juliet’, and on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale of ‘Rapunzel’ as starting points, then twists and tangles them together to create a mashup of the two stories with a very different ending. Romeo is still an idiot, it still ends in tragedy… but it’s a completely new story. It’s medieval fantasy, laced with faint traces of my subversive sense of humour. 

I like to think of it as the story that Shakespeare and the Brothers Grimm never told. 
But I bet if they’d thought of it, they would have. 

***

A Rose By Any Other Name is available for preorder.

Shakespeare’s Birthday

Every year on April 23rd, my family celebrates Shakespeare’s birthday with cake. I always do some reading from a play or sonnet, but my husband isn’t so fond of that as he is of the cake, so it’s usually either a solitary activity or one I share with my dog. It’s a well-established fact that Abbey the Labby loves the Bard… and cake.

This year, though, my homage will take the form of several hours of rehearsal for a different comedy – Monty Python’s Spamalot – before I am able to indulge in birthday cake. It does seem fitting that the show is a little bawdy, somewhat irreverent, and absolutely hilarious. 

While the precise date of Shakespeare’s birth was not recorded, the date of his baptism was registered as April 26th, 1564. Because it was traditional for babies to be christened three days after they were born, it is generally accepted that William Shakespeare was born on April 23rd. 

In an ironic twist, Shakespeare died on the same date in 1616. Some people think that is awkward, but I think it’s a pretty cool achievement. I’m not sure how common it is for people to die on their birthday, but one of my grandfathers  did, so it’s a feat that has always been a point of interest for me. 

So, here’s to The Bard, his works, and his legacy.