Understanding Shakespeare’s Language: the ‘-eths’ and ‘-ests’

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One of the things that people find challenging when thinking about Shakespeare’s language – the English of Elizabethan England – is the ‘-eths’ and ‘-ests’ and which words they go on.

In actuality, it’s remarkably straightforward: it’s only the present tense verbs one needs to worry about.

Where we add an –s to verbs, such as lives, builds, makes and believes, they added –eth.

Therefore:
Liveth = lives
Builders = builds
Believeth = believes

The most common verb is doth, which means does:
The language doth confuse, yet she seeketh to understand, for understanding bringeth joy.

Similarly, dost means do.
Dost thou follow? Surely, thou dost understand!

He does = he doth.
You do = thou dost.

If you switch the sentence around, you would just add the –est to the verb:Surely, thou followest the pattern! Wonderful!

This speech by Baptista in The Taming of the Shrew demonstrate both these forms of the verb love:

“Sir, pardon me in what I have to say—
Your plainness and your shortness please me well.
Right true it is, your son Lucentio here
Doth love my daughter, and she loveth him…”

— The Taming of the Shrew, IV.iv

Were Baptista speaking to Lucentio, he would say something like
“Right true it is, thou lovest my daughter, and she loveth thee.”

Alternatively, he could have said, “Thou dost love my daughter, and she doth love thee”. Either way would be correct: it’s just a matter of choosing the right ending for the verbs to fit the sentence, just as we do today without even thinking about it.

This demonstrates that speakers and writers of Elizabethan English had the same flexibility in rearranging and rephrasing the words in a sentence as we do.

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Those who have grown up with the King James Version of the Bible, published in 1611 and therefore during Shakespeare’s life, read and understand  Shakespeare’s language much more naturally than those who have not.

Consider the 23rd Psalm in the KJV and in today’s English:

By applying the two simple rules explained in this post, we discover than this psalm is far easier to understand in its Early Modern form than it might first appear.

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So, once someone has the basics of thee, thou and thy, and masters the verbs, understanding Early Modern English is much more straightforward. The more one reads, hears or watches Shakespeare’s works, the easier it gets.

Satisfying Shakespearean Ways To Tell Someone To Go Away #4: Avaunt!

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There are times when each of us needs to tell someone to go away. Adding a Shakespearean flavour to it lends both style and emphasis to any ejection of a bothersome person.  It can also deliver a most satisfying sense of accomplishment to lovers of Shakespeare or of language in general.

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Avaunt definitely carries spiritual or superstitious weight. This is the word one would use for commanding demons, witches and any other evil presence to leave. When directed at people rather than the supernatural, it carries connotations of derision, hatred, or fear; that the speaker seeks to protect themselves from those to whom they speak is clearly evident.

In The Comedy of Errors, Act 4, Scene 3, we see Antipholus and Dromio discussing the courtesan who has just demanded gold from Antipholus.

COURTESAN
Well met, well met, Master Antipholus. I see, sir, you have found the goldsmith now. Is that the chain you promis’d me today?

ANTIPHOLUS
Satan, avoid, I charge thee tempt me not.

DROMIO
Master, is this Mistress Satan?

ANTIPHOLUS
It is the devil.

DROMIO
Nay, she is worse, she is the devil’s dam, and here she comes in the habit of a light wench; and thereof comes that the wenches say, “God damn me,” that’s as much to say, “God make me a light wench.” It is written, they appear to men like angels of light, light is an effect of fire, and fire will burn: ergo, light  wenches will burn. Come not near her.

When the lady asks again for either the promised gold chain or the return of her ring, Antipholus uses avaunt to send her away, emphasising the spiritual or supernatural  theme of his earlier judgement upon her.

COURTESAN
I pray you, sir, my ring, or else the chain;I hope you do not mean to cheat me so?

ANTIPHOLUS
Avaunt, thou witch! Come, Dromio, let us go.

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Othello uses the word twice. First, In the course of Iago’s subtle and insidious destruction of Othello’s belief in Desdemona’s innocence, Othello tells Iago, ‘Avaunt, be gone! Thou hast set me on the rack.”

Later, he uses the term in the presence of Lodovico to dismiss Desdemona once he has finished accusing her of being false and mocking her distress at his treatment of her. Here, he speaks to Lodovico and Desdemona alternately in the one speech.

Sir, she can turn, and turn; and yet go on
And turn again; and she can weep, sir, weep;
And she’s obedient, as you say, obedient;
Very obedient Proceed you in your tears
Concerning this, sir O well-painted passion!
I am commanded home. Get you away;
I’ll send for you anon. Sir, I obey the mandate,
And will return to Venice. Hence, avaunt!

Exit Desdemona.

Othello speaks politely to Lodovico while simultaneously disrespecting Desdemona. The tone of Othello’s words to his wife is very similar to that used by Antipholus, demonstrating the contempt and moral heft of the dismissal. At this point, it is clear that there is no going back for Othello: he has made up his mind, and his love and respect for her are dead.

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In Macbeth, Act 3 Scene 4, Macbeth is shaken by the appearance at dinner of Banquo’s ghost, which he addresses thus:

Avaunt, and quit my sight! Let the earth hide thee!
Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold;
Thou hast no speculation in those eyes
Which thou dost glare with!

In that powerful second scene of Richard III in which Richard woos Anne Neville and begs her to marry him, Anne responds to Richard’s interruption of the funeral procession of the former King Henry VI with words and tone of superstition and the supernatural:

GLOUCESTER
Stay, you that bear the corse, and set it down.

ANNE
What black magician conjures up this fiend
To stop devoted charitable deeds?

GLOUCESTER
Villain, set down the corse, or, by Saint Paul,
I’ll make a corse of him that disobeys.

GENTLEMAN
My lord, stand back, and let the coffin pass.

GLOUCESTER
Unmanner’d dog, stand thou when I command.
Advance thy halberd higher than my breast,
Or by Saint Paull Ill strike thee to m foot,
And spurn on thee, beggar, for thy boldness.

ANNE
What, do you tremble? Are you all afraid?
Alas, I blame you not, for you are mortal.
And mortal eyes cannot endure the devil.
Avaunt, thou dreadful minister of hell!
Thou hadst but power over his mortal body,
His soul thou canst not have. Therefore be gone.

The exchange that follows is full of the imagery of saints and devils, angels and demons, and heaven and hell.

In both these instances, the supernatural context of the use of avaunt! demonstrates the seriousness and spiritual gravity with which it was spoken. It was the word used to command sinners rather than saints and fiends rather than friends.

Shakespearean Ways To Tell Someone To Go Away: Avaunt!
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Satisfying Shakespearean Ways To Tell Someone To Go Away #3: Aroint Thee!

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There are times when each of us needs to tell someone to go away. Adding a Shakespearean flavour to it lends both style and emphasis to any ejection of a bothersome person.  It can also deliver a most satisfying sense of accomplishment to lovers of Shakespeare or of language in general.

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Aroint thee! Is stronger than Get thee gone! or Get thee hence! because of its implied disrespect for the recipient of the command.This intransitive verb of unknown origin means ‘go away’ or ‘begone’, but at the same time indicates that the speaker holds higher status or demands more respect than those to whom they are speaking.

Shakespeare uses this command twice in different plays.

In King Lear’, Act 3 Scene 4, Edgar has disguised himself as Poor Tom and feigns madness after his brother Edmund, who has allied himself with Lear’s faithless daughters Goneril and Regan and their husbands, convinced his father Gloucester that Edgar seeks to kill him. A manhunt ensues, and when Gloucester appears in this scene carrying a lit torch, Edgar speaks thus:

“This is the foul fiend Flibbertigibbet; he begins at curfew, and walks till the first cock; he gives the web and the pin, squinies the eye, and makes the hare-lip; mildews the white wheat, and hurts the poor creature of earth.
Swithold footed thrice the ’old,
He met the night-mare and her nine-fold;
Bid her alight,
And her troth plight,
And aroint thee, witch, aroint thee.

Anyone observing Edgar’s behaviour and apparently senseless ramblings would dismiss him as a madman, just as Gloucester did, but Edgar’s meaning here is clear: Gloucester is acting under the influence of evil, and Edgar is telling him to leave.

Given the widespread fear and superstition associated with witchcraft in early modern times, it would have been a natural understanding among Shakespeare’s audiences that even a madman has higher social status than a witch: he may be crazy, but at least he is not a willing agent of evil.

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The spiritual connotation of aroint thee! is also demonstrated in Macbeth, Act 1 Scene 3, where one of the Wyrd Sisters recounts a conversation between herself and a sailor’s wife:
“A sailor’s wife had chestnuts in her lap,
And mounch’d, and mounch’d, and mounch’d. “Give me!” quoth I.
“Aroint thee, witch!” the rump-fed ronyon cries.
Her husband’s to Aleppo gone, master o’ th’ Tiger;
But in a sieve I’ll thither sail,
And like a rat without a tail,I’ll do,
I’ll do, and I’ll do.”

That the sailor’s wife bids the witch leave with the command “Aroint thee, witch!” underscores the difference in social and spiritual status between the two.

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At those times when ‘get thee gone’ and ‘get thee hence’ don’t seem to pack enough punch, ‘aroint thee’ might be just the phrase you need to achieve your goal in a most satisfyingly Shakespearean manner.

Aroint Thee!
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Satisfying Shakespearean Ways To Tell Someone To Go Away #2: Get Thee Hence!

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There are times when each of us needs to tell someone to go away. Adding a Shakespearean flavour to it lends both style and emphasis to any ejection of a bothersome person.  It can also deliver a most satisfying sense of accomplishment to lovers of Shakespeare or of language in general.

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Get thee hence! is equivalent to “Get out of here!” or “Get away from here!” It often seems stronger and more urgent than begone! or get thee gone!

Upon hearing of the royal decree that the Duke of Suffolk must be exiled – later in that same scene of Henry 6, part 2 in which she previously bid him “get thee gone”– Margaret of Anjou urges the Duke of Suffolk to leave her presence in a hurry before her husband, King Henry VI, finds them together:

“Now get thee hence, the King, thou know’st, is coming.
If thou be found by me, thou art but dead.”

Margaret’s pleas escalate from “get thee gone” to “get thee hence” in proportion to the danger of Suffolk being found in her company. demonstrating the increased urgency of her tone and command.

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A sense of impatience rather than imperiative is captured in Act 4, Scene 4 of The Two Gentlemen of Verona where Proetus bids Launce, who has just screwed up Proteus’ gift to Silvia of a puppy,
“Go, get thee hence, and find my dog again,
Or ne’er return again into my sight.
Away, I say! Stayest thou to vex me here?”

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In Antony and Cleopatra, Cleopatra uses the phrase twice in the course of her conversation with an  Egyptian messenger who delivers unwelcome information regarding Marc Antony: that Antony is good friends with Caesar, and finally that he is married to Octavia.

Obviously angry, Cleopatra repsonds to the messenger with considerable hostility: after wishing a most infectious pestilence upon him, striking him to the ground, threatening him with torture and saying that he has “liv’d too long”, this exchange occurs:

CLEOPATRA
Is he married?
I cannot hate thee worser than I do,
If thou again say yes.

MESSENGER
He’s married, madam.

CLEOPATRA
The gods confound thee, dost thou hold there still?
MESSENGER
Should I lie, madam?

CLEOPATRA
O, I would thou didst;
So half my Egypt were submerg’d and made
A cistern for scal’d snakes! Go get thee hence!

The repetition of “get thee hence” just a few lines later highlights the strength of the command and is proof positive that Cleopatra wasn’t messing around.

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Get thee hence! is certainly expressive and delivers a satisfying sense of Shakespearean drama to your demand to be left alone.

Of course, if they don’t go, you can always try mixing it up a little with the words of Imogene from Cymbeline, Act 5, Scene 5: “O, get thee from my sight… Dangerous fellow, hence!”

Shakespearean Ways To Tell Someone To Go Away: Get Thee Gone!

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There are times when each of us needs to tell someone to go away. Adding a Shakespearean flavour to it lends both style and emphasis to any ejection of a bothersome person. It can also deliver a most satisfying sense of accomplishment to lovers of Shakespeare or of language in general.

The Problem of Female Agency in Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’
#women #Shakespeare #ShakespeareSunday

Begone is the base level entreaty for someone to leave. To say “Fellow, begone!” is the equivalent of “Okay mate, out you go…” today. If not addressing someone who is actually a fellow, you can use any other form of address, or simply say “Begone!” with an imperative tone. A flick of the hand toward the door could add a nice dramatic touch.

Get thee gone! adds a touch of urgency. It’s more like saying “Go, quickly!” or “Get out now!” This is used forty times throughout Shakespeare’s plays, usually when there is a sense of timeliness or hurry about the leaving. It can also suggest impatience or frustration with the person to whom the command is addressed.

In Henry IV part 1, Act 1 Scene 3, King Henry addresses Worcester thus:”Worcester, get thee gone, for I do seeDanger and disobedience in thine eye.”

In Act 3, Scene 1 of Timon of Athens, the grief-stricken Timon tells Alcibiades he wants to be left alone with the command “I prithee, beat thy drum and get thee gone.” This is a reference to the military practice of beating a particular rhythm for retreat, making it the Elizabethan equivalent of “beat it!”

In different parts of Henry 6 , we see Margaret of Anjou use Get thee gone in two different ways.

In part 2, Act 3 Scene 2, Margaret of Anjou farewells the Duke of Suffolk with an impassioned speech:
“O. let me entreat thee cease. Give me thy hand,
That I may dew it with my mournful tears;
Nor let the rain of heaven wet this place
To wash away my woeful monuments.
O, could this kiss be printed in thy hand.
That thou might think upon these by the seal,
Through whom a thousand sighs are breath’d for thee!
So get thee gone, that I may know my grief,
‘Tis but surmised whiles thou art standing by,
As one that surfeits thinking on a want.
I will repeal thee, or, be well assur’d,
Adventure to be banished myself;
And banished I am, if but from thee.
Go, speak not to me; even now be gone.”

In Act 3, Scene 6 of Henry 6  part 3, Margaret is far less heartbroken to be bidding her husband, King Henry VI, farewell. Furious and resentful at the amount of power he has given to his councillors– and her enemies– Warwick, Faulconbridge and York, Margaret announces her intention to summon her army and go to war with them. Henry begs her to “Stay, gentle Margaret, and let me speak.”
Her response is curt: “Thou has spoke too much already; get thee gone.”

Yet again, Shakespeare’s Margaret demonstrates that elementary truth: tone really is everything.

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Shakesepearean Ways To Tell Someone To Go Away
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Ploce: It Is What It Is!

One of the catch-all phrases of the 21st century is “It is what it is.” On the surface, it seems like a no-brainer, but when you think about it, it’s a statement that can indicate acceptance, resignation, or simple acknowledgement of a thing or situation. It can communicate “that’s all you’re going to get” or “that’s the best I could do” or “that will have to do. Despite its apparent simplicity, it’s a versatile statement to keep up one’s sleeve.

The repetition in this phrase is known as ploce, pronounced plo-chay .

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Ploce is a very old word which came into English from Latin from the Greek work plokē meaning complication or twisting, which came from the ancient Greek word plekein which means to plait or weave.

That in itself is fascinating, as it gives a clear impression of the words twisting or weaving around themselves as they are repeated. It’s quite a visual image of what the language is doing.

Ploce is a literary and rhetorical device by which a word is repeated for emphasis.

  • It can be simple repetition, like Popeye saying “I am what I am, and that’s all I am”.
  • It can involve a change in the meaning of the word: 
    Examples:
    “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
    “I don’t want to hear you talk the talk, I want to see you walk the walk.”

    Note: This is also called antanaclasis, but you’ll probably never need to know that unless you’re studying Rhetoric, Classics or Shakespeare.
  • It can involve a change in the form of the word.
    Example:
    “She cried until there was no crying left in her.”

    This is also called polyptoton. You’ll probably never need to know that either, unless you’re studying… you get the idea.

Shakespeare made regular use of ploce in his plays, but my favourite examples are to be found in speeches by Queen Margaret in Richard III:

Screenshot made using Shakespeare Pro v.5.5.2.3
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Margaret often makes use of elegant imagery and rhetoric in her speeches, and her use of ploce is certainly eloquent.

Sources:
Silva Rhetorica
ThoughtCo.
Britannica.com

Ploce: It Is What It Is
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“Thou art too malapert…”

Peacock malapert know-it-all overconfident showy
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Malapert refers to a person who acts like they know everything and is confident that they are always right. 

While there are a number of characters in Shakespeare’s works whom we might consider to be malapert, Shakespeare uses the word only three times in his plays.

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. 

Malapert
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Knowing Your Literary Devices.

Knowing the literary devices used by Shakespeare and how they work helps those who read or study his works understand the ways in which he has shaped and crafted meaning in the lines delivered by his characters and in his poetry. It also helps readers to recognise the difference between literal and figurative language, and therefore to interpret more correctly the message of particular lines and scenes, and of texts as a whole. 

Of course, there are the standard ones that everyone should learn in school: simile, metaphor, alliteration, repetition hyperbole.  In senior high, that should extend to more sophisticated devices specific to the text being studied. My senior English class is studying ‘RichardIII’, so they are learning about stichomythia, anaphora and antithesis among others. Irony and dramatic irony are also heavy hitters in this play, so while they are by no means new concepts to the students, we are discussing them in detail. 

An excellent online resource for the definition and demonstration of rhetorical devices used by Shakespeare and many other dramatists, orators and writers is Silva Rhetoricæ.

The site is knowledgeable and fairly thorough, although some terms relating to Shakespeare’s plays are not included. The names of rhetorical devices are listed alphabetically, and the definitions are written in plain English with examples and alternative terms provided. There is also a handy pronunciation guide, which is really helpful when it comes to terms like ‘bdelygmia’ and ‘symploce’. 

While I do not expect my students to use the same degree of metalanguage that university students might use, there is definitely credit in nailing the key terms and using them to write about a text with greater eloquence and sophistication. 

Misunderstood and Misquoted Shakespeare: “Lead on, Macduff!”

“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!