The Shrew and Why It Needed Taming

Shrew on Moss
Common Shrew. Photo by Hannah Knutson on Flickr. Creative Commons licence.

A shrew is a small mammal with small eyes and a pointy nose. Even though it looks like a mouse, the shrew is actually related to moles and hedgehogs. It has sharp, pointy teeth and eats insects, seeds and nuts. One of the most distinctive features is their odour, created by the multiple scent glands in various places on their bodies. There are numerous species of shrew, of which some, but not all, are venomous. 

As far back as the 11th century, shrew was also used to describe a woman who nags, gossips or argues, or is otherwise hard to get along with. This came from the Old English word for the animal: screawa. 

This probably came from the popular medieval superstition about shrews because of their aggressive nature and sharp bite. 

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“In such a night
Did pretty Jessica (like a little shrew)
Slander her love, and he forgave it her.”

Lorenzo in ‘The Merchant of Venice’, V.i

“Is she so hot a shrew as she’s reported?”

Curtis in ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, IV.i

To beshrew someone was to corrupt,  curse or invoke evil upon them.

“A pox of that jest! And I beshrew all shrews.”

Princess of France in ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost, V.ii

To shrew was to scold or nag. 

“Go bid my woman
Search for a jewel that too casually
Hath left mine arm. It was thy master’s. Shrew me
If I would lose it for a revenue
Of any king’s in Europe!”

Imogen in Cymbeline, II.iii

We don’t use the word so much now, but in medieval times, being a shrew or a scold was a punishable offence that often ended in women being subjected to the stocks or the ducking stool in the hopes that they would learn to be quiet and submissive.

The shrew became a stock character or stereotype in storytelling and literature, by which stories would deliver morals about how women should behave and the negative outcomes of their refusing to change their ways. ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ is just one of the hundreds of plays and texts that have followed this trope. 

“Ay, and amid this hurly I intend
That all is done in reverend care of her,
And in conclusion, she shall watch at night,
And if she chance to nod I’ll rail and brawl,
And with the clamour keep her still awake.
This is a way to kill a wife with kindness,
And thus I’ll curb her mad and headstrong humour.
He that knows better how to tame a shrew
Now let him speak, ’tis charity to shew.”

Petruchio in ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, IV.i

Thus, in the writing of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ Shakespeare drew on an idea that was and still is very familiar to his audience, and was probably inspired by some of the other stories and legends that existed. That this play has lasted so long and remained so popular is testament to the enduring wit and quality of his writing, as well as the continued relatability of the characters and plot. 

These days, there are all sorts of words we use rather than shrew: dragon lady, witch, fury, battle-axe, and 2020’s own contribution: Karen*.

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Sources:
Etymonline
Britannica

* I offer all due apologies to the nice Karens out there.

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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When The Hurly-Burly’s Done

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When the Hurly-Burly’s Done comes from the opening scene of Macbeth, where the Wyrd Sisters chant in the midst of thunder and lightning:

1st WITCH.
When shall we three meet again?
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

2nd WITCH.
When the hurly-burly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.

3rd WITCH.
That will be ere the set of sun.

1st WITCH.
Where the place?

2nd WITCH.
Upon the heath.

3rd WITCH.
There to meet with Macbeth.

1st WITCH.
I come, Graymalkin.

2nd WITCH.
Paddock calls.

3rd WITCH.
Anon.

THREE WITCHES
Fair is foul, and foul is fair,
Hover through the fog and filthy air.

Exeunt.

In the context of war, treachery, the death of a king and the consequent struggles of a nation, it means they will get together again when the mayhem is over. Given their manipulation of Macbeth himself, it’s mayhem they are actively involved and interested in. Their words are mysterious and laden with magic and foreboding.

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Hurly-burly or hurlyburly is a word from the early 1500s which means commotion or tumult, which grew out of the  phrase hurling and burling which was used as early as the 1300s. Hurling time was the name applied by chroniclers of the time to the period of tumult and commotion around the Peasants’ Revolt against the young Richard II, led by Wat Tyler in 1381.

It is a wonderfully expressive word that is quite evocative of the chaos and tumult of its meaning, particularly when delivered with a Scottish accent as it might well be spoken in Macbeth.

Shakespeare also uses hurly-burly to refer to the conflicts and changes that occurred after that same Richard lost his throne to Henry Bolingbroke, who became King Henry IV. In Henry 4 part 1, Act 5 Scene 1, Henry gives this answer in response Worcester’s complaints and accusations against Henry of a  lack of loyalty and consideration of his friends , by which Worcester justifies his involvement in Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy’s rebellion:

KING HENRY
These things indeed you have articulate,
Proclaim’d at market-crosses, read in churches,
To face the garment of rebellion
With some fine colour that may please the eye
Of fickle changelings and poor discontents,
Which gape and rub the elbow at the news
Of hurly-burly innovation;
And never yet did insurrection want
Such water-colors to impaint his cause,
Nor moody beggars, starving for a time
Of pell-mell havoc and confusion.

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Shakespeare also uses the term hurly to refer to chaos and confusion.

In King John, Act 3 Scene 4, Pandulph foresees that the people of England will soon revolt against the corrupt and murderous King John, and says “methinks I see this hurly all on foot”.

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In Henry 4 part 2, King Henry delivers a powerful  soliloquy that personifies sleep as a contrary and uncaring being. In this speech, he refers to a mighty storm as being so noisy that the hurly is sufficient to wake death itself — another clever instance of personification.

KING HENRY
How many thousand of my poorest subjects
Are at this hour asleep! O sleep! O gentle sleep!
Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee,
That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down,
And steep my senses in forgetfulness?
Why rather, sleep, liest thou in smoky cribs,
Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee,
And hush’d with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,
Than in the perfum’d chambers of the great,
Under the canopies of costly state,
And lull’d with sound of sweetest melody?
O thou dull god, why li’st thou with the vile
In loathsome beds, and leavest the kingly couch
A watch-case or a common ’larum-bell?
Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast
Seal up the ship-boy’s eyes, and rock his brains
In cradle of the rude imperious surge,
And in the visitation of the winds,
Who take the ruffian billows by the top,
Curling their monstrous heads and hanging them
With deafing clamour in the slippery clouds,
That with the hurly death itself awakes?
Canst thou, O partial sleep, give then repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude,
And in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king? Then (happy) low, lie down!
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

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In Act 4, Scene 1 of The Taming of the Shrew we see Petruchio bringing Kate home to his country house and raising his voice and insulting his servants, making them jump to his commands. He explains his behaviour thus:

PETRUCHIO
Thus have I politicly begun my reign,
And ’tis my hope to end successfully……
Ay, and amid this hurly I intend
That all is done in reverend care of her,
And in conclusion, she shall watch all night,
And if she chance to nod I’ll rail and brawl,
And with the clamor keep her still awake.
This is a way to kill a wife with kindness,
And thus I’ll curb her mad and headstrong humor.
He that knows better how to tame a shrew,
Now let him speak; ’tis charity to shew.

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Shakespeare and his audiences were clearly familiar with both words and understood their common meaning. That the word is still in fairly common use today is testament to its versatility and probably also to how much fun it is to say.

Sources:
Etymonline
Middle English Compendium

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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.

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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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Birthday.

April 23 is the date upon which we assume Shakespeare was born

Happy birthday, old chap!

The word birthday dates back to the late 14th century, having come from the Old English word byrddæg which meant the anniversary or celebration of one’s birth. At that time, though, it was usually used to commemorate the birth of s very important people, such as kings or saints. It was far more important to those early modern people that their children were christened, and that was the date recorded by the church. Regular folk did not commonly speak of the day on which they were born as their birthday until the 1570s, and about fifty years later they also spoke of their birthnight. 

Even though his own birthdate was not actually recorded, observation of one’s own birthday was far more commonplace by Shakespeare’s time. 

Cleopatra acknowledges her own birthday in Antony and Cleopatra: “It is my birthday: / I had thought t’have held it poor; but since my lord / Is Antony again, I will be Cleopatra.”

The Roman senator Cassius says in Julius Caesar V.i: “This is my birthday; as this very day / Was Cassius born.” 

In Pericles II.i the first of three fishermen with whom Pericles discusses the king, Simonides, observes that it the king “hath a fair daughter, and tomorrow is her birthday, and there are princes and knights come from all parts of the world to joust and tourney for her love.” 

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These instances show that celebrating or at least making note of one’s own birthday was something understood by the regular folk who made up most of Shakespeare’s audiences in the late 1590s and early 1600s.

Sources:
Etymonline
Etymologeek

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A Butt-load of Butts

A butt-load has long been one of my favourite ways ton refer to a large amount, either physically or a figuratively—  one might have a buttload of work, or have to carry or store a buttload of stuff. It amuses me, though, that butt-load can actually refer to an actual unit of measurement.

A butt is a large barrel for wine or spirits that holds roughly four times the size of a regular barrel or two hogsheads Butt came into English in the late 14th century from the Old French word bot  which was the word for a barrel or wine-skin. This came from the late Latin buttis which also meant cask.

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The butt used to be a legal measurement, but because the actual size and capacity tended to vary quite a bit — it could be anywhere between 108 and 140 gallons— it fell out of favour.

In Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’, the Duke of Clarence is drowned in a butt of malmsey wine. In terms of  methods of execution, there are probably worse ways to go. Still, the references to the malmsey- butt never fail to make my students laugh.

This sense of the word is also used in ‘The Tempest’ where Stephano claims to have escaped the storm by floating “upon a butt of sack which the sailors heaved o’erboard”.

That’s because butt canalso mean one’s buttocks: the behind, the rump, the posterior. It first took this meaning from  animal parts in the mid 15th century in relation to butchering and cookery, as a shortened form of buttocks, which was the name given to the meaty rear end of animals and people by about 1300. The application of butt to humans  came later, as part of American slang in the mid 19th century.

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Butt came to mean the the thick end of something or the extremity of a piece of land by about 1400, which is most likely how the term came to be used for the end of a rifle, and therefore a pistol, or of a smoked cigar or cigarette, which was first recorded in 1847.

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Shakespeare’s Richard III uses this sense of the word when he responds to his mother’s invocation to “put meekness in thy breast,  Love,charity, obedience and true duty”  with “and make me die a good old man! This is the butt-end of a mother’s blessing— / I marvel that Her Grace did leave it out!” This is also a pun for butt as in his being on the receiving end of  her insult.

By the early 1600s, butt had come to be used for the target of a joke or an object of ridicule. 1610s. This was derived from the Old French word but  which meant an aim, goal, end, or a target in archery, which swans in turn the product of the Old French words bot for end and but for aim or goal which was used for a target for shooting practice or a turf-covered mound against which an archery target was set that dated to the mid 1300s.

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It is this earlier sense of the word used by Richard, Duke of York in ‘Henry VI part 3’ when he tells his killer, “Come, bloody Clifford, rough Northumberland, I dare your quench.ess fury to more rage. / I am your butt, and I abide your shot.”

Othello also uses sense of this word in his final scene, where he says, “Be thou not afraid, though you do see me weapon’d; / Here is y journey’s end, here is my butt.”

The verb to butt meaning to hit with the head, as a goat, a fighter or a soccer-player might do, was in use by 1200 . This came from Anglo-French buter and Old French boter which meant to push, shove, thrust or knock. This came from either Frankish or another Germanic source which traces back to Proto-Germanic word butan, and before that to the PIE root *bhau which meant to strike.

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In the banter between Katherine and Longaville‘Love’s Labours Lost’  V.ii, he admonishes  her: “Look how you butt yourself with these sharp mocks, Wilt thou give horns, chaste lady? Do not so.” Katherine responds with a comment about he should die a calf before his horns grow, which is a witty little bit of innuendo as they part ways.

Another example of Shakespeare’s word play is the pun on butt in ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ where Gremio describes the clash of wits between Hortensio and Petruchio thus:  “Believe me, sir, they butt together well.” Bianca responds with both pun and innuendo: “Head and butt! A hasty-witted body / Would say your ‘head and butt’ were ‘head and horn.”

While it may be tempting to think that Doctor Butts, the court physician in Shakespeare’s Henry VIII is another example of delightful word play, that was actually the name of the historical figure. Dr William Butts was the royal doctor in the court of Henry VIII. He was not the only well known member of his family: he came from a family of prominent Butts.
(I’m not even sorry. Sometimes the jokes just write themselves.)

Sources:

Etymonline
Macquarie Dictionary
ShakespeareandHistory.com

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

A Butt-load of Butts.
#Shakespeare #language

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 .

Photo by Cristian Rojas on Pexels.com

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
Screenshot made using Shakespeare Pro v.5.5.2.3

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
#words #vocabulary #Shakespeare